Many weeks had elapsed.
The first of March had arrived. The sun, which Dubartas, that classic ancestor of periphrase, had not yet dubbed the “Grand-duke of Candles,” was none the less radiant and joyous on that account. It was one of those spring days which possesses so much sweetness and beauty, that all Paris turns out into the squares and promenades and celebrates them as though they were Sundays. In those days of brilliancy, warmth, and serenity, there is a certain hour above all others, when the façade of Notre–Dame should be admired. It is the moment when the sun, already declining towards the west, looks the cathedral almost full in the face. Its rays, growing more and more horizontal, withdraw slowly from the pavement of the square, and mount up the perpendicular façade, whose thousand bosses in high relief they cause to start out from the shadows, while the great central rose window flames like the eye of a cyclops, inflamed with the reflections of the forge.
This was the hour.
Opposite the lofty cathedral, reddened by the setting sun, on the stone balcony built above the porch of a rich Gothic house, which formed the angle of the square and the Rue du Parvis, several young girls were laughing and chatting with every sort of grace and mirth. From the length of the veil which fell from their pointed coif, twined with pearls, to their heels, from the fineness of the embroidered chemisette which covered their shoulders and allowed a glimpse, according to the pleasing custom of the time, of the swell of their fair virgin bosoms, from the opulence of their under-petticoats still more precious than their overdress (marvellous refinement), from the gauze, the silk, the velvet, with which all this was composed, and, above all, from the whiteness of their hands, which certified to their leisure and idleness, it was easy to divine they were noble and wealthy heiresses. They were, in fact, Damoiselle Fleur-de-Lys de Gondelaurier and her companions, Diane de Christeuil, Amelotte de Montmichel, Colombe de Gaillefontaine, and the little de Champchevrier maiden; all damsels of good birth, assembled at that moment at the house of the dame widow de Gondelaurier, on account of Monseigneur de Beaujeu and Madame his wife, who were to come to Paris in the month of April, there to choose maids of honor for the Dauphiness Marguerite, who was to be received in Picardy from the hands of the Flemings. Now, all the squires for twenty leagues around were intriguing for this favor for their daughters, and a goodly number of the latter had been already brought or sent to Paris. These four maidens had been confided to the discreet and venerable charge of Madame Aloise de Gondelaurier, widow of a former commander of the king’s cross-bowmen, who had retired with her only daughter to her house in the Place du Parvis, Notre–Dame, in Paris.
The balcony on which these young girls stood opened from a chamber richly tapestried in fawn-colored Flanders leather, stamped with golden foliage. The beams, which cut the ceiling in parallel lines, diverted the eye with a thousand eccentric painted and gilded carvings. Splendid enamels gleamed here and there on carved chests; a boar’s head in faience crowned a magnificent dresser, whose two shelves announced that the mistress of the house was the wife or widow of a knight banneret. At the end of the room, by the side of a lofty chimney blazoned with arms from top to bottom, in a rich red velvet arm-chair, sat Dame de Gondelaurier, whose five and fifty years were written upon her garments no less distinctly than upon her face.
Beside her stood a young man of imposing mien, although partaking somewhat of vanity and bravado — one of those handsome fellows whom all women agree to admire, although grave men learned in physiognomy shrug their shoulders at them. This young man wore the garb of a captain of the king’s unattached archers, which bears far too much resemblance to the costume of Jupiter, which the reader has already been enabled to admire in the first book of this history, for us to inflict upon him a second description.
The damoiselles were seated, a part in the chamber, a part in the balcony, some on square cushions of Utrecht velvet with golden corners, others on stools of oak carved in flowers and figures. Each of them held on her knee a section of a great needlework tapestry, on which they were working in company, while one end of it lay upon the rush mat which covered the floor.
They were chatting together in that whispering tone and with the half-stifled laughs peculiar to an assembly of young girls in whose midst there is a young man. The young man whose presence served to set in play all these feminine self-conceits, appeared to pay very little heed to the matter, and, while these pretty damsels were vying with one another to attract his attention, he seemed to be chiefly absorbed in polishing the buckle of his sword belt with his doeskin glove. From time to time, the old lady addressed him in a very low tone, and he replied as well as he was able, with a sort of awkward and constrained politeness.
From the smiles and significant gestures of Dame Aloise, from the glances which she threw towards her daughter, Fleur-de-Lys, as she spoke low to the captain, it was easy to see that there was here a question of some betrothal concluded, some marriage near at hand no doubt, between the young man and Fleur-de-Lys. From the embarrassed coldness of the officer, it was easy to see that on his side, at least, love had no longer any part in the matter. His whole air was expressive of constraint and weariness, which our lieutenants of the garrison would today translate admirably as, “What a beastly bore!”
The poor dame, very much infatuated with her daughter, like any other silly mother, did not perceive the officer’s lack of enthusiasm, and strove in low tones to call his attention to the infinite grace with which Fleur-de-Lys used her needle or wound her skein.
“Come, little cousin,” she said to him, plucking him by the sleeve, in order to speak in his ear, “Look at her, do! see her stoop.”
“Yes, truly,” replied the young man, and fell back into his glacial and absent-minded silence.
A moment later, he was obliged to bend down again, and Dame Aloise said to him —
“Have you ever beheld a more gay and charming face than that of your betrothed? Can one be more white and blonde? are not her hands perfect? and that neck — does it not assume all the curves of the swan in ravishing fashion? How I envy you at times! and how happy you are to be a man, naughty libertine that you are! Is not my Fleur-de-Lys adorably beautiful, and are you not desperately in love with her?”
“Of course,” he replied, still thinking of something else.
“But do say something,” said Madame Aloise, suddenly giving his shoulder a push; “you have grown very timid.”
We can assure our readers that timidity was neither the captain’s virtue nor his defect. But he made an effort to do what was demanded of him.
“Fair cousin,” he said, approaching Fleur-de-Lys, “what is the subject of this tapestry work which you are fashioning?’ “Fair cousin,” responded Fleur-de-Lys, in an offended tone, “I have already told you three times. ’Tis the grotto of Neptune.”
It was evident that Fleur-de-Lys saw much more clearly than her mother through the captain’s cold and absent-minded manner. He felt the necessity of making some conversation.
“And for whom is this Neptunerie destined?”
“For the Abbey of Saint–Antoine des Champs,” answered Fleur-de-Lys, without raising her eyes.
The captain took up a corner of the tapestry.
“Who, my fair cousin, is this big gendarme, who is puffing out his cheeks to their full extent and blowing a trumpet?”
“’Tis Triton,” she replied.
There was a rather pettish intonation in Fleur-de-Lys’s — laconic words. The young man understood that it was indispensable that he should whisper something in her ear, a commonplace, a gallant compliment, no matter what. Accordingly he bent down, but he could find nothing in his imagination more tender and personal than this —
“Why does your mother always wear that surcoat with armorial designs, like our grandmothers of the time of Charles VII.? Tell her, fair cousin, that ’tis no longer the fashion, and that the hinge (gond) and the laurel (laurier) embroidered on her robe give her the air of a walking mantlepiece. In truth, people no longer sit thus on their banners, I assure you.”
Fleur-de-Lys raised her beautiful eyes, full of reproach, “Is that all of which you can assure me?” she said, in a low voice.
In the meantime, Dame Aloise, delighted to see them thus bending towards each other and whispering, said as she toyed with the clasps of her prayer-book —
“Touching picture of love!”
The captain, more and more embarrassed, fell back upon the subject of the tapestry — ”’Tis, in sooth, a charming work!” he exclaimed.
Whereupon Colombe de Gaillefontaine, another beautiful blonde, with a white skin, dressed to the neck in blue damask, ventured a timid remark which she addressed to Fleur-de-Lys, in the hope that the handsome captain would reply to it, “My dear Gondelaurier, have you seen the tapestries of the Hôtel de la Roche–Guyon?”
“Is not that the hotel in which is enclosed the garden of the Lingère du Louvre?” asked Diane de Christeuil with a laugh; for she had handsome teeth, and consequently laughed on every occasion.
“And where there is that big, old tower of the ancient wall of Paris,” added Amelotte de Montmichel, a pretty fresh and curly-headed brunette, who had a habit of sighing just as the other laughed, without knowing why.
“My dear Colombe,” interpolated Dame Aloise, “do you not mean the hotel which belonged to Monsieur de Bacqueville, in the reign of King Charles VI.? there are indeed many superb high warp tapestries there.”
“Charles VI.! Charles VI.!” muttered the young captain, twirling his moustache. “Good heavens! what old things the good dame does remember!”
Madame de Gondelaurier continued, “Fine tapestries, in truth. A work so esteemed that it passes as unrivalled.”
At that moment Bérangère de Champchevrier, a slender little maid of seven years, who was peering into the square through the trefoils of the balcony, exclaimed, “Oh! look, fair Godmother Fleur-de-Lys, at that pretty dancer who is dancing on the pavement and playing the tambourine in the midst of the loutish bourgeois!”
The sonorous vibration of a tambourine was, in fact, audible. “Some gypsy from Bohemia,” said Fleur-de-Lys, turning carelessly toward the square.
“Look! look!” exclaimed her lively companions; and they all ran to the edge of the balcony, while Fleur-de-Lys, rendered thoughtful by the coldness of her betrothed, followed them slowly, and the latter, relieved by this incident, which put an end to an embarrassing conversation, retreated to the farther end of the room, with the satisfied air of a soldier released from duty. Nevertheless, the fair Fleur-de-Lys’s was a charming and noble service, and such it had formerly appeared to him; but the captain had gradually become blase’; the prospect of a speedy marriage cooled him more every day. Moreover, he was of a fickle disposition, and, must we say it, rather vulgar in taste. Although of very noble birth, he had contracted in his official harness more than one habit of the common trooper. The tavern and its accompaniments pleased him. He was only at his ease amid gross language, military gallantries, facile beauties, and successes yet more easy. He had, nevertheless, received from his family some education and some politeness of manner; but he had been thrown on the world too young, he had been in garrison at too early an age, and every day the polish of a gentleman became more and more effaced by the rough friction of his gendarme’s cross-belt. While still continuing to visit her from time to time, from a remnant of common respect, he felt doubly embarrassed with Fleur-de-Lys; in the first place, because, in consequence of having scattered his love in all sorts of places, he had reserved very little for her; in the next place, because, amid so many stiff, formal, and decent ladies, he was in constant fear lest his mouth, habituated to oaths, should suddenly take the bit in its teeth, and break out into the language of the tavern. The effect can be imagined!
Moreover, all this was mingled in him, with great pretentions to elegance, toilet, and a fine appearance. Let the reader reconcile these things as best he can. I am simply the historian.
He had remained, therefore, for several minutes, leaning in silence against the carved jamb of the chimney, and thinking or not thinking, when Fleur-de-Lys suddenly turned and addressed him. After all, the poor young girl was pouting against the dictates of her heart.
“Fair cousin, did you not speak to us of a little Bohemian whom you saved a couple of months ago, while making the patrol with the watch at night, from the hands of a dozen robbers?”
“I believe so, fair cousin,.” said the captain.
“Well,” she resumed, “perchance ’tis that same gypsy girl who is dancing yonder, on the church square. Come and see if you recognize her, fair Cousin Phoebus.”
A secret desire for reconciliation was apparent in this gentle invitation which she gave him to approach her, and in the care which she took to call him by name. Captain Phoebus de Châteaupers (for it is he whom the reader has had before his eyes since the beginning of this chapter) slowly approached the balcony. “Stay,” said Fleur-de-Lys, laying her hand tenderly on Phoebus’s arm; “look at that little girl yonder, dancing in that circle. Is she your Bohemian?”
Phoebus looked, and said —
“Yes, I recognize her by her goat.”
“Oh! in fact, what a pretty little goat!” said Amelotte, clasping her hands in admiration.
“Are his horns of real gold?” inquired Bérangère.
Without moving from her arm-chair, Dame Aloise interposed, “Is she not one of those gypsy girls who arrived last year by the Gibard gate?”
“Madame my mother,” said Fleur-de-Lys gently, “that gate is now called the Porte d’Enfer.”
Mademoiselle de Gondelaurier knew how her mother’s antiquated mode of speech shocked the captain. In fact, he began to sneer, and muttered between his teeth: “Porte Gibard! Porte Gibard! ’Tis enough to make King Charles VI. pass by.”
“Godmother!” exclaimed Bérangère, whose eyes, incessantly in motion, had suddenly been raised to the summit of the towers of Notre–Dame, “who is that black man up yonder?”
All the young girls raised their eyes. A man was, in truth, leaning on the balustrade which surmounted the northern tower, looking on the Grève. He was a priest. His costume could be plainly discerned, and his face resting on both his hands. But he stirred no more than if he had been a statue. His eyes, intently fixed, gazed into the Place.
It was something like the immobility of a bird of prey, who has just discovered a nest of sparrows, and is gazing at it.
“’Tis monsieur the archdeacon of Josas,” said Fleur-de-Lys.
“You have good eyes if you can recognize him from here,” said the Gaillefontaine.
“How he is staring at the little dancer!” went on Diane de Christeuil.
“Let the gypsy beware!” said Fleur-de-Lys, “for he loves not Egypt.”
“’Tis a great shame for that man to look upon her thus,” added Amelotte de Montmichel, “for she dances delightfully.”
“Fair cousin Phoebus,” said Fleur-de-Lys suddenly, “Since you know this little gypsy, make her a sign to come up here. It will amuse us.”
“Oh, yes!” exclaimed all the young girls, clapping their hands.
“Why! ’tis not worth while,” replied Phoebus. “She has forgotten me, no doubt, and I know not so much as her name. Nevertheless, as you wish it, young ladies, I will make the trial.” And leaning over the balustrade of the balcony, he began to shout, “Little one!”
The dancer was not beating her tambourine at the moment. She turned her head towards the point whence this call proceeded, her brilliant eyes rested on Phoebus, and she stopped short.
“Little one!” repeated the captain; and he beckoned her to approach.
The young girl looked at him again, then she blushed as though a flame had mounted into her cheeks, and, taking her tambourine under her arm, she made her way through the astonished spectators towards the door of the house where Phoebus was calling her, with slow, tottering steps, and with the troubled look of a bird which is yielding to the fascination of a serpent.
A moment later, the tapestry portière was raised, and the gypsy appeared on the threshold of the chamber, blushing, confused, breathless, her large eyes drooping, and not daring to advance another step.
Bérangère clapped her hands.
