Fiction > Harvard Classics > Victor Hugo > Notre Dame de Paris > Book VI > Chapter I
Victor Marie Hugo (1802–1885).  Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
Book VI
I. An Impartial Glance at the Ancient Magistracy
A MIGHTY fortunate personage in the year of grace 1482, was the noble knight, Robert d’Estouteville, Sieur of Beyne, Baron of Ivry and Saint-Andry in the March, Councillor and Chamberlain to the King, and Warden of the Provostry of Paris. It was well-nigh seventeen years ago since he had received from the King, on November 7, 1465—the year of the comet 1 —this fine appointment of Provost of Paris, reputed rather a seigneurie than an office. Dignitas, says Joannes Lœmnœus, quæ, cum non exigua potestate politiam concernente, atque prærogativis multis et juribus conjuncta est. 2 It was indeed a thing to marvel at that in 1482 a gentleman should be holding the King’s commission, whose letters of appointment dated back to the date of the marriage of a natural daughter of Louis XI with Monsieur the Bastard of Bourbon. On the same day on which Robert d’Estouteville had replaced Jacques de Villiers in the Provostry of Paris, Maître Jehan Dauvet superseded Messire Hélye de Thorrettes as Chief President of the Court of Parliament, Jehan Jouvenel des Ursins supplanted Pierre de Morvilliers in the office of Chancellor of France, and Regnault des Dormans turned Pierre Puy out of the post of Master of Common Pleas to the royal palace. But over how many heads had that Presidency, that Chancellorship, and that Mastership passed since Robert d’Estouteville held the Provostship of Paris! It had been “given unto his keeping,” said the letters patent; and well indeed had he kept the same. He had clung to it, incorporated himself into it, had so identified himself with it that he had managed to escape that mania for change which so possessed Louis XI, a close-fisted, scheming king, who sought to maintain, by frequent appointments and dismissals, the elasticity of his power. Furthermore, the worthy knight had procured the reversion of his post for his son, and for two years now the name of the noble M. Jacques d’Estouteville, Knight, had figured beside that of his father at the head of the roll of the Provostry of Paris—in truth, a rare and signal favour! To be sure, Robert d’Estouteville was a good soldier, had loyally raised his banner for the King against the “League of the Public Weal,” and on the entry of the Queen into Paris in 14—had presented her with a wonderful stag composed of confectionery. Besides this, he was on a very friendly footing with Messire Tristan l’Hermite, Provost-Marshal of the King’s palace. So Messire Robert’s existence was an easy and pleasant one. First of all, he enjoyed very good pay, to which were attached and hanging like extra grapes on his vine, the revenues from the civil and criminal registries of the Provostry, the revenues, civil and criminal, accruing from the auditory courts of the Châtelet, not to speak of many a comfortable little toll-due from the bridges of Mantes and Corbeil, and the profits from the taxes levied on the grain-dealers, as on the measurers of wood and salt. Add to this, the pleasure of displaying on his official rides through the city—in shining contrast to the party-coloured gowns, half red, half tan, of the sheriffs and district officers—his fine military accoutrements, which you may admire to this day, sculptured on his tomb in the Valmont Abbey in Normandy, and his morion with all the bruises in it got at Montlhæry. Then, it was no mean thing to have authority over the constables of the Palais de Justice, over the warder and the Commandant of the Châtelet, the two auditors of the Châtelet (auditores Castelleti), the sixteen commissioners of the sixteen districts, the jailer of the Châtelet, the four enfeoffed officers of the peace, the hundred and twenty mounted officers of the peace, the hundred and twenty officers of the rod, the captain of the watch with his patrol, his under-patrol, his counter-and-night-patrol. Was it nothing to exercise supreme and secondary jurisdiction, to have the right of pillory, hanging, and dragging at the cart’s tail, besides minor jurisdiction in the first resort (in prima instantia, as the old charters have it) over the whole viscomty of Paris, so gloriously endowed with the revenues of seven noble bailiwicks? Can you conceive of anything more gratifying than to mete out judgment and sentence, as Messire Robert d’Estouteville did every day in the Grand Châtelet, under the wide, low-pitched Gothic arches of Philip Augustus; and to retire, as he was wont, every evening to that charming house in Rue Galilée, within the purlieus of the Palais Royal, which he held by right of his wife, Dame Ambroise de Loré, where he could rest from the fatigues of having sent some poor devil to pass the night on his part in that “little cell of the Rue de l’Escorcherie, which the provosts and sheriffs of Paris frequently used as a prison—the same measuring eleven feet in length, seven feet and four inches in width, and eleven feet in height?” 3   1
