Victor Marie Hugo (18021885). Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
VI. Three Various Hearts of Men
PHBUS, however, was not dead. Men of his sort are not so easily killed. When Maître Philippe Lheulier, the Kings advocate extraordinary, had said to poor Esmeralda: He is dying, it was by mistake or jest. When the Archdeacon said to the condemned girl, He is dead! the fact is that he knew nothing about it; but he believed it to be true, he counted upon it, and hoped it earnestly. It would have been too much to expect that he should give the woman he loved good tidings of his rival. Any man would have done the same in his place.
Not indeed that Phbuss wound had not been serious, but it had been less so than the Archdeacon flattered himself. The leech, to whose house the soldiers of the watch had conveyed him in the first instance, had, for a week, feared for his life, and, indeed, had told him so in Latin. But youth and a vigorous constitution had triumphed, and, as often happens, notwithstanding prognostics and diagnostics, Nature had amused herself by saving the patient in spite of the physician. It was while he was still stretched upon a sickbed that he underwent the first interrogations at the hands of Philippe Lheulier and the examiners of the Holy Office, which had annoyed him greatly. So, one fine morning, feeling himself recovered, he had left his gold spurs in payment to the man of drugs, and had taken himself off. For the rest, this had in no way impeded the course of justice. The law of that day had but few scruples about the clearness and precision of the proceedings against a criminal. Provided the accused was finally hanged, that was sufficient. At it was, the judges had ample proof against Esmeralda. They held Phbus to be dead, and that decided the matter.
After all, he had no great desire to appear in person at the trial. He had a vague impression that he would cut a somewhat ridiculous figure. Frankly, he did not quite know what to make of the whole affair. Irreligious, yet credulous like every soldier who is nothing but a soldier, when he examined the particulars of that adventure, he was not altogether without his suspicions as to the goat, as to the curious circumstances of his first meeting with Esmeralda, as to the means, no less strange, by which she had betrayed the secret of her love, as to her being a gipsy, finally as to the spectre-monk. He discerned in all these incidents far more of magic than of loveprobably a witch, most likely the devil; in fine, a drama, or in the language of the day, a mysteryand a very disagreeable onein which he had an extremely uncomfortable part: that of the person who receives all the kicks and none of the applause. The captain was greatly put out by this; he felt that kind of shame which La Fontaine so admirably defines:
He hoped, however, that the affair would not be noised abroad, and that, he being absent, his name would hardly be mentioned in connection with it; or, at any rate, would not be heard beyond the court-room of the Tournelle. And in this he judged arightthere was no Criminal Gazette in those days, and as hardly a week passed without some coiner being boiled alive, some witch hanged, or heretic sent to the stake at one or other of the numberless justices of Paris, people were so accustomed to see the old feudal Themis at every crossway, her arms bare and sleeves rolled up, busy with her pitchforks, her gibbets, and her pillories, that scarcely any notice was taken of her. The beau monde of that age hardly knew the name of the poor wretch passing at the corner of the street; at most, it was the populace that regaled itself on these gross viands. An execution was one of the ordinary incidents of the public way, like the braisier of the pie-man or the butchers slaughter-house. The executioner was but a butcher, only a little more skilled than the other.
Phbus, therefore, very soon set his mind at rest on the subject of the enchantress Esmeralda, or Similar, as he called her, of the dagger-thrust he had received from the gipsy or the spectre-monk (it mattered little to him which), and the issue of the trial. But no sooner was his heart vacant on that score, than the image of Fleur-de-Lys returned to itfor the heart of Captain Phbus, like Nature, abhorred a vacuum.
Moreover, Queue-en-Brie was not a diverting placea village of farriers and herd-girls with rough hands, a straggling row of squalid huts and cabins bordering the high-road for half a leaguein short, a worlds end.
Fleur-de-Lys was his last flame but one, a pretty girl, a charming dot; and so one fine morning, being quite cured of his wound, and fairly presuming that after the interval of two months the business of the gipsy girl must be over and forgotten, the amorous cavalier pranced up in high feather to the door of the ancestral mansion of the Gondelauriers. He paid no attention to a very numerous crowd collecting in the Place du Parvis before the great door of Notre Dame. Remembering that it was the month of May, he concluded that it was some processionsome Whitsuntide or other festivaltied his steed up to the ring at the porch, and gaily ascended the stair to his fair betrothed.
