Little by little tranquillity returned to Esmeraldas spirits. Excess of suffering, like excess of joy, is a condition too violent to last. The human heart is incapable of remaining long in any extreme. The gipsy had endured such agonies that her only remaining emotion at its recollection was amazement.
With the feeling of security hope returned to her. She was outside the pale of society, of life; but she had a vague sense that it was not wholly impossible that she should re-enter itas if dead but having in reserve a key to open her tomb.
The fact of phbus being alive was all in all to her. After the series of earthquake shocks that had overturned everything, left no stone standing on another in her soul, one feeling alone had stood fast, and that was her love for the soldier. For love is like a tree; it grows of itself, strikes its roots deep into our being, and often continues to flourish and keep green over a heart in ruins.
Assuredly Esmeralda could not think of the captain without pain. Assuredly it was dreadful that he too should have been deceived, should have believed it possible that the dagger-thrust had been dealt by her who would have given a thousand lives for him. And yet he was not so much to blame, for had she not confessed her crime? Had she not yielded, weak woman that she was, to the torture? The fault was hers, and hers alone. She ought rather to have let them tear the nails from her feet than such an avowal from her lips. Still, could she but see Phbus once again, for a single minute, it needed but a word, a look, to undeceive him, to bring him back to her. She did not doubt it for a moment. She closed her eyes to the meaning of various singular things, or put a plausible construction on them: the chance presence of Phbus on the day of her penance, the lady who stood beside himhis sister, no doubt. The explanation was most unlikely, but she contented herself with it because she wished to believe that Phbus still loved her, and her alone. Had he not sworn it to her? And what more did she needsimple and credulous creature that she was? Besides, throughout the whole affair, were not appearances far more strongly against her than against him? So she waitedshe hoped.
Added to this, the church itself, the vast edifice wrapping her round on all sides, protecting, saving her, was a sovereign balm. The solemn lines of its architecture, the religious attitude of all the objects by which the girl was surrounded, the serene and pious thoughts that breathed, so to speak, from every pore of these venerable stones, acted upon her unceasingly. Sounds arose from it, too, of such blessedness and such majesty that they soothed that tortured spirit. The monotonous chants of the priests and the responses of the peoplesometimes an inarticulate murmur, sometimes a roll of thunder; the harmonious trembling of the windows, the blast of the organ like a hive of enormous bees, that entire orchestra with its gigantic gamut ascending and descending incessantlyfrom the voice of the multitude to that of a single belldeadened her memory, her imagination, her pain. The bells in especial lulled her. A potent magnetism flowed from the vast metal domes and rocked her on its waves.
Thus, each succeeding morn found her calmer, less pale, breathing more freely. And as the wounds of her spirit healed, her outward grace and beauty bloomed forth again, but richer, more composed. Her former character also returnedsomething even of her gaiety, her pretty pout, her love for her goat, her pleasure in singing, her delicate modesty. She was careful to retire into the most secluded corner of her cell when dressing in the mornings, less some one from the neighbouring attics should see her through the little window.
When her dreams of Phbus left her the leisure, the gipsy sometimes let her thoughts stray to Quasimodothe only link, the only means of communication with mankind, with life, that remained to her. Hapless creature! she was more cut off from the world than Quasimodo himself. She knew not what to think of the singular friend whom chance had given her. She often reproached herself that hers was not the gratitude that could veil her eyes, but it was uselessshe could not accustom herself to the poor bell-ringer. He was too repulsive.
She had left the whistle he gave her lying on the ground; which, however, did not prevent Quasimodo from appearing from time to time during the first days. She did her very utmost not to turn away in disgust when he brought her the basket of provisions and the pitcher of water, but he instantly perceived the slightest motion of the kind, and hastened sorrowfully away.
Another time he presented himself at the door of the cell (into which he never entered) while Esmeralda was singing an old Spanish ballad, the words of which she did not understand, but which had lingered in her ear because the gipsy women had sung her to sleep with it when a child. At the sight of the hideous face appearing suddenly, the girl broke off with an involuntary gesture of fright. The unhappy bell-ringer fell upon his knees on the threshold, and with a suppliant look clasped his great shapeless hands. Oh! he said in piteous accents, I conjure you to continuedo not drive me away!
Unwilling to pain him, she tremblingly resumed her song, and by degrees her fright wore off, till she abandoned herself wholly to the slow and plaintive measure of the air. He, the while, had remained upon his knees, his hands clasped as if in prayerattentive, scarcely breathinghis gaze fixed on the gipsys radiant eyes. He seemed to hear the music of her voice in those twin stars.