Meanwhile, the dancer remained motionless upon the threshold. Her appearance had produced a singular effect upon these young girls. It is certain that a vague and indistinct desire to please the handsome officer animated them all, that his splendid uniform was the target of all their coquetries, and that from the moment he presented himself, there existed among them a secret, suppressed rivalry, which they hardly acknowledged even to themselves, but which broke forth, none the less, every instant, in their gestures and remarks. Nevertheless, as they were all very nearly equal in beauty, they contended with equal arms, and each could hope for the victory. — The arrival of the gypsy suddenly destroyed this equilibrium. Her beauty was so rare, that, at the moment when she appeared at the entrance of the apartment, it seemed as though she diffused a sort of light which was peculiar to herself. In that narrow chamber, surrounded by that sombre frame of hangings and woodwork, she was incomparably more beautiful and more radiant than on the public square. She was like a torch which has suddenly been brought from broad daylight into the dark. The noble damsels were dazzled by her in spite of themselves. Each one felt herself, in some sort, wounded in her beauty. Hence, their battle front (may we be allowed the expression,) was immediately altered, although they exchanged not a single word. But they understood each other perfectly. Women’s instincts comprehend and respond to each other more quickly than the intelligences of men. An enemy had just arrived; all felt it — all rallied together. One drop of wine is sufficient to tinge a glass of water red; to diffuse a certain degree of ill temper throughout a whole assembly of pretty women, the arrival of a prettier woman suffices, especially when there is but one man present.
Hence the welcome accorded to the gypsy was marvellously glacial. They surveyed her from head to foot, then exchanged glances, and all was said; they understood each other. Meanwhile, the young girl was waiting to be spoken to, in such emotion that she dared not raise her eyelids.
The captain was the first to break the silence. “Upon my word,” said he, in his tone of intrepid fatuity, “here is a charming creature! What think you of her, fair cousin?”
This remark, which a more delicate admirer would have uttered in a lower tone, at least was not of a nature to dissipate the feminine jealousies which were on the alert before the gypsy.
Fleur-de-Lys replied to the captain with a bland affectation of disdain; —“Not bad.”
The others whispered.
At length, Madame Aloise, who was not the less jealous because she was so for her daughter, addressed the dancer — “Approach, little one.”
“Approach, little one!” repeated, with comical dignity, little Bérangère, who would have reached about as high as her hips.
The gypsy advanced towards the noble dame.
“Fair child,” said Phoebus, with emphasis, taking several steps towards her, “I do not know whether I have the supreme honor of being recognized by you.”
She interrupted him, with a smile and a look full of infinite sweetness —
“Oh! yes,” said she.
“She has a good memory,” remarked Fleur-de-Lys.
“Come, now,” resumed Phoebus, “you escaped nimbly the other evening. Did I frighten you!”
“Oh! no,” said the gypsy.
There was in the intonation of that “Oh! no,” uttered after that “Oh! yes,” an ineffable something which wounded Fleur-de-Lys.
“You left me in your stead, my beauty,” pursued the captain, whose tongue was unloosed when speaking to a girl out of the street, “a crabbed knave, one-eyed and hunchbacked, the bishop’s bellringer, I believe. I have been told that by birth he is the bastard of an archdeacon and a devil. He has a pleasant name: he is called Quatre–Temps (Ember Days), Paques–Fleuries (Palm Sunday), Mardi–Gras (Shrove Tuesday), I know not what! The name of some festival when the bells are pealed! So he took the liberty of carrying you off, as though you were made for beadles! ’Tis too much. What the devil did that screech-owl want with you? Hey, tell me!”
“I do not know,” she replied.
“The inconceivable impudence! A bellringer carrying off a wench, like a vicomte! a lout poaching on the game of gentlemen! that is a rare piece of assurance. However, he paid dearly for it. Master Pierrat Torterue is the harshest groom that ever curried a knave; and I can tell you, if it will be agreeable to you, that your bellringer’s hide got a thorough dressing at his hands.”
“Poor man!” said the gypsy, in whom these words revived the memory of the pillory.
The captain burst out laughing.
“Corne-deboeuf! here’s pity as well placed as a feather in a pig’s tail! May I have as big a belly as a pope, if —”
He stopped short. “Pardon me, ladies; I believe that I was on the point of saying something foolish.”
“Fie, sir” said la Gaillefontaine.
“He talks to that creature in her own tongue!” added Fleur-de-Lys, in a low tone, her irritation increasing every moment. This irritation was not diminished when she beheld the captain, enchanted with the gypsy, and, most of all, with himself, execute a pirouette on his heel, repeating with coarse, naïve, and soldierly gallantry —
“A handsome wench, upon my soul!”
“Rather savagely dressed,” said Diane de Christeuil, laughing to show her fine teeth.
This remark was a flash of light to the others. Not being able to impugn her beauty, they attacked her costume.
“That is true,” said la Montmichel; “what makes you run about the streets thus, without guimpe or ruff?”
“That petticoat is so short that it makes one tremble,” added la Gaillefontaine.
“My dear,” continued Fleur-de-Lys, with decided sharpness, “You will get yourself taken up by the sumptuary police for your gilded girdle.”
“Little one, little one;” resumed la Christeuil, with an implacable smile, “if you were to put respectable sleeves upon your arms they would get less sunburned.”
It was, in truth, a spectacle worthy of a more intelligent spectator than Phoebus, to see how these beautiful maidens, with their envenomed and angry tongues, wound, serpent-like, and glided and writhed around the street dancer. They were cruel and graceful; they searched and rummaged maliciously in her poor and silly toilet of spangles and tinsel. There was no end to their laughter, irony, and humiliation. Sarcasms rained down upon the gypsy, and haughty condescension and malevolent looks. One would have thought they were young Roman dames thrusting golden pins into the breast of a beautiful slave. One would have pronounced them elegant grayhounds, circling, with inflated nostrils, round a poor woodland fawn, whom the glance of their master forbade them to devour.
After all, what was a miserable dancer on the public squares in the presence of these high-born maidens? They seemed to take no heed of her presence, and talked of her aloud, to her face, as of something unclean, abject, and yet, at the same time, passably pretty.
The gypsy was not insensible to these pin-pricks. From time to time a flush of shame, a flash of anger inflamed her eyes or her cheeks; with disdain she made that little grimace with which the reader is already familiar, but she remained motionless; she fixed on Phoebus a sad, sweet, resigned look. There was also happiness and tenderness in that gaze. One would have said that she endured for fear of being expelled.
Phoebus laughed, and took the gypsy’s part with a mixture of impertinence and pity.
“Let them talk, little one!” he repeated, jingling his golden spurs. “No doubt your toilet is a little extravagant and wild, but what difference does that make with such a charming damsel as yourself?”
“Good gracious!” exclaimed the blonde Gaillefontaine, drawing up her swan-like throat, with a bitter smile. “I see that messieurs the archers of the king’s police easily take fire at the handsome eyes of gypsies!”
“Why not?” said Phoebus.
At this reply uttered carelessly by the captain, like a stray stone, whose fall one does not even watch, Colombe began to laugh, as well as Diane, Amelotte, and Fleur-de-Lys, into whose eyes at the same time a tear started.
The gypsy, who had dropped her eyes on the floor at the words of Colombe de Gaillefontaine, raised them beaming with joy and pride and fixed them once more on Phoebus. She was very beautiful at that moment.
The old dame, who was watching this scene, felt offended, without understanding why.
“Holy Virgin!” she suddenly exclaimed, “what is it moving about my legs? Ah! the villanous beast!”
It was the goat, who had just arrived, in search of his mistress, and who, in dashing towards the latter, had begun by entangling his horns in the pile of stuffs which the noble dame’s garments heaped up on her feet when she was seated.
This created a diversion. The gypsy disentangled his horns without uttering a word.
“Oh! here’s the little goat with golden hoofs!” exclaimed Bérangère, dancing with joy.
The gypsy crouched down on her knees and leaned her cheek against the fondling head of the goat. One would have said that she was asking pardon for having quitted it thus.
Meanwhile, Diane had bent down to Colombe’s ear.
“Ah! good heavens! why did not I think of that sooner? ’Tis the gypsy with the goat. They say she is a sorceress, and that her goat executes very miraculous tricks.”
“Well!” said Colombe, “the goat must now amuse us in its turn, and perform a miracle for us.”
Diane and Colombe eagerly addressed the gypsy.
“Little one, make your goat perform a miracle.”
“I do not know what you mean,” replied the dancer.
“A miracle, a piece of magic, a bit of sorcery, in short.”
“I do not understand.” And she fell to caressing the pretty animal, repeating, “Djali! Djali!”
At that moment Fleur-de-Lys noticed a little bag of embroidered leather suspended from the neck of the goat — “What is that?” she asked of the gypsy.
The gypsy raised her large eyes upon her and replied gravely — “That is my secret.”
“I should really like to know what your secret is,” thought Fleur-de-Lys.
Meanwhile, the good dame had risen angrily — ” Come now, gypsy, if neither you nor your goat can dance for us, what are you doing here?”
The gypsy walked slowly towards the door, without making any reply. But the nearer she approached it, the more her pace slackened. An irresistible magnet seemed to hold her. Suddenly she turned her eyes, wet with tears, towards Phoebus, and halted.
“True God!” exclaimed the captain, “that’s not the way to depart. Come back and dance something for us. By the way, my sweet love, what is your name?”
“La Esmeralda,” said the dancer, never taking her eyes from him.
At this strange name, a burst of wild laughter broke from the young girls.
“Here’s a terrible name for a young lady,” said Diane.
“You see well enough,” retorted Amelotte, “that she is an enchantress.”
“My dear,” exclaimed Dame Aloise solemnly, “your parents did not commit the sin of giving you that name at the baptismal font.”
In the meantime, several minutes previously, Bérangère had coaxed the goat into a corner of the room with a marchpane cake, without any one having noticed her. In an instant they had become good friends. The curious child had detached the bag from the goat’s neck, had opened it, and had emptied out its contents on the rush matting; it was an alphabet, each letter of which was separately inscribed on a tiny block of boxwood. Hardly had these playthings been spread out on the matting, when the child, with surprise, beheld the goat (one of whose “miracles” this was no doubt), draw out certain letters with its golden hoof, and arrange them, with gentle pushes, in a certain order. In a moment they constituted a word, which the goat seemed to have been trained to write, so little hesitation did it show in forming it, and Bérangère suddenly exclaimed, clasping her hands in admiration —
“Godmother Fleur-de-Lys, see what the goat has just done!”
Fleur-de-Lys ran up and trembled. The letters arranged upon the floor formed this word —
“Was it the goat who wrote that?” she inquired in a changed voice.
“Yes, godmother,” replied Bérangêre.
It was impossible to doubt it; the child did not know how to write.
“This is the secret!” thought Fleur-de-Lys.
Meanwhile, at the child’s exclamation, all had hastened up, the mother, the young girls, the gypsy, and the officer.
The gypsy beheld the piece of folly which the goat had committed. She turned red, then pale, and began to tremble like a culprit before the captain, who gazed at her with a smile of satisfaction and amazement.
“Phoebus!” whispered the young girls, stupefied: “’tis the captain’s name!”
“You have a marvellous memory!” said Fleur-de-Lys, to the petrified gypsy. Then, bursting into sobs: “Oh!” she stammered mournfully, hiding her face in both her beautiful hands, “she is a magician!” And she heard another and a still more bitter voice at the bottom of her heart, saying — “She is a rival!”
She fell fainting.
“My daughter! my daughter!” cried the terrified mother. “Begone, you gypsy of hell!”
In a twinkling, La Esmeralda gathered up the unlucky letters, made a sign to Djali, and went out through one door, while Fleur-de-Lys was being carried out through the other.
Captain Phoebus, on being left alone, hesitated for a moment between the two doors, then he followed the gypsy.
The priest whom the young girls had observed at the top of the North tower, leaning over the Place and so attentive to the dance of the gypsy, was, in fact, Archdeacon Claude Frollo.
Our readers have not forgotten the mysterious cell which the archdeacon had reserved for himself in that tower. (I do not know, by the way be it said, whether it be not the same, the interior of which can be seen today through a little square window, opening to the east at the height of a man above the platform from which the towers spring; a bare and dilapidated den, whose badly plastered walls are ornamented here and there, at the present day, with some wretched yellow engravings representing the façades of cathedrals. I presume that this hole is jointly inhabited by bats and spiders, and that, consequently, it wages a double war of extermination on the flies).
Every day, an hour before sunset, the archdeacon ascended the staircase to the tower, and shut himself up in this cell, where he sometimes passed whole nights. That day, at the moment when, standing before the low door of his retreat, he was fitting into the lock the complicated little key which he always carried about him in the purse suspended to his side, a sound of tambourine and castanets had reached his ear. These sounds came from the Place du Parvis. The cell, as we have already said, had only one window opening upon the rear of the church. Claude Frollo had hastily withdrawn the key, and an instant later, he was on the top of the tower, in the gloomy and pensive attitude in which the maidens had seen him.
There he stood, grave, motionless, absorbed in one look and one thought. All Paris lay at his feet, with the thousand spires of its edifices and its circular horizon of gentle hills — with its river winding under its bridges, and its people moving to and fro through its streets — with the clouds of its smoke — with the mountainous chain of its roofs which presses Notre–Dame in its doubled folds; but out.of all the city, the archdeacon gazed at one corner only of the pavement, the Place du Parvis; in all that throng at but one figure — the gypsy.
It would have been difficult to say what was the nature of this look, and whence proceeded the flame that flashed from it. It was a fixed gaze, which was, nevertheless, full of trouble and tumult. And, from the profound immobility of his whole body, barely agitated at intervals by an involuntary shiver, as a tree is moved by the wind; from the stiffness of his elbows, more marble than the balustrade on which they leaned; or the sight of the petrified smile which contracted his face — one would have said that nothing living was left about Claude Frollo except his eyes.
The gypsy was dancing; she was twirling her tambourine on the tip of her finger, and tossing it into the air as she danced Provençal sarabands; agile, light, joyous, and unconscious of the formidable gaze which descended perpendicularly upon her head.
The crowd was swarming around her; from time to time, a man accoutred in red and yellow made them form into a circle, and then returned, seated himself on a chair a few paces from the dancer, and took the goat’s head on his knees. This man seemed to be the gypsy’s companion. Claude Frollo could not distinguish his features from his elevated post.
From the moment when the archdeacon caught sight of this stranger, his attention seemed divided between him and the dancer, and his face became more and more gloomy. All at once he rose upright, and a quiver ran through his whole body: “Who is that man?” he muttered between his teeth: “I have always seen her alone before!”
