Fiction > Harvard Classics > Victor Hugo > Notre Dame de Paris > Book II > Chapter VII
Victor Marie Hugo (1802–1885).  Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
Book II
VII. A Wedding Night
A FEW minutes afterward our poet found himself in a warm and cosy little chamber with a vaulted roof, seated in front of a table which seemed impatient to share some of the contents of a small larder hanging on the wall close by, having a good bed in prospect, and a tête-à-tête with a pretty girl. The adventure smacked decidedly of witchcraft. He began to take himself seriously for the hero of a fairy-tale, and looked about him from time to time to see whether the fiery chariot drawn by winged gryphons, which alone could have transported him so rapidly from Tartarus to Paradise, were still there. At intervals, too, he steadily eyed the holes in his doublet, in order to keep a firm hold on reality—not to let the earth slip away from him altogether. His reason, tossing on delusive waves, had only this frail spar to cling to.   1
  The girl paid apparently not the slightest heed to him, but came and went, shifting one thing and another, talking to her goat, making her little pouting grimace now and then just as if he had not been there.   2
  At last she came and seated herself near the table, so that Gringoire could contemplate her at his leisure.   3
  You have been young, reader—maybe, indeed, you are fortunate enough to be so still. It is impossible but that more than once (and for my part I have spent whole days—the best employed of my life—in this pursuit) you have followed from bush to bush, beside some running brook, on a sunny day, some lovely dragon-fly, all iridescent, blue and green, darting hither and thither, kissing the tip of every spray. Can you forget the adoring curiosity with which your thoughts and your eyes were fixed upon this little darting, humming whirlwind of purple and azure wings, in the midst of which floated an intangible form, veiled, as it were, by the very rapidity of its motion? The aerial creature, dimly discerned through all this flutter of wings, seemed to you chimerical, illusory, intangible. But when at last the dragon-fly settled on the end of a reed, and you could examine, with bated breath, the gauzy wings, the long enamel robe, the two crystal globes of eyes, what amazement seized you, and what fear lest the exquisite creature should again vanish into shadow, the vision into air. Recall these impressions, and you will readily understand Gringoire’s feelings as he contemplated, in her visible and palpable form, that Esmeralda, of whom, up till then, he had only caught a glimpse through a whirl of dance and song and fluttering skirts.   4
  Sinking deeper and deeper into his reverie: “So this,” he said to himself, as he followed her vaguely with his eyes, “this is what they meant by Esmeralda—a divine creature—a dancer of the streets. So high, and yet so low. It was she who dealt the death-blow to my Mystery this morning—she it is who saves my life to-night. My evil genius—my good angel! And a pretty woman, on my soul!—who must have loved me to distraction to have taken me like this. Which reminds me,” said he, suddenly rising from his seat, impelled by that sense of the practical which formed the basis of his character and his philosophy—“I’m not very clear how it came about, but the fact remains that I am her husband.”   5
  With this idea in his mind and in his eyes, he approached the girl with so enterprising and gallant an air that she drew back.   6
  “What do you want with me?” said she.   7
  “Can you ask, adorable Esmeralda?” responded Gringoire in such impassioned accents that he was astonished at himself.   8
  The gipsy stared at him wide-eyed. “I don’t know what you mean.”   9
  “What?” rejoined Gringoire, growing warmer and warmer, and reflecting that after all it was only a virtue of the Court of Miracles he had to deal with, “am I not thine, sweetheart; art thou not mine?” and without more ado he clasped his arms about her.  10
  The gipsy slipped through his hands like an eel; with one bound she was at the farther end of the little chamber, stooped, and rose with a little dagger in her hand before Gringoire had even time to see where she drew it from. There she stood, angry and erect, breathing fast with parted lips and fluttering nostrils, her cheeks red as peonies, her eyes darting lightning, while at the same moment the little white goat planted itself in front of her, ready to do battle with the offender, as it lowered its gilded but extremely sharp horns at him. In a twinkling the dragon-fly had turned wasp with every disposition to sting.  11