  And not only had Messire Robert d’Estouteville his special jurisdictional offices as Provost of Paris, but also he had his seat, with power over life and death, in the King’s Supreme Court. There was no head of any account but had passed through his hands before falling to the executioner. It was he who had fetched the Comte de Nemours from the Bastille Saint-Antoine, to convey him to the Halles; he who had escorted the Comte de Saint-Pol to the Place de Grève, who stormed and wept, to the huge delight of Monsieur the Provost, who bore no love to Monsieur the Constable.   2
  Here, assuredly, was more than sufficient to make a man’s life happy and illustrious and to merit some day a noteworthy page in that interesting chronicle of the Provosts of Paris, from which we learn that Oudard de Villeneuve owned a house in the Rue des Boucheries, that Guillaume de Hangast bought the great and the little Savoie mansion, that Guillaume Thiboust gave his houses in the Rue Clopin to the Sisters of Sainte-Geneviève, that Hugues Aubriot lived in the Hôtel du Porc-epic, and other facts of a domestic character.   3
  Nevertheless, in spite of all these reasons for taking life easily and pleasantly, Messire Robert d’Estouteville had risen on the morning of January 7, 1482, feeling as sulky and dangerous in temper as a bear with a sore head; why, he would have been at a loss to say. Was it because the sky was gloomy? because the buckle of his old sword-belt—another relic of Montlhéry—was clasped too tight, and girded up his fair, round, provostorial port in all too military a fashion—or because he had just seen a band of tattered varlets, who had jeered at him as they passed below his windows walking four abreast, in doublets without shirts, in hats without brims, and wallet and bottle hanging at their sides?   4
  Or was it the vague premonition of the loss of those three hundred and seventy livres, sixteen sols, eight deniers, of which in the following year the future King Charles VIII was going to dock the revenues of the Provostry? The reader may take his choice, but for our part we are inclined to the opinion that he was in bad temper because—he was in a bad temper.   5
  Besides, it was the day after a holiday, a day distasteful to everybody, especially to the magistrate whose business it was to sweep up all the dirt—literally and figuratively—which a Paris holiday inevitably brings with it. Then, too, he was to sit that day at the Grand Châtelet; and we have noticed that the judges generally manage that their day of sitting shall also be their day of ill-humour, in that they may have some one on whom conveniently to vent their spleen in the name of the King, justice, and the law.   6
  The sitting, however, had begun without him. His deputies in civil, criminal, and private causes were acting for him as usual; and by eight o’clock in the morning, some scores of townsfolk, men and women, crowded up between the wall and a strong barrier of oak in a dark corner of the court of the Châtelet, were blissfully assisting at the varied and exhilarating spectacle of the law, civil and criminal, as administered by Maître Florian Barbedienne, examining judge at the Châtelet, and deputy for Monsieur the Provost, an office he performed in a manner somewhat mixed and altogether haphazard.   7
  The hall was small, low, and vaulted, furnished at the far end with a table figured over with fleur de lis, a great, carved oak chair for the Provost, and therefore empty, and a stool at the left side for Maître Florian. Lower down sat the clerk, scribbling fast. Opposite to them were the people; while before the door and before the table were stationed a number of sergeants of the Provostry, in violet woollen jerkins, with white crosses on their breasts. Two sergeants of the Common Hall in their “All-Saints” jackets—half red, half blue—stood sentinel at a low, closed door which was visible in the back-ground behind the table. A solitary Gothic window, deeply embedded in the wall, shed the pale light of a January morning on two grotesque figures—the whimsical stone devil, carved on the keystone of the vaulted ceiling, and the judge sitting at the back of the Hall bending over the fleur de lis of the table.   8
  Picture to yourself that figure at the table, leaning on his elbows between two bundles of documents, his foot wrapped in the tail of his plain brown gown, the face in its frame of white lambskin, of which the eye-brows seem to be a piece—red, scowling, blinking, carrying with dignity the load of fat that met under his chin—and you have Maître Florian Barbedienne, examining judge at the Châtelet.   9
