Fiction > Harvard Classics > Victor Hugo > Notre Dame de Paris > Book XI > Chapter I
Victor Marie Hugo (1802–1885).  Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
Book XI
I. The Little Shoe
AT the moment the truands attacked the Cathedral, Esmeralda was asleep.   1
  But soon the ever-increasing uproar round the church, and the bleating of her goat—awakened before herself—broke these slumbers. She sat up, listened, looked around; then, frightened at the glare and the noise, hurried out of her cell to see what was the matter. The aspect of the Place, the strange visions moving in it, the disorder of this nocturnal assault, the hideous crowd dimly visible through the darkness, hopping about like a cloud of frogs, the hoarse croaking of the multitude, the scattered red torches flitting to and fro in the storm like will-o’-the-wisps flitting over the misty face of a swamp—all seemed to her like some mysterious battle between the phantoms of the witches’ Sabbath and the stone monsters of the Cathedral. Imbued from her childhood with the superstitions of the gipsy tribe, her first idea was that she had happened unawares on the Satanic rites of the weird beings proper to the night. Whereupon she hastened back to cower in her cell, asking of her humble couch some less horrible nightmare.   2
  But, by degrees, the first fumes of her terror cleared away from her brain, and by the constantly increasing noise, and other signs of reality, she discovered that she was beset, not by spectres, but by human beings. At this her fear changed; not in degree, but in kind. The thought of the possibility of a popular rising to drag her from her place of refuge flashed into her mind. The prospect of once more losing life, hope, Phœbus, who still was ever-present in her dreams of the future, her utter helplessness, all flight barred, her abandonment, her friendless state—these and a thousand other cruel thoughts overwhelmed her. She fell upon her knees, her head upon her couch her hands clasped upon her head, overcome by anxiety and terror; and gipsy, idolatress, and pagan as she was, began with sobs and tremblings to ask mercy of the God of the Christians, and pray to Our Lady, her hostess. For, even though one believe in nothing, there come moments in life in which one instinctively turns to the religion of the temple nearest at hand.   3
  She remained thus prostrated for a considerable time, trembling, in truth, more than she prayed, frozen with terror at the breath of that furious multitude coming ever nearer; ignorant of the nature of the storm, of what was in progress, what they were doing, what they wanted; but having the presentiment of some dreadful issue.   4
  In the midst of this agonizing uncertainty, she heard footsteps near her. She raised her head. Two men, one of whom was carrying a lantern, entered her cell. She uttered a feeble cry.   5
  “Fear nothing,” said a voice which sounded familiar to her, “it is I.”   6
  “Who?” she asked.   7
  “Pierre Gringoire.”   8
  The name reassured her. She raised her eyes and saw it was indeed the poet. But at his side stood a dark figure shrouded from head to foot which struck her dumb with fear.   9
  “Ah,” said Gringoire in reproachful tones, “Djali recognised me before you did.”  10
  In truth, the little goat had not waited for Gringoire to name himself. He had scarcely crossed the threshold before she began rubbing herself fondly against his knee, covering the poet with caresses and with white hairs, for she was casting her coat, Gringoire returning her endearments.  11
  “Who is that with you?” asked the Egyptian in a low voice.  12
  “Make yourself easy,” answered Gringoire, “it is a friend of mine.”  13
  Then, setting down his lantern, the philosopher seated himself on the floor, clasping Djali enthusiastically in his arms. “Oh, ’tis an engaging beast! More remarkable, no doubt, for its beauty and cleanliness than for its size; but ingenious, subtle, and lettered as a grammarian! Come, my Djali, let us see if thou hast not forgotten any of thy pretty tricks! How does Maître Jacques Charmolue when——”  14
  The man in black did not let him finish. He went up to him and pushed him roughly by the shoulder. Gringoire got up again. “You are right,” said he, “I had forgotten that we were in haste. However, that is no reason, master, for hustling people so roughly. My dear pretty one, your life is in danger, and Djali’s too. They want to hang you again. We are your friends, and have come to save you. Follow us.”  15
  “Is that true?” she cried.  16
  “Yes, quite true. Come without delay!”  17
  “I will,” she faltered; “but why does not your friend speak?”  18
  “Ah,” said Gringoire, “that is because his father and mother were somewhat fantastical people, and endowed him with a taciturn disposition.”  19
  She had perforce to content herself with this explanation. Gringoire took her by the hand, his companion picked up the lantern and walked ahead of them. The poor girl was bewildered with fear and let herself be led, the goat came skipping after them, so overjoyed at seeing Gringoire once more that she made him stumble at every other step by thrusting her horns between his legs.  20
  “Such is life,” said the philosopher as he just missed falling flat; “it is often our best friends that occasion our fall!”  21
  They rapidly descended the stairs of the towers, crossed the church, which was dark and totally deserted but echoing with the frightful uproar without, and issued by the Porte Rouge into the court-yard of the cloister. The cloister was deserted, the clergy having taken refuge in the bishop’s house, there to offer up their prayers together. The courtyard was empty save for a few terrified lackeys crouching in the darkest corners. They made their way to the small door leading out of the court-yard to the Terrain. The man in black opened it with a key he carried with him. Our readers are aware that the Terrain was a tongue of land enclosed by walls on the side next the city, belonging to the chapter of Notre Dame, and forming the end of the island on the east, behind the church. They found this enclosure perfectly solitary. Here, even the noise in the air was sensibly less, the clamour of the assault reaching their ears confusedly and deadened. They could now hear the rustling of the leaves of the solitary tree planted at the point of the Terrain as the fresh breeze swept up from the river. Nevertheless, they were still very close to danger. The buildings nearest them were the bishop’s residence and the church. There were visible signs of great confusion within the bishop’s residence. Its dark mass was streaked with lights flitting from window to window, just as after burning a piece of paper, bright sparks run in a thousand fantastic lines across the dark mound of ashes. Beside it, the huge black towers of Notre Dame rearing themselves over the long nave, sharply outlined against the vast red glow which filled the Parvis, looked like the gigantic andirons of some Cyclopean fire-place.  22
  What was visible of Paris on all sides seemed to float in a mingled atmosphere of light and shadow, such as Rembrandt has in some of his backgrounds.  23
  The man with the lantern walked straight to the point of the Terrain where, at the extreme edge of the water, were the decaying remains of a fence of stakes interlaced with laths, on which a low vine had spread its few starveling branches like the fingers of an open hand. Behind it, in the shadow of the fence, a little boat lay moored. The man motioned Gringoire and his companion to enter, and the goat jumped in after them. The man himself got in last. He cut the rope of the boat, pushed off from the shore with a long boat-hook, and seizing a pair of oars, seated himself in the bow and rowed with all his might out into mid-stream. The Seine runs very strong at this part, and he had considerable difficulty in clearing the point of the island.  24
  Gringoire’s first care, on entering the boat, was to take the goat upon his knees. He settled himself in the stern, and the girl, whom the unknown man inspired with indefinable uneasiness, seated herself as close as possible to the poet.  25
  As soon as our philosopher felt the boat in motion, he clapped his hands and kissed Djali between her horns.  26
  “Oh!” he cried, “now we are safe, all four of us!” and added with the air of a profound thinker: “We are indebted sometimes to fortune, sometimes to strategy, for the happy issue of a great undertaking.”  27
