Fiction > Harvard Classics > Victor Hugo > Notre Dame de Paris > Book VII > Chapter V
Victor Marie Hugo (1802–1885).  Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
Book VII
V. The Two Men in Black
THE PERSON who entered wore a black gown and a morose air. What at the first glance struck our friend Jehan (who, as may be supposed, so placed himself in his retreat as to be able to see and hear all at his ease) was the utter dejection manifest both in the garments and the countenance of the new-comer. There was, however, a certain meekness diffused over that face; but it was the meekness of a cat or of a judge—a hypocritical gentleness. He was very gray and wrinkled, about sixty, with blinking eye-lids, white eye-brows, a pendulous lip, and large hands. When Jehan saw that it was nothing more—that is to say, merely some physician or magistrate, and that the man’s nose was a long way from his mouth, a sure sign of stupidity—he ensconced himself deeper in his hole, desperate at being forced to pass an indefinite time in such an uncomfortable posture and such dull company.   1
  The Archdeacon had not even risen to greet this person. He motioned him to a stool near the door, and after a few moments’ silence, during which he seemed to be pursuing some previous meditation, he remarked in a patronizing tone:   2
  “Good-day to you, Maître,”Jacques.”   3
  “And to you greeting, Maître,” responded the man in black.   4
  There was between these two greetings—the offhand Maître Jacques of the one, and the obsequious Maître of the other—the difference between “Sir” and “Your Lordship,” of domne and domine. It was evidently the meeting between master and disciple.   5
  “Well,” said the Archdeacon, after another interval of silence which Maître Jacques took care not to break, “will you succeed?”   6
  “Alas, master,” replied the other with a mournful smile, “I use the bellows assiduously—cinders and to spare—but not a spark of gold.”   7
  Dom Claude made a gesture of impatience. “That is not what I allude to, Maître Jacques Charmolue, but to the charge against your sorcerer—Marc Cenaine, you call him, I think—butler to the Court of Accounts. Did he confess his wizardry when you put him to the question?”   8
  “Alas, no,” replied Maître Jacques, with his deprecating smile. “We have not that consolation. The man is a perfect stone. We might boil him in the pig-market, and we should get no word out of him. However, we spare no pains to arrive at the truth. Every joint is already dislocated on the rack; we have put all our irons in the fire, as the old comic writer Plautus has it:
        ‘Advorsum stimulos, laminas, crucesque, compedesque,
Nervos, catenas, carceres, numellas, pedicas, boias.’
But all to no purpose. That man is terrible. ’Tis love’s labour lost!”
  “You have found nothing fresh in his house?”  10
  “Oh, yes,” said Maître Jacques, fumbling in his pouch, “this parchment. There are words on it that we do not understand. And yet, monsieur, the criminal advocate, Philippe Lheulier, knows a little Hebrew, which he learned in an affair with the Jews of the Rue Kantersten, at Brussels.” So saying, Maître Jacques unrolled a parchment.  11
  “Give it to me,” said the Archdeacon. “Magic pure and simple, Maître Jacques!” he cried, as he cast his eyes over the scroll. “‘Emen-Hétan!’ that is the cry of the ghouls when they arrive at the witches’ Sabbath. ‘Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso!’ that is the conjuration which rebinds the devil in hell. ‘Hax, pax, max!’ that refers to medicine—a spell against the bite of a mad dog. Maître Jacques, you are King’s attorney in the Ecclesiastical Court; this parchment is an abomination.”  12
  “We will put him again to the question. Then here is something else,” added Maître Jacques, fumbling once more in his bag, “which we found at Marc Cenaine’s.”  13
  It was a vessel of the same family as those which encumbered the furnace of Dom Claude. “Ah,” said the Archdeacon, “an alchemist’s crucible.”  14
  “I don’t mind confessing to you,” Maître Jacques went on, with his timid and constrained smile, “that I have tried it over the furnace, but succeeded no better than with my own.”  15
  The Archdeacon examined the vessel. “What has he inscribed on his crucible? ‘Och! och!’—the word for driving away fleas? Your Marc Cenaine is an ignoramus! I can well believe that you could not make gold with this! It will be useful to put in your sleeping alcove in the summer, but for nothing more.”  16
  “Since we are on the subject of errors,” said the King’s attorney, “before coming up I was studying the doorway down below; is your Reverence quite sure that the beginnings of Nature’s workings are represented there on the side towards the Hôtel-Dieu, and that among the seven naked figures at the feet of Our Lady, that with wings to his heels is Mercurius?”  17
  “Yes,” answered the priest; “so Augustin Nypho writes—that Italian doctor who had a bearded familiar which taught him everything. But we will go down, and I will explain it to you from the text.”  18
  “Thank you, master,” said Charmolue, bending to the ground. “By-the-bye, I had forgotten! When do you wish me to arrest the little witch?”  19
  “What witch?”  20
  “That gipsy girl, you know, who comes and dances every day in the Parvis, in defiance of the prohibition. She has a familiar spirit in the shape of a goat with devil’s horns—it can read and write and do arithmetic—enough to hang all Bohemia. The charge is quite ready and would soon be drawn up. A pretty creature, on my soul, that dancing girl!—the finest black eyes in the world—two Egyptian carbuncles. When shall we begin?”  21
  The Archdeacon had grown deadly pale.  22
  “I will let you know,” he stammered in almost inaudible tones, then added with an effort: “Attend you to Marc Cenaine.”  23