Then he plunged down beneath the tortuous vault of the spiral staircase, and once more descended. As he passed the door of the bell chamber, which was ajar, be saw something which struck him; he beheld Quasimodo, who, leaning through an opening of one of those slate penthouses which resemble enormous blinds, appeared also to be gazing at the Place. He was engaged in so profound a contemplation, that he did not notice the passage of his adopted father. His savage eye had a singular expression; it was a charmed, tender look. “This is strange!” murmured Claude. “Is it the gypsy at whom he is thus gazing?” He continued his descent. At the end of a few minutes, the anxious archdeacon entered upon the Place from the door at the base of the tower.
“What has become of the gypsy girl?” he said, mingling with the group of spectators which the sound of the tambourine had collected.
“I know not,” replied one of his neighbors, “I think that she has gone to make some of her fandangoes in the house opposite, whither they have called her.”
In the place of the gypsy, on the carpet, whose arabesques had seemed to vanish but a moment previously by the capricious figures of her dance, the archdeacon no longer beheld any one but the red and yellow man, who, in order to earn a few testers in his turn, was walking round the circle, with his elbows on his hips, his head thrown back, his face red, his neck outstretched, with a chair between his teeth. To the chair he had fastened a cat, which a neighbor had lent, and which was spitting in great affright.
“Notre–Dame!” exclaimed the archdeacon, at the moment when the juggler, perspiring heavily, passed in front of him with his pyramid of chair and his cat, “What is Master Pierre Gringoire doing here?”
The harsh voice of the archdeacon threw the poor fellow into such a commotion that he lost his equilibrium, together with his whole edifice, and the chair and the cat tumbled pell-mell upon the heads of the spectators, in the midst of inextinguishable hootings.
It is probable that Master Pierre Gringoire (for it was indeed he) would have had a sorry account to settle with the neighbor who owned the cat, and all the bruised and scratched faces which surrounded him, if he had not hastened to profit by the tumult to take refuge in the church, whither Claude Frollo had made him a sign to follow him.
The cathedral was already dark and deserted; the side-aisles were full of shadows, and the lamps of the chapels began to shine out like stars, so black had the vaulted ceiling become. Only the great rose window of the façade, whose thousand colors were steeped in a ray of horizontal sunlight, glittered in the gloom like a mass of diamonds, and threw its dazzling reflection to the other end of the nave.
When they had advanced a few paces, Dom Claude placed his back against a pillar, and gazed intently at Gringoire. The gaze was not the one which Gringoire feared, ashamed as he was of having been caught by a grave and learned person in the costume of a buffoon. There was nothing mocking or ironical in the priest’s glance, it was serious, tranquil, piercing. The archdeacon was the first to break the silence.
“Come now, Master Pierre. You are to explain many things to me. And first of all, how comes it that you have not been seen for two months, and that now one finds you in the public squares, in a fine equipment in truth! Motley red and yellow, like a Caudebec apple?”
“Messire,” said Gringoire, piteously, “it is, in fact, an amazing accoutrement. You see me no more comfortable in it than a cat coiffed with a calabash. ’Tis very ill done, I am conscious, to expose messieurs the sergeants of the watch to the liability of cudgelling beneath this cassock the humerus of a Pythagorean philosopher. But what would you have, my reverend master? ’tis the fault of my ancient jerkin, which abandoned me in cowardly wise, at the beginning of the winter, under the pretext that it was falling into tatters, and that it required repose in the basket of a rag-picker. What is one to do? Civilization has not yet arrived at the point where one can go stark naked, as ancient Diogenes wished. Add that a very cold wind was blowing, and ’tis not in the month of January that one can successfully attempt to make humanity take this new step. This garment presented itself, I took it, and I left my ancient black smock, which, for a hermetic like myself, was far from being hermetically closed. Behold me then, in the garments of a stage-player, like Saint Genest. What would you have? ’tis an eclipse. Apollo himself tended the flocks of Admetus.”
“’Tis a fine profession that you are engaged in!” replied the archdeacon.
“I agree, my master, that ’tis better to philosophize and poetize, to blow the flame in the furnace, or to receive it from carry cats on a shield. So, when you addressed me, I was as foolish as an ass before a turnspit. But what would you have, messire? One must eat every day, and the finest Alexandrine verses are not worth a bit of Brie cheese. Now, I made for Madame Marguerite of Flanders, that famous epithalamium, as you know, and the city will not pay me, under the pretext that it was not excellent; as though one could give a tragedy of Sophocles for four crowns! Hence, I was on the point of dying with hunger. Happily, I found that I was rather strong in the jaw; so I said to this jaw — perform some feats of strength and of equilibrium: nourish thyself. Ale te ipsam. A pack of beggars who have become my good friends, have taught me twenty sorts of herculean feats, and now I give to my teeth every evening the bread which they have earned during the day by the sweat of my brow. After all, concede, I grant that it is a sad employment for my intellectual faculties, and that man is not made to pass his life in beating the tambourine and biting chairs. But, reverend master, it is not sufficient to pass one’s life, one must earn the means for life.’’
Dom Claude listened in silence. All at once his deep-set eye assumed so sagacious and penetrating an expression, that Gringoire felt himself, so to speak, searched to the bottom of the soul by that glance.
“Very good, Master Pierre; but how comes it that you are now in company with that gypsy dancer?”
“In faith!” said Gringoire, “’tis because she is my wife and I am her husband.”
The priest’s gloomy eyes flashed into flame.
“Have you done that, you wretch!” he cried, seizing Gringoire’s arm with fury; “have you been so abandoned by God as to raise your hand against that girl?”
“On my chance of paradise, monseigneur,” replied Gringoire, trembling in every limb, “I swear to you that I have never touched her, if that is what disturbs you.”
“Then why do you talk of husband and wife?” said the priest. Gringoire made haste to relate to him as succinctly as possible, all that the reader already knows, his adventure in the Court of Miracles and the broken-crock marriage. It appeared, moreover, that this marriage had led to no results whatever, and that each evening the gypsy girl cheated him of his nuptial right as on the first day. “’Tis a mortification,” he said in conclusion, “but that is because I have had the misfortune to wed a virgin.”
“What do you mean?” demanded the archdeacon, who had been gradually appeased by this recital.
“’Tis very difficult to explain,” replied the poet. “It is a superstition. My wife is, according to what an old thief, who is called among us the Duke of Egypt, has told me, a foundling or a lost child, which is the same thing. She wears on her neck an amulet which, it is affirmed, will cause her to meet her parents some day, but which will lose its virtue if the young girl loses hers. Hence it follows that both of us remain very virtuous.”
“So,” resumed Claude, whose brow cleared more and more, “you believe, Master Pierre, that this creature has not been approached by any man?”
“What would you have a man do, Dom Claude, as against a superstition? She has got that in her head. I assuredly esteem as a rarity this nunlike prudery which is preserved untamed amid those Bohemian girls who are so easily brought into subjection. But she has three things to protect her: the Duke of Egypt, who has taken her under his safeguard, reckoning, perchance, on selling her to some gay abbé; all his tribe, who hold her in singular veneration, like a Notre–Dame; and a certain tiny poignard, which the buxom dame always wears about her, in some nook, in spite of the ordinances of the provost, and which one causes to fly out into her hands by squeezing her waist. ’Tis a proud wasp, I can tell you!”
The archdeacon pressed Gringoire with questions.
La Esmeralda, in the judgment of Gringoire, was an inoffensive and charming creature, pretty, with the exception of a pout which was peculiar to her; a naïve and passionate damsel, ignorant of everything and enthusiastic about everything; not yet aware of the difference between a man and a woman, even in her dreams; made like that; wild especially over dancing, noise, the open air; a sort of woman bee, with invisible wings on her feet, and living in a whirlwind. She owed this nature to the wandering life which she had always led. Gringoire had succeeded in learning that, while a mere child, she had traversed Spain and Catalonia, even to Sicily; he believed that she had even been taken by the caravan of Zingari, of which she formed a part, to the kingdom of Algiers, a country situated in Achaia, which country adjoins, on one side Albania and Greece; on the other, the Sicilian Sea, which is the road to Constantinople. The Bohemians, said Gringoire, were vassals of the King of Algiers, in his quality of chief of the White Moors. One thing is certain, that la Esmeralda had come to France while still very young, by way of Hungary. From all these countries the young girl had brought back fragments of queer jargons, songs, and strange ideas, which made her language as motley as her costume, half Parisian, half African. However, the people of the quarters which she frequented loved her for her gayety, her daintiness, her lively manners, her dances, and her songs. She believed herself to be hated, in all the city, by but two persons, of whom she often spoke in terror: the sacked nun of the Tour–Roland, a villanous recluse who cherished some secret grudge against these gypsies, and who cursed the poor dancer every time that the latter passed before her window; and a priest, who never met her without casting at her looks and words which frightened her.
The mention of this last circumstance disturbed the archdeacon greatly, though Gringoire paid no attention to his perturbation; to such an extent had two months sufficed to cause the heedless poet to forget the singular details of the evening on which he had met the gypsy, and the presence of the archdeacon in it all. Otherwise, the little dancer feared nothing; she did not tell fortunes, which protected her against those trials for magic which were so frequently instituted against gypsy women. And then, Gringoire held the position of her brother, if not of her husband. After all, the philosopher endured this sort of platonic marriage very patiently. It meant a shelter and bread at least. Every morning, he set out from the lair of the thieves, generally with the gypsy; he helped her make her collections of targes and little blanks* in the squares; each evening he returned to the same roof with her, allowed her to bolt herself into her little chamber, and slept the sleep of the just. A very sweet existence, taking it all in all, he said, and well adapted to revery. And then, on his soul and conscience, the philosopher was not very sure that he was madly in love with the gypsy. He loved her goat almost as dearly. It was a charming animal, gentle, intelligent, clever; a learned goat. Nothing was more common in the Middle Ages than these learned animals, which amazed people greatly, and often led their instructors to the stake. But the witchcraft of the goat with the golden hoofs was a very innocent species of magic. Gringoire explained them to the archdeacon, whom these details seemed to interest deeply. In the majority of cases, it was sufficient to present the tambourine to the goat in such or such a manner, in order to obtain from him the trick desired. He had been trained to this by the gypsy, who possessed, in these delicate arts, so rare a talent that two months had sufficed to teach the goat to write, with movable letters, the word “Phoebus.”
* An ancient Burgundian coin.
** An ancient French coin.
“‘Phoebus!’” said the priest; “why ‘Phoebus’?”
“I know not,” replied Gringoire. “Perhaps it is a word which she believes to be endowed with some magic and secret virtue. She often repeats it in a low tone when she thinks that she is alone.”
“Are you sure,” persisted Claude, with his penetrating glance, “that it is only a word and not a name?”
“The name of whom?” said the poet.
“How should I know?” said the priest.
“This is what I imagine, messire. These Bohemians are something like Guebrs, and adore the sun. Hence, Phoebus.”
“That does not seem so clear to me as to you, Master Pierre.”
“After all, that does not concern me. Let her mumble her Phoebus at her pleasure. One thing is certain, that Djali loves me almost as much as he does her.”
“Who is Djali?”
The archdeacon dropped his chin into his hand, and appeared to reflect for a moment. All at once he turned abruptly to Gringoire once more.
“And do you swear to me that you have not touched her?”
“Whom?” said Gringoire; “the goat?”
“No, that woman.”
“My wife? I swear to you that I have not.”
“You are often alone with her?”
“A good hour every evening.”
Porn Claude frowned.
“Oh! oh! Solus cum sola non cogitabuntur orare Pater Noster.”
“Upon my soul, I could say the Pater, and the Ave Maria, and the Credo in Deum patrem omnipotentem without her paying any more attention to me than a chicken to a church.”
“Swear to me, by the body of your mother,” repeated the archdeacon violently, “that you have not touched that creature with even the tip of your finger.”
“I will also swear it by the head of my father, for the two things have more affinity between them. But, my reverend master, permit me a question in my turn.”
“What concern is it of yours?”
The archdeacon’s pale face became as crimson as the cheek of a young girl. He remained for a moment without answering; then, with visible embarrassment —
“Listen, Master Pierre Gringoire. You are not yet damned, so far as I know. I take an interest in you, and wish you well. Now the least contact with that Egyptian of the demon would make you the vassal of Satan. You know that ’tis always the body which ruins the soul. Woe to you if you approach that woman! That is all.”
“I tried once,” said Gringoire, scratching his ear; “it was the first day: but I got stung.”
“You were so audacious, Master Pierre?” and the priest’s brow clouded over again.
“On another occasion,” continued the poet, with a smile, “I peeped through the keyhole, before going to bed, and I beheld the most delicious dame in her shift that ever made a bed creak under her bare foot.”
“Go to the devil!” cried the priest, with a terrible look; and, giving the amazed Gringoire a push on the shoulders, he plunged, with long strides, under the gloomiest arcades of the cathedral.
After the morning in the pillory, the neighbors of Notre–Dame thought they noticed that Quasimodo’s ardor for ringing had grown cool. Formerly, there had been peals for every occasion, long morning serenades, which lasted from prime to compline; peals from the belfry for a high mass, rich scales drawn over the smaller bells for a wedding, for a christening, and mingling in the air like a rich embroidery of all sorts of charming sounds. The old church, all vibrating and sonorous, was in a perpetual joy of bells. One was constantly conscious of the presence of a spirit of noise and caprice, who sang through all those mouths of brass. Now that spirit seemed to have departed; the cathedral seemed gloomy, and gladly remained silent; festivals and funerals had the simple peal, dry and bare, demanded by the ritual, nothing more. Of the double noise which constitutes a church, the organ within, the bell without, the organ alone remained. One would have said that there was no longer a musician in the belfry. Quasimodo was always there, nevertheless; what, then, had happened to him? Was it that the shame and despair of the pillory still lingered in the bottom of his heart, that the lashes of his tormentor’s whip reverberated unendingly in his soul, and that the sadness of such treatment had wholly extinguished in him even his passion for the bells? or was it that Marie had a rival in the heart of the bellringer of Notre–Dame, and that the great bell and her fourteen sisters were neglected for something more amiable and more beautiful?
It chanced that, in the year of grace 1482, Annunciation Day fell on Tuesday, the twenty-fifth of March. That day the air was so pure and light that Quasimodo felt some returning affection for his bells. He therefore ascended the northern tower while the beadle below was opening wide the doors of the church, which were then enormous panels of stout wood, covered with leather, bordered with nails of gilded iron, and framed in carvings “very artistically elaborated.”