  The boat was making its way slowly across to the right bank. The gipsy girl regarded their unknown companion with secret terror. He had carefully shut off the light of his dark-lantern, and was now only dimly perceptible in the bow of the boat, like a shadowy phantom. His hood, which was still pulled down, formed a kind of mask to his face, and each time that in rowing he opened his arms, his long hanging black sleeves gave them the appearance of enormous bat’s wings. As yet he had breathed not a word. There was no sound in the boat but the regular splash of the oars and the rippling of the water against the sides of the skiff.  28
  “Upon my soul!” suddenly exclaimed Gringoire, “we are as lively as a company of horned-owls! We observe a silence of Pythagoreans or of fishes! Pasque-Dieu! my friends, I wish that some one would converse with me. The human voice is music in the human ear. That is not my own saying, but of Didymus of Alexandria, and an illustrious saying it is! Certes, Didymus of Alexandria was no mediocre philosopher. One word, my pretty one—only one word, I entreat you. By the way, you used to make a droll little grimace, peculiar to yourself; do you make it still? You must know, my dear, that the Parliament has full jurisdiction over all places of sanctuary, and that you were in great peril in that little cell of yours in Notre Dame? The little trochilus builds its nest in the crocodile’s jaws. Master, here’s the moon appearing again. If they only do not catch sight of us! We are performing a laudable act in saving mademoiselle, and yet they would string us up in the King’s name if they were to catch us. Alas, that every human action should have two handles! They blame in me what they crown in thee. One man admires Cæsar, and abuses Catiline. Is that not so, master? What say you to this philosophy? I possess the philosophy of instinct, of nature, ut apes geometriam. What, no answer from anybody? You are both, it seems, in a very churlish mood!  29
  “You oblige me to do the talking alone. That is what we call in tragedy a monologue. Pasque-Dieu!—I would have you know that I am just come from King Louis XI, and that I have caught that oath from him—Pasque-Dieu! they are keeping up a glorious howling in the city! ’Tis a bad, wicked old king. He is all wrapped in furs. He still owes me the money for my epithalamium, and he all but hanged me to-night, which would have greatly hindered my career. He is niggardly towards men of merit. He would do well to read the four books of Salvian of Cologne—Adversus Avaritiam. In good sooth, he is a king very narrow in his dealings with men of letters, and who commits most barbarous cruelties—a sponge laid upon the people, and sucking up their money. His thrift is as the spleen that grows big upon the wasting of the other members. And so the complaints against the hardness of the times turn to murmurs against the prince. Under this mild and pious lord of ours the gibbets are weighed down with corpses, the blocks rot with gore, the prisons burst like overfilled sacks. This king robs with one hand, and hangs with the other. He is the purveyor for Mme. Gabelle 1 and M. Gibbet. The high are stripped of their dignities, and the low are increasingly loaded with fresh burdens. ’Tis an exorbitant prince. I like not this monarch. What say you, my master?”  30
  The man in black let the garrulous poet babble on. He was still struggling against the strong full current that separates the prow of the city from the poop of the Ile Notre Dame, now called the Ile Saint Louis.  31
  “By-the-bye, master,” Gringoire began again suddenly; “just as we reached the Parvis through the raging crowd of truands, did your reverence remark the poor little devil whose brains that deaf ringer of yours was in the act of dashing out against the parapet of the gallery of kings? I am near-sighted, and could not recognise him. Who can it have been, think you?”  32
  The unknown answered not a word, but he ceased rowing abruptly; his arms fell slack as if broken, his head dropped upon his breast, and Esmeralda heard him sigh convulsively. She started violently; she had heard sighs like that before.  33
  The boat, left to itself, drifted for a few moments with the stream; but the man in black roused himself at last, grasped the oars again, and set the boat once more upstream. He doubled the point of the Ile Notre Dame, and made for the landing-place at the hay wharf.  34
  “Ah!” said Gringoire, “we are passing the Logis Barbeau. Look, master, at that group of black roofs that form such quaint angles over there, just underneath that mass of low-hanging gray cloud, through which the moon looks all crushed and spread abroad like the yolk of an egg when the shell is broken. ’Tis a very fine mansion. It has a chapel crowned by a small dome which is wholly lined with admirably carved enrichments. Just above it, you can see the bell-tower, very delicately perforated. It also possesses a pleasant garden comprising a pond, an aviary, an echo, a mall, a labyrinth, and wild beast house, and many bosky paths very agreeable to Venus. Besides, there’s a very naughty tree which they call the ‘pander,’ because it cloaked the pleasures of a notorious princess and a certain Constable of France—a man of wit and gallantry. Alas! we poor philosophers are to a Constable of France as the cabbage or radish-bed to the garden of the Louvre. Well, what matters it after all? Life is a mixture of good and evil for the great even as for us. Sorrow is ever by the side of joy, the spondee beside the dactyl. Master, I must tell you that story of the Logis Barbeau some day; it had a tragical ending. It happened in 1319, in the reign of Philippe V, the longest reign of all the kings of France. The moral of the story is that the temptations of the flesh are pernicious and malign. Let our eyes not linger too long upon our neighbour’s wife, however much our senses may be excited by her beauty. Fornication is a very libertine thought. Adultery, a prying into the pleasant delights of another. Ohé! the noise grows louder over there!”  35
  In truth, the uproar was increasing round Notre Dame. They listened. They were plainly shouts of victory. Suddenly a hundred torches, their light flashing upon the helmets of men-at-arms, spread themselves rapidly over the church at every height, over the towers, the galleries, under the buttresses, appearing to be searching for something; and soon the distant shouts reached the ears of the fugitives: “The gipsy! the witch! Death to the Egyptian!”  36
  The unhappy girl dropped her face in her hands, and the unknown began rowing furiously towards the bank. Meanwhile our philosopher cogitated rapidly. He clasped the goat in his arms, and edged gently away from the gipsy, who pressed closer and closer to his side as her only remaining protection.  37
  Certainly Gringoire was on the horns of a cruel dilemma. He reflected that the goat too, by the existing legislation, was bound to be hanged if retaken, which would be a sad pity, poor little Djali! that two condemned females thus clinging on to him were more than he could manage, and that finally his companion asked for nothing better than to take charge of the gipsy girl. Nevertheless, a violent struggle went on in his mind, during which, like the Jupiter of the Iliad, he weighed the gipsy and the goat by turns in the balance, looking first at one and then at the other, his eyes moist with tears, while he muttered between his teeth, “And yet I cannot save both of you!”  38
  The bumping of the boat against the landing-place shook him out of his musings. The sinister hubbub still resounded through the city. The unknown rose, advanced to the girl, and made as if to help her ashore; but she evaded him, and laid hold of Gringoire’s sleeve; whereat he, in turn, being fully occupied with the goat, almost repulsed her. She accordingly sprang ashore by herself, but in such a state of fear and bewilderment that she knew not what she did or whither she was going. She stood thus a moment, stupefied, gazing down at the swift flowing water. When she somewhat recovered her senses, she found herself alone on the landing-stage with the unknown man. Gringoire had apparently availed himself of the moment of their going ashore to vanish with the goat among the labyrinth of houses of the Rue Grenier sur l’Eau.  39
  The poor little gipsy shuddered to find herself alone with this man. She strove to speak, to cry out, to call to Gringoire, but her tongue clove to the roof of her mouth, and no sound issued from her lips. Suddenly she felt the hand of the unknown grasp hers—a cold, strong hand. Her teeth chattered, she turned paler than the moonbeams that shone upon her. The man said not a word, but strode away in the direction of the Place de Grève, still holding her firmly by the hand.  40
  At that moment she had a dim sense of the irresistible force of destiny. All power of will forsook her; she let him drag her along, running to keep pace with him: the ground at this part of the quay rose somewhat, but to her they seemed to be rushing down an incline.  41
