Victor Marie Hugo (18021885). Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
I. The Crown Piece Changed into a Withered Leaf
GRINGOIRE and the whole Court of Miracles were in a state of mortal anxiety. For a whole long month nobody knew what had become of Esmeralda, which greatly distressed the Duke of Egypt and his friends the Vagabondsnor what had become of her goat, which doubled the distress of Gringoire. One evening the Egyptian had disappeared, and from that moment had given no sign of life. All searching and inquiries had been fruitless. Some malicious beggars declared that they had met her on the evening in question in the neighbourhood of the Pont Saint-Michel in company with an officer, but this husband à la mode de Bohème was a most incredulous philosopher, and, besides, he knew better than any one to what extent his wife was still a maid. He had had an opportunity of judging how impregnable was the chastity resulting from the combined virtues of the amulet and the gipsys own feelings, and he had mathematically calculated the power of resistance of the last-mentioned factor. On that score, therefore he was quite easy.
Consequently he was quite unable to account for this disappearance, which was a source of profound regret to him. He would have lost flesh over it had such a thing been possible. As it was, he had forgotten everything over this subject, even to his literary tastes, even to his great opus: Defiguris regularibus et irregularibus, which he counted on getting printed as soon as he had any money. For he raved about printing ever since he had any the Didascolon of Hugues de Saint-Victor printed with the famous types of Wendelin of Spires.
I do not know, sir, replied the young man. They say a woman is being tried for the murder of a soldier. As there would seem to be some witchcraft in the business, the Bishop and the Holy Office have interfered in the case, and my brother, who is Archdeacon of Josas, spends his whole time there. As it happened, I wished to speak with him, but I could not get near him for the crowdwhich annoys me very much, for I want money.
The scholar went his way, and Gringoire proceeded to follow the crowd ascending the stairs to the court-room. To his mind, there was nothing equal to the spectacle of a trial for dissipating melancholy, the judges exhibiting, as a rule, such extremely diverting stupidity. The crowd with whom he mingled walked and elbowed one another in silence. After a protracted and uneventful pilgrimage through a long dark passage which would through a Palais like the intestinal canal of the old edifice, he arrived at a low door opening into a court-room which his superior height enabled him to explore over the swaying heads of the multitude.
The hall was vast and shadowy, which made it appear still larger. The day was declining, the long pointed windows admitted only a few pale rays of light, which died out before they reached the vaulted ceiling, and enormous trellis-work of carved wood, the thousand figures of which seemed to stir confusedly in the gloom. Several candles were already lighted on the tables, and gleamed on the heads of the law clerks buried in bundles of documents. The lower end of the hall was occupied by the crowd; to right and left sat gowned lawyers at tables; at the other extremity upon a raised platform were a number of judges, the back rows plunged in darknessmotionless and sinister figures. The walls were closely powdered with fleurs-de-lis, a great figure of Christ might be vaguely distinguished above the heads of the judges, and everywhere pikes and halberds, their points tipped with fire by the glimmering rays of the candles.
And those sheepsheads behind him? Gringoire went onwe know that he had no great love for the magistrature, owing, may-be, to the grudge he bore against the Palais de Justice ever since his dramatic misadventure.
My lords, an old woman was saying, whose face and shape generally was so muffled in her garments that she looked like an animated heap of rags; my lords, the thing is as true as that I am La Falourdel, for forty years a householder on the Pont Saint-Michel, and paying regularly all rents and dues and ground taxesthe door opposite to the house of Tassin-Caillart, the dyer, which is on the side looking up the river. A poor old woman now, a pretty girl once-a-days, my lords! Only a few days before, they said to me: La Falourdel, do not spin too much of an evening, the devil is fond of combing old womens distaffs with his horns. Tis certain that the spectre-monk who haunted the Temple last year is going about the city just now; take care, La Falourdel, that he does not knock at your door. I ask whos there. Some one swears. I open the door. Two men come ina man in black with a handsome officer. You could see nothing of the black with a handsome officer. You could see nothing of the black man but his eyestwo live coalsall the rest hat and cloak. So they say to me: The Sainte-Marthe roomthat is my upper room, my lords, my best one, and they give me a crown. I shut the crown in a drawer, and says I: That will do to buy tripe to-morrow at the slaughterhouse of La Gloriette. We go upstairs. Arrived at the upper room, as I turn my back a moment, the man in black disappears. This astonishes me somewhat. The officer, who was handsome and grand as a lord, comes down again with me. He leaves the house, but in about the time to spin a quarter of a skein he returns with a beautiful young girla poppet who would have shone like a star had her locks been properly braided. Following her came a goata great goatwhether black or white I cant remember. This set me to thinking. The girlthat does not concern mebut the goat! I dont like those animals with their beards and hornsits too like a man.