Another time again, he approached her with an awkward and timid air. Listen, said he with an effort, I have something to say to you. She signed to him that she was listening. He sighed deeply, opened his lips, seemed for a moment to be on the point of speaking, then looked her in the face, shook his head, and slowly withdrew, his forehead bowed in his hand, leaving the Egyptian wondering and amazed.
Among the grotesques sculptured on the wall, there was one for which he had a particular affection, and with which he often seemed to exchange fraternal looks. Once the gipsy heard him say to it: Oh! why am I not fashioned of stone like thee?
At length, one morning Esmeralda had advanced to the edge of the roof and was looking down into the Place over the sharp roof-ridge of Saint-Jean le Rond. Quasimodo stood behind her, as was his habit, that he might spare her as much as possible the pain of seeing him. Suddenly the gipsy started; a tear and a flash of joy shone together in her eyes; she fell on her knees, and stretching out her arms in anguish towards the Place:
Her voice, her face, her gesture, her whole attitude had the heart-rending aspect of a shipwrecked mariner making signals of distress to some gay vessel passing on the distant horizon in a gleam of sunshine.
Leaning over in his turn, Quasimodo perceived the object of this tender and agonizing prayera young man, a soldier, a handsome cavalier glittering in arms and gay attire, who was caracoling through the Place and sweeping his plumed hat to a lady smiling down on him from a balcony. The officer could not hear the unhappy girl calling to him. He was too far off.
But the poor deaf ringer heard. A profound sigh heaved his breast. He turned away. His heart was swelling with the tears he drove back; his two clenched fists went up convulsively to his head, and when he drew them away they each held a handful of his rough red hair.
The deaf man watched her. He understood her gestures, and the poor bell-ringers eye filled with tears, though he let not one of them fall. Presently he pulled her gently by the hem of her sleeve. She turned round. He had assumed an untroubled mien.
Quasimodo looked up at the roof of the Cathedral. Esmeralda was still in the same place, in the same attitude. He made her a melancholy sign of the head, then established himself with his back against one of the posts of the porch, determined to wait until the captain came out.
It was, at the Logis Gondelaurier, one of those gala days which precede a wedding. Quasimodo saw many people go in, but nobody come away. From time to time he looked up at the church roof. The gipsy never stirred from her post any more than he. A groom came, untied the horse and led him away to the stables of the mansion.
Night fell at lasta dark night without a moon. Quasimodo might strain his gaze towards Esmeralda, she faded into a mere glimmer of light in the gloamingthen nothing; all was swallowed up in darkness.
He now saw the whole façade of the Gondelaurier mansion illuminated from top to bottom. He saw one after another the windows in the Place lit up, one after another also he saw the lights disappear from them; for he remained the whole evening at his post. The officer never came out. When the last wayfarer had gone home, when every window of the other houses was dark, Quasimodo, quite alone, remained lost in the shadows. The Parvis of Notre Dame was not lighted in those days.
However, the windows of the Gondelaurier mansion blazed on even after midnight. Quasimodo, motionless, and ever on the alert, saw a ceaseless crowd of moving, dancing shadows pass across the many-coloured windows. Had he not been deaf, in proportion as the murmur of slumbering Paris died away, he would have heard more and more distinctly from within the Logis Gondelaurier the sound of revelry, of laughter, and of music.
He was filled with sadness; now and then he looked up into the air like one weary of waiting. Great black clouds, heavy and ragged, hung in deep festoons under the starry arch of nightthe cobwebs of the celestial roof.
At one of these moments he suddenly saw the folding glass door on to the balcony, the stone balustrade of which was dimly visible above him, open cautiously and give passage to a couple, behind whom it closed noiselessly. It was a male and female figure, in whom Quasimodo had no difficulty in recognising the handsome captain and the young lady he had seen that morning welcoming the officer from that same balcony. The Place was in complete darkness, and a thick crimson curtain which had fallen over the glass door as soon as it closed, intercepted any ray of light from the apartment within.
The young couple, as far as our deaf spectator could judge without hearing a word of what they said, appeared to abandon themselves to a very tender tête-à-tête. The lady had evidently permitted the officer to encircle her waist with his arm, and was not too energetically resisting a kiss.
