Claude Frollo was no longer in Notre–Dame when his adopted son so abruptly cut the fatal web in which the archdeacon and the gypsy were entangled. On returning to the sacristy he had torn off his alb, cope, and stole, had flung all into the hands of the stupefied beadle, had made his escape through the private door of the cloister, had ordered a boatman of the Terrain to transport him to the left bank of the Seine, and had plunged into the hilly streets of the University, not knowing whither he was going, encountering at every step groups of men and women who were hurrying joyously towards the Pont Saint–Michel, in the hope of still arriving in time to see the witch hung there — pale, wild, more troubled, more blind and more fierce than a night bird let loose and pursued by a troop of children in broad daylight. He no longer knew where he was, what he thought, or whether he were dreaming. He went forward, walking, running, taking any street at haphazard, making no choice, only urged ever onward away from the Grève, the horrible Grève, which he felt confusedly, to be behind him.
In this manner he skirted Mount Sainte–Geneviève, and finally emerged from the town by the Porte Saint–Victor. He continued his flight as long as he could see, when he turned round, the turreted enclosure of the University, and the rare houses of the suburb; but, when, at length, a rise of ground had completely concealed from him that odious Paris, when he could believe himself to be a hundred leagues distant from it, in the fields, in the desert, he halted, and it seemed to him that he breathed more freely.
Then frightful ideas thronged his mind. Once more he could see clearly into his soul, and he shuddered. He thought of that unhappy girl who had destroyed him, and whom he had destroyed. He cast a haggard eye over the double, tortuous way which fate had caused their two destinies to pursue up to their point of intersection, where it had dashed them against each other without mercy. He meditated on the folly of eternal vows, on the vanity of chastity, of science, of religion, of virtue, on the uselessness of God. He plunged to his heart’s content in evil thoughts, and in proportion as he sank deeper, he felt a Satanic laugh burst forth within him.
And as he thus sifted his soul to the bottom, when he perceived how large a space nature had prepared there for the passions, he sneered still more bitterly. He stirred up in the depths of his heart all his hatred, all his malevolence; and, with the cold glance of a physician who examines a patient, he recognized the fact that this malevolence was nothing but vitiated love; that love, that source of every virtue in man, turned to horrible things in the heart of a priest, and that a man constituted like himself, in making himself a priest, made himself a demon. Then he laughed frightfully, and suddenly became pale again, when he considered the most sinister side of his fatal passion, of that corrosive, venomous malignant, implacable love, which had ended only in the gibbet for one of them and in hell for the other; condemnation for her, damnation for him.
And then his laughter came again, when he reflected that Phoebus was alive; that after all, the captain lived, was gay and happy, had handsomer doublets than ever, and a new mistress whom he was conducting to see the old one hanged. His sneer redoubled its bitterness when he reflected that out of the living beings whose death he had desired, the gypsy, the only creature whom he did not hate, was the only one who had not escaped him.
Then from the captain, his thought passed to the people, and there came to him a jealousy of an unprecedented sort. He reflected that the people also, the entire populace, had had before their eyes the woman whom he loved exposed almost naked. He writhed his arms with agony as he thought that the woman whose form, caught by him alone in the darkness would have been supreme happiness, had been delivered up in broad daylight at full noonday, to a whole people, clad as for a night of voluptuousness. He wept with rage over all these mysteries of love, profaned, soiled, laid bare, withered forever. He wept with rage as he pictured to himself how many impure looks had been gratified at the sight of that badly fastened shift, and that this beautiful girl, this virgin lily, this cup of modesty and delight, to which he would have dared to place his lips only trembling, had just been transformed into a sort of public bowl, whereat the vilest populace of Paris, thieves, beggars, lackeys, had come to quaff in common an audacious, impure, and depraved pleasure.
And when he sought to picture to himself the happiness which he might have found upon earth, if she had not been a gypsy, and if he had not been a priest, if Phoebus had not existed and if she had loved him; when he pictured to himself that a life of serenity and love would have been possible to him also, even to him; that there were at that very moment, here and there upon the earth, happy couples spending the hours in sweet converse beneath orange trees, on the banks of brooks, in the presence of a setting sun, of a starry night; and that if God had so willed, he might have formed with her one of those blessed couples — his heart melted in tenderness and despair.
Oh! she! still she! It was this fixed idea which returned incessantly, which tortured him, which ate into his brain, and rent his vitals. He did not regret, he did not repent; all that he had done he was ready to do again; he preferred to behold her in the hands of the executioner rather than in the arms of the captain. But he suffered; he suffered so that at intervals he tore out handfuls of his hair to see whether it were not turning white.
Among other moments there came one, when it occurred to him that it was perhaps the very minute when the hideous chain which he had seen that morning, was pressing its iron noose closer about that frail and graceful neck. This thought caused the perspiration to start from every pore.
There was another moment when, while laughing diabolically at himself, he represented to himself la Esmeralda as he had seen her on that first day, lively, careless, joyous, gayly attired, dancing, winged, harmonious, and la Esmeralda of the last day, in her scanty shift, with a rope about her neck, mounting slowly with her bare feet, the angular ladder of the gallows; he figured to himself this double picture in such a manner.that he gave vent to a terrible cry.
While this hurricane of despair overturned, broke, tore up, bent, uprooted everything in his soul, he gazed at nature around him. At his feet, some chickens were searching the thickets and pecking, enamelled beetles ran about in the sun; overhead, some groups of dappled gray clouds were floating across the blue sky; on the horizon, the spire of the Abbey Saint–Victor pierced the ridge of the hill with its slate obelisk; and the miller of the Copeaue hillock was whistling as he watched the laborious wings of his mill turning. All this active, organized, tranquil life, recurring around him under a thousand forms, hurt him. He resumed his flight.
He sped thus across the fields until evening. This flight from nature, life, himself, man, God, everything, lasted all day long. Sometimes he flung himself face downward on the, earth, and tore up the young blades of wheat with his nails. Sometimes he halted in the deserted street of a village, and his thoughts were so intolerable that he grasped his head in both hands and tried to tear it from his shoulders in order to dash it upon the pavement.
Towards the hour of sunset, he examined himself again, and found himself nearly mad. The tempest which had raged within him ever since the instant when he had lost the hope and the will to save the gypsy — that tempest had not left in his conscience a single healthy idea, a single thought which maintained its upright position. His reason lay there almost entirely destroyed. There remained but two distinct images in his mind, la Esmeralda and the gallows; all the rest was blank. Those two images united, presented to him a frightful group; and the more he concentrated what attention and thought was left to him, the more he beheld them grow, in accordance with a fantastic progression, the one in grace, in charm, in beauty, in light, the other in deformity and horror; so that at last la Esmeralda appeared to him like a star, the gibbet like an enormous, fleshless arm.
One remarkable fact is, that during the whole of this torture, the idea of dying did not seriously occur to him. The wretch was made so. He clung to life. Perhaps he really saw hell beyond it.
