Fiction > Harvard Classics > Victor Hugo > Notre Dame de Paris > Book X > Chapter I
Victor Marie Hugo (1802–1885).  Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
Book X
I. Gringoire Has Several Bright Ideas in Succession in the Rue des Bernardins
DIRECTLY Gringoire had seen the turn affairs were taking, and that there was every prospect of the rope, the gallows, and various other disagreeables for the chief actors in this drama, he felt in nowise drawn to take part in it. The truands, with whom he had remained, considering them the best company in Paris—the truands continued to be interested in the gipsy girl. This he judged very natural in people who, like her, had nothing but Charmolue and Torterue to look forward to, and did not caracol in the regions of the imagination as he did astride of Pegasus. He had learned from them that his bride of the broken pitcher had taken refuge in Notre Dame, and he rejoiced at it. But he was not even tempted to go and visit her there. He sometimes thought of the little goat, but that was the utmost. For the rest, he performed feats of strength during the daytime to earn a living, and at night he was engaged in elaborating a memorial against the Bishop of Paris, for he had not forgotten how the wheels of his mills had drenched him, and owed the bishop a grudge in consequence. He was also busy writing a commentary on the great work of Baudry le Rouge, Bishop of Noyon and Tournay, De Cupa Petrarum, which had inspired him with a violent taste for architecture, a love which had supplanted his passion for hermetics, of which, too, it was but a natural consequence, seeing that there is an intimate connection between hermetics and freemasonry. Gringoire had passed from the love of an idea to the love for its outward form.   1
  He happened one day to stop near the Church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, at a corner of a building called the Forl’Èvêque, which was opposite another called the For-le-Roi. To the former was attached a charming fourteenth century chapel, the chancel of which was towards the street. Gringoire was absorbed in studying its external sculpture. It was one of those moments of selfish, exclusive, and supreme enjoyment in which the artist sees nothing in all the world but art, and sees the whole world in art. Suddenly a hand was laid heavily on his shoulder. He turned round—it was his former friend and master, the Archdeacon.   2
  He stood gaping stupidly. It was long since he had seen the Archdeacon, and Dom Claude was one of those grave and intense men who invariably upset a sceptical philosopher’s equilibrium.   3
  The Archdeacon kept silence for some moments, during which Gringoire found leisure to observe him more closely. He thought Dom Claude greatly altered, pallid as a winter’s morning, hollow-eyed, his hair nearly white. The priest was the first to break this silence:   4
  “How fares it with you, Maître Pierre?” he asked in a cold and even tone.   5
  “My health?” returned Gringoire. “Well, as to that, it has its ups and downs: but on the whole, I may say it is good. I am moderate in all things. You know, master, the secret, according to Hippocrates; ‘id est: cibi, potus, somni, venus, omnia moderata sunt.”’ 1   6
  “You have no care then, Maître Gringoire?” resumed the priest, fixing Gringoire with a penetrating eye.   7
  “Faith, not I.”   8
  “And what are you doing now?”   9
  “You see for yourself, master; I am examining the cutting of these stones, and the style of this bas-relief.”  10
  The priest smiled faintly, but with that scornful smile which only curls one corner of the mouth. “And that amuses you?”  11
  “It is paradise!” exclaimed Gringoire. And bending over the stone carvings with the fascinated air of a demonstrator of living phenomena—“For example,” he said, “look at this bas-relief: do you not consider its execution a marvel of skill, delicacy, and patience? Look at this small column: where would you find a capital whose leaves were more daintily entwined or more tenderly treated by the chisel? Here are three round alto-relievos by Jean Maillevin. They are not the finest examples of that great genius; nevertheless, the childlike simplicity, the sweetness of the faces, the sportive grace of the attitudes and the draperies, and the indefinable charm which is mingled with all the imperfections, makes the little figures wonderfully airy and delicate—perhaps almost too much so. You do not find that diverting?”  12
  “Oh, yes,” said the priest.  13
  “And if you were to see the interior of the chapel!” continued the poet with his loquacious enthusiasm. “Carvings everywhere—leafy as the heart of a cabbage! The chancel is most devout in style and quite unique. Nowhere have I seen anything similar!”  14
  Dom Claude interrupted him: “You are happy, then?”  15
  “Upon my honour, yes!” returned Gringoire rapturously. “I began by loving women, and went on to animals; now I am in love with stones. It is quite as diverting as beasts or women, and less fickle.”  16
  The priest passed his hand across his brow. The gesture was habitual with him.  17
  “Say you so?”  18
  “Look you,” said Gringoire, “what joys are to be extracted from it!” He took the priest by the arm, who yielded passively, and led him into the stair turret of the For-l’ Èvôque. “Look at that stair! Every time I see it it makes me happy. The style of that flight of steps is the simplest and most rare in Paris. Each step is sloped underneath. Its beauty and its simplicity consists in the fact of the steps, which are about a foot broad, being interlaced, mortised, jointed, linked, interwoven, and fitting into one another in a manner truly both firm and elegant.”  19