Quasimodo witnessed this scene from belowall the more attractive that it was not intended for any strange eye. With bitterness and pain he looked on at so much happiness, so much beauty. After all, nature was not altogether mute in the poor wretch, and though his back was crooked, his nerves were not less susceptible than another mans. He thought of the miserable share in life that Providence had meted out to him; that woman, and the joys of love, must forever pass him by; that he could never attain to being more than a spectator of the felicity of others. But that which wrung his heart most in this scene, and added indignation to his chagrin, was that the gipsy would suffer were she to behold it. To be sure, the night was very dark, and Esmeralda, if she still remained at her post (and he did not doubt it), was too far off, considering that he himself could barely distinguish the lovers on the balcony; this consoled him somewhat.
Meanwhile the conversation above became more and more ardent. The lady appeared to be entreating the officer to solicit no more from her; but all that Quasimodo could distinguish were the clasped white hands, the mingled smiles and tears, the soft eyes of the girl uplifted to the stars, the mans burning gaze devouring her.
Fortunately for the girl, whose resistance was growing weaker, the door of the balcony opened suddenly, and an elder lady appeared; the fair maid seemed confused, the officer disgusted, and all three returned inside.
Far from leaving hold of the horse, Quasimodo was preparing to turn him round. Unable to explain to himself the officers resistance, he hastened to say: Come, captain, tis a woman awaits you, and he added with an effort, a woman who loves you.
A droll rascal! said the captain, who thinks me obliged to run after every woman that loves me, or says she does; especially, if perchance she is anything like thee, owl-faced one! Gotell her who sent thee that I am going to be married, and she may go to the devil!
This word did indeed make a tremendous impression on Phbus, but not the kind the hunchback expected. It will be remembered that the gallant officer had retired from the balcony with Fleur-de-Lys a few minutes before Quasimodo saved the condemned girl out of Charmolues hands. Since then, in all his visits to the Gondelaurier mansion, he had taken good care not to mention the woman, the recollection of whom, after all, was painful to him; and Fleur-de-Lys, on her part, had not deemed it politic to tell him that the gipsy was alive. Consequently Phbus believed poor Similar, as he called her, to be dead, and whats more, for a month or two. Added to which, the captain had been thinking for some moments past that the night was pitch dark; that, combined with the sepulchral voice and supernatural ugliness of the strange messenger, it was past midnight; that the street was as deserted as on the night the spectremonk had accosted him, and that his horse had snorted violently at sight of the hunchback.
Phbus planted a vigorous kick in the middle of his chest. Quasimodos eye flashed. He made as if to throw himself on the captain, but checked himself suddenly. Oh, he exclaimed tis well for you theres some one that loves you! He laid particular stress on the some one, then dropping the horses bridle, Go your way! he cried.
From that day forward the gipsy saw him no more; he came no more to her cell. At most she would catch a glimpse now and then of the bell-ringers countenance looking mournfully down upon her from the summit of a tower, but directly she perceived him he would vanish.
She saw him no more, but she felt the presence of a good genius about her. Her provisions were renewed by an invisible hand while she slept. One morning she found a cage of birds on her window-sill. Above her cell there was a sculptured figure that frightened her. She had given evidence of this more than once in Quasimodos presence. One morning (for all these things were done in the night) she woke to find it gone. It had been broken away, and whoever had climbed up to that figure must have risked his life.
Sometimes, in the evening, she would hear a voice concealed under the leaden eaves of the steeple, singing, as if to lull her to sleep, a melancholy and fantastic song, without rhyme or rhythm, such as a deaf man might make:
Look not on the face,
Maiden, look upon the heart.
The heart of a fair youth is oft unsightly;
There be hearts that cannot hold love long.
Maiden, the pines not fair to see,
Not fair to see as the poplar is,
But it keeps its green the winter through.
Alas, tis vain to speak like this!
What is not fair ought not to be;
Beauty will only beauty love;
April looks not on January.
Beauty is perfect.
Beauty can do all.
Beauty is the only thing that does not live by halves.
One morning when she rose she found two vases full of flowers standing at the window. One of them was of glass, very beautiful in shape and colour, but cracked; it had let all the water in it run out, and the flowers it held were faded. The other was of earthenware, rude and common, but it retained all the water, so that its flowers remained fresh and blooming.
Besides, she had altogether ceased to see or hear Quasimodo. The poor bell-ringer seemed to have disappeared from the church. However, one night as she lay awake thinking of her handsome captain, she was startled by hearing the sound of breathing near her cell. She rose, and saw by the light of the moon a shapeless mass lying across her door. It was Quasimodo sleeping there upon the stones.