  Now, Maître Florian was deaf—rather a drawback for an examining judge—but none the less did he mete out judgment without appeal and with great propriety. Surely it is sufficient that a judge should appear to listen, and the venerable auditor the better filled this condition—the sole essential to the good administration of justice—in that his attention could not be distracted by any sound.  10
  However, he had among the onlookers a merciless critic of deeds and manners in the person of our friend, Jehan Frollo of the Mill, the little scholar of yesterday’s scenes, the little loafer one was certain to encounter anywhere in Paris, save in the lecture-room of the professors.  11
  “Look,” whispered he to his companion, Robin Poussepain, who sat beside him in fits of suppressed laughter at his comments on the scene before them, “why, there’s Jehanneton du Buisson, the pretty lass of that old lazy-bones at the Marché-Neuf! On my soul, he means to fine her, the old dotard! Fifteen sols, four deniers parisis for wearing two rosaries! That’s rather dear! Lex duri carminis— who’s this? Robin Chief-de-Ville, hauberk-maker, for being passed and admitted a master in the said craft. Ah! his entrance fee. What! Two gentlemen among this rabble! Aiglet de Soins, Hutin de Mailly, two squires Corpus Christi! Oh, for throwing dice! When shall we see our Rector here, I wonder? A fine of a hundred livres parisis to the King! Barbedienne lays about him, like a deaf one—as he is. May I be my brother the archdeacon, if that shall hinder me from playing; from playing by day, and playing by night, living at play, dying at play, and staking my soul after I have staked my shirt! Holy Virgin! what a lot of girls! One at a time, my lambkins! Ambrose Lécuyère, Isabeau la Paynette, Bèrarde Gironin! By heavens, I know them all! A fine! a fine! ten sols parisis; that’ll teach you minxes to wear gilded girdles! Oh, the ancient sheep’s-head of a judge, deaf and doting! Ah, Florian thou dolt! Oh, Barbedienne thou booby! Do but look at him there at table—he dines off the litigant—he dines off the case—he eats—he chews—he gobbles—he fills himself! Fines, unclaimed goods, dues, costs, expenses, wages, damages, torture, imprisonment, and pillory and fetters, and loss of right—all are to him as Christmas comfits and midsummer marchpane! Look at him, the swine! Good! it begins again. Another light o’ love! Thibaude-la-Thibaude, as I live! For having come out of the Rue Glatigny! Who’s this young shaver? Gieffroy Mabonne, cross-bowman. He blasphemed the name of God the Father. Thibaude a fine! Gieffroy a fine! A fine for both of them! The deaf old blockhead, he is sure to have mixed up the two. Ten to one that he makes the girl pay for the oath, and the soldier for the amour! Attention, Robin Poussepain! Who are they bringing in now? What a crowd of tip-staffs! By Jupiter, the whole pack of hounds! This must be the grand catch of the day. A wild boar at least. It is one Robin! it is—and a fine specimen too! Hercules! it is our prince of yesterday, our Pope of Fools, our bell-ringer, our hunchback, our grimace! It is Quasimodo!”  12
  It was indeed.  13
  It was Quasimodo, bound about with cords, tightly pinioned, and under a strong guard. The detachment of officers surrounding him was led by the Captain of the watch in person, with the arms of France embroidered on his breast, and those of the City of Paris on his back. However, apart from his ugliness, there was nothing about Quasimodo to warrant this show of halberds and arquebuses. He was moody, silent, and composed, only casting from time to time a sullen and angry glance out of his one eye at the cords that bound him. He cast this same glance at his surroundings, but it was so dazed and drowsy that the women only pointed him out in derision to one another.  14
  Meanwhile, Maître Florian was busy turning over the pages of the charge drawn up against Quasimodo, handed to him by the clerk, and, having glanced at it, seemed to commune with himself for a moment. Thanks to this precaution, which he was always careful to employ before proceeding with his examination, he knew in advance the name, quality, and offence of the delinquent, made prearranged replies to foreseen questions, and contrived to find his way through all the sinuosities of the cross-examination without too openly betraying his deafness. The written charge was to him as the dog to the blind man. If it happened, now and then, that his infirmity became evident through some unintelligible address, or some question wide of the mark, it passed with some for profundity, and with others for imbecility. In either case, the honour of the magistracy underwent no diminution; better far that a judge should be reputed imbecile or profound rather than deaf. He therefore took such precautions to conceal his deafness from others, and usually succeeded so well, that he had come at last to deceive himself on the subject—an easier matter than one might suppose; for all hunchbacks walk with head erect; all stammerers are fond of talking; deaf people invariably speak in a whisper. For his part, he thought, at most, that perhaps his ear was a trifle less quick than other people’s. This was the sole concession he would make to public opinion in his rare moments of candour and self-examination.  15
