Victor Marie Hugo (18021885). Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
I. Charitable Souls
SIXTEEN years before the events here recorded took place early on Quasimodo or Low-Sunday morning, a human creature had been deposited after Mass on the plank bed fastened to the pavement on the left of the entrance to Notre Dame, opposite the great image of Saint Christopher, which the kneeling stone figure of Messire Antoine des Essarts, knight, had contemplated since 1413. Upon this bed it was customary to expose foundling children to the charity of the public; any one could take them away who chose. In front of the bed was a copper basin for the reception of alms.
The specimen of humanity lying on this plank on the morning of Quasimodo-Sunday, in the year of our Lord 1467, seemed to invite, in a high degree, the curiosity of the very considerable crowd which had collected round it. This crowd was largely composed of members of the fair sex; in fact, there were hardly any but old women.
In front of the row of spectators, stooping low over the bed, were four of them whom by their gray cagoulesa kind of hooded cassockone recognised as belonging to some religious order. I see no reason why history should not hand down to posterity the names of these discreet and venerable dames. They were: Agnès la Herme, Jehanne de la Tarme, Henriette la Gaultière, and Gauchére la Violetteall four widows, all four bedes-women of the Chapelle Etienne-Haudry, who, with their superiors permission, and conformably to the rules of Pierre dAilly, had come to hear the sermon.
However, if these good sisters were observing for the moment the rules of Pierre dAilly, they were certainly violating to their hearts content those of Michel de Brache and the Cardinal of Pisa, which so inhumanly imposed silence upon them.
If so, remarked Agnès, it is the third since Lætare Sunday, for it is not a week since we had the miracle of the mocker of pilgrims suffering divine punishment at the hands of Our Lady of Aubervilliers, and that was already the second within the month.
I expect, said Agnès la Herme, that it is really a beast of some sort, an animalthe offspring of a Jew and a sow, something, at any rate, that is not Christian, and that ought to be committed to the water or the fire.
Oh, mercy! cried Agnès, what if those poor nurses at the foundling-house at the bottom of the lane by the river, close beside the Lord Bishopswhat if they take this little brute to them to be suckled. I would rather give suck to a vampire.
What a simpleton she is, that poor La Herme! returned Jehanne; dont you see, ma sæur, that this little monster is at least four years old, and that a piece of meat would be more to his taste than your breast?
And in truth the little monster (for we ourselves would be at a loss to describe it by any other name) was not a newborn babe. It was a little angular, wriggling lump, tied up in a canvas sack marked with the monogram of Messier Guillaume Charier, the then Bishop of Paris, with only its head sticking out at one end. But what a head! All that was visible was a thatch of red hair, an eye, a mouth, and some teeth. The eye wept, the mouth roared, and the teeth seemed only too ready to bite. The whole creature struggled violently in the sack, to the great wonderment of the crowd, constantly increasing and collecting afresh.
The Lady Aloïse de Gondelaurier, a wealthy and noble dame, with a long veil trailing from the peak of her head-dress, and holding by the hand a pretty little girl of about six years of age, stopped in passing and looked for a moment at the hapless creature, while her charming little daughter, Fleur-de-lis de Gondelaurier, all clad in silks and velvets, traced with her pretty finger on the permanent tablet attached to the bed the words: Enchants trouvés.
A moment afterward the grave and learned Robert Mistricolle, promontory to the King, came along, with an enormous missal under one arm, and on the other his wife (Dame Guillemette la Maitres), having thus at his side his two monitorsthe spiritual and the temporal.
Ah, mon Dieu! cried an old woman among the by-standers, and there was already a considerable pestilence last year, and they say that the English are prepared to land in great companies at Harfleur.
For some moments past a young priest, stern of face, with a broad forehead and penetrating eye, had stood listening to the argument of the Haudriette sisters, and the pronouncements of the promontory. He now silently parted the crowd, examined the little wizard, and stretched a hand over him. It was high time, for these pious old women were already licking their lips in anticipation of the fine blazing fagots.
He wrapped it in his Spokane and carried it off, the bystanders looking after him in speechless amazement. The next moment he had disappeared through the Porte Rouge, which led at that time from the church into the cloister.