  She looked on all sides—not a single passenger to be seen; the quay was absolutely deserted. She heard no sound, she perceived no sign of life save in the glaring and tumultuous city, from which she was only separated by an arm of the river, and from which her own name reached her coupled with shouts of death. All the rest of Paris lay around her shadowy and silent as the grave.  42
  Meanwhile the stranger was dragging her along in the same silence and at the same rapid pace. She had no recollection of any of the streets they traversed. Passing a lighted window she made a last effort, and stopping suddenly, screamed, “Help!”  43
  The citizen at the window opened it, and showing himself in his night-shirt and a lamp in his hand, looked out stupidly on to the quay, muttered a few words which she could not catch, and closed his shutter once more. Her last ray of hope was extinguished.  44
  The man in black proffered no remark; he held her fast and quickened his pace. She offered no further resistance, but followed him limp and hopeless.  45
  From time to time she gathered sufficient strength to ask in a voice broken by the roughness of the pavement and the breathless haste of their motion: “Who are you? Who are you?” But there was no reply.  46
  In this manner they presently reached an open square of considerable size. The moon shone faintly out; a sort of black cross was dimly visible standing in the middle. It was a gibbet. She saw this, and in a flash knew where she was. It was the Place de Grève.  47
  The man stood still, turned towards her and lifted his hood. “Oh,” she stammered, petrified with horror, “I knew it must be he!”  48
  It was the priest. He looked like a wraith in the spectral moonlight.  49
  “Listen,” said he; and she shivered at the sound of the ill-omened voice that she had not heard for so long. “Listen,” he went on, speaking with that broken and gasping utterance which bespeaks the profoundest inward upheaval. “We have arrived at our destination. I would speak with thee. This is the Grève; we have reached the extreme limit. Fate has delivered each of us into the hand of the other. Thou shalt have the disposing of my soul; I, of thy life. Here is a place and an hour beyond which there is no seeing. Listen to me, then. I will tell thee—but first, name not thy Phœbus to me. (And while he spoke thus he paced to and fro, like a man incapable of standing still, dragging her with him.) Speak not of him! Mark me, if thou utterest his name, I know not what I shall do, but it will be something terrible.”  50
  Having relieved his mind of this, he stood motionless, like a body finding its centre of gravity. But his agitation was in nowise diminished; his voice sank deeper and deeper.  51
  “Turn not away from me thus. Hear me; ’tis a matter of the utmost import. First, this is what has happened—’tis no laughing matter, I warrant! What was I saying? Remind me! Ah—there is a decree of Parliament delivering thee over to execution again. I have but now succeeded in rescuing thee out of their hands. But they are on thy track. Behold!”  52
  He stretched his arm towards the city, where, in truth, the search seemed to be eagerly prosecuted. The noise of it drew nearer. The tower of the lieutenant’s house opposite the Grève was full of lights and bustle, and they could see soldiers running about the opposite quay with torches in their hands, shouting, “The gipsy! Where is the gipsy? Death to her! death!”  53
  “Thou seest plainly,” resumed the priest, “that they are in pursuit of thee and that I lie not. Oh, I love thee. Nay, speak not, open not thy lips, if it be to tell me that thou hatest me. I am resolved not to hear that again. I have just saved thee. Let me finish what I have to say. I can save thee altogether; I have prepared everything. It remains for thee to desire it. As thou wilt, so I can do.”  54
  He interrupted himself vehemently. “No, that is not what I should have said!”  55
  With a hurried step, and making her hasten too, for he had retained his grasp of her arm, he walked straight to the gibbet, and pointing to it:  56
  “Choose between us,” he said coldly.  57
  She wrenched herself from his grasp and fell at the foot of the gibbet, clasping her arms round that grim pillar; and, half turning her beautiful head, gazed at the priest over her shoulder. It might have been a Madonna at the foot of the Cross. The priest had remained transfixed, his finger pointing to the gibbet, motionless as a statue.  58
  At last the gipsy spoke: “This is less abhorrent to me than you are.”  59
  He let his arm drop slowly, and bent his eyes upon the ground in deepest dejection. “If these stones could speak,” he murmured, “they would say, ‘Here is, indeed, a most unhappy man!”’  60
  “I love you,” he resumed, and the girl still kneeling at the gibbet, her long hair falling around her, let him speak without interrupting him. His tones were plaintive now and gentle, contrasting sadly with the harsh disdain stamped upon his features. “Yes, in spite of all, ’tis perfectly true. Is there then nothing to show for this fire that consumes my heart! Alas! night and day—yes, girl, night and day—does that deserve no pity? ’Tis a love of the night and the day, I tell you—’tis torture! Oh! my torment is too great, my poor child. ’Tis a thing worthy of compassion, I do protest to you. You see, I speak in all gentleness. I would fain have you cease to abhor me. Look you, when a man loves a woman, it is not his fault! Oh, my God! What! will you then never forgive me? will you hate me ever thus? And is this the end? That is what makes me wicked, look you, and horrible to myself. You will not even look at me. You are, may-be, thinking of something else while I stand here talking to you, and we both are trembling on the brink of eternity! But above all things, speak not to me of that soldier! What! I might fling myself at your knees, I might kiss, not your feet—for that you will not have, but the ground under your feet! I might sob like a child, might tear from my breast, not words, but my very heart, to tell you that I love you—and all would be in vain—all! And yet, there is nothing in your soul but what is tender and merciful. Loving kindness beams from you; you are all goodness and sweetness, full of pity and grace. Alas! your harshness is for me alone. Oh, bitter fate!”  61
  He buried his face in his hands. The girl could hear him weeping; it was the first time. Standing thus, and shaken by sobs, he made a more wretched and suppliant figure even than on his knees. He wept on for a while.  62
  “Enough,” he said presently, the first violence of his emotion spent. “I find no words. And yet I had well pondered what I would say to you. And now I tremble and shiver, I grow faint-hearted at the decisive moment. I feel that something transcendent wraps us round, and my tongue falters. Oh, I shall fall to the ground if you will not take pity on me, pity on yourself! Condemn us not both to perdition. Didst thou but know how much I love thee!—what a heart is mine! the desertion of all virtue, the abandonment of myself! A doctor, I mock at science; a gentleman, I tarnish my name; a priest, I make of my missal a pillow of wantonness—I spit in the face of my Redeemer! And all for thee, enchantress; to be more worthy of thy hell! And yet thou rejectest the damned! Oh, let me tell thee all—more than this, something still more horrible, more horrible——!”  63
  With these last words his manner became utterly distraught. He was silent a moment, then, in a stern voice and as if addressing himself:  64
  “Cain!” he cried, “what has thou done with thy brother?”  65
  There was a pause, and then he began again. “What have I done with him, Lord? I took him, I reared him, I nourished him, loved him, idolized him, and—I killed him! Yes, Lord, before my very eyes they dashed his head against the stones of thy house; and it was because of me, because of this woman, because of her——”  66
  Madness gleamed from his sunken eyes; his voice dropped away; two or three times he repeated mechanically, and with long pauses between, like the last prolonged vibrations of the strokes of a bell, “Because of her—because of her——” At last, though his lips still moved, no articulate sound came from them, then suddenly he felt in a heap like a house crumbling to pieces, and remained motionless on the ground, his head on his knees.  67
  A faint movement of the girl, drawing away her foot from under him, brought him to himself. He slowly swept his hand over his haggard cheeks, and gazed for some moments at his fingers, surprised to find them wet. “What,” he murmured, “have I been weeping?”  68
  He turned suddenly upon the gipsy with nameless anguish.  69