On arriving in the lofty bell chamber, Quasimodo gazed for some time at the six bells and shook his head sadly, as though groaning over some foreign element which had interposed itself in his heart between them and him. But when he had set them to swinging, when he felt that cluster of bells moving under his hand, when he saw, for he did not hear it, the palpitating octave ascend and descend that sonorous scale, like a bird hopping from branch to branch; when the demon Music, that demon who shakes a sparkling bundle of strette, trills and arpeggios, had taken possession of the poor deaf man, he became happy once more, he forgot everything, and his heart expanding, made his face beam.
He went and came, he beat his hands together, he ran from rope to rope, he animated the six singers with voice and gesture, like the leader of an orchestra who is urging on intelligent musicians.
“Go on,” said he, “go on, go on, Gabrielle, pour out all thy noise into the Place, ’tis a festival today. No laziness, Thibauld; thou art relaxing; go on, go on, then, art thou rusted, thou sluggard? That is well! quick! quick! let not thy clapper be seen! Make them all deaf like me. That’s it, Thibauld, bravely done! Guillaume! Guillaume! thou art the largest, and Pasquier is the smallest, and Pasquier does best. Let us wager that those who hear him will understand him better than they understand thee. Good! good! my Gabrielle, stoutly, more stoutly! Eli! what are you doing up aloft there, you two Moineaux (sparrows)? I do not see you making the least little shred of noise. What is the meaning of those beaks of copper which seem to be gaping when they should sing? Come, work now, ’tis the Feast of the Annunciation. The sun is fine, the chime must be fine also. Poor Guillaume! thou art all out of breath, my big fellow!”
He was wholly absorbed in spurring on his bells, all six of which vied with each other in leaping and shaking their shining haunches, like a noisy team of Spanish mules, pricked on here and there by the apostrophes of the muleteer.
All at once, on letting his glance fall between the large slate scales which cover the perpendicular wall of the bell tower at a certain height, he beheld on the square a young girl, fantastically dressed, stop, spread out on the ground a carpet, on which a small goat took up its post, and a group of spectators collect around her. This sight suddenly changed the course of his ideas, and congealed his enthusiasm as a breath of air congeals melted rosin. He halted, turned his back to the bells, and crouched down behind the projecting roof of slate, fixing upon the dancer that dreamy, sweet, and tender look which had already astonished the archdeacon on one occasion. Meanwhile, the forgotten bells died away abruptly and all together, to the great disappointment of the lovers of bell ringing, who were listening in good faith to the peal from above the Pont du Change, and who went away dumbfounded, like a dog who has been offered a bone and given a stone.
It chanced that upon a fine morning in this same month of March, I think it was on Saturday the 29th, Saint Eustache’s day, our young friend the student, Jehan Frollo du Moulin, perceived, as he was dressing himself, that his breeches, which contained his purse, gave out no metallic ring. “Poor purse,” he said, drawing it from his fob, “what! not the smallest parisis! how cruelly the dice, beer-pots, and Venus have depleted thee! How empty, wrinkled, limp, thou art! Thou resemblest the throat of a fury! I ask you, Messer Cicero, and Messer Seneca, copies of whom, all dog’s-eared, I behold scattered on the floor, what profits it me to know, better than any governor of the mint, or any Jew on the Pont aux Changeurs, that a golden crown stamped with a crown is worth thirty-five unzains of twenty-five sous, and eight deniers parisis apiece, and that a crown stamped with a crescent is worth thirty-six unzains of twenty-six sous, six deniers tournois apiece, if I have not a single wretched black liard to risk on the double-six! Oh! Consul Cicero! this is no calamity from which one extricates one’s self with periphrases, quemadmodum, and verum enim vero!”
He dressed himself sadly. An idea had occurred to him as he laced his boots, but he rejected it at first; nevertheless, it returned, and he put on his waistcoat wrong side out, an evident sign of violent internal combat. At last he dashed his cap roughly on the floor, and exclaimed: “So much the worse! Let come of it what may. I am going to my brother! I shall catch a sermon, but I shall catch a crown.”
Then be hastily donned his long jacket with furred half-sleeves, picked up his cap, and went out like a man driven to desperation.
He descended the Rue de la Harpe toward the City. As he passed the Rue de la Huchette, the odor of those admirable spits, which were incessantly turning, tickled his olfactory apparatus, and he bestowed a loving glance toward the Cyclopean roast, which one day drew from the Franciscan friar, Calatagirone, this pathetic exclamation: Veramente, queste rotisserie sono cosa stupenda!* But Jehan had not the wherewithal to buy a breakfast, and he plunged, with a profound sigh, under the gateway of the Petit–Châtelet, that enormous double trefoil of massive towers which guarded the entrance to the City.
* Truly, these roastings are a stupendous thing!
He did not even take the trouble to cast a stone in passing, as was the usage, at the miserable statue of that Périnet Leclerc who had delivered up the Paris of Charles VI. to the English, a crime which his effigy, its face battered with stones and soiled with mud, expiated for three centuries at the corner of the Rue de la Harpe and the Rue de Buci, as in an eternal pillory.
The Petit–Pont traversed, the Rue Neuve–Sainte-Geneviève crossed, Jehan de Molendino found himself in front of Notre–Dame. Then indecision seized upon him once more, and he paced for several minutes round the statue of M. Legris, repeating to himself with anguish: “The sermon is sure, the crown is doubtful.”
He stopped a beadle who emerged from the cloister — “Where is monsieur the archdeacon of Josas?”
“I believe that he is in his secret cell in the tower,” said the beadle; “I should advise you not to disturb him there, unless you come from some one like the pope or monsieur the king.”
Jehan clapped his hands.
“Bécliable! here’s a magnificent chance to see the famous sorcery cell!”
This reflection having brought him to a decision, he plunged resolutely into the small black doorway, and began the ascent of the spiral of Saint–Gilles, which leads to the upper stories of the tower. “I am going to see,” he said to himself on the way. “By the ravens of the Holy Virgin! it must needs be a curious thing, that cell which my reverend brother hides so secretly! ’Tis said that he lights up the kitchens of hell there, and that he cooks the philosopher’s stone there over a hot fire. Bédieu! I care no more for the philosopher’s stone than for a pebble, and I would rather find over his furnace an omelette of Easter eggs and bacon, than the biggest philosopher’s stone in the world.”’
On arriving at the gallery of slender columns, he took breath for a moment, and swore against the interminable staircase by I know not how many million cartloads of devils; then he resumed his ascent through the narrow door of the north tower, now closed to the public. Several moments after passing the bell chamber, he came upon a little landing-place, built in a lateral niche, and under the vault of a low, pointed door, whose enormous lock and strong iron bars he was enabled to see through a loophole pierced in the opposite circular wall of the staircase. Persons desirous of visiting this door at the present day will recognize it by this inscription engraved in white letters on the black wall: “J’ADORE CORALIE, 1823. SIGNE UGENE.” “Signé” stands in the text.
“Ugh!” said the scholar; “’tis here, no doubt.”
The key was in the lock, the door was very close to him; he gave it a gentle push and thrust his head through the opening.
The reader cannot have failed to turn over the admirable works of Rembrandt, that Shakespeare of painting. Amid so many marvellous engravings, there is one etching in particular, which is supposed to represent Doctor Faust, and which it is impossible to contemplate without being dazzled. It represents a gloomy cell; in the centre is a table loaded with hideous objects; skulls, spheres, alembics, compasses, hieroglyphic parchments. The doctor is before this table clad in his large coat and covered to the very eyebrows with his furred cap. He is visible only to his waist. He has half risen from his immense arm-chair, his clenched fists rest on the table, and he is gazing with curiosity and terror at a large luminous circle, formed of magic letters, which gleams from the wall beyond, like the solar spectrum in a dark chamber. This cabalistic sun seems to tremble before the eye, and fills the wan cell with its mysterious radiance. It is horrible and it is beautiful.
Something very similar to Faust’s cell presented itself to Jehan’s view, when he ventured his head through the half-open door. It also was a gloomy and sparsely lighted retreat. There also stood a large arm-chair and a large table, compasses, alembics, skeletons of animals suspended from the ceiling, a globe rolling on the floor, hippocephali mingled promiscuously with drinking cups, in which quivered leaves of gold, skulls placed upon vellum checkered with figures and characters, huge manuscripts piled up wide open, without mercy on the cracking corners of the parchment; in short, all the rubbish of science, and everywhere on this confusion dust and spiders’ webs; but there was no circle of luminous letters, no doctor in an ecstasy contemplating the flaming vision, as the eagle gazes upon the sun.
Nevertheless, the cell was not deserted. A man was seated in the arm-chair, and bending over the table. Jehan, to whom his back was turned, could see only his shoulders and the back of his skull; but he had no difficulty in recognizing that bald head, which nature had provided with an eternal tonsure, as though desirous of marking, by this external symbol, the archdeacon’s irresistible clerical vocation.
Jehan accordingly recognized his brother; but the door had been opened so softly, that nothing warned Dom Claude of his presence. The inquisitive scholar took advantage of this circumstance to examine the cell for a few moments at his leisure. A large furnace, which he had not at first observed, stood to the left of the arm-chair, beneath the window. The ray of light which penetrated through this aperture made its way through a spider’s circular web, which tastefully inscribed its delicate rose in the arch of the window, and in the centre of which the insect architect hung motionless, like the hub of this wheel of lace. Upon the furnace were accumulated in disorder, all sorts of vases, earthenware bottles, glass retorts, and mattresses of charcoal. Jehan observed, with a sigh, that there was no frying-pan. “How cold the kitchen utensils are!” he said to himself.
In fact, there was no fire in the furnace, and it seemed as though none had been lighted for a long time. A glass mask, which Jehan noticed among the utensils of alchemy, and which served no doubt, to protect the archdeacon’s face when he was working over some substance to be dreaded, lay in one corner covered with dust and apparently forgotten. Beside it lay a pair of bellows no less dusty, the upper side of which bore this inscription incrusted in copper letters: SPIRA SPERA.
Other inscriptions were written, in accordance with the fashion of the hermetics, in great numbers on the walls; some traced with ink, others engraved with a metal point. There were, moreover, Gothic letters, Hebrew letters, Greek letters, and Roman letters, pell-mell; the inscriptions overflowed at haphazard, on top of each other, the more recent effacing the more ancient, and all entangled with each other, like the branches in a thicket, like pikes in an affray. It was, in fact, a strangely confused mingling of all human philosophies, all reveries, all human wisdom. Here and there one shone out from among the rest like a banner among lance heads. Generally, it was a brief Greek or Roman device, such as the Middle Ages knew so well how to formulate. — Unde? Inde? — Homo homini monstrurn-Ast’ra, castra, nomen, numen. — Meya Bibklov, ueya xaxov. — Sapere aude. Fiat ubi vult — etc.; sometimes a word devoid of all apparent sense, Avayxoqpayia, which possibly contained a bitter allusion to the regime of the cloister; sometimes a simple maxim of clerical discipline formulated in a regular hexameter Coelestem dominum terrestrem dicite dominum. There was also Hebrew jargon, of which Jehan, who as yet knew but little Greek, understood nothing; and all were traversed in every direction by stars, by figures of men or animals, and by intersecting triangles; and this contributed not a little to make the scrawled wall of the cell resemble a sheet of paper over which a monkey had drawn back and forth a pen filled with ink.
The whole chamber, moreover, presented a general aspect of abandonment and dilapidation; and the bad state of the utensils induced the supposition that their owner had long been distracted from his labors by other preoccupations. Meanwhile, this master, bent over a vast manuscript, ornamented with fantastical illustrations, appeared to be tormented by an idea which incessantly mingled with his meditations. That at least was Jehan’s idea, when he heard him exclaim, with the thoughtful breaks of a dreamer thinking aloud —
“Yes, Manou said it, and Zoroaster taught it! the sun is born from fire, the moon from the sun; fire is the soul of the universe; its elementary atoms pour forth and flow incessantly upon the world through infinite channels! At the point where these currents intersect each other in the heavens, they produce light; at their points of intersection on earth, they produce gold. Light, gold; the same thing! From fire to the concrete state. The difference between the visible and the palpable, between the fluid and the solid in the same substance, between water and ice, nothing more. These are no dreams; it is the general law of nature. But what is one to do in order to extract from science the secret of this general law? What! this light which inundates my hand is gold! These same atoms dilated in accordance with a certain law need only be condensed in accordance with another law. How is it to be done? Some have fancied by burying a ray of sunlight, Averroës — yes, ’tis Averroës — Averroës buried one under the first pillar on the left of the sanctuary of the Koran, in the great Mahometan mosque of Cordova; but the vault cannot he opened for the purpose of ascertaining whether the operation has succeeded, until after the lapse of eight thousand years.
“The devil!” said Jehan, to himself, “’tis a long while to wait for a crown!”
“Others have thought,” continued the dreamy archdeacon, “that it would be better worth while to operate upon a ray of Sirius. But ’tis exceeding hard to obtain this ray pure, because of the simultaneous presence of other stars whose rays mingle with it. Flamel esteemed it more simple to operate upon terrestrial fire. Flamel! there’s predestination in the name! Flamma! yes, fire. All lies there. The diamond is contained in the carbon, gold is in the fire. But how to extract it? Magistri affirms that there are certain feminine names, which possess a charm so sweet and mysterious, that it suffices to pronounce them during the operation. Let us read what Manon says on the matter: ‘Where women are honored, the divinities are rejoiced; where they are despised, it is useless to pray to God. The mouth of a woman is constantly pure; it is a running water, it is a ray of sunlight. The name of a woman should be agreeable, sweet, fanciful; it should end in long vowels, and resemble words of benediction.’ Yes, the sage is right; in truth, Maria, Sophia, la Esmeral — Damnation! always that thought!”
And he closed the book violently.
He passed his hand over his brow, as though to brush away the idea which assailed him; then he took from the table a nail and a small hammer, whose handle was curiously painted with cabalistic letters.
“For some time,” he said with a bitter smile, “I have failed in all my experiments! one fixed idea possesses me, and sears my brain like fire. I have not even been able to discover the secret of Cassiodorus, whose lamp burned without wick and without oil. A simple matter, nevertheless —”
“The deuce!” muttered Jehan in his beard.
“Hence,” continued the priest, “one wretched thought is sufficient to render a man weak and beside himself! Oh! how Claude Pernelle would laugh at me. She who could not turn Nicholas Flamel aside, for one moment, from his pursuit of the great work! What! I hold in my hand the magic hammer of Zéchiélé! at every blow dealt by the formidable rabbi, from the depths of his cell, upon this nail, that one of his enemies whom he had condemned, were he a thousand leagues away, was buried a cubit deep in the earth which swallowed him. The King of France himself, in consequence of once having inconsiderately knocked at the door of the thermaturgist, sank to the knees through the pavement of his own Paris. This took place three centuries ago. Well! I possess the hammer and the nail, and in my hands they are utensils no more formidable than a club in the hands of a maker of edge tools. And yet all that is required is to find the magic word which Zéchiélé pronounced when he struck his nail.”