On the heart of Fleur-de-Lys the scene of the gipsy with her goat and its accursed alphabet, combined with her lovers long absences, still weighed heavily. Nevertheless, when she saw her captain enter, she found him so handsome in his brand-new doublet and shining baldrick, and wearing so impassioned an air, that she blushed with pleasure. The noble damsel herself was more charming than ever. Her magnificent golden tresses were braided to perfection, she was robed in that azure blue which so well becomes a blondea piece of coquetry she had learned from Colombeand her eyes were swimming in that dewy languor which is still more becoming.
Phbus, who in the matter of beauty had been reduced to the country wenches of Queue-en-Brie, was ravished by Fleur-de-Lys, which lent our officer so pressing and gallant an air that his peace was made forthwith. The Lady of Gondelaurier herself, still maternally seated in her great chair, had not the heart to scold him. As for Fleur-de-Lys, her reproaches died away in tender cooings.
The inventive captain knew very well that an affair of honour always sets off a man to advantage in a womans eye. And sure enough, Fleur-de-Lys looked up into his fine face with mingled sensations of fear, pleasure, and admiration. However, she did not feel entirely reassured.
Oh, how should I know?a mere triflea horsea hasty word! Fair cousin, said he, by way of changing the conversation, what is all this going on in the Parvis? He went to the window. Look, fair cousin, there is a great crowd in the Place.
Oh, by r Lord! exclaimed the mother, there are so many sorceresses nowadays that they burn them, I dare swear, without knowing their names. As well might you try to know the name of every cloud in heaven. But, after all, we may make ourselves easy; the good God keeps his register above. Here the venerable lady rose and approached the window. Lord, she cried, you are right, Phbus, there is indeed a great concourse of the peoplesome of them even, God save us, on the very roofs! Ah, Phbus, that brings back to me my young days and the entry of Charles VII, when there were just such crowdsI mind not precisely in what year. When I speak of that to you it doubtless sounds like something very old, but to me it is as fresh as to-day. Oh, it was a far finer crowd than this! Some of them climbed up on to the battlements of the Porte Saint-Antoine. The King had the Queen on the crupper behind him; and after their highnesses came all the ladies mounted behind their lords. I remember, too, there was much laughter because by the side of Amanyon de Garlande, who was very short, there came the Sire Matefelon, a knight of gigantic stature, who had killed the English in heaps. It was very fine. Then followed a procession of all the nobles of France, with their oriflammes fluttering red before one. There were some with pennons and some with bannerslet me thinkthe Sire de Calan had a pennon, Jean de Châteaumorant a banner, and a richer than any of the others except the Duke of Bourbon. Alas! tis sad to think that all that has been, and that nothing of it now remains!
The two young people were not listening to the worthy dowager. Phbus had returned to lean over the back of his lady-loves chaira charming post which revealed to his libertine glance so many exquisite things, and enabled him to divine so many more that, ravished by that satin-shimmering skin, he said to himself, How can one love any but a blonde?
I swear it, fairest angel! returned Phbus; and his passionate glance combined with the sincere tone of his voice to convince Fleur-de-Lys of the truth of his assertion. And, who knows, perhaps he believed it himself at the moment.
Meanwhile the good mother, rejoiced to see the two young people in such perfect accord, had left the apartment to attend to some domestic matter. Phbus was aware of the fact, and this solitude à deux so emboldened the enterprising captain that some strange ideas began to arise in his mind. Fleur-de-Lys loved himhe was betrothed to hershe was alone with himhis old inclination for her had revivednot perhaps in all its primitive freshness, but certainly in all its ardourafter all, it was no great crime to cut a little of ones own corn in the blade. I know not if these thoughts passed distinctly through his mind; but at any rate, Fleur-de-Lys suddenly took alarm at the expression of his countenance. She looked about her and discovered that her mother was gone.
The Place de Paris of Notre Dame, upon which, as the reader is aware, the balcony looked down, presented at that moment a sinister and unusual appearance, which forthwith changed the nature of the timid damoiselles alarm.