Meanwhile, the day continued to decline. The living being which still existed in him reflected vaguely on retracing its steps. He believed himself to be far away from Paris; on taking his bearings, he perceived that he had only circled the enclosure of the University. The spire of Saint–Sulpice, and the three lofty needles of Saint Germain-des-Prés, rose above the horizon on his right. He turned his steps in that direction. When he heard the brisk challenge of the men-at-arms of the abbey, around the crenelated, circumscribing wall of Saint–Germain, he turned aside, took a path which presented itself between the abbey and the lazar-house of the bourg, and at the expiration of a few minutes found himself on the verge of the Pré-aux-Clercs. This meadow was celebrated by reason of the brawls which went on there night and day; it was the hydra of the poor monks of Saint–Germain: quod mouachis Sancti–Germaini pratensis hydra fuit, clericis nova semper dissidiorum capita suscitantibus. The archdeacon was afraid of meeting some one there; he feared every human countenance; he had just avoided the University and the Bourg Saint–Germain; he wished to re-enter the streets as late as possible. He skirted the Pré-aux-Clercs, took the deserted path which separated it from the Dieu–Neuf, and at last reached the water’s edge. There Dom Claude found a boatman, who, for a few farthings in Parisian coinage, rowed him up the Seine as far as the point of the city, and landed him on that tongue of abandoned land where the reader has already beheld Gringoire dreaming, and which was prolonged beyond the king’s gardens, parallel to the Ile du Passeur-aux-Vaches.
The monotonous rocking of the boat and the ripple of the water had, in some sort, quieted the unhappy Claude. When the boatman had taken his departure, he remained standing stupidly on the strand, staring straight before him and perceiving objects only through magnifying oscillations which rendered everything a sort of phantasmagoria to him. The fatigue of a great grief not infrequently produces this effect on the mind.
The sun had set behind the lofty Tour-deNesle. It was the twilight hour. The sky was white, the water of the river was white. Between these two white expanses, the left bank of the Seine, on which his eyes were fixed, projected its gloomy mass and, rendered ever thinner and thinner by perspective, it plunged into the gloom of the horizon like a black spire. It was loaded with houses, of which only the obscure outline could be distinguished, sharply brought out in shadows against the light background of the sky and the water. Here and there windows began to gleam, like the holes in a brazier. That immense black obelisk thus isolated between the two white expanses of the sky and the river, which was very broad at this point, produced upon Dom Claude a singular effect, comparable to that which would be experienced by a man who, reclining on his back at the foot of the tower of Strasburg, should gaze at the enormous spire plunging into the shadows of the twilight above his head. Only, in this case, it was Claude who was erect and the obelisk which was lying down; but, as the river, reflecting the sky, prolonged the abyss below him, the immense promontory seemed to be as boldly launched into space as any cathedral spire; and the impression was the same. This impression had even one stronger and more profound point about it, that it was indeed the tower of Strasbourg, but the tower of Strasbourg two leagues in height; something unheard of, gigantic, immeasurable; an edifice such as no human eye has ever seen; a tower of Babel. The chimneys of the houses, the battlements of the walls, the faceted gables of the roofs, the spire of the Augustines, the tower of Nesle, all these projections which broke the profile of the colossal obelisk added to the illusion by displaying in eccentric fashion to the eye the indentations of a luxuriant and fantastic sculpture.
Claude, in the state of hallucination in which he found himself, believed that he saw, that he saw with his actual eyes, the bell tower of hell; the thousand lights scattered over the whole height of the terrible tower seemed to him so many porches of the immense interior furnace; the voices and noises which escaped from it seemed so many shrieks, so many death groans. Then he became alarmed, he put his hands on his ears that he might no longer hear, turned his back that he might no longer see, and fled from the frightful vision with hasty strides.
But the vision was in himself.
When he re-entered the streets, the passers-by elbowing each other by the light of the shop-fronts, produced upon him the effect of a constant going and coming of spectres about him. There were strange noises in his ears; extraordinary fancies disturbed his brain. He saw neither houses, nor pavements, nor chariots, nor men and women, but a chaos of indeterminate objects whose edges melted into each other. At the corner of the Rue de la Barillerie, there was a grocer’s shop whose porch was garnished all about, according to immemorial custom, with hoops of tin from which hung a circle of wooden candles, which came in contact with each other in the wind, and rattled like castanets. He thought he heard a cluster of skeletons at Montfauçon clashing together in the gloom.
“Oh!” he muttered, “the night breeze dashes them against each other, and mingles the noise of their chains with the rattle of their bones! Perhaps she is there among them!”
In his state of frenzy, he knew not whither he was going. After a few strides he found himself on the Pont Saint–Michel. There was a light in the window of a ground-floor room; he approached. Through a cracked window he beheld a mean chamber which recalled some confused memory to his mind. In that room, badly lighted by a meagre lamp, there was a fresh, light-haired young man, with a merry face, who amid loud bursts of laughter was embracing a very audaciously attired young girl; and near the lamp sat an old crone spinning and singing in a quavering voice. As the young man did not laugh constantly, fragments of the old woman’s ditty reached the priest; it was something unintelligible yet frightful —
“Grève, aboie, Grève, grouille!
File, file, ma quenouille,
File sa corde au bourreau,
Qui siffle dans le pre(au,
Grève, aboie, Grève, grouille!
“La belle corde de chanvre!
Semez d’Issy jusqu’á Vanvre
Du chanvre et non pas du ble(.
Le voleur n’a pas vole(
La belle corde de chanvre.
“Grève, grouille, Grève, aboie!
Pour voir la fille de joie,
Prendre au gibet chassieux,
Les fenêtres sont des yeux.
Grève, grouille, Grève, aboie!”*
* Bark, Grève, grumble, Grève! Spin, spin, my distaff, spin her rope for the hangman, who is whistling in the meadow. What a beautiful hempen rope! Sow hemp, not wheat, from Issy to Vanvre. The thief hath not stolen the beautiful hempen rope. Grumble, Grève, bark, Grève! To see the dissolute wench hang on the blear-eyed gibbet, windows are eyes.
Thereupon the young man laughed and caressed the wench. The crone was la Falourdel; the girl was a courtesan; the young man was his brother Jehan.
He continued to gaze. That spectacle was as good as any other.
He saw Jehan go to a window at the end of the room, open it, cast a glance on the quay, where in the distance blazed a thousand lighted casements, and he heard him say as he closed the sash —
“‘Pon my soul! How dark it is; the people are lighting their candles, and the good God his stars.”
Then Jehan came back to the hag, smashed a bottle standing on the table, exclaiming —
“Already empty, cor-boeuf! and I have no more money! Isabeau, my dear, I shall not be satisfied with Jupiter until he has changed your two white nipples into two black bottles, where I may suck wine of Beaune day and night.”
This fine pleasantry made the courtesan laugh, and Jehan left the room.
Dom Claude had barely time to fling himself on the ground in order that he might not be met, stared in the face and recognized by his brother. Luckily, the street was dark, and the scholar was tipsy. Nevertheless, he caught sight of the archdeacon prone upon the earth in the mud.
“Oh! oh!” said he; “here’s a fellow who has been leading a jolly life, today.”
He stirred up Dom Claude with his foot, and the latter held his breath.
“Dead drunk,” resumed Jehan. “Come, he’s full. A regular leech detached from a hogshead. He’s bald,” he added, bending down, “’tis an old man! Fortunate senex!”
Then Dom Claude heard him retreat, saying —
“’Tis all the same, reason is a fine thing, and my brother the archdeacon is very happy in that he is wise and has money.”
Then the archdeacon rose to his feet, and ran without halting, towards Notre–Dame, whose enormous towers he beheld rising above the houses through the gloom.
At the instant when he arrived, panting, on the Place du Parvis, he shrank back and dared not raise his eyes to the fatal edifice.