“What nonsense!” thought Jehan.
“Let us see, let us try!” resumed the archdeacon briskly. “Were I to succeed, I should behold the blue spark flash from the head of the nail. Emen-Hétan! Emen-Hétan! That’s not it. Sigéani! Sigéani! May this nail open the tomb to any one who bears the name of Phoebus! A curse upon it! Always and eternally the same idea!”
And he flung away the hammer in a rage. Then he sank down so deeply on the arm-chair and the table, that Jehan lost him from view behind the great pile of manuscripts. For the space of several minutes, all that he saw was his fist convulsively clenched on a book. Suddenly, Dom Claude sprang up, seized a compass and engraved in silence upon the wall in capital letters, this Greek word
“My brother is mad,” said Jehan to himself; “it would have been far more simple to write Fatum, every one is not obliged to know Greek.”
The archdeacon returned and seated himself in his armchair, and placed his head on both his hands, as a sick man does, whose head is heavy and burning.
The student watched his brother with surprise. He did not know, he who wore his heart on his sleeve, he who observed only the good old law of Nature in the world, he who allowed his passions to follow their inclinations, and in whom the lake of great emotions was always dry, so freely did he let it off each day by fresh drains — he did not know with what fury the sea of human passions ferments and boils when all egress is denied to it, how it accumulates, how it swells, how it overflows, how it hollows out the heart; how it breaks in inward sobs, and dull convulsions, until it has rent its dikes and burst its bed. The austere and glacial envelope of Claude Frollo, that cold surface of steep and inaccessible virtue, had always deceived Jehan. The merry scholar had never dreamed that there was boiling lava, furious and profound, beneath the snowy brow of AEtna.
We do not know whether he suddenly became conscious of these things; but, giddy as he was, he understood that he had seen what he ought not to have seen, that he had just surprised the soul of his elder brother in one of its most secret altitudes, and that Claude must not be allowed to know it. Seeing that the archdeacon had fallen back into his former immobility, he withdrew his head very softly, and made some noise with his feet outside the door, like a person who has just arrived and is giving warning of his approach.
“Enter!” cried the archdeacon, from the interior of his cell; “I was expecting you. I left the door unlocked expressly; enter Master Jacques!”
The scholar entered boldly. The archdeacon, who was very much embarrassed by such a visit in such a place, trembled in his arm-chair. “What! ’tis you, Jehan?”
“’Tis a J, all the same,” said the scholar, with his ruddy, merry, and audacious face.
Dom Claude’s visage had resumed its severe expression.
“What are you come for?”
“Brother,” replied the scholar, making an effort to assume a decent, pitiful, and modest mien, and twirling his cap in his hands with an innocent air; “I am come to ask of you —”
“A little lecture on morality, of which I stand greatly in need,” Jehan did not dare to add aloud — “and a little money of which I am in still greater need.” This last member of his phrase remained unuttered.
“Monsieur,” said the archdeacon, in a cold tone, “I am greatly displeased with you.”
“Alas!” sighed the scholar.
Dom Claude made his arm-chair describe a quarter circle, and gazed intently at Jehan.
“I am very glad to see you.”
This was a formidable exordium. Jehan braced himself for a rough encounter.
“Jehan, complaints are brought me about you every day. What affray was that in which you bruised with a cudgel a little vicomte, Albert de Ramonchamp?”
“Oh!” said Jehan, “a vast thing that! A malicious page amused himself by splashing the scholars, by making his horse gallop through the mire!”
“Who,” pursued the archdeacon, “is that Mahiet Fargel, whose gown you have torn? Tunicam dechiraverunt, saith the complaint.”
“Ah bah! a wretched cap of a Montaigu! Isn’t that it?”
“The complaint says tunicam and not cappettam. Do you know Latin?”
Jehan did not reply.
“Yes,” pursued the priest shaking his head, “that is the state of learning and letters at the present day. The Latin tongue is hardly understood, Syriac is unknown, Greek so odious that ’tis accounted no ignorance in the most learned to skip a Greek word without reading it, and to say, ‘Groecum est non legitur.’”
The scholar raised his eyes boldly. “Monsieur my brother, doth it please you that I shall explain in good French vernacular that Greek word which is written yonder on the wall?”
A slight flush spread over the cheeks of the priest with their high bones, like the puff of smoke which announces on the outside the secret commotions of a volcano. The student hardly noticed it.
“Well, Jehan,” stammered the elder brother with an effort, “What is the meaning of yonder word?”
Dom Claude turned pale again, and the scholar pursued carelessly.
“And that word below it, graved by the same hand, ‘Ayáyvela, signifies ‘impurity.’ You see that people do know their Greek.”
And the archdeacon remained silent. This Greek lesson had rendered him thoughtful.
Master Jehan, who possessed all the artful ways of a spoiled child, judged that the moment was a favorable one in which to risk his request. Accordingly, he assumed an extremely soft tone and began —
“My good brother, do you hate me to such a degree as to look savagely upon me because of a few mischievous cuffs and blows distributed in a fair war to a pack of lads and brats, quibusdam marmosetis? You see, good Brother Claude, that people know their Latin.”
But all this caressing hypocrisy did not have its usual effect on the severe elder brother. Cerberus did not bite at the honey cake. The archdeacon’s brow did not lose a single wrinkle.
“What are you driving at?” he said dryly.
“Well, in point of fact, this!” replied Jehan bravely, “I stand in need of money.”
At this audacious declaration, the archdeacon’s visage assumed a thoroughly pedagogical and paternal expression.
“You know, Monsieur Jehan, that our fief of Tirecbappe, putting the direct taxes and the rents of the nine and twenty houses in a block, yields only nine and thirty livres, eleven sous, six deniers, Parisian. It is one half more than in the time of the brothers Paclet, but it is not much.”
“I need money,” said Jehan stoically.
“You know that the official has decided that our twenty-one houses should he moved full into the fief of the Bishopric, and that we could redeem this homage only by paying the reverend bishop two marks of silver gilt of the price of six livres parisis. Now, these two marks I have not yet been able to get together. You know it.”
“I know that I stand in need of money,” repeated Jehan for the third time.
“And what are you going to do with it?”
This question caused a flash of hope to gleam before Jehan’s eyes. He resumed his dainty, caressing air.
“Stay, dear Brother Claude, I should not come to you, with any evil motive. There is no intention of cutting a dash in the taverns with your unzains, and of strutting about the streets of Paris in a caparison of gold brocade, with a lackey, cum meo laquasio. No, brother, ’tis for a good work.”
“What good work?” demanded Claude, somewhat surprised.
“Two of my friends wish to purchase an outfit for the infant of a poor Haudriette widow. It is a charity. It will cost three forms, and I should like to contribute to it.”
“What are names of your two friends?”
“Pierre l’Assommeur and Baptiste Croque–Oison.”
* Peter the Slaughterer; and Baptist Crack–Gosling.
“Hum,” said the archdeacon; “those are names as fit for a good work as a catapult for the chief altar.”
It is certain that Jehan had made a very bad choice of names for his two friends. He realized it too late.
“And then,” pursued the sagacious Claude, “what sort of an infant’s outfit is it that is to cost three forms, and that for the child of a Haudriette? Since when have the Haudriette widows taken to having babes in swaddling-clothes?”
Jehan broke the ice once more.
“Eh, well! yes! I need money in order to go and see Isabeau la Thierrye to-night; in the Val-d’ Amour!”
“Impure wretch!” exclaimed the priest.
“Avayveia!” said Jehan.
This quotation, which the scholar borrowed with malice, perchance, from the wall of the cell, produced a singular effect on the archdeacon. He bit his lips and his wrath was drowned in a crimson flush.
“Begone,” he said to Jehan. “I am expecting some one.”
The scholar made one more effort.
“Brother Claude, give me at least one little parisis to buy something to eat.”
“How far have you gone in the Decretals of Gratian?” demanded Dom Claude.
“I have lost my copy books.
“Where are you in your Latin humanities?”
“My copy of Horace has been stolen.”
“Where are you in Aristotle?”
“I’ faith! brother what father of the church is it, who says that the errors of heretics have always had for their lurking place the thickets of Aristotle’s metaphysics? A plague on Aristotle! I care not to tear my religion on his metaphysics.”
“Young man,” resumed the archdeacon, “at the king’s last entry, there was a young gentleman, named Philippe de Comines, who wore embroidered on the housings of his horse this device, upon which I counsel you to meditate: Qui non laborat, non manducet.”
The scholar remained silent for a moment, with his finger in his ear, his eyes on the ground, and a discomfited mien.
All at once he turned round to Claude with the agile quickness of a wagtail.
“So, my good brother, you refuse me a sou parisis, wherewith to buy a crust at a baker’s shop?”
“Qui non laborat, non manducet.”
At this response of the inflexible archdeacon, Jehan hid his head in his hands, like a woman sobbing, and exclaimed with an expression of despair: “Orororororoi.”
“What is the meaning of this, sir?” demanded Claude, surprised at this freak.
“What indeed!” said the scholar; and he lifted to Claude his impudent eyes into which he had just thrust his fists in order to communicate to them the redness of tears; “’tis Greek! ’tis an anapaest of AEschylus which expresses grief perfectly.”
And here he burst into a laugh so droll and violent that it made the archdeacon smile. It was Claude’s fault, in fact: why had he so spoiled that child?
“Oh! good Brother Claude,” resumed Jehan, emboldened by this smile, “look at my worn out boots. Is there a cothurnus in the world more tragic than these boots, whose soles are hanging out their tongues?”
The archdeacon promptly returned to his original severity.
“I will send you some new boots, but no money.”
“Only a poor little parisis, brother,” continued the suppliant Jehan. “I will learn Gratian by heart, I will believe firmly in God, I will be a regular Pythagoras of science and virtue. But one little parisis, in mercy! Would you have famine bite me with its jaws which are gaping in front of me, blacker, deeper, and more noisome than a Tartarus or the nose of a monk?”
Dom Claude shook his wrinkled head: “Qui non laborat —”
Jehan did not allow him to finish.
“Well,” he exclaimed, “to the devil then! Long live joy! I will live in the tavern, I will fight, I will break pots and I will go and see the wenches.” And thereupon, he hurled his cap at the wall, and snapped his fingers like castanets.
The archdeacon surveyed him with a gloomy air.
“Jehan, you have no soul.”
“In that case, according to Epicurius, I lack a something made of another something which has no name.”
“Jehan, you must think seriously of amending your ways.”
“Oh, come now,” cried the student, gazing in turn at his brother and the alembics on the furnace, “everything is preposterous here, both ideas and bottles!”
“Jehan, you are on a very slippery downward road. Do you know whither you are going?”
“To the wine-shop,” said Jehan.
“The wine-shop leads to the pillory.”
“’Tis as good a lantern as any other, and perchance with that one, Diogenes would have found his man.”
“The pillory leads to the gallows.”
“The gallows is a balance which has a man at one end and the whole earth at the other. ’Tis fine to be the man.”
“The gallows leads to hell.”
“’Tis a big fire.”.
“Jehan, Jehan, the end will be bad.”
“The beginning will have been good.”
At that moment, the sound of a footstep was heard on the staircase.
“Silence!” said the archdeacon, laying his finger on his mouth, “here is Master Jacques. Listen, Jehan,” he added, in a low voice; “have a care never to speak of what you shall have seen or heard here. Hide yourself quickly under the furnace, and do not breathe.”
The scholar concealed himself; just then a happy idea occurred to him.
“By the way, Brother Claude, a form for not breathing.”
“Silence! I promise.”
“You must give it to me.”
“Take it, then!” said the archdeacon angrily, flinging his purse at him.
Jehan darted under the furnace again, and the door opened.
The personage who entered wore a black gown and a gloomy mien. The first point which struck the eye of our Jehan (who, as the reader will readily surmise, had ensconced himself in his nook in such a manner as to enable him to see and hear everything at his good pleasure) was the perfect sadness of the garments and the visage of this new-corner. There was, nevertheless, some sweetness diffused over that face, but it was the sweetness of a cat or a judge, an affected, treacherous sweetness. He was very gray and wrinkled, and not far from his sixtieth year, his eyes blinked, his eyebrows were white, his lip pendulous, and his hands large. When Jehan saw that it was only this, that is to say, no doubt a physician or a magistrate, and that this man had a nose very far from his mouth, a sign of stupidity, he nestled down in his hole, in despair at being obliged to pass an indefinite time in such an uncomfortable attitude, and in such bad company.
The archdeacon, in the meantime, had not even risen to receive this personage. He had made the latter a sign to seat himself on a stool near the door, and, after several moments of a silence which appeared to be a continuation of a preceding meditation, he said to him in a rather patronizing way, “Good day, Master Jacques.”
“Greeting, master,” replied the man in black.
There was in the two ways in which “Master Jacques” was pronounced on the one hand, and the “master” by preeminence on the other, the difference between monseigneur and monsieur, between domine and domne. It was evidently the meeting of a teacher and a disciple.
“Well!” resumed the archdeacon, after a fresh silence which Master Jacques took good care not to disturb, “how are you succeeding?”
“Alas! master,” said the other, with a sad smile, “I am still seeking the stone. Plenty of ashes. But not a spark of gold.”
Dom Claude made a gesture of impatience. “I am not talking to you of that, Master Jacques Charmolue, but of the trial of your magician. Is it not Marc Cenaine that you call him? the butler of the Court of Accounts? Does he confess his witchcraft? Have you been successful with the torture?”
“Alas! no,” replied Master Jacques, still with his sad smile; “we have not that consolation. That man is a stone. We might have him boiled in the Marché aux Pourceaux, before he would say anything. Nevertheless, we are sparing nothing for the sake of getting at the truth; he is already thoroughly dislocated, we are applying all the herbs of Saint John’s day; as saith the old comedian Plautus —
‘Advorsum stimulos, laminas, crucesque, compedesque,
Nerros, catenas, carceres, numellas, pedicas, boias.’
Nothing answers; that man is terrible. I am at my wit’s end over him.”
“You have found nothing new in his house?”
“I’ faith, yes,” said Master Jacques, fumbling in his pouch; “this parchment. There are words in it which we cannot comprehend. The criminal advocate, Monsieur Philippe Lheulier, nevertheless, knows a little Hebrew, which he learned in that matter of the Jews of the Rue Kantersten, at Brussels.”