  “Never fear,” answered Charmolue smiling. “As soon as I get back he shall be strapped down again to the leather bed. But it is a very devil of a man. He tires out Pierrat Torterue himself, who has larger hands than I. As says our good Plautus—  24
  ‘Nudus vinctus, centum pondo, es quando pendes per pedes.’ 1 The screw—that is our modest effectual instrument—we shall try that.”  25
  Dom Claude seemed sunk in gloomy abstraction. He now turned to Charmolue. “Maître Pierrat—Maître Jacques, I should say—look to Marc Cenaine.”  26
  “Yes, yes, Dom Claude. Poor man! he will have suffered like Mummol. But what a thing to do—to visit the witches’ Sabbath!—and he butler to the Court of Accounts, who must know Charlemagne’s regulation: ‘Stryga vel masca.” 2 As to the little girl—Smeralda, as they call her—I shall await your orders. Ah! as we pass through the door you will explain to me also the signification of that gardener painted on the wall just as you enter the church. Is that not the Sower? Hé! master, what are you thinking about?”  27
  Dom Claude, fathoms deep in his own thoughts, was not listening to him. Charmolue, following the direction of his eyes, saw that they were fixed blankly on the spider’s web which curtained the little window. At this moment a foolish fly, courting the March sunshine, threw itself against the net, and was caught fast. Warned by the shaking of his web, the enormous spider darted out of his central cell, and with one bound rushed upon the fly, promptly doubled it up, and with its horrible sucker began scooping out the victim’s head. “Poor fly!” said the King’s attorney, and lifted his hand to rescue it. The Archdeacon, as if starting out of his sleep, held back his arm with a convulsive clutch.  28
  “Maître Jacques,” he cried, “let fate have its way!”  29
  Maître Jacques turned round in alarm; he felt as if his arm were in an iron vice. The eye of the priest was fixed, haggard, glaring, and remained fascinated by the horrible scene between the spider and the fly.  30
  “Ah, yes!” the priest went on, in a voice that seemed to issue from the depths of his being, “there is a symbol of the whole story. She flies, she is joyous, she has but just entered life; she courts the spring, the open air, freedom; yes, but she strikes against the fatal web—the spider darts out, the deadly spider! Hapless dancer! Poor, doomed fly! Maître Jacques, let be—it is fate! Alas! Claude, thou art the spider. But Claude, thou are also the fly! Thou didst wing thy flight towards knowledge, the light, the sun. Thy one care was to reach the pure air, the broad beams of truth eternal; but in hastening towards the dazzling loophole which opens on another world—a world of brightness, of intelligence, of true knowledge—infatuated fly! insensate sage! thou didst not see the cunning spider’s web, by destiny suspended between the light and thee; thou didst hurl thyself against it, poor fool, and now thou dost struggle with crushed head and mangled wings between the iron claws of Fate! Maître Jacques, let the spider work its will!”  31
  “I do assure you,” said Charmolue, who gazed at him in bewilderment, “that I will not touch it. But in pity, master, loose my arm; you have grip of iron.”  32
  The Archdeacon did not heed him. “Oh, madman!” he continued, without moving his eyes from the loophole. “And even if thou couldst have broken through that formidable web with thy midge’s wing’s, thinkest thou to have attained the light! Alas! that glass beyond—that transparent obstacle, that wall of crystal harder than brass, the barrier between all our philosophy and the truth—how couldst thou have passed through that? Oh, vanity of human knowledge! how many sages have come fluttering from afar to dash their heads against thee! How many clashing systems buzz vainly about that everlasting barrier!”  33
  He was silent. These last ideas, by calling off his thoughts from himself to science, appeared to have calmed him, and Jacques Charmolue completely restored him to a sense of reality by saying: “Come, master, when are you going to help me towards the making of gold? I long to succeed.”  34
  The Archdeacon shrugged his shoulders with a bitter smile.  35
  “Maître Jacques, read Michael Psellus’s Dialogus de Energia et Operatione Dæmonum. What we are doing is not quite innocent.”  36
  “Speak lower, master! I have my doubts,” said Charmolue. “But one is forced to play the alchemist a little when one is but a poor attorney in the Ecclesiastical Court at thirty crowns tournois a year. Only let us speak low.”  37
  At this moment a sound of chewing and crunching from the direction of the furnace struck on the apprehensive ear of Maître Jacques.  38
  “What is that?” he asked.  39
  It was the scholar, who, very dull and cramped in his hiding-place, had just discovered a stale crust and a corner of mouldy cheese, and had without more ado set to work upon both by way of breakfast and amusement. As he was very hungry, he made a great noise, giving full play to his teeth at every mouthful, and thus aroused the alarm of the King’s attorney.  40
  “It is my cat,” the Archdeacon hastily replied; “she must have got hold of a mouse in there.”  41
  This explanation entirely satisfied Charmolue. “True, master,” he said with an obsequious smile, “all great philosophers have some familiar animal. You know what Servius says: ‘Nullus enim locus sine genio est.”’ 3  42
  Meanwhile, Dom Claude, fearing some new freak of Jehan’s reminded his worthy disciple that they had the figures in the doorway to study together. They therefore quitted the cell, to the enormous relief of the scholar, who had begun to have serious fears that his chin would take root in his knees.  43

Note 1.  Naked and bound thou weighest a hundred pounds when hung up by the feet. [back]
Note 2.  A witch or ghost. [back]
Note 3.  There is no place without its guardian spirit. [back]



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