An immense crowd, extending into all the adjacent streets, filled the whole square. The breast-high wall surrounding the Parvis itself would not have sufficed alone to keep it clear; but it was lined by a close hedge of sergeants of the town-guard and arquebusiers, culverin in hand. Thanks to this grove of pikes and arquebuses the Parvis was empty. The entrance to it was guarded by a body of the bishops halberdiers. The great doors of the church were closed, forming a strong contrast to the innumerable windows round the Place, which, open up to the very gables, showed hundreds of heads piled one above another like the cannon-balls in an artillery ground. The prevailing aspect of this multitude was gray, dirty, repulsive. The spectacle they were awaiting was evidently one that has the distinction of calling forth all that is most bestial and unclean in the populaceimpossible to imagine anything more repulsive than the sounds which arose from this seething mass of yellow caps and frowzy heads, and there were fewer shouts than shrill bursts of laughtermore women than men.
Sir, tis the custom here. The justiciary of the Palais is bound to deliver up the malefactor, ready sentenced for executionif a layman, to the Provost of Paris; if a cleric, to the official court of the bishopric.
Oh, mon Dieu! said Fleur-de-Lys, the poor creature! And this thought tinged with sadness the look she cast over the crowd. The captain, much more interested in her than in this dirty rabble, had laid an amorous hand upon her waist. She turned round with a smile half of pleasure, half of entreaty.
At this moment the hour of noon boomed slowly from the great clock of Notre Dame. A murmur of satisfaction burst from the crowd. The last vibration of the twelfth stroke had hardly died away before all the heads were set in one direction, like waves before a sudden gust of wind, and a great shout went up from the square, the windows, the roofs: Here she comes!
A tumbrel drawn by a strong Normandy draught-horse, and closely surrounded by horsemen in violet livery with white crosses, had just entered the Place from the Rue Saint-Pierre aux Bufs. The sergeants of the watch opened a way for it through the people by vigorous use of their thonged scourges. Beside the tumbrel rode a few officers of justice and the police, distinguishable by their black garments and their awkwardness in the saddle. Maître Jacques Charmolue figured at their head.
In the fatal cart a girl was seated, her hands tied behind her, but no priest by her side. She was in her shift, and her long black hair (it was the custom then not to cut it till reaching the foot of the gibbet) fell unbound about her neck and over her half-naked shoulders.
Through these waving locksmore lustrous than the ravens wingyou caught a glimpse of a great rough brown rope, writhing and twisting, chafing the girls delicate shoulder-blades, and coiled about her fragile neck like an earthworm round a flower. Below this rope glittered a small amulet adorned with green glass, which, doubtless, she had been allowed to retain, because nothing is refused to those about to die. The spectators raised above her at the windows could see her bare legs as she sat in the tumbrel, and which she strove to conceal as if from a last remaining instinct of her sex. At her feet lay a little goat, also strictly bound. The criminal was holding her ill-fastened shift together with her teeth. It looked as though, despite her extreme misery, she was still conscious of the indignity of being thus exposed half-naked before all eyes. Alas! it is not for such frightful trials as this that feminine modesty was made.
He made one step to re-enter the room, but Fleur-de-Lys whose jealousy lately so vehement was now reawakened by the sight of the detested gipsyFleur-de-Lys stopped him by a glance full of penetration and mistrust. She recollected vaguely having heard something of an officer whose name had been connected with the trial of this sorceress.
So there was nothing for the unlucky captain but to remain. However, it reassured him somewhat to see that the criminal kept her eyes fixed on the bottom of the tumbrel. It was but too truly Esmeralda. In this last stage of ignominy and misfortune, she was still beautifulher great dark eyes looked larger from the hollowing of her cheeks, her pale profile was pure and unearthly. She resembled her former self as a Virgin of Masaccio resembles one of Raphaelsfrailer, more pinched, more attenuated.
For the rest, there was nothing in her whole being that did not seem to be shaken to its foundations; and, except for her last poor attempt at modesty, she abandoned herself completely to chance, so thoroughly had her spirit been broken by torture and despair. Her body swayed with every jolt of the tumbrel like something dead or disjointed. Her gaze was blank and distraught. A tear hung in her eye, but it was stationary and as if frozen there.
Meanwhile the dismal cavalcade had traversed the crowd amid yells of joy and the struggles of the curious. Nevertheless, in strict justice be it said, that on seeing her so beautiful and so crushed by affliction, many, even the most hard-hearted, were moved to pity.
