Victor Marie Hugo (18021885). Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
II. Humpbacked, One-Eyed, Lame
DOWN to the time of Louis XI, every town in France had its place of sanctuary, forming, in the deluge of penal laws and barbarous jurisdictions, that inundated the cities, islands, as it were, which rose above the level of human justice. Any criminal landing upon one of them was safe. In every town there were almost as many of these places of refuge as there were of execution. It was the abuse of impunity side by side with the abuse of capital punishmenttwo evils seeking to correct one another. The royal palaces, the mansions of the princes, and, above all, the churches, had right of sanctuary. Sometimes a whole town that happened to require repealing was turned temporarily into a place of refuge. Louis XI made all Paris a sanctuary in I467.
Once set foot within the refuge, and the person of the criminal was sacred; but he had to beware of leaving itone step outside the sanctuary, and he fell back into the waters. The wheel, the gibbet, the strappado, kept close guard round the place of refuge, watching incessantly for their prey, like sharks about a vessel. Thus, men under sentence of death had been known to grow gray in a cloister, on the stairs of a palace, in the grounds of an abbey, under the porch of a churchin so far, the sanctuary itself was but a prison under another name.
It sometimes happened that a solemn decree of parliament would violate the sanctuary, and reconsign the condemned into the hands of the executioner; but this was of rare occurrence. The parliaments stood in great awe of the bishops, and if it did come to a brush between the two robes, the gown generally had the worst of it against the cassock. Occasionally, however, as in the case of the assassination of Petit-Jean, the executioner of Paris, and in that of Emery Rousseau, the murderer of Jean Valleret, justice would overleap the barriers of the Church, and pass on to the execution of its sentence. But, except armed with a decree of parliament, woe betide him who forcibly violated a place of sanctuary! We know what befell Robert de Clermont, Marshal of France, and Jean de Chalons, Marshal of Champagne; and yet it was only about a certain Perrin Marc, a moneychangers assistant and a vile assassin; but the two marshals had forced the doors of the Church of Saint-Mérytherein lay the enormity of the transgression.
According to tradition, these places of refuge were so surrounded by an atmosphere of reverence that it even affected animals. Thus Aymoin relates that a stag, hunted by King Dagobert, having taken refuge beside the tomb of Saint-Denis, the hounds stopped the chase and stood barking.
In Notre Dame it was a cell constructed over one of the side aisles, under the buttresses and facing towards the cloister, exactly on the spot where the wife of the present concierge of the towers has made herself a gardenwhich is to the hanging gardens of Babylon as a lettuce to a palm tree, as a portress to Semiramis.
There it was that, after his frantic and triumphant course round the towers and galleries, Quasimodo had deposited Esmeralda. So long as the course had lasted the girl had remained almost unconscious, having only a vague perception that she was rising in the airthat she was floatingflyingbeing borne upward away from the earth. Ever and anon she heard the wild laugh, the raucous voice of Quasimodo in her ear: she half opened her eyes and saw beneath her confusedly the thousand roofs of Paris, tile and slate like a red and blue mosaicand above her head Quasimodos frightful and jubilant face. Then her eye-lids closed; she believed that all was finished, that she had been executed during her swoon, and that the hideous genio who had ruled her destiny had resumed possession of her soul and was bearing it away. She dared not look at him, but resigned herself utterly.
But when the bell-ringer, panting and dishevelled, had deposited her in the cell of refuge, when she felt his great hands gently untying the cords that cut her arms, she experienced that shock which startles out of their sleep the passengers of a vessel that strikes on a rock in the middle of a dark night. So were her thoughts awakened, and her senses returned to her one by one. She perceived that she was in Notre Dame, she remembered that she had been snatched from the hands of the executioner, that Phbus was living, and that phbus loved her no more; and these last two thoughtsthe one so sweet, the other so bitterpresenting themselves simultaneously to the poor creature, she turned to Quasimodo, who still stood before her, filling her with terror, and said:
In a few minutes he returned, carrying a bundle which he threw at her feet. It was some wearing apparel deposited for her by some charitable women. At this she cast down her eyes over her person, saw that she was nearly naked, and blushed. Life was coming back to her.
She had scarcely finished when she saw Quasimodo returning, carrying a basket under one arm and a mattress under the other. The basket contained a bottle and bread and a few other provisions. He set the basket on the ground and said, Eat. He spread the mattress on the stone floorSleep, he said.
I frighten you, said he. I am very ugly I know. Do not look upon me. Listen to what I have to say. In the daytime you must remain here, but at night you may go where you will about the church. But go not one step outside the church by day or night. You would be lost. They would kill you, and I should die.
Touched by his words, she raised her head to answer him. He had disappeared. She found herself alone, musing upon the strange words of this almost monster and struck by the tone of his voiceso harsh, and yet so gentle.
She presently examined her cell. It was a chamber some six feet square, with a small window and a door following the slight incline of the roofing of flat stones outside. Several gargoyles with animal heads seemed bending down and stretching their necks to look in at her window. Beyond the roof she caught a glimpse of a thousand chimney-tops from which rose the smoke of the many hearths of Parisa sad sight to the poor gipsya foundling, under sentence of death, an unhappy outcast without country, or kindred, or home!
At the moment when the thought of her friendless plight assailed her more poignantly than ever before, she was startledeverything frightened her nowby a shaggy, bearded head rubbing against her knees. It was the poor little goat, the nimble Djali, which had made its escape and followed her at the moment when Quasimodo scattered Charmolues men, and had been lavishing its caresses in vain at her feet for nearly an hour without obtaining a single glance from her. Its mistress covered it with kisses.
And then, as if some invisible hand had lifted the weight which had lain so long upon her heart and kept back her tears, she began to weep, and as the tears flowed all that was harshest and most bitter in her grief and pain was washed away.
When night fell she found the air so sweet, the moonlight so soothing, that she ventured to make the round of the high gallery that surrounds the church; and it brought her some relief, so calm and distant did earth seem to her from that height.