Fiction > Harvard Classics > Victor Hugo > Notre Dame de Paris > Book VIII > Chapter II
Victor Marie Hugo (1802–1885).  Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
II. Sequel to the Crown Piece Changed into a Withered Leaf
AFTER ascending and descending several flights of steps leading to passages so dark that they were lighted by lamps at mid-day, Esmeralda, still surrounded by her lugubrious attendants, was thrust by the sergeants of the guard into a chamber of sinister aspect. This chamber, circular in form, occupied the ground floor in one of those great towers which, even in our day, pierces the layer of modern edifices with which the present Paris has covered the old. There were no windows to this vault; no other opening than the low-browed entrance, closed by an enormous iron door. Yet it did not want for light. A furnace was built into the thickness of the wall, and in it a great fire, which filled the vault with its crimson glow and entirely outshone a miserable candle flickering in a corner. The iron grating which closed the furnace being raised at that moment only showed, against the flaming orifice whose licking flames danced on the grim walls, the lower extremity of its bars like a row of sharp black teeth, giving the fire the appearance of a fire-breathing dragon of the ancient myths. By the light that streamed from it the prisoner beheld, ranged round the chamber, frightful instruments the use of which she did not understand. In the middle a leather mattress was stretched almost touching the ground, and over that hung a leather strap with a buckle, attached to a copper ring held in the mouth of a flat-nosed monster carved in the keystone of the vaulted roof. Iron pincers, tongs, great ploughshares were heaped inside the furnace and glowed redhot upon the fire. The blood-red gleam of the fire only served to bring into view a confused mass of horrible objects.   1
  This Tartarus was known simply as the “Question Chamber.”   2
  Upon the bed sat with the utmost unconcern Pierrat Torterue, the official torturer. His assistants, two square-faced gnomes in leathern aprons and linen breeches, were turning the irons in the fire.   3
  The poor girl might call up all her courage as she would; on entering that chamber she was seized with horror.   4
  The myrmidons of the law ranged themselves on one side, the priests of the Office on the other. A clerk, a table and writing materials were in a corner.   5
  Maître Jacques Charmolue approached the Egyptian with his blandest smile.   6
  “My dear child,” said he, “do you persist in your denial?”   7
  “Yes,” she answered in an expiring voice.   8
  “In that case,” Charmolue went on, “it will be our painful duty to question you more urgently than we would otherwise desire. Have the goodness to seat yourself on this bed.—Maître Pierrat, kindly make room for mademoiselle, and close the door.”   9
  Pierrat rose with a growl. “If I shut the door,’ he muttered, “my fire will go out.”  10
  “Well, then, my good fellow,” replied Charmolue, “leave it open.”  11
  Meanwhile, Esmeralda had remained standing. This bed of leather, on which so many poor wretches had writhed in agony, filled her with affright. Terror froze her to the marrow: she stood bewildered, stupefied. At a sign from Charmolue, the two assistants laid hold on her and placed her on the bed. They did not hurt her; but at the mere touch of these men, at the touch of the bed, she felt all her blood rush to her heart. She cast a distraught look round the chamber. She imagined she saw all these monstrous instruments of torture—which were, to the instruments of any kind she had hitherto seen, what bats, centipedes, and spiders are among birds and insects—come moving towards her from all sides to crawl over her body and pinch and bite her.  12
  “Where is the physician?” asked Charmolue.  13
  “Here,” answered a black gown she had not observed before.  14
  She shuddered.  15
  “Mademoiselle,” resumed the fawning voice of the attorney of the Ecclesiastical Court, “for the third time, do you persist in denying the facts of which you are accused?”  16
  This time she only bent her head in assent—she was past speaking.  17
  “You persist?” said Jacques Charmolue. “Then, to my infinite regret, I must fulfil the duty of my office.”  18
  “Monsieur the King’s Attorney,” said Pierrat, “with which shall we begin?”  19
  Charmolue hesitated a moment with the ambiguous grimace of a poet seeking a rhyme. “With the boot,” he said at last.  20
  The unhappy creature felt herself so completely forsaken of God and man, that her head dropped upon her breast like a thing inert and without any power in itself. The torturer and the physician approached her together, while the two assistants began to search in their hideous collection.  21