  “And you long for nothing?”  20
  “No.”  21
  “And you have no regrets?”  22
  “Neither regrets nor desires. I have arranged my life to my satisfaction.”  23
  “What man arranges,” said Claude, “circumstances may disarrange.”  24
  “I am a Pyrrhonian philosopher,” returned Gringoire, “and I hold the equilibrium in every thing.”  25
  “And how do you get your living?”  26
  “I still write an epopee or a tragedy now and then; but what brings me in the most is that industry in which you have already seen me engaged, master—carrying a pyramid of chairs in my teeth.”  27
  “A gross occupation for a philosopher.”  28
  “’Tis always a form of equilibrium,” returned Gringoire. “When one takes up an idea, one finds something of it everywhere.”  29
  “I know it,” answered the Archdeacon. Then after a pause he went on: “Nevertheless, you are very poor?”  30
  “Poor, yes, unhappy, no.”  31
  There was a clatter of horses’ hoofs, and the two friends saw a company of the King’s archers file past the end of the street, their lances high and an officer at their head. The cavalcade was brilliant, and the street echoed to their tread.  32
  “How you look at that officer!” said Gringoire to the Archdeacon.  33
  “It is because I seem to know him.”  34
  “What is his name?”  35
  “I think,” answered Claude, “it is Phœbus de Châteaupers.”  36
  “Phœbus! a curious name that! There is a Count of Foix called Phœbus. I remember that a girl I once knew never swore by any other name.”  37
  “Come away,” said the priest, “I have something to say to you.”  38
  A certain degree of agitation was perceptible under the Archdeacon’s glacial manner since the passing of the troop of soldiers. He started off walking, Gringoire following, accustomed to obey like all who once came under the influence of that dominating personality. They proceeded in silence till they reached the Rue des Bernardins, which was well-night deserted. Here Dom Claude came to a standstill.  39
  “What have you to say to me, master?” asked Gringoire.  40
  “Do you not consider,” answered the Archdeacon with an air of profound reflection, “that the attire of those cavaliers is handsomer than yours or mine?”  41
  Gringoire shook his head. “Faith, I prefer my red and yellow cloak to those iron and steel scales. Where’s the pleasure of making a noise when you walk like the Iron Wharf in an earthquake?”  42
  “Then, Gringoire, you have never envied those fine fellows in their coats of mail?”  43
  “Envied them for what, Monsieur the Archdeacon? Their strength, their arms, their discipline? Nay, give me philosophy and independence in rags. I’d rather be the head of a fly than the tail of a lion.”  44
  “How singular!” mused the priest. “A fine uniform is, nevertheless, a fine thing in its way.”  45
  Gringoire seeing him immersed in thought, strolled away to admire the porch of a neighbouring house. He returned clapping his hands.  46
  “If you were less occupied with the fine habiliments of these warriors, Monsieur the Archdeacon, I would beg you to come and see this door. I have always declared that the house of the Sieur Aubry boasts the most superb entrance in the world!”  47
  “Pierre Gringoire,” said the Archdeacon, “what have you done with the little gipsy dancing girl?”  48
  “Esmeralda, you mean? You have very abrupt changes of conversation.”  49
  “Was she not your wife?”  50
  “Yes, by grace of a broken pitcher. It was a four years’ agreement. By-the-by,” Gringoire went on in a half bantering tone, “you still think of her, then?”  51
  “And you—you think of her no longer?”  52
  “Not much—I have so many other things. Lord, how pretty the little goat was!”  53
  “Did not that Bohemian girl save your life?”  54
  “Pardieu—that’s true!”  55
  “Well, then, what has become of her? what have you done with her?”  56
  “I cannot tell you. I believe they hanged her.”  57
  “You believe?”  58
  “I am not sure. As soon as I saw there was any question of hanging I kept out of the game.”  59
  “And that is all you know about her?”  60
  “Stay; I was told that she had taken refuge in Notre Dame, and that she was in safety, and I’m sure I’m delighted; but I was not able to discover whether the goat had escaped with her—and that is all I know about it.”  61
  “Then I am going to tell you more,” cried Dom Claude; and his voice, till then low, deliberate, and hollow, rose to thunder. “She did find sanctuary in Notre Dame, but in three days hence the law will drag her out again, and she will be hanged at the Grève. There is a decree of Parliament.”  62
  “How very disappointing,” said Gringoire. In an instant the priest had resumed his cold, grave demeanour.  63
  “And who the devil,” continued the poet, “has taken the trouble to solicit a decree of reintegration? Why couldn’t they leave the Parliament alone? What harm can it do to any one for a poor girl to take shelter under the buttresses of Notre Dame among the swallows’ nests?”  64
  “There are Satans in the world,” replied the Archdeacon gloomily.  65
  “Well, ’tis a devlish bad piece of work,” observed Gringoire.  66
  “So she saved your life?” the priest went on after a pause.  67