  “Woe is me! thou canst see me weep unmoved! Child, knowest thou that such tears are molten lava? Is it then indeed true, that in the man we hate nothing can melt us? Thou wouldst see me die and wouldst laugh. Oh, I cannot see thee die! One word, one single word of kindness! I ask not that thou shouldst say thou lovest me; tell me only that thou art willing I should save thee. That will suffice: I will save thee in return for that. If not—oh, time flies! I entreat thee, by all that is sacred, wait not till I turn to stone again like this gibbet, that yearns for thee also! Remember that I hold both our destinies in my hand; that I am frenzied—it is terrible—that I may let everything go, and that there lies beneath us, unhappy girl, a bottomless pit wherein my fall will follow thine to all eternity! One word of kindness! Say one word! but one word!”  70
  Her lips parted to answer him. He flung himself on his knees before her to receive with adoration the words, perchance of relenting, that should fall from them.  71
  “You are an assassin!” she said.  72
  The priest clasped her furiously in his arms and burst into a hideous laugh.  73
  “Good, then; yes, an assassin!” he cried, “and I will have thee. Thou wilt not have me for a slave; thou shalt have me for thy master. I will take my prey; I have a den whither I will drag thee. Thou shalt follow me; thou must follow me, or I will deliver thee up! Thou must die, my fair one, or be mine! belong to me, the priest, the apostate, the murderer! and this very night, hearest thou? Come! kiss me, little fool! The grave or my bed!”  74
  His eyes flashed with rage and lust. Froth stood on the lascivious lips that covered the girl’s neck with frenzied kisses. She struggled fiercely in his arms.  75
  “Bite me not, monster!” she shrieked. “Oh, the hateful, venomous monk! Let me go, or I tear out thy vile gray hairs and fling them in handfuls in thy face!”  76
  He turned red, then white, then loosed his hold on her with a darkling look. Thinking herself victorious, she went on: “I tell thee I belong to my Phœbus; that it is Phœbus I love; Phœbus, who is fair to look upon. Thou, priest, art old, thou art frightful. Get thee gone!”  77
  He uttered a sudden scream, like some poor wretch under the branding-iron. “Die, then!” said he, grinding his teeth. She caught his terrible look and turned to fly; but he seized her, shook her, threw her on the ground, and walked rapidly towards the corner of the Tour-Roland, dragging her after him along the pavement by her little hands.  78
  Arrived at the corner of the Place, he turned round to her. “For the last time, wilt thou be mine?”  79
  “No!”  80
  The next moment, “Gudule! Gudule!” he cried in a loud voice, “here is the gipsy! take thy revenge!”  81
  The girl felt herself suddenly seized by the arm. She looked up, a skeleton arm was stretched through the window in the wall and was holding her in a grip of iron.  82
  “Hold her fast!” said the priest. “It is the Egyptian woman escaped. Do not let her go; I go to fetch the sergeants. Thou shalt see her hang.”  83
  A guttural laugh from the other side of the wall made answer to these bloodthirsty words. The gipsy saw the priest hurry away towards the Pont Notre Dame, from which direction came the clatter of horses’ hoofs.  84
  The girl had recognised the evil-minded recluse. Panting with terror, she strove to free herself. In vain she writhed and turned in agony and despair, the other held her with incredible strength. The lean bony fingers that clutched her were clenched and met round her flesh—that hand seemed rivetted to her arm. It was more than a chain, more than an iron ring: it was a pair of pincers endowed with life and understanding, issuing from a wall.  85
  Exhausted at last, she fell against the wall, and the fear of death came upon her. She thought of all that made life desirable—of youth, the sight of the sky, all the varying aspects of nature, of love and Phœbus, of all that was going from her and all that was approaching, of the priest who was even now betraying her, of the executioner he would bring, of the gibbet standing ready. Terror mounted even to the roots of her hair, and she heard the sinister laugh of the recluse as she hissed at her: “Ha! ha! thou art going to be hanged!”  86
  She turned her fading eyes towards the window and saw the wolfish face of the sachette glaring at her through the bars.  87
  “What have I done to you?” she gasped, almost past speaking.  88
  The recluse made no answer, but fell to muttering in a sing-song, rasping, mocking tone: “Daughter of Egypt! daughter of Egypt! daughter of Egypt!”  89
  The unfortunate Esmeralda let her head droop on her breast, understanding that this was no human being.  90
  Suddenly, as if the gipsy’s question had taken all this time to reach her apprehension, the recluse exclaimed:  91
  “What hast thou done to me, sayest thou? Ah, what hast thou done to me, gipsy! Well, listen. I had a child—I—hearest thou?—I had a child—a child, I tell thee! The fairest little daughter! My Agnes—” and she paused and kissed something distractedly in the gloom. “Well, seest thou, daughter of Egypt, they took my child from me; they stole my child! That is what thou hast done to me!”  92
  To which the poor girl answered, like the lamb in the fable: “Alas! perhaps I was not born then!”  93
  “Oh, yes,” rejoined the recluse, “thou must have been born then. Thou wert one of them. She would be about thy age—thou seest therefore! For fifteen years have I been here; fifteen years have I suffered; fifteen years have I been smiting my head against these four walls. I tell thee that they were gipsy women that stole her from me—dost thou hear?—and that devoured her with their teeth. Hast thou a heart? Picture to thyself a child playing, sucking, sleeping—so sweet, so innocent! Well, that—all that—was what they stole from me, what they killed! The God in heaven knows it! To-day it is my turn; I shall eat of the Egyptian! Oh, that these bars were not so close, that I might bite thee! But my head is too big. The poor, pretty thing! while she slept! And if they did wake her as they took her away, she might scream as she would; I was not there! Ah, you gipsy mothers that ate my child, come hither now and look at yours!” And she laughed again and ground her teeth—the two actions were alike in that frenzied countenance.  94
  Day was beginning to dawn. As the wan gray light spread gradually over the scene, the gibbet was growing more and more distinct in the centre of the Place. On the other side, in the direction of the Pont Notre Dame, the poor girl thought she heard the sound of cavalry approaching.  95
  “Madame!” she cried, clasping her hands and falling on her knees, dishevelled, wild, frantic with terror; “Madame! have pity! They are coming. I never harmed you: will you see me die in this horrible manner before your very eyes? You have pity for me, I am sure. It is too dreadful. Let me fly; leave go of me, for pity’s sake! I cannot die like that!”  96
  “Give me back my child!” said the recluse.  97
  “Mercy! mercy!”  98
  “Give me back my child!”  99
  “Let me go, in Heaven’s name!” 100
  “Give me back my child!” 101
  Once again the girl sank down exhausted, powerless, her eyes already glazed, as if in death. 102
  “Alas!” she stammered, “you seek your child; I—I seek my parents.” 103
  “Give me back my little Agnes!” Gudule went on. “Thou knowest not where she is? Then die! I will tell thee. I was a wanton, I had a child, they stole my child. It was the gipsies. Thou seest plainly that thou must die. When thy mother the gipsy comes to seek for thee, I shall say to her, ‘Mother, behold that gibbet!’ Else give me back my child! Dost thou know where she is, my little girl? Here, let me show thee. Here is her shoe; ’tis all that’s left to me of her. Dost know where the fellow to it is? If thou knowest, tell me, and I will go on my knees to fetch it, even to the other end of the world.” 104
  So saying, she thrust her other hand through the window and held up before the gipsy girl the little embroidered shoe. There was just light enough to distinguish its shape and its colour. 105
  “Let me see that shoe!” said the gipsy with a start. “Oh, God in heaven!” And at the same time, with the hand she had free, she eagerly opened the little bag she wore about her neck. 106
  “Go to, go to!” muttered Gudule; “search in thy devil’s amulet——” 107
  She broke off suddenly, her whole frame shook, and in a voice that seemed to come from the innermost depths of her being, she cried: “My daughter!” 108
  For the gipsy had drawn from the amulet bag a little shoe the exact counterpart of the other. To the shoe was attached a slip of parchment, on which was written this couplet:
        “When thou the fellow of this shalt see,
Thy mother will stretch out her arms to thee.”