“Oh!” he said, in a low voice, “is it really true that such a thing took place here, today, this very morning?”
Still, he ventured to glance at the church. The front was sombre; the sky behind was glittering with stars. The crescent of the moon, in her flight upward from the horizon, had paused at the moment, on the summit of the light hand tower, and seemed to have perched itself, like a luminous bird, on the edge of the balustrade, cut out in black trefoils.
The cloister door was shut; but the archdeacon always carried with him the key of the tower in which his laboratory was situated. He made use of it to enter the church.
In the church he found the gloom and silence of a cavern. By the deep shadows which fell in broad sheets from all directions, he recognized the fact that the hangings for the ceremony of the morning had not yet been removed. The great silver cross shone from the depths of the gloom, powdered with some sparkling points, like the milky way of that sepulchral night. The long windows of the choir showed the upper extremities of their arches above the black draperies, and their painted panes, traversed by a ray of moonlight had no longer any hues but the doubtful colors of night, a sort of violet, white and blue, whose tint is found only on the faces of the dead. The archdeacon, on perceiving these wan spots all around the choir, thought he beheld the mitres of damned bishops. He shut his eyes, and when he opened them again, he thought they were a circle of pale visages gazing at him.
He started to flee across the church. Then it seemed to him that the church also was shaking, moving, becoming endued with animation, that it was alive; that each of the great columns was turning into an enormous paw, which was beating the earth with its big stone spatula, and that the gigantic cathedral was no longer anything but a sort of prodigious elephant, which was breathing and marching with its pillars for feet, its two towers for trunks and the immense black cloth for its housings.
This fever or madness had reached such a degree of intensity that the external world was no longer anything more for the unhappy man than a sort of Apocalypse — visible, palpable, terrible.
For one moment, he was relieved. As he plunged into the side aisles, he perceived a reddish light behind a cluster of pillars. He ran towards it as to a star. It was the poor lamp which lighted the public breviary of Notre–Dame night and day, beneath its iron grating. He flung himself eagerly upon the holy book in the hope of finding some consolation, or some encouragement there. The hook lay open at this passage of Job, over which his staring eye glanced —
“And a spirit passed before my face, and I heard a small voice, and the hair of my flesh stood up.”
On reading these gloomy words, he felt that which a blind man feels when he feels himself pricked by the staff which he has picked up. His knees gave way beneath him, and he sank upon the pavement, thinking of her who had died that day. He felt so many monstrous vapors pass and discharge themselves in his brain, that it seemed to him that his head had become one of the chimneys of hell.
It would appear that he remained a long time in this attitude, no longer thinking, overwhelmed and passive beneath the hand of the demon. At length some strength returned to him; it occurred to him to take refuge in his tower beside his faithful Quasimodo. He rose; and, as he was afraid, he took the lamp from the breviary to light his way. It was a sacrilege; but he had got beyond heeding such a trifle now.
He slowly climbed the stairs of the towers, filled with a secret fright which must have been communicated to the rare passers-by in the Place du Parvis by the mysterious light of his lamp, mounting so late from loophole to loophole of the bell tower.
All at once, he felt a freshness on his face, and found himself at the door of the highest gallery. The air was cold; the sky was filled with hurrying clouds, whose large, white flakes drifted one upon another like the breaking up of river ice after the winter. The crescent of the moon, stranded in the midst of the clouds, seemed a celestial vessel caught in the ice-cakes of the air.
He lowered his gaze, and contemplated for a moment, through the railing of slender columns which unites the two towers, far away, through a gauze of mists and smoke, the silent throng of the roofs of Paris, pointed, innumerable, crowded and small like the waves of a tranquil sea on a sum-mer night.
The moon cast a feeble ray, which imparted to earth and heaven an ashy hue.
At that moment the clock raised its shrill, cracked voice. Midnight rang out. The priest thought of midday; twelve o’clock had come back again.
“Oh!” he said in a very low tone, “she must be cold now.”
All at once, a gust of wind extinguished his lamp, and almost at the same instant, he beheld a shade, a whiteness, a form, a woman, appear from the opposite angle of the tower. He started. Beside this woman was a little goat, which mingled its bleat with the last bleat of the clock.
He had strength enough to look. It was she.
She was pale, she was gloomy. Her hair fell over her shoulders as in the morning; but there was no longer a rope on her neck, her hands were no longer bound; she was free, she was dead.
She was dressed in white and had a white veil on her head.
She came towards him, slowly, with her gaze fixed on the sky. The supernatural goat followed her. He felt as though made of stone and too heavy to flee. At every step which she took in advance, he took one backwards, and that was all. In this way he retreated once more beneath the gloomy arch of the stairway. He was chilled by the thought that she might enter there also; had she done so, he would have died of terror.
She did arrive, in fact, in front of the door to the stairway, and paused there for several minutes, stared intently into the darkness, but without appearing to see the priest, and passed on. She seemed taller to him than when she had been alive; he saw the moon through her white robe; he heard her breath.
When she had passed on, he began to descend the staircase again, with the slowness which he had observed in the spectre, believing himself to be a spectre too, haggard, with hair on end, his extinguished lamp still in his hand; and as he descended the spiral steps, he distinctly heard in his ear a voice laughing and repeating —
“A spirit passed before my face, and I heard a small voice, and the hair of my flesh stood up.”
Every city during the Middle Ages, and every city in France down to the time of Louis XII. had its places of asylum. These sanctuaries, in the midst of the deluge of penal and barbarous jurisdictions which inundated the city, were a species of islands which rose above the level of human justice. Every criminal who landed there was safe. There were in every suburb almost as many places of asylum as gallows. It was the abuse of impunity by the side of the abuse of punishment; two bad things which strove to correct each other. The palaces of the king, the hotels of the princes, and especially churches, possessed the right of asylum. Sometimes a whole city which stood in need of being repeopled was temporarily created a place of refuge. Louis XI. made all Paris a refuge in 1467.
His foot once within the asylum, the criminal was sacred; but he must beware of leaving it; one step outside the sanctuary, and he fell back into the flood. The wheel, the gibbet, the strappado, kept good guard around the place of refuge, and lay in watch incessantly for their prey, like sharks around a vessel. Hence, condemned men were to be seen whose hair had grown white in a cloister, on the steps of a palace, in the enclosure of an abbey, beneath the porch of a church; in this manner the asylum was a prison as much as any other. It sometimes happened that a solemn decree of parliament violated the asylum and restored the condemned man to the executioner; but this was of rare occurrence. Parliaments were afraid of the bishops, and when there was friction between these two robes, the gown had but a poor chance against the cassock. Sometimes, however, as in the affair of the assassins of Petit–Jean, the headsman of Paris, and in that of Emery Rousseau, the murderer of Jean Valleret, justice overleaped the church and passed on to the execution of its sentences; but unless by virtue of a decree of Parliament, woe to him who violated a place of asylum with armed force! The reader knows the manner of death of Robert de Clermont, Marshal of France, and of Jean de Châlons, Marshal of Champagne; and yet the question was only of a certain Perrin Marc, the clerk of a money-changer, a miserable assassin; but the two marshals had broken the doors of St. Méry. Therein lay the enormity.
Such respect was cherished for places of refuge that, according to tradition, animals even felt it at times. Aymoire relates that a stag, being chased by Dagobert, having taken refuge near the tomb of Saint–Denis, the pack of hounds stopped short and barked.