Besides, that smells of witchcraft. However, I say nothing. I had the crown piece. That is only fair, is it not, my lord judge? So I show the captain and the girl into the upper room and leave them alonethat is to say, with the goat. I go down and get to my spinning again. I must tell you that my house has a ground floor and an upper storey; the back looks out on to the river, as do all the houses on the bridge, and the groundfloor window and the window of the upper floor open on to the water. Well, as I was saying, I sat down again to my spinning. I dont know why, but I began thinking about the spectre-monk whom the goat had brought to my mind, and that the pretty girl was dressed very outlandish, when all at once I hear a cry overhead and something fall on the floor, and then the window opening. I run to mine, which is just underneath, and see a black mass drop into the watera phantom dressed like a priest. It was moonlight, so I saw it quite plainly. It swam away towards the city. Then, all of a tremble, I called the watch. The gentlemen of the guard came in, and at first, not knowing what was the matter, they made merry over it and began to beat me. I explained to them. We go upstairs, and what do we find? My unfortunate room swimming in blood, the captain stretched his whole length on the floor with a dagger in his neck, the girl making as if she were dead, and the goat in a fury. A pretty business, say I. Twill be a fortnights work to clean up these boards. It must be scrapeda terrible job! They carried away the officer, poor young man, and the girlhalf-naked. But staythe worst is to come. The next morning, when I went to take the crown to buy my tripe, I found a withered leaf in its place!
The old beldame ceased. A murmur of horror went round the place. That phantom, that goatall this savours of magic, said one of Gringoires neighbours. And that withered leaf, added another. There can be no doubt, went on a third, that its some witch who has commerce with the spectre-monk to plunder officers. Gringoire himself was not far from thinking this connection both probable and alarming.
No, my lord, answered the woman, unless that in the report my house has been named a tumble-down and stinking hovel, which is insulting language. The houses on the bridge are not very handsome, because they swarm with people; but, nevertheless, the butchers live there, and they are wealthy men with handsome and careful wives.
Peace! said he. I would beg you gentlemen not to lose sight of the fact that a dagger was found on the accused. Woman Falourdel, have you brought with you the withered leaf into which the crown was transformed that the demon gave you?
An usher handed the dead leaf to the crocodile, who, with a doleful shake of the head, passed it to the President, who sent it on to the procurator of the Ecclesiastical Court, so that it finally made the round of the hall.
A councillor then took up the word. Witness, you say two men went up together in your house: the man in black whom you first saw disappear and then swimming in the Seine in priests habit, and the officer. Which of the two gave you the crown?
But Maître Philippe Lheulier again interposed. I would remind you, gentlemen, that in the deposition taken down at his bedside the murdered officer, while stating that a vague suspicion had crossed his mind at the instant when the black man accosted him, that it might be the spectre-monk, added, that the phantom had eagerly urged him to go and meet the accused, and on his (the captains) observing that he was without money, had given him the crown which the said officer paid to La Falourdel. Thus the crown is a coin of hell.
All eyes were turned towards a little door which opened, and to Gringoires great trepidation gave entrance to a pretty little goat with gilded horns and hoofs. The graceful creature stood a moment on the threshold stretching her neck exactly as if, poised on the summit of a rock, she had a vast expanse before her eyes. Suddenly she caught sight of the gipsy girl, and leaping over the table and the head of the clerk in two bounds, she was at her mistresss knee. She then crouched at Esmeraldas feet, begging for a word or a caress; but the prisoner remained motionless, even little Djali could not win a glance from her.
This, in effect, was the second criminal. Nothing was more common in those days than a charge of witchcraft against an animal. For instance, in the Provostry account for 1466 there is a curious specification of the expenses of the action against Gillet Soulart and his sow, executed for their demerits at Corbeil. Everything is detailedthe cost of the pit to put the sow into; the five hundred bundles of wood from the wharf of Morsant; the three pints of wine and the bread, the victims last meal, fraternally shared by the executioner; and even the eleven days custody and keep of the sow at eight deniers parisis per day. At times they went beyond animals. The capitularies of Charlemagne and Louis le Débonnaire impose severe penalties on fiery phantoms who had the assurance to appear in the air.
Meanwhile the procurator of the Ecclesiastical Court exclaimed, If the demon that possesses this goat, and which has resisted every exorcism, persist in his sorceries, if he terrify the court thereby, we forewarn him that we shall be constrained to proceed against him with the gibbet or the stake.
Jacques Charmolue, by means of the same manuvrings with the tambourine, made the goat perform several other tricks in connection with the date of the day, the month of the year, etc., which the reader has already witnessed. And by an optical illusion peculiar to judicial proceedings, these same spectators, who doubtless had often applauded Djalis innocent performances in the public streets, were terrified by them under the roof of the Palais de Justice. The goat was indisputably the devil.
It was much worse, however, when the procurator, having emptied on the floor a certain little leather bag full of movable letters hanging from Djalis neck, the goat was seen to separate from the scattered alphabet the letters of the fatal name Phbus. The magic of which the captain had been a victim seemed incontrovertibly proven; and, in the eyes of all, the gipsy girl, the charming dancer who had so often dazzled the passer-by with her exquisite grace, was nothing more nor less than a horrible witch.
Girl, you are of the race of Bohemians, and given to sorcery. In company with your accomplice, the bewitched goat, also implicated in this charge, you did, on the night of the twenty-ninth of March last, in concert with the powers of darkness, and by the aid of charms and shells, wound and poniard a captain of the Kings archers, Phbus de Châteaupers by name. Do you persist in your denial?
A shudder ran through the frame of the hapless girl. She rose, however, at the order of the partisan-bearers, and walked with a tolerably firm step, preceded by Charmolue and the priests of the Office and between two lines of halberds, towards a masked door, which suddenly opened and shut again upon her, seeming to the dejected Gringoire like a horrible maw swallowing her up.
The sitting was suspended. A councillor having observed that the gentlemen were fatigued, and that it would be a long time to wait till the torture was over, the President replied that a magistrate should be able to sacrifice himself to his duty.