  Quicker than a flash of lightning the recluse had compared the two shoes, read the inscription on the parchment, then pressed her face, radiant with ineffable joy, against the cross-bars of the loophole, crying again: 110
  “My daughter! my daughter!” 111
  “Mother!” returned the gipsy girl. 112
  Here description fails us. 113
  But the wall and the iron bars divided them. “Oh, the wall!” cried the recluse. “Oh, to see her and not embrace her! Thy hand—give me thy hand!” 114
  The girl put her hand through the opening, and the mother threw herself upon it, pressing her lips to it, remaining thus lost to everything but that kiss, giving no sign of life but a sob that shook her frame at long intervals. For the poor mother was weeping in torrents in the silence and darkness of her cell, like rain falling in the night; pouring out in a flood upon that adored hand all that deep dark font of tears which her grief had gathered in her heart, drop by drop, during fifteen long years. 115
  Suddenly she lifted her head, threw back her long gray hair from her face, and without a word began tearing at the bars of her window with the fury of a lioness. But the bars stood firm. She then went and fetched from the back of her cell a large paving-stone, which served her for a pillow, and hurled it against them with such force that one of the bars broke with a shower of sparks, and a second blow completely smashed the old iron cross-bar that barricaded the hole. Then, using her whole force, she succeeded in loosening and wrenching out the rusty stumps. There are moments when a woman’s hands are possessed of superhuman strength. 116
  The passage cleared—and it had taken her less than a minute to do it—she leaned out, seized her daughter round the waist, and drew her into the cell. 117
  “Come,” she murmured, “let me drag thee out of the pit.” 118
  As soon as she had her daughter in the cell, she set her gently on the ground; then catching her up in her arms again, as if she were still only the baby Agnes, she carried her to and fro in the narrow cell, intoxicated, beside herself with joy, shouting, singing, kissing her daughter, babbling to her, laughing, melting into tears—all at the same time, all with frenzied vehemence. 119
  “My daughter! my daughter!” said she. “I have my daughter again—’tis she! God has given her back to me. Hey there! come all of you! Is there anybody to see that I’ve got my daughter? Lord Jesus, how beautiful she is! Thou hast made me wait fifteen years, oh, my God, but it was only that thou mightest give her back to me so beautiful. And the gipsy women had not eaten her! Who told me that they had? My little girl—my little one—kiss me. Those good gipsies! I love the gipsies. So it is thou indeed? And it was that that made my heart leap every time thou didst pass by. And to think that I took it for hatred! Forgive me, my Agnes, forgive me! Thou thoughtest me very wicked, didst thou not? I love thee. Hast thou then that little mark still on thy neck? Let me see. Yes, she has it still. Oh, how fair thou art! ’Twas from me you got those big eyes, my lady. Kiss me. I love thee. What is it to me that other women have children? I can laugh at them now! Let them only come and look. Here is mine. Look at her neck, her eyes, her hair, her hand. Find me anything as beautiful as that! Oh, I’ll warrant you she’ll have plenty of lovers, this one! I have wept for fifteen years. All my beauty that I lost has gone to her. Kiss me!” 120
  She said a thousand tender and extravagant things to her, the beauty of which lay in their tone, disarranged the poor child’s garments till she blushed, smoothed her silken tresses with her hand, kissed her foot, her knee, her forehead, her eyes, went into raptures over everything, the girl letting her do as she would, only repeating at intervals, very low and with ineffable sweetness the word “Mother!” 121
  “Hark thee, my little girl,” resumed the recluse, interrupting her words constantly with kisses, “hark thee, I shall love thee and take good care of thee. We will go away from here. We are going to be so happy! I have inherited somewhat in Reims—in our country. Thou knowest Reims,—thou canst not, thou wert too little. Couldst thou but know how pretty thou wert at four months old—such tiny feet that people came all the way from Epernay, five leagues off, to see them. We shall have a field and a house. Thou shalt sleep in my own bed. Oh, my God! who would believe it? I have my daughter again!” 122
  “Oh, mother!” said the girl, finding strength at last to speak in her emotion, “the gipsy woman spoke true. There was a good gipsy woman among our people who died last year, and who had always taken care of me like a fostermother. It was she who hung this little bag round my neck. She used always to say to me: ‘Child, guard this trinket well; ’tis a treasure; it will make thee find thy mother again. Thou wearest thy mother about thy neck!” She foretold it—the gipsy woman.” 123
  Again the sachette clasped her daughter in her arms. “Come, let me kiss thee; thou sayest that so prettily. When we are back in our own home, we will put the little shoes on the feet of an Infant Jesus in a church. We owe so much to the dear Virgin. Lord, what a sweet voice thou hast! When thou wert speaking to me just now it was just like music. Oh, Father in heaven, have I found my child again? Could any one believe such a story? Surely, nothing can kill one, for I have not died of joy.” And she began clapping her hands and laughing as she cried: “Oh, we are going to be so happy!” 124
  At that moment the cell resounded to the clank of arms and the galloping of horses, coming apparently from the Pont Notre Dame and hastening nearer and nearer along the quay. The girl threw herself in anguish into the sachette’s arms. 125
  “Save me! save me! Mother, they are coming!” 126
  The recluse grew pale. “Oh, heaven! what dost thou say? I had forgotten; they are pursuing thee. What hast thou done?” 127
  “I know not,” answered the unhappy girl, “but I am condemned to death.” 128
  “To death!” said Gudule, staggering as if struck by thunder-bolt. “Death!” she repeated slowly, and fixed her daughter with wide staring eyes. 129
  “Yes, mother,” repeated the girl distractedly, “they want to kill me. They are coming to hang me. That gallows is for me. Save me! save me! Here they come; oh, save me!” 130
  The recluse stood for a moment as if petrified, then shook her head in doubt, and finally burst into a fit of laughter—the horrid laughter of her former days. 131
  “Oh, oh, no! ’tis a dream thou art telling me. What, I should have lost her for fifteen years, and then should find her, but only for a minute! And they would take her from me now—now that she is so beautiful, that she is a woman grown, that she speaks to me and loves me! And now they would come and devour her under my very eyes—who am her mother! Oh, no, such things are not possible. God would never permit it.” 132
  The cavalcade now apparently made a halt, and a distant voice could be heard saying: “This way, Messire Tristan! The priest told us we should find her at the Rat-Hole.” The tramp of horses commenced again. 133
  The recluse started up with a cry of despair: “Fly, fly, my child! It all comes back to me now. Thou art right. They seek thy death! Horror! Malediction!—Fly!” 134
  She thrust her head through the window, but drew it back again hastily. 135
  “Stay where you are,” she said in a quick, terrified whisper, convulsively pressing the hand of the girl, who was already more dead than alive. “Keep still, do not breathe, there are soldiers everywhere. Thou canst not go out. It is too late.” 136
  Her eyes were dry and burning. For a few moments she did not speak, but paced her cell with rapid steps, stopping at intervals to pluck out whole strands of her gray hair and tear them with her teeth. 137
  “They are coming,” she said suddenly; “I will speak to them. Do thou hide in that corner. They will not see thee. I will tell them that thou hast escaped—that I let thee go!” 138
  She carried her daughter to a corner of the cell which could not be seen from outside; made her crouch down; disposed her carefully so that neither foot nor hand came beyond the shadow; spread her long black hair round her to cover the white robe, and set up the pitcher and flag-stone, the only furniture she had, in front of her, trusting that they would conceal her. This done, finding herself calmer, she knelt down and prayed. The day, which was only just dawning, left abundant darkness still in the Rat-Hole. 139