So saying, Master Jacques unrolled a parchment. “Give it here,” said the archdeacon. And casting his eyes upon this writing: “Pure magic, Master Jacques!” he exclaimed. “‘Emen-Hétan!’ ’Tis the cry of the vampires when they arrive at the witches’ sabbath. Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso! ’Tis the command which chains the devil in hell. Hax, pax, max! that refers to medicine. A formula against the bite of mad dogs. Master Jacques! you are procurator to the king in the Ecclesiastical Courts: this parchment is abominable.”
“We will put the man to the torture once more. Here again,” added Master Jacques, fumbling afresh in his pouch, “is something that we have found at Marc Cenaine’s house.”
It was a vessel belonging to the same family as those which covered Dom Claude’s furnace.
“Ah!” said the archdeacon, “a crucible for alchemy.”
“I will confess to you,” continued Master Jacques, with his timid and awkward smile, “that I have tried it over the furnace, but I have succeeded no better than with my own.”
The archdeacon began an examination of the vessel. “What has he engraved on his crucible? Och! och! the word which expels fleas! That Marc Cenaine is an ignoramus! I verily believe that you will never make gold with this! ’Tis good to set in your bedroom in summer and that is all!”
“Since we are talking about errors,” said the king’s procurator, “I have just been studying the figures on the portal below before ascending hither; is your reverence quite sure that the opening of the work of physics is there portrayed on the side towards the Hôtel-Dieu, and that among the seven nude figures which stand at the feet of Notre–Dame, that which has wings on his heels is Mercurius?”
“Yes,” replied the priest; “’tis Augustin Nypho who writes it, that Italian doctor who had a bearded demon who acquainted him with all things. However, we will descend, and I will explain it to you with the text before us.”
“Thanks, master,” said Charmolue, bowing to the earth. “By the way, I was on the point of forgetting. When doth it please you that I shall apprehend the little sorceress?”
“That gypsy girl you know, who comes every day to dance on the church square, in spite of the official’s prohibition! She hath a demoniac goat with horns of the devil, which reads, which writes, which knows mathematics like Picatrix, and which would suffice to hang all Bohemia. The prosecution is all ready; ’twill soon be finished, I assure you! A pretty creature, on my soul, that dancer! The handsomest black eyes! Two Egyptian carbuncles! When shall we begin?”
The archdeacon was excessively pale.
“I will tell you that hereafter,” he stammered, in a voice that was barely articulate; then he resumed with an effort, “Busy yourself with Marc Cenaine.”
“Be at ease,” said Charmolue with a smile; “I’ll buckle him down again for you on the leather bed when I get home. But ’tis a devil of a man; he wearies even Pierrat Torterue himself, who hath hands larger than my own. As that good Plautus saith —
‘Nudus vinctus, centum pondo,
es quando pendes per pedes.’
The torture of the wheel and axle! ’Tis the most effectual! He shall taste it!”
Dom Claude seemed absorbed in gloomy abstraction. He turned to Charmolue —
“Master Pierrat — Master Jacques, I mean, busy yourself with Marc Cenaine.”
“Yes, yes, Dom Claude. Poor man! he will have suffered like Mummol. What an idea to go to the witches’ sabbath! a butler of the Court of Accounts, who ought to know Charlemagne’s text; Stryga vel masea! — In the matter of the little girl — Smelarda, as they call her — I will await your orders. Ah! as we pass through the portal, you will explain to me also the meaning of the gardener painted in relief, which one sees as one enters the church. Is it not the Sower? Hé! master, of what are you thinking, pray?”
Dom Claude, buried in his own thoughts, no longer listened to him. Charmolue, following the direction of his glance, perceived that it was fixed mechanically on the great spider’s web which draped the window. At that moment, a bewildered fly which was seeking the March sun, flung itself through the net and became entangled there. On the agitation of his web, the enormous spider made an abrupt move from his central cell, then with one bound, rushed upon the fly, which he folded together with his fore antennae, while his hideous proboscis dug into the victim’s bead. “Poor fly!” said the king’s procurator in the ecclesiastical court; and he raised his hand to save it. The archdeacon, as though roused with a start, withheld his arm with convulsive violence.
“Master Jacques,” he cried, “let fate take its course!” The procurator wheeled round in affright; it seemed to him that pincers of iron had clutched his arm. The priest’s eye was staring, wild, flaming, and remained riveted on the horrible little group of the spider and the fly.
“Oh, yes!” continued the priest, in a voice which seemed to proceed from the depths of his being, “behold here a symbol of all. She flies, she is joyous, she is just born; she seeks the spring, the open air, liberty: oh, yes! but let her come in contact with the fatal network, and the spider issues from it, the hideous spider! Poor dancer! poor, predestined fly! Let things take their course, Master Jacques, ’tis fate! Alas! Claude, thou art the spider! Claude, thou art the fly also! Thou wert flying towards learning, light, the sun. Thou hadst no other care than to reach the open air, the full daylight of eternal truth; but in precipitating thyself towards the dazzling window which opens upon the other world — upon the world of brightness, intelligence, and science — blind fly! senseless, learned man! thou hast not perceived that subtle spider’s web, stretched by destiny betwixt the light and thee — thou hast flung thyself headlong into it, and now thou art struggling with head broken and mangled wings between the iron antennae of fate! Master Jacques! Master Jacques! let the spider work its will!”
“I assure you,” said Charmolue, who was gazing at him without comprehending him, “that I will not touch it. But release my arm, master, for pity’s sake! You have a hand like a pair of pincers.”
The archdeacon did not hear him. “Oh, madman!” he went on, without removing his gaze from the window. “And even couldst thou have broken through that formidable web, with thy gnat’s wings, thou believest that thou couldst have reached the light? Alas! that pane of glass which is further on, that transparent obstacle, that wall of crystal, harder than brass, which separates all philosophies from the truth, how wouldst thou have overcome it? Oh, vanity of science! how many wise men come flying from afar, to dash their heads against thee! How many systems vainly fling themselves buzzing against that eternal pane!”
He became silent. These last ideas, which had gradually led him back from himself to science, appeared to have calmed him. Jacques Charmolue recalled him wholly to a sense of reality by addressing to him this question: “Come, now, master, when will you come to aid me in making gold? I am impatient to succeed.”
The archdeacon shook his head, with a bitter smile. “Master Jacques read Michel Psellus’ ‘Dialogus de Energia et Operatione Daemonum.’ What we are doing is not wholly innocent.”
“Speak lower, master! I have my suspicions of it,” said Jacques Charmolue. “But one must practise a bit of hermetic science when one is only procurator of the king in the ecclesiastical court, at thirty crowns tournois a year. Only speak low.”
At that moment the sound of jaws in the act of mastication, which proceeded from beneath the furnace, struck Charmolue’s uneasy ear.
“What’s that?” he inquired.
It was the scholar, who, ill at ease, and greatly bored in his hiding-place, had succeeded in discovering there a stale crust and a triangle of mouldy cheese, and had set to devouring the whole without ceremony, by way of consolation and breakfast. As he was very hungry, he made a great deal of noise, and he accented each mouthful strongly, which startled and alarmed the procurator.
“’Tis a cat of mine,” said the archdeacon, quickly, “who is regaling herself under there with a mouse,”
This explanation satisfied Charmolue.
“In fact, master,” he replied, with a respectful smile, “all great philosophers have their familiar animal. You know what Servius saith: ‘Nullus enim locus sine genio est — for there is no place that hath not its spirit.’”
But Dom Claude, who stood in terror of some new freak on the part of Jehan, reminded his worthy disciple that they had some figures on the façade to study together, and the two quitted the cell, to the accompaniment of a great “ouf!” from the scholar, who began to seriously fear that his knee would acquire the imprint of his chin.
“Te Deum Laudamus!” exclaimed Master Jehan, creeping out from his hole, “the screech-owls have departed. Och! och! Hax! pax! max! fleas! mad dogs! the devil! I have had enough of their conversation! My head is humming like a bell tower. And mouldy cheese to boot! Come on! Let us descend, take the big brother’s purse and convert all these coins into bottles!”
He cast a glance of tenderness and admiration into the interior of the precious pouch, readjusted his toilet, rubbed up his boots, dusted his poor half sleeves, all gray with ashes, whistled an air, indulged in a sportive pirouette, looked about to see whether there were not something more in the cell to take, gathered up here and there on the furnace some amulet in glass which might serve to bestow, in the guise of a trinket, on Isabeau la Thierrye, finally pushed open the door which his brother had left unfastened, as a last indulgence, and which he, in his turn, left open as a last piece of malice, and descended the circular staircase, skipping like a bird.
In the midst of the gloom of the spiral staircase, he elbowed something which drew aside with a growl; he took it for granted that it was Quasimodo, and it struck him as so droll that he descended the remainder of the staircase holding his sides with laughter. On emerging upon the Place, he laughed yet more heartily.
He stamped his foot when he found himself on the ground once again. “Oh!” said he, “good and honorable pavement of Paris, cursed staircase, fit to put the angels of Jacob’s ladder out of breath! What was I thinking of to thrust myself into that stone gimlet which pierces the sky; all for the sake of eating bearded cheese, and looking at the bell-towers of Paris through a hole in the wall!”
He advanced a few paces, and caught sight of the two screech owls, that is to say, Dom Claude and Master Jacques Charmolue, absorbed in contemplation before a carving on the façade. He approached them on tiptoe, and heard the archdeacon say in a low tone to Charmolue: “’Twas Guillaume de Paris who caused a Job to be carved upon this stone of the hue of lapis-lazuli, gilded on the edges. Job represents the philosopher’s stone, which must also be tried and martyrized in order to become perfect, as saith Raymond Lulle: Sub conservatione formoe speciftoe salva anima.”
“That makes no difference to me,” said Jehan, “’tis I who have the purse.”
At that moment he heard a powerful and sonorous voice articulate behind him a formidable series of oaths. “Sang Dieu! Ventre-.Dieu! Bédieu! Corps de Dieu! Nombril de Belzebuth! Nom d’un pape! Come et tonnerre.”
“Upon my soul!” exclaimed Jehan, “that can only be my friend, Captain Phoebus!”
This name of Phoebus reached the ears of the archdeacon at the moment when he was explaining to the king’s procurator the dragon which is hiding its tail in a bath, from which issue smoke and the head of a king. Dom Claude started, interrupted himself and, to the great amazement of Charmolue, turned round and beheld his brother Jehan accosting a tall officer at the door of the Gondelaurier mansion.
It was, in fact, Captain Phoebus de Châteaupers. He was backed up against a corner of the house of his betrothed and swearing like a heathen.
“By my faith! Captain Phoebus,” said Jehan, taking him by the hand, “you are cursing with admirable vigor.”
“Horns and thunder!” replied the captain.
“Horns and thunder yourself!” replied the student. “Come now, fair captain, whence comes this overflow of fine words?”
“Pardon me, good comrade Jehan,” exclaimed Phoebus, shaking his hand, “a horse going at a gallop cannot halt short. Now, I was swearing at a hard gallop. I have just been with those prudes, and when I come forth, I always find my throat full of curses, I must spit them out or strangle, ventre et tonnerre!”
“Will you come and drink?” asked the scholar.
This proposition calmed the captain.
“I’m willing, but I have no money.”
“But I have!”
“Bah! let’s see it!”
Jehan spread out the purse before the captain’s eyes, with dignity and simplicity. Meanwhile, the archdeacon, who had abandoned the dumbfounded Charmolue where he stood, had approached them and halted a few paces distant, watching them without their noticing him, so deeply were they absorbed in contemplation of the purse.
Phoebus exclaimed: “A purse in your pocket, Jehan! ’tis the moon in a bucket of water, one sees it there but ’tis not there. There is nothing but its shadow. Pardieu! let us wager that these are pebbles!”
Jehan replied coldly: “Here are the pebbles wherewith I pave my fob!”
And without adding another word, he emptied the purse on a neighboring post, with the air of a Roman saving his country.
“True God!” muttered Phoebus, “targes, big-blanks, little blanks, mailles,* every two worth one of Tournay, farthings of Paris, real eagle liards! ’Tis dazzling!”
* An ancient copper coin, the forty-fourth part of a sou or the twelfth part of a farthing.
Jehan remained dignified and immovable. Several liards had rolled into the mud; the captain in his enthusiasm stooped to pick them up. Jehan restrained him.
“Fye, Captain Phoebus de Châteaupers!”
Phoebus counted the coins, and turning towards Jehan with solemnity, “Do you know, Jehan, that there are three and twenty sous parisis! whom have you plundered to-night, in the Street Cut–Weazand?”
Jehan flung back his blonde and curly head, and said, half-closing his eyes disdainfully —
“We have a brother who is an archdeacon and a fool.”
“Corne de Dieu!” exclaimed Phoebus, “the worthy man!”
“Let us go and drink,” said Jehan.
“Where shall we go?” said Phoebus; “‘To Eve’s Apple.’”
“No, captain, to ‘Ancient Science.’ An old woman sawing a basket handle; ’tis a rebus, and I like that.”
* Une vielle qui scie une anse.
“A plague on rebuses, Jehan! the wine is better at ‘Eve’s Apple’; and then, beside the door there is a vine in the sun which cheers me while I am drinking.”
“Well! here goes for Eve and her apple,” said the student, and taking Phoebus’s arm. “By the way, my dear captain, you just mentioned the Rue Coupe–Gueule*. That is a very bad form of speech; people are no longer so barbarous. They say, Coupe–Gorge**.”
* Cut–Weazand Street.
** Cut–Throat Street.
The two friends set out towards “Eve’s Apple.” It is unnecessary to mention that they had first gathered up the money, and that the archdeacon followed them.
The archdeacon followed them, gloomy and haggard. Was this the Phoebus whose accursed name had been mingled with all his thoughts ever since his interview with Gringoire? He did not know it, but it was at least a Phoebus, and that magic name sufficed to make the archdeacon follow the two heedless comrades with the stealthy tread of a wolf, listening to their words and observing their slightest gestures with anxious attention. Moreover, nothing was easier than to hear everything they said, as they talked loudly, not in the least concerned that the passers-by were taken into their confidence. They talked of duels, wenches, wine pots, and folly.
At the turning of a street, the sound of a tambourine reached them from a neighboring square. Dom Claude heard the officer say to the scholar —
“Thunder! Let us hasten our steps!”
“I’m afraid lest the Bohemian should see me.”
“The little girl with the goat.”
“That’s it, Jehan. I always forget her devil of a name. Let us make haste, she will recognize me. I don’t want to have that girl accost me in the street.”