Churches generally had a small apartment prepared for the reception of supplicants. In 1407, Nicolas Flamel caused to be built on the vaults of Saint–Jacques de la Boucherie, a chamber which cost him four livres six sous, sixteen farthings, parisis.
At Notre–Dame it was a tiny cell situated on the roof of the side aisle, beneath the flying buttresses, precisely at the spot where the wife of the present janitor of the towers has made for herself a garden, which is to the hanging gardens of Babylon what a lettuce is to a palm-tree, what a porter’s wife is to a Semiramis.
It was here that Quasimodo had deposited la Esmeralda, after his wild and triumphant course. As long as that course lasted, the young girl had been unable to recover her senses, half unconscious, half awake, no longer feeling anything, except that she was mounting through the air, floating in it, flying in it, that something was raising her above the earth. From time to time she heard the loud laughter, the noisy voice of Quasimodo in her ear; she half opened her eyes; then below her she confusedly beheld Paris checkered with its thousand roofs of slate and tiles, like a red and blue mosaic, above her head the frightful and joyous face of Quasimodo. Then her eyelids drooped again; she thought that all was over, that they had executed her during her swoon, and that the misshapen spirit which had presided over her destiny, had laid hold of her and was bearing her away. She dared not look at him, and she surrendered herself to her fate. But when the bellringer, dishevelled and panting, had deposited her in the cell of refuge, when she felt his huge hands gently detaching the cord which bruised her arms, she felt that sort of shock which awakens with a start the passengers of a vessel which runs aground in the middle of a dark night. Her thoughts awoke also, and returned to her one by one. She saw that she was in Notre–Dame; she remembered having been torn from the hands of the executioner; that Phoebus was alive, that Phoebus loved her no longer; and as these two ideas, one of which shed so much bitterness over the other, presented themselves simultaneously to the poor condemned girl; she turned to Quasimodo, who was standing in front of her, and who terrified her; she said to him — “Why have you saved me?”
He gazed at her with anxiety, as though seeking to divine what she was saying to him. She repeated her question. Then he gave her a profoundly sorrowful glance and fled. She was astonished.
A few moments later he returned, bearing a package which he cast at her feet. It was clothing which some charitable women had left on the threshold of the church for her.
Then she dropped her eyes upon herself and saw that she was almost naked, and blushed. Life had returned.
Quasimodo appeared to experience something of this modesty. He covered his eyes with his large hand and retired once more, but slowly.
She made haste to dress herself. The robe was a white one with a white veil — the garb of a novice of the Hôtel-Dien.
She had barely finished when she beheld Quasimodo returning. He carried a basket under one arm and a mattress under the other. In the basket there was a bottle, bread, and some provisions. He set the basket on the floor and said, “Eat!” He spread the mattress on the flagging and said, “Sleep.”
It was his own repast, it was his own bed, which the bellringer had gone in search of.
The gypsy raised her eyes to thank him, but she could not articulate a word. She dropped her head with a quiver of terror.
Then he said to her. —
“I frighten you. I am very ugly, am I not? Do not look at me; only listen to me. During the day you will remain here; at night you can walk all over the church. But do not leave the church either by day or by night. You would be lost. They would kill you, and I should die.”
She was touched and raised her head to answer him. He had disappeared. She found herself alone once more, meditating upon the singular words of this almost monstrous being, and struck by the sound of his voice, which was so hoarse yet so gentle.
Then she examined her cell. It was a chamber about six feet square, with a small window and a door on the slightly sloping plane of the roof formed of flat stones. Many gutters with the figures of animals seemed to be bending down around her, and stretching their necks in order to stare at her through the window. Over the edge of her roof she perceived the tops of thousands of chimneys which caused the smoke of all the fires in Paris to rise beneath her eyes. A sad sight for the poor gypsy, a foundling, condemned to death, an unhappy creature, without country, without family, without a hearthstone.
At the moment when the thought of her isolation thus appeared to her more poignant than ever, she felt a bearded and hairy head glide between her hands, upon her knees. She started (everything alarmed her now) and looked. It was the poor goat, the agile Djali, which had made its escape after her, at the moment when Quasimodo had put to flight Charmolue’s brigade, and which had been lavishing caresses on her feet for nearly an hour past, without being able to win a glance. The gypsy covered him with kisses.
“Oh! Djali!” she said, “how I have forgotten thee! And so thou still thinkest of me! Oh! thou art not an ingrate!”
At the same time, as though an invisible hand had lifted the weight which had repressed her tears in her heart for so long, she began to weep, and, in proportion as her tears flowed, she felt all that was most acrid and bitter in her grief depart with them.
Evening came, she thought the night so beautiful that she made the circuit of the elevated gallery which surrounds the church. It afforded her some relief, so calm did the earth appear when viewed from that height.
On the following morning, she perceived on awaking, that she had been asleep. This singular thing astonished her. She had been so long unaccustomed to sleep! A joyous ray of the rising sun entered through her window and touched her face. At the same time with the sun, she beheld at that window an object which frightened her, the unfortunate face of Quasimodo. She involuntarily closed her eyes again, but in vain; she fancied that she still saw through the rosy lids that gnome’s mask, one-eyed and gap-toothed. Then, while she still kept her eyes closed, she heard a rough voice saying, very gently —
“Be not afraid. I am your friend. I came to watch you sleep. It does not hurt you if I come to see you sleep, does it? What difference does it make to you if I am here when your eyes are closed! Now I am going. Stay, I have placed myself behind the wall. You can open your eyes again.”
There was something more plaintive than these words, and that was the accent in which they were uttered. The gypsy, much touched, opened her eyes. He was, in fact, no longer at the window. She approached the opening, and beheld the poor hunchback crouching in an angle of the wall, in a sad and resigned attitude. She made an effort to surmount the repugnance with which he inspired her. “Come,” she said to him gently. From the movement of the gypsy’s lips, Quasimodo thought that she was driving him away; then he rose and retired limping, slowly, with drooping head, without even daring to raise to the young girl his gaze full of despair. “Do come,” she cried, but he continued to retreat. Then she darted from her cell, ran to him, and grasped his arm. On feeling her touch him, Quasimodo trembled in every limb. He raised his suppliant eye, and seeing that she was leading him back to her quarters, his whole face beamed with joy and tenderness. She tried to make him enter the cell; but he persisted in remaining on the threshold. “No, no,” said he; “the owl enters not the nest of the lark.”
Then she crouched down gracefully on her couch, with her goat asleep at her feet. Both remained motionless for several moments, considering in silence, she so much grace, he so much ugliness. Every moment she discovered some fresh deformity in Quasimodo. Her glance travelled from his knock knees to his humped back, from his humped back to his only eye. She could not comprehend the existence of a being so awkwardly fashioned. Yet there was so much sadness and so much gentleness spread over all this, that she began to become reconciled to it.
He was the first to break the silence. “So you were telling me to return?”
She made an affirmative sign of the head, and said, “Yes.”
He understood the motion of the head. “Alas!” he said, as though hesitating whether to finish, “I am — I am deaf.”
“Poor man!” exclaimed the Bohemian, with an expression of kindly pity.
He began to smile sadly.
“You think that that was all that I lacked, do you not? Yes, I am deaf, that is the way I am made. ’Tis horrible, is it not? You are so beautiful!”