  Our philosopher stood abashed, glancing foolishly from the goat to its mistress.  12
  “Blessed Virgin!” he exclaimed as soon as his astonishment would permit him, “what a pair of spitfires!”  13
  The gipsy now broke silence.  14
  “You are an impudent fellow,” she said.  15
  “Pardon me, mademoiselle,” retorted Gringoire with a smile, “then why did you take me for your husband?”  16
  “Was I to let you be hanged?”  17
  “So that,” returned the poet, somewhat disabused of his amorous expectations, “was all you thought of in saving me from the gallows?”  18
  “And what more should I have thought of, do you suppose?”  19
  Gringoire bit his lip. “It seems,” said he, “that I am not quite so triumphant in Cupido as I imagined. But in that case, why have broken the poor pitcher?”  20
  All this time Esmeralda’s dagger and the goat’s horns continued on the defensive.  21
  “Mademoiselle Esmeralda,” said the poet, “let us come to terms. As I am not the recorder at the Châtelet I shall not make difficulties about your carrying a dagger thus in Paris, in the teeth of the ordinances and prohibitions of Monsieur the Provost, though you must be aware that Noël Lescrivain was condemned only last week to pay ten sols parisis for carrying a cutlass. However, that is no affair of mine, and I will come to the point. I swear to you by my hope of salvation that I will not approach you without your consent and permission; but, I implore you, give me some supper.”  22
  Truth to tell, Gringoire, like M. Depréaux, was “but little inclined to sensuality.” He had none of those swashbuckler and conquering ways that take girls by storm. In love, as in all other matters, he willingly resigned himself to temporizing and a middle course, and a good supper in charming tête-à-tête, especially when he was hungry, appeared to him an admirable interlude between the prologue and the dénouement of an amatory adventure.  23
  The gipsy made no reply. She pouted her lips disdainfully, tossed her little head like a bird, then burst into a peal of laughter, and the dainty little weapon vanished as it had appeared, without Gringoire being able to observe where the wasp concealed its sting.  24
  A minute afterward there appeared upon the table a loaf of bread, a slice of bacon, some wrinkled apples, and a mug of beer. Gringoire fell to ravenously. To hear the furious clatter of his fork on the earthenware platter you would have concluded that all his love had turned to hunger.  25
  Seated opposite to him, the girl let him proceed in silence, being visibly preoccupied with some other thought, at which she smiled from time to time, while her gentle hand absently caressed the intelligent head of the goat pressed gently against her knee. A candle of yellow wax lit up this scene of voracity and musing. Presently, the first gnawings of his stomach being satisfied, Gringoire had a pang of remorse at seeing that nothing remained of the feast but one apple. “You are not eating, Mademoiselle Esmeralda?”  26
  She replied with a shake of the head, and fixed her pensive gaze on the arched roof of the chamber.  27
  “Now, what in the world is she absorbed in?” thought Gringoire as he followed her gaze: “it can’t possibly be that grinning dwarf’s face carved in the keystone of the vaulting. Que diable! I can well stand the comparison!”  28
  He raised his voice: “Mademoiselle!”  29
  She seemed not to hear him.  30
  He tried again still louder: “Mademoiselle Esmeralda!”  31
  Labour lost. The girl’s mind was elsewhere and Gringoire’s voice had not the power to call it back. Fortunately, the goat struck in and began pulling its mistress gently by the sleeve.  32
  “What is it, Djali?” said the gipsy quickly, as if starting out of a dream.  33
  “It is hungry,” said Gringoire, delighted at any opening for a conversation.  34
  Esmeralda began crumbling some bread, which Djali ate daintily out of the hollow of her hand.  35
  Gringoire gave her no time to resume her musings. He hazarded a delicate question.  36
  “So you will not have me for your husband?”  37
  The girl looked at him steadily. “No,” she said.  38
  “Nor for your lover?”  39
  She thrust out her under lip and answered “No.”  40
  “For a friend, then?” continued Gringoire.  41