The tumbrel now entered the Parvis and stopped in front of the great door. The escort drew up in line on either side. Silence fell upon the crowd, and amid that silence, surcharged with solemnity and anxious anticipation, the two halves of the great door opened apparently of themselves on their creaking hinges and disclosed the shadowy depths of the sombre church in its whole extent, hung with black, dimly lighted by a few tapers glimmering in the far distance on the high altar, and looking like a black and yawning cavern in the midst of the sunlit Place. At the far end, in the gloom of the chancel, a gigantic cross of silver was dimly visible against a black drapery that fell from the roof to the floor. The nave was perfectly empty, but the heads of a few priests could be seen stirring vaguely in the distant choir-stalls, and as the great door opened, there rolled from the church a solemn, far-reaching, monotonous chant, hurling at the devoted head of the criminal fragments of the penitential psalms:
This chant intoned by a few old men lost in the gloom of the church, and directed at this beautiful creature full of youth and life, wooed by the balmy air of spring, and bathed in sunshine, was the mass for the dead.
The hapless, terrified girl seemed to lose all sight and consciousness in this view into the dark bowels of the church. Her white lips moved as if she prayed, and when the hangmans assistant advanced to help her down from the tumbrel, he heard a low murmur from herPhbus!
They untied her hands and made her descend from the cart, accompanied by her goat, which they had also unbound, and which bleated with delight at finding itself free. She was then made to walk barefoot over the rough pavement to the bottom of the flight of steps leading up to the door. The rope she had round her neck trailed after her like a serpent in pursuit.
The chant ceased inside the church. A great cross of gold and a file of wax tapers set themselves in motion in the gloom. The halberds of the bishops guard clanked, and a few moments later a long procession of priests in their chasubles and deacons in their dalmatics advancing, solemnly chanting, towards the penitent, came into her view and that of the crowd. But her eye was arrested by the one who led the procession, immediately behind the cross-bearer.
It was the Archdeacon. On his left walked the subchanter, on his right the precentor, armed with his wand of office. He advanced with head thrown back, his eyes fixed and wide, chanting with a loud voice:
As he came into the broad daylight under the high Gothic doorway, enveloped in a wide silver cope barred with a black cross, he was so pale, that more than one among the crowd thought that it was one of the marble bishops off some tomb in the choir come to receive on the threshold of the grave her who was about to die.
No less pale and marble than himself, she was scarcely aware that they had thrust a heavy lighted taper of yellow wax into her hand; she did not listen to the raucous voice of the clerk as he read out the terrible wording of the penance; when she was bidden to answer Amen, she answered Amen.
The first thing that brought back to her any life and strength was seeing the priest sign to his followers to retire, and he advanced alone towards her. Then, indeed, she felt the blood rush boiling to her head, and a last remaining spark of indignation flamed up in that numbed and frozen spirit.
Girl have you asked pardon of God for your sins and offences? He bent over her and whispered (the spectators supposing that he was receiving her last confession): Wilt thou be mine? I can save thee yet!
At that moment the miserable Archdeacon raised his eyes mechanically, and there, at the opposite side of the Place, on the balcony of the Gondelauriers house, was the captain himself, standing by the side of Fleur-de-Lys. He staggered, passed his hand over his eyes, looked again, murmured a curse, and every feature became distorted with rage.
Then die thou too! he muttered between his teeth. No one shall have thee! Then lifting his hand over the gipsy girl, he cried in a sepulchral voice: I nunc, anima anceps, et sit tibi Deus misericors!
Amen, responded the Archdeacon. And he turned his back upon the doomed girl, his head fell on his breast, he crossed his hands, rejoined his train of priests, and vanished a moment afterward with the cross, the tapers and the copes under the dim arches of the cathedral, and his sonorous voice gradually died away in the choir chanting this cry of human despair.
The condemned girl remained motionless on the spot where they had placed her, awaiting what they would do with her. One of the sergeants had to inform Maître Charmolue that matters had reached this point, as during the foregoing scene he had been wholly occupied in studying the bas-relief of the great doorway, which, according to some, represents Abrahams sacrifice, and according to others, the great alchemistic operationthe sun being figured by the angel, the fire by the fagot, and the operator by Abraham.
They had much ado to draw him away from this contemplation; but at last he turned round, and at a sign from him, two men in yellow, the executioners assistants, approached the gipsy to tie her hands again.
At the moment of reascending the fatal cart and moving on towards her final scene, the hapless girl was seized perhaps by some last heart-rending desire for life. She raised her dry and burning eyes to heaven, to the sun, to the silvery clouds intermingling with patches of brilliant blue, then she cast them around her, upon the ground, the people, the houses. Suddenly, while the man in yellow was pinioning her arms, she uttered a piercing crya cry of joy. On the balcony at the corner of the Place she had descried himher loverher lordher lifePhbus!