  At this moment the voice of the priest—that voice from hell—sounded close to the cell, crying: “This way, Captain Phœbus de Châteaupers!” 140
  At that name, uttered by that voice, Esmeralda, cowering in her corner, made a movement. 141
  “Do not stir!” murmured Gudule. 142
  She had scarcely spoken before a tumultuous crowd of men and horses stopped in front of the cell. The mother rose hastily and posted herself at the loophole to cover the aperture. She beheld a strong body of armed men, horse and foot, drawn up in the Grève. Their commander dismounted and came towards her. 143
  “Old woman,” said this man, whose face wore a repulsive expression, “we are seeking a witch to hang her. They tell us you had hold of her.” 144
  The poor mother assumed the most unconscious air she was able. 145
  “I do not quite take your meaning,” she answered. 146
  “Tête-Dieu! Then what was this story of the crazy Archdeacon’s?” said Tristan. “Where is he?” 147
  “My lord,” said one of the soldiers, “he has disappeared.” 148
  “Go to, old hag,” the commander went on; “lie not to me. A witch was given into thy hand. What hast thou done with her? 149
  The recluse feared to deny altogether lest she should arouse suspicion, so she answered in a truthful but surly tone: 150
  “If you mean a strong young wench that they thrust into my hands awhile ago, I can tell you that she bit me, and I let her go. That’s all I know. Leave me in peace.” 151
  The commander pulled a disappointed face. “Let me have no lies, old spectre!” he said. “My name is Tristan l’Hermite, and I am the King’s Gossip. Tristan l’Hermite, dost thou hear?” and he added, casting his eyes round the Place de Grève, “ ’tis a name that has echoes here.” 152
  “And if you were Satan l’Hermite,” retorted Gudule, gathering hope, “I would have nothing different to say to you, nor would I be afraid of you!” 153
  “Tête-Dieu!” exclaimed Tristan, “here’s a vixen! So the witch girl escaped! And which way did she go?” 154
  “Through the Rue du Mouton, I think,” answered Gudule carelessly. 155
  Tristan turned and signed to his men to prepare for resuming their march. The recluse breathed again. 156
  “Monseigneur,” said an archer suddenly, “ask the old beldame how it is that her window-bars are broken thus?” 157
  This question plunged the wretched mother back into despair. Still she did not lose all presence of mind. “They were always so,” she stammered. 158
  “Bah!” returned the archer, “only yesterday they made a fine black cross that inclined one to devotion.” 159
  Tristan glanced askance at the recluse. “The beldame seems uneasy,” he said. 160
  The unhappy woman felt that all depended on her keeping up her self-possession, and so, with death in her heart, she began to laugh at them. Mothers are capable of efforts such as this. 161
  “Bah!” said she, “the man is drunk. ’Tis more than a year since the back of a cart laden with stones ran against my window and burst the bars. I mind me well how I railed at the driver.” 162
  “It’s true,” said another archer, “I was there.” 163
  There always people to be found in all places who have seen everything. 164
  This unlooked-for testimony revived the spirits of the recluse, to whom this interrogatory was like crossing an abyss on the edge of a knife. 165
  But she was doomed to a continual see-saw between hope and alarm. 166
  “If a cart had done that,” resumed the first soldier, “the stumps of the bars must have been driven inward, whereas they have been forced outward.” 167
  “Ha! ha!” said Tristan to the soldier, “thou hast the nose of a cross-examiner at the Chôtelet! Answer what he says, old woman!” 168
  “Mon Dieu!” she exclaimed, reduced to the last extremity, and bursting into tears in spite of herself; “I swear to you, my lord, that it was a cart that broke those bars: you hear that man say he saw it. Besides, what has that to do with your gipsy?” 169
  “H’m!” growled Tristan. 170
  “Diable!” continued the soldier, flattered by the provost’s commendation; “the iron looks quite fresh broken.” 171
  Tristan shook his head. Gudule turned pale. “How long is it, say you, since the affair of the cart?” 172
  “A month; a fortnight may-be, my lord; I do not remember.” 173
  “At first she said above a year!” remarked the soldier. 174
  “That looks queer!” said the provost. 175
  “Monseigneur!” she cried, still filling the window, and trembling lest suspicion should prompt them to put their heads through and look into the cell; “monseigneur, I swear to you that it was a cart that broke this grating. I swear it by all the holy angels in paradise. If it was not a cart, may I go to everlasting perdition and deny my God!” 176
  “Thou art very urgent in that oath of thine!” said Tristan with his inquisitorial glance. 177
  The poor creature felt her assurance ebbing fast away. She was making blunders, and had a terrible consciousness that she was not saying what she should have said. 178
  Here another soldier came up, crying: “Monseigneur, the old wife lies. The witch cannot have got away by the Rue du Mouton, for the chain was across the street all night, and the watchman saw no one pass.” 179
  “What hast thou to say to that?” asked Tristan, whose countenance grew every moment more forbidding. 180
  She strove to offer a bold front to this fresh incident. “Why, monseigneur, I do not know; I must have made a mistake, I suppose. In fact, now I come to think of it, I believe she crossed the water.” 181
  “That’s at the opposite side of the Place,” said the provost. “And then it’s not very likely that she should want to return to the city where they were making search for her. Thou liest, old woman!” 182
  “Besides,” added the first soldier, “there’s no boat either on this side or the other.” 183
  “She will have swam across then,” said the recluse, fighting her ground inch by inch. 184
  “Do women swim?” said the soldier. 185
  “Tête-Dieu! old woman, thou liest, thou liest!” cried Tristan angrily. “I’ve a good mind to leave the witch and take thee instead. A little quarter of an hour’s question would soon drag the truth out of thy old throat. Come. Thou shalt go along with us!” 186
  She caught eagerly at these words. 187
  “As you will, my lord; do as you say. The question! I am quite ready to submit to it. Carry me with you. Quick! let us go at once!—and meantime,” thought she, “my daughter can escape.” 188
  “Mort-Dieu!” said the provost, “what a thirst for the rack! This crazy old wife’s quite beyond my comprehension.” 189
  A grizzled old sergeant of the watch now stepped out of the ranks and addressed the provost. “Crazy indeed, monseigneur! If she let the gipsy go, ’tis not her fault, for she has no love for gipsy women. For fifteen years I’ve held the watch here, and every night I hear her calling down curses without end on these Bohemian women. If the one we’re looking for is, as I believe, the little dancer with the goat, she hated her beyond all the rest.” 190
  Gudule gathered up her strength: 191
  “Yes, her beyond all the rest,” she repeated. 192
  The unanimous testimony of the men of the watch confirmed what the old sergeant had said. Tristan l’Hermite, despairing of getting anything out of the recluse, turned his back on her, and, with irrepressible anxiety, she saw him slowly return to his horse. 193
  “Come!” he growled between his teeth. “Forward! we must continue the search. I will not sleep till the gipsy has been hanged.” 194
  Nevertheless, he lingered a moment before mounting. Gudule hung between life and death as she saw him scanning the Place with the restless look of the hound that instinctively feels himself near the lair of his quarry, and is reluctant to go away. At last he shook his head, and sprang into the saddle. 195
  Gudule’s heart, so horribly contracted, now expanded, and she whispered, with a glance towards her daughter, whom she had not ventured to look at since the arrival of her pursuers, “Saved!” 196
  All this time the poor child had remained in her corner, without breathing, without moving a muscle, death staring her in the face. She had lost no word of the scene between Gudule and Tristan, and each pang of her mother’s had echoed in her own heart. She had heard each successive crack of the thread that held her suspended over the abyss, and twenty times she thought to see it snap. Only now did she begin to take breath and feel the ground steady under her feet. 197