  Having then ruminated well on Quasimodo’s case, he threw back his head and half-closed his eyes, by way of extra dignity and impartiality, with the result that, for the moment, he was both blind and deaf—a twofold condition without which no judge is really perfect.  16
  In this magisterial attitude he commenced his examination.  17
  “Your name?”  18
  Now here was a case which had not been “provided for by the law”—the interrogation of one deaf person by another in similar plight.  19
  Quasimodo, who had no hint of the fact that he was being addressed, continued to regard the judge fixedly, but made no reply. The judge, deaf himself, and unaware of the deafness of the accused, imagined he had answered, as accused persons generally did, and continued with his usual stupid and mechanical self-confidence:  20
  “Very good—your age?”  21
  Quasimodo made no answer to this question either, but the judge, fancying he had done so, went on:  22
  “Now, your calling?”  23
  Continued silence. The bystanders, however, began to whisper and look at each other.  24
  “That will do,” returned the imperturbable magistrate when he concluded that the accused had finished his third answer. “You stand charged before us, primo, with nocturnal disturbance; secundo, with unjustifiable violence to the person of a light woman, in prejudicium meretricis; tertio, of rebellion and contempt against the archers of our Lord the King. Explain yourself on these points.—Clerk, have you written down what the accused has said so far?”  25
  At this unlucky question there was an explosion of laughter, beginning with the clerk and spreading to the crowd—so violent, so uncontrollable, so contagious, so universal, that neither of the deaf men could help perceiving it. Quasimodo turned round and shrugged his high shoulders disdainfully, while Maître Florian, as surprised as he, and supposing that the laughter of the spectators had been provoked by some unseemly reply from the accused, rendered visible to him by that shrug, addressed him indignantly:  26
  “Fellow, that last answer of yours deserves the halter. Do you know to whom you are speaking?”  27
  This sally was hardly calculated to extinguish the outburst of general hilarity. The thing was so utterly absurd and topsy-turvy, that the wild laughter seized even the sergeants of the Common Hall, a sort of pikemen whose stolidity was part of their uniform. Quasimodo alone preserved his gravity, for the very good reason that he had no idea what was occurring round him. The judge, growing more and more irritated, thought it proper to continue in the same tone, hoping thereby to strike such terror to the heart of the prisoner as would react on the audience and recall them to a sense of due respect.  28
  “It would seem, then, headstrong and riotous knave that you are, that you would dare to flout the auditor of the Châtelet; the magistrate entrusted with the charge of the public safety of Paris; whose duty it is to search into all crimes, delinquencies, and evil courses; to control all trades and forbid monopolies; to repair the pavements; to prevent the retail hawking of poultry and game, both feathered and furred; to superintend the measuring of firewood and all other kinds of wood; to purge the city of filth, and the air of all contagious distemper—in a word, to slave continually for the public welfare without fee or recompense, or hope of any. Know you that my name is Florian Barbedienne, deputy to Monsieur the Provost himself, and, moreover, commissioner, investigator, controller, and examiner, with equal power in provostry, bailiwick, registration, and presidial court——”  29
  There is no earthly reason why a deaf man talking to a deaf man should ever stop. God alone knows where and when Maître Florian would have come to anchor, once launched in full sail on the ocean of his eloquence, had not the low door at the back of the hall suddenly opened, and given passage to Monsieur the Provost in person.  30
  At his entrance Maître Florian did not stop, but wheeling half round, and suddenly aiming at the Provost the thunderbolts which up to now he had launched at Quasimodo:  31