There lay in the accents of the wretched man so profound a consciousness of his misery, that she had not the strength to say a word. Besides, he would not have heard her. He went on —
“Never have I seen my ugliness as at the present moment. When I compare myself to you, I feel a very great pity for myself, poor unhappy monster that I am! Tell me, I must look to you like a beast. You, you are a ray of sunshine, a drop of dew, the song of a bird! I am something frightful, neither man nor animal, I know not what, harder, more trampled under foot, and more unshapely than a pebble stone!”
Then he began to laugh, and that laugh was the most heartbreaking thing in the world. He continued —
“Yes, I am deaf; but you shall talk to me by gestures, by signs. I have a master who talks with me in that way. And then, I shall very soon know your wish from the movement of your lips, from your look.”
“Well!” she interposed with a smile, “tell me why you saved me.”
He watched her attentively while she was speaking.
“I understand,” he replied. “You ask me why I saved you. You have forgotten a wretch who tried to abduct you one night, a wretch to whom you rendered succor on the following day on their infamous pillory. A drop of water and a little pity — that is more than I can repay with my life. You have forgotten that wretch; but he remembers it.”
She listened to him with profound tenderness. A tear swam in the eye of the bellringer, but did not fall. He seemed to make it a sort of point of honor to retain it.
“Listen,” he resumed, when he was no longer afraid that the tear would escape; “our towers here are very high, a man who should fall from them would be dead before touching the pavement; when it shall please you to have me fall, you will not have to utter even a word, a glance will suffice.”
Then he rose. Unhappy as was the Bohemian, this eccentric being still aroused some compassion in her. She made him a sign to remain.
“No, no,” said he; “I must not remain too long. I am not at my ease. It is out of pity that you do not turn away your eyes. I shall go to some place where I can see you without your seeing me: it will be better so.”
He drew from his pocket a little metal whistle.
“Here,” said he, “when you have need of me, when you wish me to come, when you will not feel too ranch horror at the sight of me, use this whistle. I can hear this sound.”
He laid the whistle on the floor and fled.
Day followed day. Calm gradually returned to the soul of la Esmeralda. Excess of grief, like excess of joy is a violent thing which lasts but a short time. The heart of man cannot remain long in one extremity. The gypsy had suffered so much, that nothing was left her but astonishment. With security, hope had returned to her. She was outside the pale of society, outside the pale of life, but she had a vague feeling that it might not be impossible to return to it. She was like a dead person, who should hold in reserve the key to her tomb.
She felt the terrible images which had so long persecuted her, gradually departing. All the hideous phantoms, Pierrat Torterue, Jacques Charmolue, were effaced from her mind, all, even the priest.
And then, Phoebus was alive; she was sure of it, she had seen him. To her the fact of Phoebus being alive was everything. After the series of fatal shocks which had overturned everything within her, she had found but one thing intact in her soul, one sentiment — her love for the captain. Love is like a tree; it sprouts forth of itself, sends its roots out deeply through our whole being, and often continues to flourish greenly over a heart in ruins.
And the inexplicable point about it is that the more blind is this passion, the more tenacious it is. It is never more solid than when it has no reason in it.
La Esmeralda did not think of the captain without bitterness, no doubt. No doubt it was terrible that he also should have been deceived; that he should have believed that impossible thing, that he could have conceived of a stab dealt by her who would have given a thousand lives for him. But, after all, she must not be too angry with him for it; had she not confessed her crime? had she not yielded, weak woman that she was, to torture? The fault was entirely hers. She should have allowed her finger nails to be torn out rather than such a word to be wrenched from her. In short, if she could but see Phoebus once more, for a single minute, only one word would be required, one look, in order to undeceive him, to bring him back. She did not doubt it. She was astonished also at many singular things, at the accident of Phoebus’s presence on the day of the penance, at the young girl with whom he had been. She was his sister, no doubt. An unreasonable explanation, but she contented herself with it, because she needed to believe that Phoebus still loved her, and loved her alone. Had he not sworn it to her? What more was needed, simple and credulous as she was? And then, in this matter, were not appearances much more against her than against him? Accordingly, she waited. She hoped.
Let us add that the church, that vast church, which surrounded her on every side, which guarded her, which saved her, was itself a sovereign tranquillizer. The solemn lines of that architecture, the religious attitude of all the objects which surrounded the young girl, the serene and pious thoughts which emanated, so to speak, from all the pores of that stone, acted upon her without her being aware of it. The edifice had also sounds fraught with such benediction and such majesty, that they soothed this ailing soul. The monotonous chanting of the celebrants, the responses of the people to the priest, sometimes inarticulate, sometimes thunderous, the harmonious trembling of the painted windows, the organ, bursting forth like a hundred trumpets, the three belfries, humming like hives of huge bees, that whole orchestra on which bounded a gigantic scale, ascending, descending incessantly from the voice of a throng to that of one bell, dulled her memory, her imagination, her grief. The bells, in particular, lulled her. It was something like a powerful magnetism which those vast instruments shed over her in great waves.
Thus every sunrise found her more calm, breathing better, less pale. In proportion as her inward wounds closed, her grace and beauty blossomed once more on her countenance, but more thoughtful, more reposeful. Her former character also returned to her, somewhat even of her gayety, her pretty pout, her love for her goat, her love for singing, her modesty. She took care to dress herself in the morning in the corner of her cell for fear some inhabitants of the neighboring attics might see her through the window.
When the thought of Phoebus left her time, the gypsy sometimes thought of Quasimodo. He was the sole bond, the sole connection, the sole communication which remained to her with men, with the living. Unfortunate girl! she was more outside the world than Quasimodo. She understood not in the least the strange friend whom chance had given her. She often reproached herself for not feeling a gratitude which should close her eyes, but decidedly, she could not accustom herself to the poor bellringer. He was too ugly.
She had left the whistle which he had given her lying on the ground. This did not prevent Quasimodo from making his appearance from time to time during the first few days. She did her best not to turn aside with too much repugnance when he came to bring her her basket of provisions or her jug of water, but he always perceived the slightest movement of this sort, and then he withdrew sadly.
Once he came at the moment when she was caressing Djali. He stood pensively for several minutes before this graceful group of the goat and the gypsy; at last he said, shaking his heavy and ill-formed head —
“My misfortune is that I still resemble a man too much. I should like to be wholly a beast like that goat.”
She gazed at him in amazement.
He replied to the glance —
“Oh! I well know why,” and he went away.
On another occasion he presented himself at the door of the cell (which he never entered) at the moment when la Esmeralda was singing an old Spanish ballad, the words of which she did not understand, but which had lingered in her ear because the gypsy women had lulled her to sleep with it when she was a little child. At the sight of that villanous form which made its appearance so abruptly in the middle of her song, the young girl paused with an involuntary gesture of alarm. The unhappy bellringer fell upon his knees on the threshold, and clasped his large, misshapen hands with a suppliant air. “Oh!” he said, sorrowfully, “continue, I implore you, and do not drive me away.” She did not wish to pain him, and resumed her lay, trembling all over. By degrees, however, her terror disappeared, and she yielded herself wholly to the slow and melancholy air which she was singing. He remained on his knees with hands clasped, as in prayer, attentive, hardly breathing, his gaze riveted upon the gypsy’s brilliant eyes.