  At the clank of these terrible irons the wretched child started convulsively, like a poor dead frog galvanized to life.  22
  “Oh!” she murmured, so low that no one heard her; “oh, my Phœbus!” Then she sank again into her previous immobility and her stony silence. The spectacle would have wrung any but the hearts of judges. It might have been some sin-stained soul being questioned by Satan at the flaming gate of hell. Could the miserable body on which this awful swarm of saws and wheels and pincers was preparing to fasten—could it be this gentle, pure, and fragile creature? Poor grain of millet which human justice was sending to be ground by the grewsome mill-stones of torture!  23
  And now the horny hands of Pierrat Torterue’s assistants had brutally uncovered that charming leg, that tiny foot, which had so often astonished the passers-by with their grace and beauty in the streets of Paris.  24
  “’Tis a pity!” growled even the torturer at the sight of the slender and delicate limbs.  25
  Had the Archdeacon been present, he would certainly have recalled at this moment his allegory of the spider and the fly.  26
  Now, through the mist that spread before her eyes, the unhappy girl perceived the “boot” being brought forward, saw her foot, encased between the iron-bound boards, disappear within the frightful apparatus. Terror restored her strength. “Take it away!” she cried vehemently, starting up all dishevelled: “Mercy!”  27
  She sprang from the bed to throw herself at Charmolue’s feet, but her leg was held fast in the heavy block of oak and iron, and she sank over the boot like a bee with a leaden weight attached to its wing.  28
  At a sign from Charmolue they replaced her on the bed, and two coarse hands fastened round her slender waist the leather strap hanging from the roof.  29
  “For the last time, do you confess to the facts of the charge?” asked Charmolue with his imperturbable benignity,  30
  “I am innocent,” was the answer.  31
  “Then, mademoiselle, how do you explain the circumstances brought against you?”  32
  “Alas, my lord, I know not.”  33
  “You deny them?”  34
  “All!”  35
  “Proceed,” said Charmolue to Pierrat.  36
  Pierrat turned the screw, the boot tightened, and the victim uttered one of those horrible screams which have no written equivalent in any human language.  37
  “Stop!” said Charmolue to Pierrat. “Do you confess?” said he to the girl.  38
  “All,” cried the wretched girl. “I confess! I confess! Mercy!”  39
  She had overestimated her forces in braving the torture. Poor child! life had hitherto been so joyous, so pleasant, so sweet, the first pang of agony had overcome her!  40
  “Humanity obliges me to tell you,” observed the King’s attorney, “that in confessing, you have only death to look forward to.”  41
  “I hope but for that !” said she, and fell back again on the leather bed, a lifeless heap, hanging doubled over the strap buckled round her waist.  42
  “Hold up, my pretty!” said Maître Pierrat, raising her. “You look like the golden sheep that hangs round the neck of Monsieur of Burgundy.”  43
  Jacques Charmolue raised his voice. “Clerk, write this down. Gipsy girl, you confess your participation in the lovefeasts, Sabbaths, and orgies of hell, in company with evil spirits, witches, and ghouls? Answer!”  44
  “Yes,” she breathed faintly.  45
  “You admit having seen the ram which Beelzebub causes to appear in the clouds as a signal for the Sabbath, and which is only visible to witches?”  46
  “Yes.”  47
  “You confess to having adored the heads of Bophomet, those abominable idols of the Templars?”  48
  “Yes.”  49
  “To having had familiar intercourse with the devil under the form of a pet goat, included in the prosecution?”  50
  “Yes.”  51
  “Finally, you admit and confess to having, on the night of the twenty-ninth of March last, with the assistance of the demon and of the phantom commonly called the spectremonk, wounded and assassinated a captain named Phœbus de Châteaupers?”  52
  She raised her glazed eyes to the magistrate and answered mechanically, without a quiver of emotion, “Yes.” It was evident that her whole being was crushed.  53
  “Take that down,” said Charmolue to the clerk. Then, turning to the torturer, “Let the prisoner be unbound and taken back to the court.”  54
  When the prisoner was “Unbooted,” the procurator of the Ecclesiastical Court examined her foot, still paralyzed with pain. “Come,” said he, “there’s no great harm done. You cried out in time. You could still dance, ma belle!”  55
  And turning to the members of the Office—“At length, justice is enlightened! That is a great consolation, messieurs! Mademoiselle will bear witness that we have used all possible gentleness towards her.”  56



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