  At this moment she heard a voice call to the provost: “Corbœuf! Monsieur the Provost, it’s none of my business as a man-at-arms to hang witches. The rabble populace is put down; I leave you to do your own work alone. You will permit me to return to my company, who are meanwhile without a captain.” 198
  The voice was that of Phœbus de Châteaupers. What passed in her breast is impossible to describe. He was there, her friend, her protector, her safeguard, her refuge—her Phœbus! She started to her feet, and before her mother could prevent her had sprung to the loophole, crying: 199
  “Phœbus! To me, my Phœbus!” 200
  Phœbus was no longer there. He had just galloped round the corner of the Rue de la Coutellerie. But Tristan had not yet gone away. 201
  The recluse rushed at her daughter with a snarl of rage and dragged her violently back, her nails entering the flesh of the girl’s neck. But the mother turned tigress has no thought of careful handling. Too late. Tristan had seen it all. 202
  “Hè! hè!” he chuckled with a grin that bared all his teeth and made his face wolfish; “two mice in the trap!” 203
  “I suspected as much,” said the soldier. Tristan slapped him on the shoulder. “Thou art a good cat! Now, then,” he added, “where is Henriet Cousin?” 204
  A man, having neither the dress nor the appearance of a soldier, stepped out from their ranks. He wore a suit half gray, half brown, with leather sleeves, and carried a coil of rope in his great hand. This man was in constant attendance on Tristan, who was in constant attendance on Louis XI. 205
  “Friend,” said Tristan l’Hermite, “I conclude that this is the witch we are in search of. Thou wilt hang me that one. Hast thou thy ladder?” 206
  “There is one under the shed at the Maison-aux-Piliers,” answered the man. “Is it at the gallows over there we’re to do the job?” he continued, pointing to the gibbet. 207
  “Yes.” 208
  “So, ho!” said the man, with a coarse laugh more brutal even than the provost’s, “we shall not have far to go!” 209
  “Make haste,” said Tristan, “and do thy laughing afterward.” 210
  Since the moment when Tristan had seen her daughter, and all hope was lost, the recluse had not uttered a word. She had thrown the poor girl, half dead, into a corner of the cell and resumed her post at the window, her two hands spread on the stone sill like two talons. In this attitude she faced the soldiers unflinchingly with a gaze that was once more savage and distraught. As Henriet Cousin approached the cell, she fixed him with such a wild beast glare that he shrank back. 211
  “Monseigneur,” said he, turning back to the provost, “which must I take?” 212
  “The young one.” 213
  “So much the better; the old one seems none too easy.” 214
  “Poor little dancer!” said the sergeant of the watch. 215
  Henriet Cousin advanced once more to the window. The mother’s eye made his own droop. 216
  “Madame,” he began timidly— 217
  She interrupted him in a whisper of concentrated fury: 218
  “What wilt thou?” 219
  “It is not you,” he said, “but the other one.” 220
  “What other one?” 221
  “The young one.” 222
  She shook her head violently. “There is nobody! nobody! nobody!” she cried. 223
  “Yes, there is!” returned the hangman, “as you very well know. Let me take the girl. I mean no harm to you.” 224
  “Ah! ha!” she said, with a wild laugh; “you mean no harm to me?” 225
  “Let me take the other, good wife; ’tis the provost’s orders.” 226
  “There is nobody else,” she repeated distractedly. 227
  “But I tell you there is!” retorted the hangman. “We all saw the two of you.” 228
  “Thou hadst best look, then,” said the recluse with a mad chuckle. “Thrust thy head through the window.” 229
  The hangman considered the nails of the mother, and dared not. 230
  “Haste thee now!” cried Tristan, who had drawn up his men in a circle round the Rat-Hole, and stationed himself on horseback near the gibbet. 231
  Henriet returned to the provost in perplexity. He laid the coil of rope on the ground, and was twisting his cap nervously in his hands. 232
  “Monseigneur,” he asked, “how must I get in?” 233
  “By the door.” 234
  “There is none.” 235
  “Then by the window.” 236
  “It is too narrow.” 237
  “Widen it, then,” said Tristan impatiently. “Hast thou no pickaxes?” 238
  The mother, still on guard at the opening to her den, watched them intently. She had ceased to hope, ceased to wish for anything. All she knew was that she would not have them take her daughter from her. 239
  Henriet Cousin went and fetched the box of executioner’s tools from the shed of the Maison-aux-Piliers; also, from the same place, the double ladder, which he immediately set up against the gibbet. Five or six of the provost’s men provided themselves with crowbars and pickaxes, and Tristan accompanied them to the window of the cell. 240
  “Old woman,” said the provost in stern tones, “give up the girl to us quietly.” 241
  She gazed at him vacantly. 242
  “Tête-Dieu!” exclaimed Tristan, “Why dost thou hinder us from hanging this witch as the King commands?” 243
  The wretched creature broke into her savage laugh again. 244
  “Why do I hinder you? She is my daughter.” 245
  The tone in which she uttered these words sent a shudder even through Henriet Cousin himself. 246
  “I am sorry,” returned the provost. “But it is the good pleasure of the King.” 247
  Whereat she cried, her dreadful laugh ringing louder than before: 248
  “What is he to me—thy King? I tell thee it is my daughter.” 249
  “Break through the wall!” commanded Tristan. 250
  To do this it was only necessary to loosen a course of stone underneath the loophole. When the mother heard the picks and lever sapping her fortress, she uttered a blood-curdling cry, and then started running round and round her cell with startling quickness—a wild-beast habit she had learned from her long years of confinement in that cage. She said no word, but her eyes blazed. The soldiers felt their blood run cold. 251
  Suddenly she snatched up her stone in both hands, laughed, and hurled it at the workmen. The stone, ill-thrown, for her hands were trembling, touched no one, but fell harmless at the feet of Tristan’s horse. She gnashed her teeth. 252
  Meanwhile, though the sun had not yet risen, it was broad daylight, and the old, moss-grown chimneys of the Maisonaux-Piliers flushed rosy red. It was the hour when the windows of the earliest risers in the great city were thrown cheerfully open. A countryman or so, a few fruit-sellers, going to the markets on their asses, were beginning to cross the Grève, and halted for a moment to gaze with astonishment at the group of soldiers gathered about the Rat-Hole, then passed on their way. 253
  The recluse had seated herself on the ground close beside her daughter, covering her with her body, her eyes fixed, listening to the poor child, who, as she lay motionless, kept murmuring the one word, “Phœbus! Phœbus!” 254
  As the work of demolition seemed to advance, so the mother drew mechanically farther back, pressing the girl closer and closer against the wall. All at once she saw the stone, from which she had never taken her eyes, begin to give way, and heard the voice of Tristan urging on the men. At this she awoke from the kind of stupor into which she had fallen for a few moments, and cried aloud; and her voice as she spoke now lacerated the ear like the rasp of a saw, now faltered and choked as if every kind of execration crowded to her lips to burst forth at once. “Ho, ho, ho! but ’tis horrible! Robbers! brigands! Are ye truly coming to take my daughter from me? I tell you, ’tis my own child! Oh, cowards! oh, hangman’s slaves! miserable hired cut throats and assassins! Help! help! Fire! And can they have the heart to take my child from me thus? Who is it then they call the good God in heaven?” 255
  Then, addressing herself to Tristan, foaming, glaring, bristling, on all-fours like a panther: “Now come and dare to take my daughter from me. Dost thou not understand when this woman tells thee ’tis her daughter? Dost thou know what it is to have a child, eh, thou wolf? Hast thou never lain with thy mate? Hast never had a cub by her? And if thou hast little ones, when they howl, is there never an answering stir within thee?” 256
  “Down with the stone,” said Tristan; “it is loose enough now.” 257
  The crowbars heaved the heavy block. It was the mother’s last bulwark. She threw herself upon it, trying to hold it in its place; she furrowed the stone with her nails—in vain; the great mass, displaced by half a dozen men, escaped her grasp and slid slowly to the ground along the iron levers. 258
