Victor Marie Hugo (18021885). Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
V. The Two Men in Black
THE PERSON who entered wore a black gown and a morose air. What at the first glance struck our friend Jehan (who, as may be supposed, so placed himself in his retreat as to be able to see and hear all at his ease) was the utter dejection manifest both in the garments and the countenance of the new-comer. There was, however, a certain meekness diffused over that face; but it was the meekness of a cat or of a judgea hypocritical gentleness. He was very gray and wrinkled, about sixty, with blinking eye-lids, white eye-brows, a pendulous lip, and large hands. When Jehan saw that it was nothing morethat is to say, merely some physician or magistrate, and that the mans nose was a long way from his mouth, a sure sign of stupidityhe ensconced himself deeper in his hole, desperate at being forced to pass an indefinite time in such an uncomfortable posture and such dull company.
The Archdeacon had not even risen to greet this person. He motioned him to a stool near the door, and after a few moments silence, during which he seemed to be pursuing some previous meditation, he remarked in a patronizing tone:
There was between these two greetingsthe offhand Maître Jacques of the one, and the obsequious Maître of the otherthe difference between Sir and Your Lordship, of domne and domine. It was evidently the meeting between master and disciple.
Dom Claude made a gesture of impatience. That is not what I allude to, Maître Jacques Charmolue, but to the charge against your sorcererMarc Cenaine, you call him, I thinkbutler to the Court of Accounts. Did he confess his wizardry when you put him to the question?
Alas, no, replied Maître Jacques, with his deprecating smile. We have not that consolation. The man is a perfect stone. We might boil him in the pig-market, and we should get no word out of him. However, we spare no pains to arrive at the truth. Every joint is already dislocated on the rack; we have put all our irons in the fire, as the old comic writer Plautus has it:
Oh, yes, said Maître Jacques, fumbling in his pouch, this parchment. There are words on it that we do not understand. And yet, monsieur, the criminal advocate, Philippe Lheulier, knows a little Hebrew, which he learned in an affair with the Jews of the Rue Kantersten, at Brussels. So saying, Maître Jacques unrolled a parchment.
Give it to me, said the Archdeacon. Magic pure and simple, Maître Jacques! he cried, as he cast his eyes over the scroll. Emen-Hétan! that is the cry of the ghouls when they arrive at the witches Sabbath. Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso! that is the conjuration which rebinds the devil in hell. Hax, pax, max! that refers to medicinea spell against the bite of a mad dog. Maître Jacques, you are Kings attorney in the Ecclesiastical Court; this parchment is an abomination.
The Archdeacon examined the vessel. What has he inscribed on his crucible? Och! och!the word for driving away fleas? Your Marc Cenaine is an ignoramus! I can well believe that you could not make gold with this! It will be useful to put in your sleeping alcove in the summer, but for nothing more.
Since we are on the subject of errors, said the Kings attorney, before coming up I was studying the doorway down below; is your Reverence quite sure that the beginnings of Natures workings are represented there on the side towards the Hôtel-Dieu, and that among the seven naked figures at the feet of Our Lady, that with wings to his heels is Mercurius?
That gipsy girl, you know, who comes and dances every day in the Parvis, in defiance of the prohibition. She has a familiar spirit in the shape of a goat with devils hornsit can read and write and do arithmeticenough to hang all Bohemia. The charge is quite ready and would soon be drawn up. A pretty creature, on my soul, that dancing girl!the finest black eyes in the worldtwo Egyptian carbuncles. When shall we begin?
Never fear, answered Charmolue smiling. As soon as I get back he shall be strapped down again to the leather bed. But it is a very devil of a man. He tires out Pierrat Torterue himself, who has larger hands than I. As says our good Plautus
Yes, yes, Dom Claude. Poor man! he will have suffered like Mummol. But what a thing to doto visit the witches Sabbath!and he butler to the Court of Accounts, who must know Charlemagnes regulation: Stryga vel masca.2 As to the little girlSmeralda, as they call herI shall await your orders. Ah! as we pass through the door you will explain to me also the signification of that gardener painted on the wall just as you enter the church. Is that not the Sower? Hé! master, what are you thinking about?
Dom Claude, fathoms deep in his own thoughts, was not listening to him. Charmolue, following the direction of his eyes, saw that they were fixed blankly on the spiders web which curtained the little window. At this moment a foolish fly, courting the March sunshine, threw itself against the net, and was caught fast. Warned by the shaking of his web, the enormous spider darted out of his central cell, and with one bound rushed upon the fly, promptly doubled it up, and with its horrible sucker began scooping out the victims head. Poor fly! said the Kings attorney, and lifted his hand to rescue it. The Archdeacon, as if starting out of his sleep, held back his arm with a convulsive clutch.
Maître Jacques turned round in alarm; he felt as if his arm were in an iron vice. The eye of the priest was fixed, haggard, glaring, and remained fascinated by the horrible scene between the spider and the fly.
Ah, yes! the priest went on, in a voice that seemed to issue from the depths of his being, there is a symbol of the whole story. She flies, she is joyous, she has but just entered life; she courts the spring, the open air, freedom; yes, but she strikes against the fatal webthe spider darts out, the deadly spider! Hapless dancer! Poor, doomed fly! Maître Jacques, let beit is fate! Alas! Claude, thou art the spider. But Claude, thou are also the fly! Thou didst wing thy flight towards knowledge, the light, the sun. Thy one care was to reach the pure air, the broad beams of truth eternal; but in hastening towards the dazzling loophole which opens on another worlda world of brightness, of intelligence, of true knowledgeinfatuated fly! insensate sage! thou didst not see the cunning spiders web, by destiny suspended between the light and thee; thou didst hurl thyself against it, poor fool, and now thou dost struggle with crushed head and mangled wings between the iron claws of Fate! Maître Jacques, let the spider work its will!
The Archdeacon did not heed him. Oh, madman! he continued, without moving his eyes from the loophole. And even if thou couldst have broken through that formidable web with thy midges wings, thinkest thou to have attained the light! Alas! that glass beyondthat transparent obstacle, that wall of crystal harder than brass, the barrier between all our philosophy and the truthhow couldst thou have passed through that? Oh, vanity of human knowledge! how many sages have come fluttering from afar to dash their heads against thee! How many clashing systems buzz vainly about that everlasting barrier!
He was silent. These last ideas, by calling off his thoughts from himself to science, appeared to have calmed him, and Jacques Charmolue completely restored him to a sense of reality by saying: Come, master, when are you going to help me towards the making of gold? I long to succeed.
Speak lower, master! I have my doubts, said Charmolue. But one is forced to play the alchemist a little when one is but a poor attorney in the Ecclesiastical Court at thirty crowns tournois a year. Only let us speak low.
It was the scholar, who, very dull and cramped in his hiding-place, had just discovered a stale crust and a corner of mouldy cheese, and had without more ado set to work upon both by way of breakfast and amusement. As he was very hungry, he made a great noise, giving full play to his teeth at every mouthful, and thus aroused the alarm of the Kings attorney.
This explanation entirely satisfied Charmolue. True, master, he said with an obsequious smile, all great philosophers have some familiar animal. You know what Servius says: Nullus enim locus sine genio est.3
Meanwhile, Dom Claude, fearing some new freak of Jehans reminded his worthy disciple that they had the figures in the doorway to study together. They therefore quitted the cell, to the enormous relief of the scholar, who had begun to have serious fears that his chin would take root in his knees.