  She regarded him fixedly, then after a moment’s reflection, “Perhaps,” she replied.  42
  This perhaps, so dear to the philosopher, encouraged Gringoire. “Do you know what friendship is?” he asked.  43
  “Yes,” returned the gipsy. “It is to be like brother and sister; two souls that touch without mingling; two fingers of the same hand.”  44
  “And love?” proceeded Gringoire.  45
  “Oh, love,” she said, and her voice vibrated and her eyes shone, “that is to be two and yet only one—a man and a woman blending into an angel—it is heaven!”  46
  As she spoke, the dancing girl of the streets glowed with a beauty which affected Gringoire strangely, and which seemed to him in perfect harmony with the almost Oriental exaltation of her words.  47
  Her chaste and rosy lips were parted in a half smile, her pure and open brow was ruffled for a moment by her thoughts, as a mirror is dimmed by a passing breath, and from under her long, dark, drooping lashes there beamed a sort of ineffable light, imparting to her face that ideal suavity which later on Raphael found at the mystic point of intersection of the virginal, the human, and the divine.  48
  Nevertheless, Gringoire continued “What must a man be, then, to win your favour?”  49
  “He must be a man!”  50
  “And I,” said he; “what am I, then?”  51
  “A man goes helmet on head, sword in hand, and gilt spurs on heel.”  52
  “Good,” said Gringoire, “the horse makes the man. Do you love any one?”  53
  “As a lover?”  54
  “As a lover.”  55
  She paused thoughtfully for a moment, then she said with a peculiar expression, “I shall know that soon.”  56
  “And why not to-night?” rejoined the poet in tender accents; “why not me?”  57
  She gave him a cold, grave look. “I could never love a man unless he could protect me.”  58
  Gringoire reddened and accepted the rebuke. The girl evidently alluded to the feeble assistance he had rendered her in the critical situation of a couple of hours before. This recollection, effaced by the subsequent adventures of the evening, now returned to him. He smote his forehead.  59
  “That reminds me, mademoiselle, I ought to have begun by that. Pardon my foolish distraction. How did you manage to escape out of the clutches of Quasimodo?”  60
  The gipsy shuddered. “Oh, the horrible hunchback!” she exclaimed, hiding her face in her hands, and shivering as if overcome by violent cold.  61
  “Horrible indeed,” agreed Gringoire; “but how,” he persisted, “did you get away from him?”  62
  Esmeralda smiled, heaved a little sigh, and held her peace.  63
  “Do you know why he followed you?” asked Gringoire, trying to come at the information he sought by another way.  64
  “No, I do not,” answered the gipsy. “But,” she added sharply, “you were following me too. Why did you follow me?”  65
  “To tell you the honest truth,” replied Gringoire, “I don’t know that either.”  66
  There was a pause. Gringoire was scratching the table with his knife; the girl smiled to herself and seemed to be looking at something through the wall. Suddenly she began to sing, hardly above her breath:
        “Quando las pintades aves
Mudas está, y la tierra …” 1 
  She stopped abruptly, and fell to stroking Djali.  68
  “That is a pretty little animal you have there.”  69
  “It is my sister,” she replied.  70
  “Why do they call you Esmeralda?” inquired the poet.  71
  “I don’t know.”  72
  “Oh, do tell me.”  73
  She drew from her bosom a little oblong bag hanging round her neck by a chain of berries. The bag, which exhaled a strong smell of camphor, was made of green silk, and had in the middle a large green glass bead like an emerald. “It is perhaps because of that,” said she.  74
  Gringoire put out his hand for the little bag, but she drew back. “Do not touch it! It is an amulet, and either you will do mischief to the charm, or it will hurt you.”  75
  The poet’s curiosity became more and more lively. “Who gave it you?”  76
  She laid a finger on her lips and hid the amulet again in her bosom. He tried her with further questions, but she scarcely answered.  77
  “What does the word Esmeralda mean?”  78
  “I don’t know.”  79
  “What language is it?”  80
  “Egyptian, I think.”  81
  “I thought as much,” said Gringoire. “You are not a native of this country?”  82
  “I don’t know.”  83
  “Have you father or mother?”  84
  She began singing to an old air:
        “Mon père est oiseau,
Ma mère est oiselle.
Je passe l’eau sans nacelle,
Je passe l’eau sans bateau.