“Do you know her, Phoebus?”
Here the archdeacon saw Phoebus sneer, bend down to Jehan’s ear, and say a few words to him in a low voice; then Phoebus burst into a laugh, and shook his head with a triumphant air.
“Truly?” said Jehan.
“Upon my soul!” said Phoebus.
“Are you sure that she will come?”
“Are you a fool, Jehan? Does one doubt such things?”
“Captain Phoebus, you are a happy gendarme!”
The archdeacon heard the whole of this conversation. His teeth chattered; a visible shiver ran through his whole body. He halted for a moment, leaned against a post like a drunken man, then followed the two merry knaves.
At the moment when he overtook them once more, they had changed their conversation. He heard them singing at the top of their lungs the ancient refrain —
Les enfants des Petits–Carreaux
Se font pendre cornme des veaux*.
* The children of the Petits Carreaux let themselves be hung like calves.
The illustrious wine shop of “Eve’s Apple” was situated in the University, at the corner of the Rue de la Rondelle and the Rue de la Bâtonnier. It was a very spacious and very low hail on the ground floor, with a vaulted ceiling whose central spring rested upon a huge pillar of wood painted yellow; tables everywhere, shining pewter jugs hanging on the walls, always a large number of drinkers, a plenty of wenches, a window on the street, a vine at the door, and over the door a flaring piece of sheet-iron, painted with an apple and a woman, rusted by the rain and turning with the wind on an iron pin. This species of weather-vane which looked upon the pavement was the signboard.
Night was falling; the square was dark; the wine-shop, full of candles, flamed afar like a forge in the gloom; the noise of glasses and feasting, of oaths and quarrels, which escaped through the broken panes, was audible. Through the mist which the warmth of the room spread over the window in front, a hundred confused figures could be seen swarming, and from time to time a burst of noisy laughter broke forth from it. The passers-by who were going about their business, slipped past this tumultuous window without glancing at it. Only at intervals did some little ragged boy raise himself on tiptoe as far as the ledge, and hurl into the drinking-shop, that ancient, jeering hoot, with which drunken men were then pursued: “Aux Houls, saouls, saouls, saouls!”
Nevertheless, one man paced imperturbably back and forth in front of the tavern, gazing at it incessantly, and going no further from it than a pikernan from his sentry-box. He was enveloped in a mantle to his very nose. This mantle he had just purchased of the old-clothes man, in the vicinity of the “Eve’s Apple,” no doubt to protect himself from the cold of the March evening, possibly also, to conceal his costume. From time to time he paused in front of the dim window with its leaden lattice, listened, looked, and stamped his foot.
At length the door of the dram-shop opened. This was what he appeared to be waiting for. Two boon companions came forth. The ray of light which escaped from the door crimsoned for a moment their jovial faces.
The man in the mantle went and stationed himself on the watch under a porch on the other side of the street.
“Corne et tonnerre!” said one of the comrades. “Seven o’clock is on the point of striking. ’Tis the hour of my appointed meeting.”
“I tell you,” repeated his companion, with a thick tongue, “that I don’t live in the Rue des Mauvaises Paroles, indignus qui inter mala verba habitat. I have a lodging in the Rue Jean–Pain-Mollet, in vico Johannis Pain–Mollet. You are more horned than a unicorn if you assert the contrary. Every one knows that he who once mounts astride a bear is never after afraid; but you have a nose turned to dainties like Saint–Jacques of the hospital.”
“Jehan, my friend, you are drunk,” said the other.
The other replied staggering, “It pleases you to say so, Phoebus; but it hath been proved that Plato had the profile of a hound.”
The reader has, no doubt, already recognized our two brave friends, the captain and the scholar. It appears that the man who was lying in wait for them had also recognized them, for he slowly followed all the zigzags that the scholar caused the captain to make, who being a more hardened drinker had retained all his self-possession. By listening to them attentively, the man in the mantle could catch in its entirety the following interesting conversation —
“Corbacque! Do try to walk straight, master bachelor; you know that I must leave you. Here it is seven o’clock. I have an appointment with a woman.”
“Leave me then! I see stars and lances of fire. You are like the Chateau de Dampmartin, which is bursting with laughter.”
“By the warts of my grandmother, Jehan, you are raving with too much rabidness. By the way, Jehan, have you any money left?”
“Monsieur Rector, there is no mistake; the little butcher’s shop, parva boucheria.”
“Jehau! my friend Jehan! You know that I made an appointment with that little girl at the end of the Pont Saint–Michel, and I can only take her to the Falourdel’s, the old crone of the bridge, and that I must pay for a chamber. The old witch with a white moustache would not trust me. Jehan! for pity’s sake! Have we drunk up the whole of the curé‘s purse? Have you not a single parisis left?”
“The consciousness of having spent the other hours well is a just and savory condiment for the table.”
“Belly and guts! a truce to your whimsical nonsense! Tell me, Jehan of the devil! have you any money left? Give it to me, bédieu!” or I will search you, were you as leprous as Job, and as scabby as Caesar!”
“Monsieur, the Rue Galiache is a street which hath at one end the Rue de la Verrerie, and at the other the Rue de la Tixeranderie.”
“Well, yes! my good friend Jehan, my poor comrade, the Rue Galiache is good, very good. But in the name of heaven collect your wits. I must have a sou parisis, and the appointment is for seven o’clock.”
“Silence for the rondo, and attention to the refrain —
“Quand les rats mangeront les cas,
Le roi sera seigneur d’Arras;
Quand la mer, qui est grande et le(e
Sera a la Saint–Jean gele(e,
On verra, par-dessus la glace,
Sortir ceux d’Arras de leur place*.”
* When the rats eat the cats, the king will be lord of Arras; when the sea which is great and wide, is frozen over at St. John’s tide, men will see across the ice, those who dwell in Arras quit their place.
“Well, scholar of Antichrist, may you be strangled with the entrails of your mother!” exclaimed Phoebus, and he gave the drunken scholar a rough push; the latter slipped against the wall, and slid flabbily to the pavement of Philip Augustus. A remnant of fraternal pity, which never abandons the heart of a drinker, prompted Phoebus to roll Jehan with his foot upon one of those pillows of the poor, which Providence keeps in readiness at the corner of all the street posts of Paris, and which the rich blight with the name of “a rubbish-heap.” The captain adjusted Jehan’s head upon an inclined plane of cabbage-stumps, and on the very instant, the scholar fell to snoring in a magnificent bass. Meanwhile, all malice was not extinguished in the captain’s heart. “So much the worse if the devil’s cart picks you up on its passage!” he said to the poor, sleeping clerk; and he strode off.
The man in the mantle, who had not ceased to follow him, halted for a moment before the prostrate scholar, as though agitated by indecision; then, uttering a profound sigh, he also strode off in pursuit of the captain.
We, like them, will leave Jehan to slumber beneath the open sky, and will follow them also, if it pleases the reader.
On emerging into the Rue Saint–André-des-Arcs, Captain Phoebus perceived that some one was following him. On glancing sideways by chance, he perceived a sort of shadow crawling after him along the walls. He halted, it halted; he resumed his march, it resumed its march. This disturbed him not overmuch. “Ah, bah!” he said to himself, “I have not a sou.”
He paused in front of the College d’Autun. It was at this college that he had sketched out what he called his studies, and, through a scholar’s teasing habit which still lingered in him, he never passed the façade without inflicting on the statue of Cardinal Pierre Bertrand, sculptured to the right of the portal, the affront of which Priapus complains so bitterly in the satire of Horace, Olim truncus eram ficulnus. He had done this with so much unrelenting animosity that the inscription, Eduensis episcopus, had become almost effaced. Therefore, he halted before the statue according to his wont. The street was utterly deserted. At the moment when he was coolly retying his shoulder knots, with his nose in the air, he saw the shadow approaching him with slow steps, so slow that he had ample time to observe that this shadow wore a cloak and a hat. On arriving near him, it halted and remained more motionless than the statue of Cardinal Bertrand. Meanwhile, it riveted upon Phoebus two intent eyes, full of that vague light which issues in the night time from the pupils of a cat.
The captain was brave, and would have cared very little for a highwayman, with a rapier in his hand. But this walking statue, this petrified man, froze his blood. There were then in circulation, strange stories of a surly monk, a nocturnal prowler about the streets of Paris, and they recurred confusedly to his memory. He remained for several minutes in stupefaction, and finally broke the silence with a forced laugh.
“Monsieur, if you are a robber, as I hope you are, you produce upon me the effect of a heron attacking a nutshell. I am the son of a ruined family, my dear fellow. Try your hand near by here. In the chapel of this college there is some wood of the true cross set in silver.”
The hand of the shadow emerged from beneath its mantle and descended upon the arm of Phoebus with the grip of an eagle’s talon; at the same time the shadow spoke —
“Captain Phoebus de Châteaupers!”
What, the devil!” said Phoebus, “you know my name!”
“I know not your name alone,” continued the man in the mantle, with his sepulchral voice. “You have a rendezvous this evening.”
“Yes,” replied Phoebus in amazement.
“At seven o’clock.”
“In a quarter of an hour.”
“At la Falourdel’s.”
“The lewd hag of the Pont Saint–Michel.”
“Of Saint Michel the archangel, as the Pater Noster saith.”
“Impious wretch!” muttered the spectre. “With a woman?”
“Confiteor — I confess —.”
“Who is called —?”
“La Smeralda,” said Phoebus, gayly. All his heedlessness had gradually returned.
At this name, the shadow’s grasp shook the arm of Phoebus in a fury.
“Captain Phoebus de Châteaupers, thou liest!”
Any one who could have beheld at that moment the captain’s inflamed countenance, his leap backwards, so violent that he disengaged himself from the grip which held him, the proud air with which he clapped his hand on his swordhilt, and, in the presence of this wrath the gloomy immobility of the man in the cloak — any one who could have beheld this would have been frightened. There was in it a touch of the combat of Don Juan and the statue.
“Christ and Satan!” exclaimed the captain. “That is a word which rarely strikes the ear of a Châteaupers! Thou wilt not dare repeat it.”
“Thou liest!” said the shadow coldly.
The captain gnashed his teeth. Surly monk, phantom, superstitions — he had forgotten all at that moment. He no longer beheld anything but a man, and an insult.
“Ah! this is well!” he stammered, in a voice stifled with rage. He drew his sword, then stammering, for anger as well as fear makes a man tremble: “Here! On the spot! Come on! Swords! Swords! Blood on the pavement!”
But the other never stirred. When he beheld his adversary on guard and ready to parry —
“Captain Phoebus,” he said, and his tone vibrated with bitterness, “you forget your appointment.”
The rages of men like Phoebus are milk-soups, whose ebullition is calmed by a drop of cold water. This simple remark caused the sword which glittered in the captain’s hand to be lowered.
“Captain,” pursued the man, “tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, a month hence, ten years hence, you will find me ready to cut your throat; but go first to your rendezvous.”
“In sooth,” said Phoebus, as though seeking to capitulate with himself, “these are two charming things to be encountered in a rendezvous — a sword and a wench; but I do not see why I should miss the one for the sake of the other, when I can have both.”
He replaced his sword in its scabbard.
“Go to your rendezvous,” said the man.
“Monsieur,” replied Phoebus with some embarrassment, “many thanks for your courtesy. In fact, there will be ample time tomorrow for us to chop up father Adam’s doublet into slashes and buttonholes. I am obliged to you for allowing me to pass one more agreeable quarter of an hour. I certainly did hope to put you in the gutter, and still arrive in time for the fair one, especially as it has a better appearance to make the women wait a little in such cases. But you strike me as having the air of a gallant man, and it is safer to defer our affair until tomorrow. So I will betake myself to my rendezvous; it is for seven o’clock, as you know.” Here Phoebus scratched his ear. “Ah. Corne Dieu! I had forgotten! I haven’t a sou to discharge the price of the garret, and the old crone will insist on being paid in advance. She distrusts me.”
“Here is the wherewithal to pay.”
Phoebus felt the stranger’s cold hand slip into his a large piece of money. He could not refrain from taking the money and pressing the hand.
“Vrai Dieu!” he exclaimed, “you are a good fellow!”
“One condition,” said the man. “Prove to me that I have been wrong and that you were speaking the truth. Hide me in some corner whence I can see whether this woman is really the one whose name you uttered.”
“Oh!” replied Phoebus, “’tis all one to me. We will take, the Sainte–Marthe chamber; you can look at your ease from the kennel hard by.”
“Come then,” said the shadow.
“At your service,” said the captain, “I know not whether you are Messer Diavolus in person; but let us be good friends for this evening; tomorrow I will repay you all my debts, both of purse and sword.”
They set out again at a rapid pace. At the expiration of a few minutes, the sound of the river announced to them that they were on the Pont Saint–Michel, then loaded with houses.
“I will first show you the way,” said Phoebus to his companion, “I will then go in search of the fair one who is awaiting me near the Petit–Châtelet.”
His companion made no reply; he had not uttered a word since they had been walking side by side. Phoebus halted before a low door, and knocked roughly; a light made its appearance through the cracks of the door.
“Who is there?” cried a toothless voice.
“Corps–Dieu! Tête-Dieu! Ventre–Dieu!” replied the captain.
The door opened instantly, and allowed the new-corners to see an old woman and an old lamp, both of which trembled. The old woman was bent double, clad in tatters, with a shaking head, pierced with two small eyes, and coiffed with a dish clout; wrinkled everywhere, on hands and face and neck; her lips retreated under her gums, and about her mouth she had tufts of white hairs which gave her the whiskered look of a cat.
The interior of the den was no less dilapitated than she; there were chalk walls, blackened beams in the ceiling, a dismantled chimney-piece, spiders’ webs in all the corners, in the middle a staggering herd of tables and lame stools, a dirty child among the ashes, and at the back a staircase, or rather, a wooden ladder, which ended in a trap door in the ceiling.
On entering this lair, Phoebus’s mysterious companion raised his mantle to his very eyes. Meanwhile, the captain, swearing like a Saracen, hastened to “make the sun shine in a crown” as saith our admirable Régnier.
“The Sainte–Marthe chamber,” said he.
The old woman addressed him as monseigneur, and shut up the crown in a drawer. It was the coin which the man in the black mantle had given to Phoebus. While her back was turned, the bushy-headed and ragged little boy who was playing in the ashes, adroitly approached the drawer, abstracted the crown, and put in its place a dry leaf which he had plucked from a fagot.