  The mother, seeing the breach effected, then cast herself across the opening, barring it with her body, writhing, striking her head against the floor, and shrieking in a voice so hoarse with anguish and fatigue that the words were hardly articulate: 259
  “Help! Fire! Help!” 260
  “Now, then, take the girl,” said Tristan imperturbably. 261
  The mother faced the soldiers with so menacing a glare that they seemed more fain to retreat than advance. 262
  “Forward!” cried the provost. “Henriet Cousin—you!” 263
  No one advanced a step. 264
  The provost rapped out an oath. “Tëte-Christ! my soldiers afraid of a woman!” 265
  “Monseigneur,” ventured Henriet, “you call that a woman?” 266
  “She has a bristling mane like a lion,” said another. 267
  “Forward!” repeated the provost. “The gap is large enough. Enter three abreast, as at the breach of Pontoise. Let’s make an end of it, death of Mahomet! The first man that draws back, I cleave him in two!” 268
  Fixed thus between the devil and deep sea, the soldiers hesitated a moment, then, deciding for the lesser evil, advanced upon the Rat-Hole. 269
  When the recluse saw this, she swept back her long hair from her eyes, struggled to her knees, and dropped her bleeding and emaciated hands upon them. Great tears welled up one by one to her eyes and rolled down a long furrow in her cheeks, like a torrent down the bed it has hollowed out. And then she began to speak, but in a voice so suppliant, so gentle, so submissive and heart-breaking that more than one hardened old fire-eater in Tristan’s company furtively wiped his eyes. 270
  “Good sirs,” said she, “messieurs the sergeants, one word. There is a thing I must tell you. This is my daughter, look you—my dear little child who was lost to me! Listen, ’tis quite a story. It may surprise you, but I know messieurs the sergeants well. They were always good to me in the days when the little urchins threw stones at me because I was a wanton. Look you; you will leave me my child when you know all! I was a poor wanton. The gipsies stole her from me—by the same token I have kept her shoe these fifteen years. Look, here it is. She had a foot like that. At Reims. La Chantefleurie! Rue Folle-Peine! Perhaps you knew of this? It was I. In your young days; then it was a merry time, and there were merry doings! You will have pity on me, won’t you, good sirs? The gipsies stole her, and hid her from me for fifteen years. I thought her dead. Picture to yourself, my good friends, that I thought her dead. I have passed fifteen years here, in this stone, cave, without any fire in winter. That is hard. The poor, sweet little shoe! I cried so long to God that he heard me. This night he gave me back my child. She was not dead. You will not take her from me, I am sure. Even if ’twere me you wanted, I would not mind; but a child of sixteen! Leave her a little while longer to live in the sunshine! What has she done to you? nothing at all. Nor I either. If you only knew—I have no one but her. I am old—this is a blessing sent me from the Holy Virgin! And then, you are all so good! you did not know that it was my daughter; but now you know. Oh, I love her! Monsieur the Chief Provost, I would rather have a stab in my body than a scratch on her little finger! You have the air of a kind gentleman! What I tell you now explains the whole matter, surely? Oh! if you have a mother, sir—you are the captain, leave me my child! See how I entreat you on my knees, as we pray to Jesus Christ! I ask not alms of any one. Sirs, I come from Reims; I have a little field from my uncle Mahiet Pradon. I am not a beggar. I want nothing—nothing but my child! Oh, I want to keep my child! The good God, who is master over all, has not given her back to me for nothing. The King!—you say the King! It cannot give him much pleasure that they should kill my daughter! Besides, the King is good! She is my daughter; mine, not the King’s! She does not belong to him! I will go away! we will both go. After all, just two women passing along the road—a mother and her daughter; you let them go their way in peace! Let us go; we come from Reims. Oh, you are kind, messieurs the sergeants. I have nothing to say against you. You will not take my darling; it is not possible! Say it is not possible! My child! My child!” 271
  We shall not attempt to convey any idea of her gestures, her accent, the tears that trickled over her lips as she spoke, her clasping, writhing hands, the heart-breaking smiles, the agonized looks, the sighs, the moans, the miserable and soul-stirring sobs she mingled with these frenzied, incoherent words. When she ceased, Tristan l’Hermite knit his brows, but it was to hide a tear that glistened in his tiger’s eye. He conquered this weakness, however, and said brusquely: “It is the King’s will.” 272
  Then leaning down to Henriet Cousin’s ear, he whispered hurriedly, “Do thy business quickly.” It may be that the redoubtable provost felt his heart failing him—even his. 273
  The hangman and the sergeant accordingly entered the cell. The mother made no attempt at resistance; she only dragged herself over to her daughter and threw herself distractedly upon her. 274
  The girl saw the soldiers advancing towards her, and the horror of death revived her senses. 275
  “Mother!” she cried in a tone of indescribable anguish; “oh, mother! they are coming! defend me!” 276
  “Yes, yes, dear love, I am defending thee!” answered the mother in expiring tones; and clasping her frantically in her arms, she covered her face with kisses. To see them together on the ground, the mother thus protecting her child, was a sight to wring the stoniest heart. 277
  Henriet Cousin took hold of the gipsy girl under her beautiful shoulders. At the touch of that hand she gave a little shuddering cry and swooned. The executioner, from whose eyes big tears were dropping, would have carried her away and sought to unclasp the mother’s arms, which were tightly coiled about her daughter’s waist, but she held on to her child with such an iron grasp that he found it utterly impossible to separate them. He therefore had to drag the girl out of the cell, and the mother along with her. The mother’s eyes, too, were closed. 278
  The sun rose at this moment, and already there was a considerable crowd of people in the Place looking from a distance at what was being dragged over the ground to the gibbet. For this was Tristan’s way at executions. His one idea was to prevent the curious from coming too near. 279
  There was nobody at the windows. Only, in the far distance, on the summit of that tower of Notre Dame which looks toward the Grève, two men, their dark figures standing out black against the clear morning sky, appeared to be watching the scene. 280
  Henriet Cousin stopped with his burden at the foot of the fatal ladder, and with faltering breath, such a pity did he think it, he passed the rope round the girl’s exquisite neck. At the horrible contact of the hempen rope, the poor child opened her eyes and beheld the skeleton arm of the gibbet extended over her head. She struggled to free herself, and cried out in an agonized voice: “No! no! I will not! I will not!” The mother, whose head was buried in her daughter’s robe, said no word, but a long shudder ran through her whole frame, and they could hear the frenzied kisses she bestowed upon her child. The hangman seized this moment to wrench asunder the arms clasped round the doomed girl, and whether from exhaustion or despair, they yielded. He then lifted the girl to his shoulder, where the slender creature hung limp and helpless against his uncouth head, and set foot upon the ladder to ascend. 281
  At this moment the mother, who had sunk in a heap on the ground, opened her eyes wide. A blood-curdling look came over her face; without a word she started to her feet, and in a lightning flash flung herself, like a wild beast on its prey, on the hangman’s hand, biting it to the bone. The man howled with pain; the others ran to his assistance, and with difficulty released his bleeding hand from the mother’s teeth. Still she uttered no sound. They thrust her back with brutal roughness, and she fell, her head striking heavily on the stones. They raised her up; she fell back again. She was dead. 282
  The hangman, who had kept his hold on the girl, began once more to ascend the ladder. 283

Note 1.  The salt tax. [back]



Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.