On another occasion, he came to her with an awkward and timid air. “Listen,” he said, with an effort; “I have something to say to you.” She made him a sign that she was listening. Then he began to sigh, half opened his lips, appeared for a moment to be on the point of speaking, then he looked at her again, shook his head, and withdrew slowly, with his brow in his hand, leaving the gypsy stupefied. Among the grotesque personages sculptured on the wall, there was one to whom he was particularly attached, and with which he often seemed to exchange fraternal glances. Once the gypsy heard him saying to it —
“Oh! why am not I of stone, like you!”
At last, one morning, la Esmeralda had advanced to the edge of the roof, and was looking into the Place over the pointed roof of Saint–Jean le Rond. Quasimodo was standing behind her. He had placed himself in that position in order to spare the young girl, as far as possible, the displeasure of seeing him. All at once the gypsy started, a tear and a flash of joy gleamed simultaneously in her eyes, she knelt on the brink of the roof and extended her arms towards the Place with anguish, exclaiming: “Phoebus! come! come! a word, a single word in the name of heaven! Phoebus! Phoebus!” Her voice, her face, her gesture, her whole person bore the heartrending expression of a shipwrecked man who is making a signal of distress to the joyous vessel which is passing afar off in a ray of sunlight on the horizon.
Quasimodo leaned over the Place, and saw that the object of this tender and agonizing prayer was a young man, a captain, a handsome cavalier all glittering with arms and decorations, prancing across the end of the Place, and saluting with his plume a beautiful lady who was smiling at him from her balcony. However, the officer did not hear the unhappy girl calling him; he was too far away.
But the poor deaf man heard. A profound sigh heaved his breast; he turned round; his heart was swollen with all the tears which he was swallowing; his convulsively-clenched fists struck against his head, and when he withdrew them there was a bunch of red hair in each hand.
The gypsy paid no heed to him. He said in a low voice as he gnashed his teeth —
“Damnation! That is what one should be like! ’Tis only necessary to be handsome on the outside!”
Meanwhile, she remained kneeling, and cried with extraor-dinary agitation — “Oh! there he is alighting from his horse! He is about to enter that house! — Phoebus! — He does not hear me! Phoebus! — How wicked that woman is to speak to him at the same time with me! Phoebus! Phoebus!”
The deaf man gazed at her. He understood this pantomime. The poor bellringer’s eye filled with tears, but he let none fall. All at once he pulled her gently by the border of her sleeve. She turned round. He had assumed a tranquil air; he said to her —
“Would you like to have me bring him to you?”
She uttered a cry of joy.
“Oh! go! hasten! run! quick! that captain! that captain! bring him to me! I will love you for it!”
She clasped his knees. He could not refrain from shaking his head sadly.
“I will bring him to you,” he said, in a weak voice. Then he turned his head and plunged down the staircase with great strides, stifling with sobs.
When he reached the Place, he no longer saw anything except the handsome horse hitched at the door of the Gondelaurier house; the captain had just entered there.
He raised his eyes to the roof of the church. La Esmeralda was there in the same spot, in the same attitude. He made her a sad sign with his head; then he planted his back against one of the stone posts of the Gondelaurier porch, determined to wait until the captain should come forth.
In the Gondelaurier house it was one of those gala days which precede a wedding. Quasimodo beheld many people enter, but no one come out. He cast a glance towards the roof from time to time; the gypsy did not stir any more than himself. A groom came and unhitched the horse and led it to the stable of the house.
The entire day passed thus, Quasimodo at his post, la Esmeralda on the roof, Phoebus, no doubt, at the feet of Fleur-de-Lys.
At length night came, a moonless night, a dark night. Quasimodo fixed his gaze in vain upon la Esmeralda; soon she was no more than a whiteness amid the twilight; then nothing. All was effaced, all was black.
Quasimodo beheld the front windows from top to bottom of the Gondelaurier mansion illuminated; he saw the other casements in the Place lighted one by one, he also saw them extinguished to the very last, for he remained the whole evening at his post. The officer did not come forth. When the last passers-by had returned home, when the windows of all the other houses were extinguished, Quasimodo was left entirely alone, entirely in the dark. There were at that time no lamps in the square before Notre–Dame.
Meanwhile, the windows of the Gondelaurier mansion remained lighted, even after midnight. Quasimodo, motionless and attentive, beheld a throng of lively, dancing shadows pass athwart the many-colored painted panes. Had he not been deaf, he would have heard more and more distinctly, in proportion as the noise of sleeping Paris died away, a sound of feasting, laughter, and music in the Gondelaurier mansion.
Towards one o’clock in the morning, the guests began to take their leave. Quasimodo, shrouded in darkness watched them all pass out through the porch illuminated with torches. None of them was the captain.
He was filled with sad thoughts; at times he looked upwards into the air, like a person who is weary of waiting. Great black clouds, heavy, torn, split, hung like crape hammocks beneath the starry dome of night. One would have pronounced them spiders’ webs of the vault of heaven.
In one of these moments he suddenly beheld the long window on the balcony, whose stone balustrade projected above his head, open mysteriously. The frail glass door gave passage to two persons, and closed noiselessly behind them; it was a man and a woman.
It was not without difficulty that Quasimodo succeeded in recognizing in the man the handsome captain, in the woman the young lady whom he had seen welcome the officer in the morning from that very balcony. The place was perfectly dark, and a double crimson curtain which had fallen across the door the very moment it closed again, allowed no light to reach the balcony from the apartment.
The young man and the young girl, so far as our deaf man could judge, without hearing a single one of their words, appeared to abandon themselves to a very tender tête-a-tête. The young girl seemed to have allowed the officer to make a girdle for her of his arm, and gently repulsed a kiss.
Quasimodo looked on from below at this scene which was all the more pleasing to witness because it was not meant to be seen. He contemplated with bitterness that beauty, that happiness. After all, nature was not dumb in the poor fellow, and his human sensibility, all maliciously contorted as it was, quivered no less than any other. He thought of the miserable portion which Providence had allotted to him; that woman and the pleasure of love, would pass forever before his eyes, and that he should never do anything but behold the felicity of others. But that which rent his heart most in this sight, that which mingled indignation with his anger, was the thought of what the gypsy would suffer could she behold it. It is true that the night was very dark, that la Esmeralda, if she had remained at her post (and he had no doubt of this), was very far away, and that it was all that he himself could do to distinguish the lovers on the balcony. This consoled him.
Meanwhile, their conversation grew more and more animated. The young lady appeared to be entreating the officer to ask nothing more of her. Of all this Quasimodo could distinguish only the beautiful clasped hands, the smiles mingled with tears, the young girl’s glances directed to the stars, the eyes of the captain lowered ardently upon her.
Fortunately, for the young girl was beginning to resist but feebly, the door of the balcony suddenly opened once more and an old dame appeared; the beauty seemed confused, the officer assumed an air of displeasure, and all three withdrew.
A moment later, a horse was champing his bit under the porch, and the brilliant officer, enveloped in his night cloak, passed rapidly before Quasimodo.
The bellringer allowed him to turn the corner of the street, then he ran after him with his ape-like agility, shouting: “Hey there! captain!”
The captain halted.
“What wants this knave with me?” he said, catching sight through the gloom of that hipshot form which ran limping after him.
Meanwhile, Quasimodo had caught up with him, and had boldly grasped his horse’s bridle: “Follow me, captain; there is one here who desires to speak with you!
“Cornemahom!” grumbled Phoebus, “here’s a villanous; ruffled bird which I fancy I have seen somewhere. Holà master, will you let my horse’s bridle alone?”