  “Monseigneur,” he said, “I demand such penalty as shall seem fitting to you against the accused here present for flagrant and unprecedented contempt of court.”  32
  He seated himself breathless, wiping away the great drops that fell from his forehead and splashed like tears upon the documents spread out before him. Messire Robert d’Estouteville knit his brows and signed to Quasimodo with a gesture so imperious and significant, that the deaf hunchback in some degree understood.  33
  The Provost addressed him sternly: “What hast thou done, rascal, to be brought hither?”  34
  The poor wretch, supposing that the Provost was asking his name, now broke his habitual silence and answered in hoarse, guttural tones, “Quasimodo.”  35
  The answer corresponded so little with the question that the former unbridled merriment threatened to break out again, and Messire Robert, crimson with anger, roared, “Dost dare to mock me too, arch-rogue?”  36
  “Bell-ringer of Notre Dame,” continued Quasimodo, thinking that he must explain to the judges who he was.  37
  “Bell-ringer!” returned the Provost, who, as we know, had risen that morning in so vile a temper that there was no need to add fresh fuel to the fire by such unwarrantable impudence. “Bell-ringer indeed! They shall ring a carillon of rods on thy back at every street corner of Paris. Hearest thou, rascal?”  38
  “If it is my age you desire to know,” said Quasimodo, “I think I shall be twenty come Martinmas.”  39
  This was going too far; the Provost could contain himself no longer.  40
  “Ha, miserable knave, thou thinkest to make sport of the law! Sergeant of the rod, you will take this fellow to the pillory in the Grève and there flog him and turn him for an hour. He shall pay for this, tête-Dieu! And I command that this sentence be proclaimed by means of the four legally appointed trumpeters at the seven castellanies of the jurisdiction of Paris.”  41
  The clerk proceeded forthwith to put the sentence on record.  42
  “Ventre-Dieu! I call that giving judgment in good style!” said little Jehan Frollo of the Mill, from his secluded corner.  43
  The Provost turned and again transfixed Quasimodo with blazing eye. “I believe the rascal said ‘Ventre-Dieu!’ Clerk, you will add twelve deniers parisis as a fine for swearing, and let one-half of it go to the Church of Saint-Eustache. I have a particular devotion for Saint-Eustache.”  44
  A few minutes later and the sentence was drawn up. The language was brief and simple. The legal procedure of the Provostry and bailiwick of Paris had not yet been elaborated by the President, Thibaut Baillet, and Roger Barmne, King’s advocate, and therefore not yet obscured by that forest of chicanery and circumlocution planted in it by these two lawyers at the beginning of the sixteenth century. All was still clear, rapid, and to the point. There was no beating about the bush, and straight before you, at the end of every path, you had a full view of the wheel, the gibbet, or the pillory. You knew, at least, exactly where you were.  45
  The clerk presented the sentence to the Provost, who affixed his seal to it and then departed, to continue his round through the several courts of law, in a frame of mind which seemed likely, for that day, to fill every jail in Paris. Jehan Frollo and Robin Poussepain were laughing in their sleeve, while Quasimodo regarded the whole scene with an air of surprise and indifference.  46
  Nevertheless, the clerk, while Maître Florian was engaged in reading over the judgment before signing it in his turn, felt some qualms of compassion for the poor devil under sentence, and in the hope of obtaining some mitigation of his penalties, bent as near as he could to the examiner’s ear, and said, pointing to Quasimodo, “The man is deaf.”  47
  He hoped that the knowledge of a common infirmity would awaken Maître Florian’s interest in favour of the condemned. But in the first place, as we have already explained, Maître Florian did not like to have his deafness commented upon; and secondly, that he was so hard of hearing that he did not catch one word the clerk was saying. Desiring, however, to conceal this fact, he replied: “Ah! that makes all the difference. I did not know that. In that case, one more hour of pillory for him.” And, the modification made, he signed the sentence.  48
  “And serve him right too,” said Robin Poussepain, who still owed Quasimodo a grudge; “that’ll teach him to handle folks so roughly.”  49

Note 1.  This comet, for deliverance from which, Pope Calixtus, uncle to Borgia, ordered public prayer, is the same which reappeared in 1835.—AUTHOR’S NOTE. [back]
Note 2.  A dignity to which is attached no little power in dealing with the public safety, together with many prerogatives and rights. [back]
Note 3.  Crown accounts, 1383—AUTHOR’S NOTE. [back]



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