Then she saw that the captain frowned, that a beautiful girl who was leaning upon his arm looked at him with scornful lips and angry eyes; whereupon Phbus said some words which did not reach her ear, and they both hastily disappeared through the casement of the balcony, which immediately closed behind then.
No one had yet remarked in the gallery of royal statues immediately over the arches of the doorway a strange spectator, who, until then, had observed all that passed with such absolute immobility, a neck so intently stretched, a face so distorted, that, but for his habilimentshalf red, half violethe might have been taken for one of the stone gargoyles through whose mouths the long rain-pipes of the Cathedral have emptied themselves for six hundred years. This spectator had lost no smallest detail of all that had taken place before the entrance to Notre Dame since the hour of noon. At the very beginning, no one paying the least attention to him, he had firmly attached to one of the small columns of the gallery a stout knotted rope, the other end of which reached to the ground. This done, he had settled himself to quietly look on, only whistling from time to time as a blackbird flew past him.
Now, at the moment when the executioners assistants were preparing to carry out Charmolues phlegmatic order, he threw his leg over the balustrade of the gallery, seized the rope with his hands, his knees and his feet, and proceeded to slide down the face of the Cathedral like a drop of water down a window-pane; ran at the two men with the speed of a cat just dropped from a house-top, knocked the pair down with two terrific blows of his fist, picked up the gipsy in one hand as a child would a doll, and with one bound was inside the church, holding the girl high above his head as he shouted in a voice of thunder:
Charmolue stood dumfounded, and the executioners and the whole escort with him; for once within the walls of Notre Dame the criminal was inviolable. The Cathedral was a place of sanctuary; all human justice was powerless beyond the threshold.
Quasimodo had halted within the central doorway. His broad feet seemed to rest as solidly on the floor of the church as the heavy Roman pillars themselves. His great shock head was sunk between his shoulders like that of a lion, which likewise has a mane but no neck. The trembling girl hung in his horny hands like a white drapery; but he held her with anxious care, as if fearful of breaking or brushing the bloom off heras if he felt that she was something delicate and exquisite and precious, and made for other hands than his.
At moments he seemed hardly to dare to touch her, even with his breath; then again he would strain her tightly to his bony breast as if she were his only possession, his treasureas the mother of this child would have done. His cyclops eye, bent upon her, enveloped her in flood of tenderness, of grief, and pity, and then rose flashing with determined courage. Women laughed and cried, the crowd stamped with enthusiasm, for at this moment Quasimodo had a beauty of his own. Verily, this orphan, this foundling, this outcast, was wonderful to look upon: he felt himself august in his strength; he looked that society from which he was banished, and against whose plans he had so forcefully intervened, squarely in the face; he boldly defied that human justice from which he had just snatched its prey, all these tigers now forced to gnash their empty jaws, these myrmidons of the law, these judges, these executionersthis whole force of the King which he, the meanest of his subjects, had set at naught by the force of God.
Then, too, how affecting was this protection offered by a creature so misshapen to one so unfortunatea girl condemned to death, save by Quasimodo!the extremes of physical and social wretchedness meeting and assisting one another.
Meanwhile, after tasting his triumph for a few brief moments, Quasimodo suddenly plunged with his burden into the church. The people, ever delighted at a display of prowess, followed him with their eyes through the dim nave, only regretting that he had so quickly withdrawn himself from their acclamations. Suddenly he reappeared at one end of the gallery of royal statues, which he traversed, running like a madman, lifting his booty high in his arms and shouting Sanctuary! The plaudits of the crowd burst forth anew. Having dashed along the gallery, he vanished again into the interior of the Cathedral, and a moment afterward reappeared on the upper platform, still bearing the Egyptian in his arms, still running madly, still shouting Sanctuary! and the multitude still applauding. At last he made his third appearance on the summit of the tower of the great bell, from whence he seemed to show exultingly to the whole city the woman he had rescued, and his thundering voicethat voice which was heard so seldom, and never by him at all, repeated thrice with frenzied vehemence, even into the very clouds: Sanctuary! Sanctuary! Sanctuary!
Noël! Noël! roared the people in return, till the immense volume of acclamation resounded upon the opposite shore of the river to the astonishment of the crowd assembled in the Place de Grève, and among them the recluse, whose hungry eye was still fixed upon the gibbet.