“Captain,” replied the deaf man, “do you not ask me who it is?”
“I tell you to release my horse,” retorted Phoebus, impatiently. “What means the knave by clinging to the bridle of my steed? Do you take my horse for a gallows?”
Quasimodo, far from releasing the bridle, prepared to force him to retrace his steps. Unable to comprehend the captain’s resistance, he hastened to say to him —
“Come, captain, ’tis a woman who is waiting for you.” He added with an effort: “A woman who loves you.”
“A rare rascal!” said the captain, “who thinks me obliged to go to all the women who love me! or who say they do. And what if, by chance, she should resemble you, you face of a screech-owl? Tell the woman who has sent you that I am about to marry, and that she may go to the devil!”
“Listen,” exclaimed Quasimodo, thinking to overcome his hesitation with a word, “come, monseigneur! ’tis the gypsy whom you know!”
This word did, indeed, produce a great effect on Phoebus, but not of the kind which the deaf man expected. It will be remembered that our gallant officer had retired with Fleur-de-Lys several moments before Quasimodo had rescued the condemned girl from the hands of Charmolue. Afterwards, in all his visits to the Gondelaurier mansion he had taken care not to mention that woman, the memory of whom was, after all, painful to him; and on her side, Fleur-de-Lys had not deemed it politic to tell him that the gypsy was alive. Hence Phoebus believed poor “Similar” to be dead, and that a month or two had elapsed since her death. Let us add that for the last few moments the captain had been reflecting on the profound darkness of the night, the supernatural ugliness, the sepulchral voice of the strange messenger; that it was past midnight; that the street was deserted, as on the evening when the surly monk had accosted him; and that his horse snorted as it looked at Quasimodo.
“The gypsy!” he exclaimed, almost frightened. “Look here, do you come from the other world?”
And he laid his hand on the hilt of his dagger.
“Quick, quick,” said the deaf man, endeavoring to drag the horse along; “this way!”
Phoebus dealt him a vigorous kick in the breast.
Quasimodo’s eye flashed. He made a motion to fling himself on the captain. Then he drew himself up stiffly and said —
“Oh! how happy you are to have some one who loves you!”
He emphasized the words “some one,” and loosing the horse’s bridle —
Phoebus spurred on in all haste, swearing. Quasimodo watched him disappear in the shades of the street.
“Oh!” said the poor deaf man, in a very low voice; “to refuse that!”
He re-entered Notre–Dame, lighted his lamp and climbed to the tower again. The gypsy was still in the same place, as he had supposed.
She flew to meet him as far off as she could see him. “Alone!” she cried, clasping her beautiful hands sorrowfully.
“I could not find him,” said Quasimodo coldly.
“You should have waited all night,” she said angrily.
He saw her gesture of wrath, and understood the reproach.
“I will lie in wait for him better another time,” he said, dropping his head.
“Begone!” she said to him.
He left her. She was displeased with him. He preferred to have her abuse him rather than to have afflicted her. He had kept all the pain to himself.
From that day forth, the gypsy no longer saw him. He ceased to come to her cell. At the most she occasionally caught a glimpse at the summit of the towers, of the bellringer’s face turned sadly to her. But as soon as she perceived him, he disappeared.
We must admit that she was not much grieved by this voluntary absence on the part of the poor hunchback. At the bottom of her heart she was grateful to him for it. Moreover, Quasimodo did not deceive himself on this point.
She no longer saw him, but she felt the presence of a good genius about her. Her provisions were replenished by an invisible hand during her slumbers. One morning she found a cage of birds on her window. There was a piece of sculpture above her window which frightened her. She had shown this more than once in Quasimodo’s presence. One morning, for all these things happened at night, she no longer saw it, it had been broken. The person who had climbed up to that carving must have risked his life.
Sometimes, in the evening, she heard a voice, concealed beneath the wind screen of the bell tower, singing a sad, strange song, as though to lull her to sleep. The lines were unrhymed, such as a deaf person can make.
Ne regarde pas la figure,
Jeune fille, regarde le coeur.
Le coeur d’un beau jeune homme est souvent difforme.
Il y a des coeurs ou l’amour ne se conserve pas.
Jeune fille, le sapin n’est pas beau,
N’est pas beau comme le peuplier,
Mais il garde son feuillage l’hiver.
Hélas! a quoi bon dire cela?
Ce qui n’est pas beau a tort d’être;
La beauté n’aime que la beauté,
Avril tourne le dos a Janvier.
La beauté est parfaite,
La beauté peut tout,
La beauté est la seule chose qui n’existe pàs a demi.
Le corbeau ne vole que le jour,
Le hibou ne vole que la nuit,
Le cygne vole la nuit et le jour.*
* Look not at the face, young girl, look at the heart. The heart of a handsome young man is often deformed. There are hearts in which love does not keep. Young girl, the pine is not beautiful; it is not beautiful like the poplar, but it keeps its foliage in winter. Alas! What is the use of saying that? That which is not beautiful has no right to exist; beauty loves only beauty; April turns her back on January. Beauty is perfect, beauty can do all things, beauty is the only thing which does not exist by halves. The raven flies only by day, the owl flies only by night, the swan flies by day and by night.
One morning, on awaking, she saw on her window two vases filled with flowers. One was a very beautiful and very brilliant but cracked vase of glass. It had allowed the water with which it had been filled to escape, and the flowers which it contained were withered. The other was an earthenware pot, coarse and common, but which had preserved all its water, and its flowers remained fresh and crimson.
I know not whether it was done intentionally, but La Esmeralda took the faded nosegay and wore it all day long upon her breast.
That day she did not hear the voice singing in the tower.
She troubled herself very little about it. She passed her days in caressing Djali, in watching the door of the Gondelaurier house, in talking to herself about Phoebus, and in crumbling up her bread for the swallows.
She had entirely ceased to see or hear Quasimodo. The poor bellringer seemed to have disappeared from the church. One night, nevertheless, when she was not asleep, but was thinking of her handsome captain, she heard something breathing near her cell. She rose in alarm, and saw by the light of the moon, a shapeless mass lying across her door on the outside. It was Quasimodo asleep there upon the stones.
In the meantime, public minor had informed the archdeacon of the miraculous manner in which the gypsy had been saved. When he learned it, he knew not what his sensations were. He had reconciled himself to la Esmeralda’s death. In that matter he was tranquil; he had reached the bottom of personal suffering. The human heart (Dora Claude had meditated upon these matters) can contain only a certain quantity of despair. When the sponge is saturated, the sea may pass over it without causing a single drop more to enter it.
Now, with la Esmeralda dead, the sponge was soaked, all was at an end on this earth for Dom Claude. But to feel that she was alive, and Phoebus also, meant that tortures, shocks, alternatives, life, were beginning again. And Claude was weary of all this.
When he heard this news, he shut himself in his cell in the cloister. He appeared neither at the meetings of the chapter nor at the services. He closed his door against all, even against the bishop. He remained thus immured for several weeks. He was believed to be ill. And so he was, in fact.
What did he do while thus shut up? With what thoughts was the unfortunate man contending? Was he giving final battle to his formidable passion? Was he concocting a final plan of death for her and of perdition for himself?
His Jehan, his cherished brother, his spoiled child, came once to his door, knocked, swore, entreated, gave his name half a score of times. Claude did not open.