The old crone made a sign to the two gentlemen, as she called them, to follow her, and mounted the ladder in advance of them. On arriving at the upper story, she set her lamp on a coffer, and, Phoebus, like a frequent visitor of the house, opened a door which opened on a dark hole. “Enter here, my dear fellow,” he said to his companion. The man in the mantle obeyed without a word in reply, the door closed upon him; he heard Phoebus bolt it, and a moment later descend the stairs again with the aged hag. The light had disappeared.
Claude Frollo (for we presume that the reader, more intelligent than Phoebus, has seen in this whole adventure no other surly monk than the archdeacon), Claude Frollo groped about for several moments in the dark lair into which the captain had bolted him. It was one of those nooks which architects sometimes reserve at the point of junction between the roof and the supporting wall. A vertical section of this kennel, as Phoebus had so justly styled it, would have made a triangle. Moreover, there was neither window nor air-hole, and the slope of the roof prevented one from standing upright. Accordingly, Claude crouched down in the dust, and the plaster which cracked beneath him; his head was on fire; rummaging around him with his hands, be found on the floor a bit of broken glass, which he pressed to his brow, and whose coolness afforded him some relief.
What was taking place at that moment in the gloomy soul of the archdeacon? God and himself could alone know.
In what order was he arranging in his mind la Esmeralda, Phoebus, Jacques Charmolue, his young brother so beloved, yet abandoned by him in the mire, his archdeacon’s cassock, his reputation perhaps dragged to la Falourdel’s, all these adventures, all these images? I cannot say. But it is certain that these ideas formed in his mind a horrible group.
He had been waiting a quarter of an hour; it seemed to him that he had grown a century older. All at once be heard the creaking of the boards of the stairway; some one was ascending. The trapdoor opened once more; a light reappeared. There was a tolerably large crack in the worm-eaten door of his den; he put his face to it. In this manner he could see all that went on in the adjoining room. The cat-faced old crone was the first to emerge from the trap-door, lamp in hand; then Phoebus, twirling his moustache, then a third person, that beautiful and graceful figure, la Esmeralda. The priest beheld her rise from below like a dazzling apparition. Claude trembled, a cloud spread over his eyes, his pulses beat violently, everything rustled and whirled around him; he no longer saw nor heard anything.
When he recovered himself, Phoebus and Esmeralda were alone seated on the wooden coffer beside the lamp which made these two youthful figures and a miserable pallet at the end of the attic stand out plainly before the archdeacon’s eyes.
Beside the pallet was a window, whose panes broken like a spider’s web upon which rain has fallen, allowed a view, through its rent meshes, of a corner of the sky, and the moon lying far away on an eiderdown bed of soft clouds.
The young girl was blushing, confused, palpitating. Her long, drooping lashes shaded her crimson cheeks. The officer, to whom she dared not lift her eyes, was radiant. Mechanically, and with a charmingly unconscious gesture, she traced with the tip of her finger incoherent lines on the bench, and watched her finger. Her foot was not visible. The little goat was nestling upon it.
The captain was very gallantly clad; he had tufts of embroidery at his neck and wrists; a great elegance at that day.
It was not without difficulty that Dom Claude managed to hear what they were saying, through the humming of the blood, which was boiling in his temples.
(A conversation between lovers is a very commonplace affair. It is a perpetual “I love you.” A musical phrase which is very insipid and very bald for indifferent listeners, when it is not ornamented with some fioriture; but Claude was not an indifferent listener.)
“Oh!” said the young girl, without raising her eyes, “do not despise me, monseigneur Phoebus. I feel that what I am doing is not right.”
“Despise you, my pretty child!” replied the officer with an air of superior and distinguished gallantry, “despise you, tête-Dieu! and why?”
“For having followed you!”
“On that point, my beauty, we don’t agree. I ought not to despise you, but to hate you.”
The young girl looked at him in affright: “Hate me! what have I done?”
“For having required so much urging.”
“Alas!” said she, “’tis because I am breaking a vow. I shall not find my parents! The amulet will lose its virtue. But what matters it? What need have I of father or mother now?”
So saying, she fixed upon the captain her great black eyes, moist with joy and tenderness.
“Devil take me if I understand you!” exclaimed Phoebus. La Esmeralda remained silent for a moment, then a tear dropped from her eyes, a sigh from her lips, and she said — “Oh! monseigneur, I love you.”
Such a perfume of chastity, such a charm of virtue surrounded the young girl, that Phoebus did not feel completely at his ease beside her. But this remark emboldened him: “You love me!” he said with rapture, and he threw his arm round the gypsy’s waist. He had only been waiting for this opportunity.
The priest saw it, and tested with the tip of his finger the point of a poniard which he wore concealed in his breast.
“Phoebus,” continued the Bohemian, gently releasing her waist from the captain’s tenacious hands, “You are good, you are generous, you are handsome; you saved me, me who am only a poor child lost in Bohemia. I had long been dreaming of an officer who should save my life. ’Twas of you that I was dreaming, before I knew you, my Phoebus; the officer of my dream had a beautiful uniform like yours, a grand look, a sword; your name is Phoebus; ’tis a beautiful name. I love your name; I love your sword. Draw your sword, Phoebus, that I may see it.”
“Child!” said the captain, and he unsheathed his sword with a smile.
The gypsy looked at the hilt, the blade; examined the cipher on the guard with adorable curiosity, and kissed the sword, saying —
You are the sword of a brave man. I love my captain.” Phoebus again profited by the opportunity to impress upon her beautiful bent neck a kiss which made the young girl straighten herself up as scarlet as a poppy. The priest gnashed his teeth over it in the dark.
“Phoebus,” resumed the gypsy, “let me talk to you. Pray walk a little, that I may see you at full height, and that I may hear your spurs jingle. How handsome you are!”
The captain rose to please her, chiding her with a smile of satisfaction —
“What a child you are! By the way, my charmer, have you seen me in my archer’s ceremonial doublet?”
“Alas! no,” she replied.
“It is very handsome!”
Phoebus returned and seated himself beside her, but much closer than before.
“Listen, my dear —”
The gypsy gave him several little taps with her pretty hand on his mouth, with a childish mirth and grace and gayety.
“No, no, I will not listen to you. Do you love me? I want you to tell me whether you love me.”
“Do I love thee, angel of my life!” exclaimed the captain, half kneeling. “My body, my blood, my soul, all are thine; all are for thee. I love thee, and I have never loved any one but thee.”
The captain had repeated this phrase so many times, in many similar conjunctures, that he delivered it all in one breath, without committing a single mistake. At this passionate declaration, the gypsy raised to the dirty ceiling which served for the skies a glance full of angelic happiness.
“Oh!” she murmured, “this is the moment when one should die!”
Phoebus found “the moment” favorable for robbing her of another kiss, which went to torture the unhappy archdeacon in his nook. “Die!” exclaimed the amorous captain, “What are you saying, my lovely angel? ’Tis a time for living, or Jupiter is only a scamp! Die at the beginning of so sweet a thing! Corne-deboeuf, what a jest! It is not that. Listen, my dear Similar, Esmenarda — Pardon! you have so prodigiously Saracen a name that I never can get it straight. ’Tis a thicket which stops me short.”
“Good heavens!” said the poor girl, “and I thought my name pretty because of its singularity! But since it displeases you, I would that I were called Goton.”
“Ah! do not weep for such a trifle, my graceful maid! ’tis a name to which one must get accustomed, that is all. When I once know it by heart, all will go smoothly. Listen then, my dear Similar; I adore you passionately. I love you so that ’tis simply miraculous. I know a girl who is bursting with rage over it —”
The jealous girl interrupted him: “Who?”
“What matters that to us?” said Phoebus; “do you love me?”
“Oh!”— said she.
“Well! that is all. You shall see how I love you also. May the great devil Neptunus spear me if I do not make you the happiest woman in the world. We will have a pretty little house somewhere. I will make my archers parade before your windows. They are all mounted, and set at defiance those of Captain Mignon. There are voulgiers, cranequiniers and hand couleveiniers*. I will take you to the great sights of the Parisians at the storehouse of Rully. Eighty thousand armed men, thirty thousand white harnesses, short coats or coats of mail; the sixty-seven banners of the trades; the standards of the parliaments, of the chamber of accounts, of the treasury of the generals, of the aides of the mint; a devilish fine array, in short! I will conduct you to see the lions of the Hôtel du Roi, which are wild beasts. All women love that.”
* Varieties of the crossbow.
For several moments the young girl, absorbed in her charming thoughts, was dreaming to the sound of his voice, without listening to the sense of his words.
“Oh! how happy you will be!” continued the captain, and at the same time he gently unbuckled the gypsy’s girdle.
“What are you doing?” she said quickly. This “act of violence” had roused her from her revery.
“Nothing,” replied Phoebus, “I was only saying that you must abandon all this garb of folly, and the street corner when you are with me.”
“When I am with you, Phoebus!” said the young girl tenderly.
She became pensive and silent once more.
The captain, emboldened by her gentleness, clasped her waist without resistance; then began softly to unlace the poor child’s corsage, and disarranged her tucker to such an extent that the panting priest beheld the gypsy’s beautiful shoulder emerge from the gauze, as round and brown as the moon rising through the mists of the horizon.
The young girl allowed Phoebus to have his way. She did not appear to perceive it. The eye of the bold captain flashed.
Suddenly she turned towards him —
“Phoebus,” she said, with an expression of infinite love, “instruct me in thy religion.”
“My religion!” exclaimed the captain, bursting with laughter, “I instruct you in my religion! Corne et tonnerre! What do you want with my religion?”
“In order that we may be married,” she replied.
The captain’s face assumed an expression of mingled surprise and disdain, of carelessness and libertine passion.
“Ah, bah!” said he, “do people marry?”
The Bohemian turned pale, and her head drooped sadly on her breast.
“My beautiful love,” resumed Phoebus, tenderly, “what nonsense is this? A great thing is marriage, truly! one is none the less loving for not having spit Latin into a priest’s shop!”
While speaking thus in his softest voice, he approached extremely near the gypsy; his caressing hands resumed their place around her supple and delicate waist, his eye flashed more and more, and everything announced that Monsieur Phoebus was on the verge of one of those moments when Jupiter himself commits so many follies that Homer is obliged to summon a cloud to his rescue.
But Dom Claude saw everything. The door was made of thoroughly rotten cask staves, which left large apertures for the passage of his hawklike gaze. This brown-skinned, broad-shouldered priest, hitherto condemned to the austere virginity of the cloister, was quivering and boiling in the presence of this night scene of love and voluptuousness. This young and beautiful girl given over in disarray to the ardent young man, made melted lead flow in his-veins; his eyes darted with sensual jealousy beneath all those loosened pins. Any one who could, at that moment, have seen the face of the unhappy man glued to the wormeaten bars, would have thought that he beheld the face of a tiger glaring from the depths of a cage at some jackal devouring a gazelle. His eye shone like a candle through the cracks of the door.
All at once, Phoebus, with a rapid gesture, removed the gypsy’s gorgerette. The poor child, who had remained pale and dreamy, awoke with a start; she recoiled hastily from the enterprising officer, and, casting a glance at her bare neck and shoulders, red, confused, mute with shame, she crossed her two beautiful arms on her breast to conceal it. Had it not been for the flame which burned in her cheeks, at the sight of her so silent and motionless, one would have. declared her a statue of Modesty. Her eyes were lowered.
But the captain’s gesture had revealed the mysterious amulet which she wore about her neck.
“What is that?” he said, seizing this pretext to approach once more the beautiful creature whom he had just alarmed.
“Don’t touch it!” she replied, quickly, “’tis my guardian. It will make me find my family again, if I remain worthy to do so. Oh, leave me, monsieur le capitaine! My mother! My poor mother! My mother! Where art thou? Come to my rescue! Have pity, Monsieur Phoebus, give me back my gorgerette!”
Phoebus retreated amid said in a cold tone —
“Oh, mademoiselle! I see plainly that you do not love me!”
“I do not love him!” exclaimed the unhappy child, and at the same time she clung to the captain, whom she drew to a seat beside her. “I do not love thee, my Phoebus? What art thou saying, wicked man, to break my heart? Oh, take me! take all! do what you will with me, I am thine. What matters to me the amulet! What matters to me my mother! ’Tis thou who art my mother since I love thee! Phoebus, my beloved Phoebus, dost thou see me? ’Tis I. Look at me; ’tis the little one whom thou wilt surely not repulse, who comes, who comes herself to seek thee. My soul, my life, my body, my person, all is one thing — which is thine, my captain. Well, no! We will not marry, since that displeases thee; and then, what am I? a miserable girl of the gutters; whilst thou, my Phoebus, art a gentleman. A fine thing, truly! A dancer wed an officer! I was mad. No, Phoebus, no; I will be thy mistress, thy amusement, thy pleasure, when thou wilt; a girl who shall belong to thee. I was only made for that, soiled, despised, dishonored, but what matters it? — beloved. I shall be the proudest and the most joyous of women. And when I grow old or ugly, Phoebus, when I am no longer good to love you, you will suffer me to serve you still. Others will embroider scarfs for you; ’tis I, the servant, who will care for them. You will let me polish your spurs, brush your doublet, dust your riding-boots. You will have that pity, will you not, Phoebus? Meanwhile, take me! here, Phoebus, all this belongs to thee, only love me! We gypsies need only air and love.”
So saying, she threw her arms round the officer’s neck; she looked up at him, supplicatingly, with a beautiful smile, and all in tears. Her delicate neck rubbed against his cloth doublet with its rough embroideries. She writhed on her knees, her beautiful body half naked. The intoxicated captain pressed his ardent lips to those lovely African shoulders. The young girl, her eyes bent on the ceiling, as she leaned backwards, quivered, all palpitating, beneath this kiss.
All at once, above Phoebus’s head she beheld another head; a green, livid, convulsed face, with the look of a lost soul; near this face was a hand grasping a poniard. — It was the face and hand of the priest; he had broken the door and he was there. Phoebus could not see him. The young girl remained motionless, frozen with terror, dumb, beneath that terrible apparition, like a dove which should raise its head at the moment when the hawk is gazing into her nest with its round eyes.
She could not even utter a cry. She saw the poniard descend upon Phoebus, and rise again, reeking.
“Maledictions!” said the captain, and fell.
At the moment when her eyes closed, when all feeling vanished in her, she thought that she felt a touch of fire imprinted upon her lips, a kiss more burning than the red-hot iron of the executioner.
When she recovered her senses, she was surrounded by soldiers of the watch they were carrying away the captain, bathed in his blood the priest had disappeared; the window at the back of the room which opened on the river was wide open; they picked up a cloak which they supposed to belong to the officer and she heard them saying around her,
“’Tis a sorceress who has stabbed a captain.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09