Ma mère est oiselle,
Mon père est oiseau.” 2
  “Very good,” said Gringoire. “How old were you when you came to France?”  86
  “Quite little.”  87
  “And to Paris?”  88
  “Last year. As we came through the Porte Papale I saw the reed linnet fly overhead. It was the end of August; I said, It will be a hard winter.”  89
  “And so it was,” said Gringoire, delighted at this turn in the conversation. “I spent it in blowing on my fingers. So you have the gift of prophecy?”  90
  She lapsed again into her laconic answers—“No.”  91
  “That man whom you call the Duke of Egypt, is he the head of your tribe?”  92
  “Yes.”  93
  “Well, but it was he who united us in marriage,” observed the poet timidly.  94
  She made her favourite little grimace. “Why, I don’t even know your name!”  95
  “My name? If you wish to know it, here it is—Pierre Gringoire.”  96
  “I know a finer one than that,” said she.  97
  “Ah, cruel one!” responded the poet. “Never mind, you cannot provoke me. See, perhaps you will like me when you know me better; besides, you have told me your story with so much confidence that it is only fair that I should tell you something of mine. You must know, then, that my name is Pierre Gringoire, and that my father farmed the office of notary in Gonesse. He was hanged by the Burgundians, and my mother was murdered by the Picards at the time of the siege of Paris, twenty years ago. So, at six years of age I was an orphan, with no sole to my foot but the pavement of Paris. How I got through the interval from six to sixteen I should be at a loss to tell. A fruit-seller would throw me a plum here, a baker a crust of bread there. At night I would get picked up by the watch, who put me in prison, where at least I found a truss of straw to lie upon. All this did not prevent me from growing tall and thin, as you perceive. In winter I warmed myself in the sun in the porch of the Hôtel de Sens, and I thought it very absurd that the bonfires for the Feast of Saint-John should be reserved for the dog-days. At sixteen I wished to adopt a trade. I tried everything in turn. I became a soldier, but I was lacking in courage; friar, but I was not sufficiently pious—besides, I am a poor hand at drinking. In desperation I apprenticed myself to a Guild of Carpenters, but I was not strong enough. I had more inclination towards being a schoolmaster: to be sure, I could not read, but that need not have prevented me. At last I was obliged to acknowledge that something was lacking in me for every profession; so, finding that I was good for nothing, I, of my own free will, turned poet and composer of rhythms. That is a calling a man can adopt when he is a vagabond, and is always better than robbing, as some young friends of mine, who are themselves footpads, urged me to do. One fine day I was fortunate enough to encounter Dom Claude Frollo, the reverend Archdeacon of Notre Dame. He interested himself in me, and I owe it to him that I am to-day a finished man of letters, being well versed in Latin, from Cicero’s ‘Offices’ to the ‘Mortuology’ of the Celestine Fathers, nor ignorant of scholastics, of poetics, of music, nor even of hermetics nor alchemy—that subtlety of subtleties. Then, I am the author of the Mystery represented with great triumph and concourse of the people, filling the great Hall of the Palais de Justice. Moreover, I have written a book running to six hundred pages on the prodigious comet of 1465, over which a man lost his reason. Other successes, too, I have had. Being somewhat of an artillery carpenter, I helped in the construction of that great bombard of Jean Maugue, which, as you know, burst on the Charenton bridge the first time it was tried and killed four-and-twenty of the spectators. So, you see, I am not such a bad match. I know many very pleasing tricks which I would teach your goat; for instance, to imitate the Bishop of Paris, that accursed Pharisee whose mill-wheels splash the passengers the whole length of the Pont-aux-Meuniers. And then my Mystery play will bring me in a great deal of money, if only they pay me. In short, I am wholly at your service—myself, my wit, my science, and my learning; ready, damoselle, to live with you as it shall please you—in chastity or pleasure—as man and wife, if so you think good—as brother and sister, if it please you better.”  98
  Gringoire stopped, waiting for the effect of his long speech on the girl. Her eyes were fixed on the ground.  99
  “Phœbus,” she murmured. Then, turning to the poet, “Phœbus, what does that mean?” 100
  Gringoire, though not exactly seeing the connection between his harangue and this question, was nothing loath to exhibit his erudition. Bridling with conscious pride, he answered: “It is a Latin word meaning ‘the sun.’” 101
  “The sun!” she exclaimed. 102
  “And the name of a certain handsome archer, who was a god,” added Gringoire. 103
  “A god!” repeated the gipsy with something pensive and passionate in her tone. 104
  At that moment one of her bracelets became unfastened and slipped to the ground. Gringoire bent quickly to pick it up; when he rose the girl and her goat had disappeared. He only heard the sound of a bolt being shot which came from a little door leading, doubtless, into an inner room. 105
  “Has she, at least, left me a bed?” inquired our philosopher. 106
  He made the tour of the chamber. He found no piece of furniture suitable for slumber but a long wooden chest, and its lid was profusely carved, so that when Gringoire lay down upon it he felt very much as Micromegas must have done when he stretched himself at full length to slumber on the Alps. 107
  “Well,” he said, accommodating himself as best he might to the inequalities of his couch, “one must make the best of it. But this is indeed a strange wedding-night. ’Tis a pity, too; there was something guileless and antediluvian about that marriage by broken pitcher that took my fancy.” 108

Note 1.  
        When the bright-hued birds are silent,
And the earth …
Note 2.  
        My father’s a bird,
My mother’s another.
I pass over the water
Without boat or wherry.
My mother’s a bird,
And so is my father,



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