He passed whole days with his face close to the panes of his window. From that window, situated in the cloister, he could see la Esmeralda’s chamber. He often saw herself with her goat, sometimes with Quasimodo. He remarked the little attentions of the ugly deaf man, his obedience, his delicate and submissive ways with the gypsy. He recalled, for he had a good memory, and memory is the tormentor of the jealous, he recalled the singular look of the bellringer, bent on the dancer upon a certain evening. He asked himself what motive could have impelled Quasimodo to save her. He was the witness of a thousand little scenes between the gypsy and the deaf man, the pantomime of which, viewed from afar and commented on by his passion, appeared very tender to him. He distrusted the capriciousness of women. Then he felt a jealousy which be could never have believed possible awakening within him, a jealousy which made him redden with shame and indignation: “One might condone the captain, but this one!” This thought upset him.
His nights were frightful. As soon as he learned that the gypsy was alive, the cold ideas of spectre and tomb which had persecuted him for a whole day vanished, and the flesh returned to goad him. He turned and twisted on his couch at the thought that the dark-skinned maiden was so near him.
Every night his delirious imagination represented la Esmeralda to him in all the attitudes which had caused his blood to boil most. He beheld her outstretched upon the poniarded captain, her eyes closed, her beautiful bare throat covered with Phoebus’s blood, at that moment of bliss when the archdeacon had imprinted on her pale lips that kiss whose burn the unhappy girl, though half dead, had felt. He beheld her, again, stripped by the savage hands of the torturers, allowing them to bare and to enclose in the boot with its iron screw, her tiny foot, her delicate rounded leg, her white and supple knee. Again he beheld that ivory knee which alone remained outside of Torterue’s horrible apparatus. Lastly, he pictured the young girl in her shift, with the rope about her neck, shoulders bare, feet bare, almost nude, as he had seen her on that last day. These images of voluptuousness made him clench his fists, and a shiver run along his spine.
One night, among others, they heated so cruelly his virgin and priestly blood, that he bit his pillow, leaped from his bed, flung on a surplice over his shirt, and left his cell, lamp in hand, half naked, wild, his eyes aflame.
He knew where to find the key to the red door, which connected the cloister with the church, and he always had about him, as the reader knows, the key of the staircase leading to the towers.
That night, la Esmeralda had fallen asleep in her cell, full of oblivion, of hope, and of sweet thoughts. She had already been asleep for some time, dreaming as always, of Phoebus, when it seemed to her that she heard a noise near her. She slept lightly and uneasily, the sleep of a bird; a mere nothing waked her. She opened her eyes. The night was very dark. Nevertheless, she saw a figure gazing at her through the window; a lamp lighted up this apparition. The moment that the figure saw that la Esmeralda had perceived it, it blew out the lamp. But the young girl had had time to catch a glimpse of it; her eyes closed again with terror.
“Oh!” she said in a faint voice, “the priest!”
All her past unhappiness came back to her like a flash of lightning. She fell back on her bed, chilled.
A moment later she felt a touch along her body which made her shudder so that she straightened herself up in a sitting posture, wide awake and furious.
The priest had just slipped in beside her. He encircled her with both arms.
She tried to scream and could not.
“Begone, monster! begone assassin!” she said, in a voice which was low and trembling with wrath and terror.
“Mercy! mercy!” murmured the priest, pressing his lips to her shoulder.
She seized his bald head by its remnant of hair and tried to thrust aside his kisses as though they had been bites.
“Mercy!” repeated the unfortunate man. “If you but knew what my love for you is! ’Tis fire, melted lead, a thousand daggers in my heart.”
She stopped his two arms with superhuman force.
“Let me go,” she said, “or I will spit in your face!”
He released her. “Vilify me, strike me, be malicious! Do what you will! But have mercy! love me!”
Then she struck him with the fury of a child. She made her beautiful hands stiff to bruise his face. “Begone, demon!”
“Love me! love mepity!” cried the poor priest returning her blows with caresses.
All at once she felt him stronger than herself.
“There must be an end to this!” he said, gnashing his teeth.
She was conquered, palpitating in his arms, and in his power. She felt a wanton hand straying over her. She made a last effort, and began to cry: “Help! Help! A vampire! a vampire!”
Nothing came. Djali alone was awake and bleating with anguish.
“Hush!” said the panting priest.
All at once, as she struggled and crawled on the floor, the gypsy’s hand came in contact with something cold and metal-lic-it was Quasimodo’s whistle. She seized it with a convulsive hope, raised it to her lips and blew with all the strength that she had left. The whistle gave a clear, piercing sound.
“What is that?” said the priest.
Almost at the same instant he felt himself raised by a vigorous arm. The cell was dark; he could not distinguish clearly who it was that held him thus; but he heard teeth chattering with rage, and there was just sufficient light scattered among the gloom to allow him to see above his head the blade of a large knife.
The priest fancied that he perceived the form of Quasimodo. He assumed that it could be no one but he. He remembered to have stumbled, as he entered, over a bundle which was stretched across the door on the outside. But, as the newcomer did not utter a word, he knew not what to think. He flung himself on the arm which held the knife, crying: “Quasimodo!” He forgot, at that moment of distress, that Quasimodo was deaf.
In a twinkling, the priest was overthrown and a leaden knee rested on his breast.
From the angular imprint of that knee he recognized Quasimodo; but what was to be done? how could he make the other recognize him? the darkness rendered the deaf man blind.
He was lost. The young girl, pitiless as an enraged tigress, did not intervene to save him. The knife was approaching his head; the moment was critical. All at once, his adversary seemed stricken with hesitation.
“No blood on her!” he said in a dull voice.
It was, in fact, Quasimodo’s voice.
Then the priest felt a large hand dragging him feet first out of the cell; it was there that he was to die. Fortunately for him, the moon had risen a few moments before.
When they had passed through the door of the cell, its pale rays fell upon the priest’s countenance. Quasimodo looked him full in the face, a trembling seized him, and he released the priest and shrank back.
The gypsy, who had advanced to the threshold of her cell, beheld with surprise their roles abruptly changed. It was now the priest who menaced, Quasimodo who was the suppliant.
The priest, who was overwhelming the deaf man with gestures of wrath and reproach, made the latter a violent sign to retire.
The deaf man dropped his head, then he came and knelt at the gypsy’s door — “Monseigneur,” he said, in a grave and resigned voice, “you shall do all that you please afterwards, but kill me first.”
So saying, he presented his knife to the priest. The priest, beside himself, was about to seize it. But the young girl was quicker than be; she wrenched the knife from Quasimodo’s hands and burst into a frantic laugh — “Approach,” she said to the priest.
She held the blade high. The priest remained undecided.
She would certainly have struck him.
Then she added with a pitiless expression, well aware that she was about to pierce the priest’s heart with thousands of red-hot irons —
“Ah! I know that Phoebus is not dead!
The priest overturned Quasimodo on the floor with a kick, and, quivering with rage, darted back under the vault of the staircase.
When he was gone, Quasimodo picked up the whistle which had just saved the gypsy.
“It was getting rusty,” he said, as he handed it back to her; then he left her alone.
The young girl, deeply agitated by this violent scene, fell back exhausted on her bed, and began to sob and weep. Her horizon was becoming gloomy once more.
The priest had groped his way back to his cell.
It was settled. Dom Claude was jealous of Quasimodo!
He repeated with a thoughtful air his fatal words: “No one shall have her.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56