  “Yes, among my good friends the vagabonds. A touch more, a shade less, and I should have been hanged. They would have been sorry for it now.”  68
  “Will you then do nothing for her?”  69
  “I ask nothing better, Don Claude; but what if I bring an ugly bit of business about my ears?”  70
  “What does it matter?”  71
  “Matter indeed? You are very good, my dear master! I have two great works just begun.”  72
  The priest smote his forehead. Despite the calm he affected, a violent gesture from time to time betrayed his inward struggles. “How is she to be saved?”  73
  “Master,” said Gringoire, “I can give you an answer; It padelt,’ which is the Turkish for ‘God is our hope.’”  74
  “How is she to be saved?” repeated Dom Claude, deep in thought.  75
  It was Gringoire’s turn to smite his forehead. “Hark you, master, I have imagination. I will find you a choice of expedients. What if we entreated the King’s mercy?”  76
  “Mercy? from Louis XI?”  77
  “Why not?”  78
  “Go ask the tiger for his bone!”  79
  Gringoire racked his brain for fresh solutions.  80
  “Well, then—stay; how would it be to draw up a memorial from the midwives of the city declaring the girl to be pregnant?”  81
  The priest’s sunken eyes glared savagely. “Pregnant? Rascal, knowest thou anything of such a matter?”  82
  Gringoire recoiled in alarm at his manner. He hastened to say, “Oh, not I indeed! Our marriage was a regular foris maritagium. I am altogether outside of it. But at any rate, that would secure a respite.”  83
  “Folly! Infamy! Hold thy peace!”  84
  “You are wrong to be angry,” said Gringoire reproachfully. “We get a respite which does harm to nobody, and puts forty deniers parisis into the pockets of the midwives, who are poor women.”  85
  The priest was not listening. “But she must be got out of there,” he murmured. “The decree has to be carried out within three days—That Quasimodo! Women have very depraved tastes!” He raised his voice. “Maitre Pierre, I have thought it well over; there is but one means of saving her.”  86
  “And what is that? For my part I can suggest nothing.”  87
  “Hark you, Maitre Pierre; remember that you owe your life to her. I will impart my idea frankly to you. The church is watched night and day; no one is allowed to come out who has not been seen to go in. Thus you can enter. You shall come; I will take you to her. You will change clothes with her. She will take your doublet, you will take her petticoats.”  88
  “So far so good,” observed the philosopher. “And after?”  89
  “After? Why, she will go out in your clothes, and you will stay there in hers. They will hang you, perhaps, but she will be saved.”  90
  Gringoire scratched his ear with a very serious air. “Now that,” said he, “is an idea that would never have occurred to me.”  91
  At Dom Claude’s unexpected proposal, the open and benign countenance of the poet became suddenly overcast, like a smiling landscape of Italy when a nasty squall of wind drives a cloud against the sun.  92
  “Well, Gringoire, what say you to this plan?”  93
  “I say that they will not hang me perhaps, but that they will hang me indubitably.”  94
  “The does not concern us.”  95
  “The plague it doesn’t!”  96
  “She saved your life. It is a debt you ought to pay.”  97
  “There is many another I don’t pay.”  98
  “Maitre Pierre, this must be done.” The Archdeacon spoke imperiously.  99
  “Hark you, Dom Claude,” returned the poet in consternation. “You cling to that idea, but you are wrong. I see no reason why I should hang instead of another.” 100
  “What is there to attract you so firmly to life?” 101
  “Ah, a thousand things!” 102
  “What, pray?” 103
  “What?—why, the air, the sky, the morning, the evening, moonlight, my good friends the vagabonds, our pranks with the women, the fine architecture of Paris to study, three important books to write—one of them against the bishop and his mills; oh, more than I can say. Anaxagoras said that he was in the world merely to admire the sun. And besides, I enjoy the felicity of passing the whole of my days, from morning till night, in the company of a man of genius—myself, to wit—and that is very agreeable.” 104
  “Oh, empty rattle-pate!” growled the Archdeacon. “And who, prithee, preserved to thee that life thou deemest so pleasant? Whose gift is it that thou art breathing the air, looking at the sky, hast still the power to divert thy feather-brained spirit with folly and nonsense? But for her, where wouldst thou be? Thou wouldst let her die, then—her through whom thou lives? Let her die—that being so lovely, so sweet, so adorable—a creature necessary to the light of the world, more divine than God himself! whilst thou, half philosopher, half fool—mere outline of something, a species of vegetable that imagines it walks and thinks—thou wilt go on living with the life thou hats stolen from her, useless as a torch at noon day? Come, Grainier, a little pity! be generous in thy turn; ’taws she that showed thee the way.” 105
  The priest spoke vehemently. Grainier listened at first with an air of indecision; presently he was touched, and ended by making a tragic grimace which made his wan visage like that of a new-born infant with the colic. 106
  “You are in truth most pathetic,” said he, wiping away a tear. “Well, I’ll think on it—’tis an odd idea of yours, that. After all,” he pursued, after a moment’s silence, “who knows; may-be they would not hang me—’tis not every betrothal that ends in marriage. When they find me in my hiding-place thus grotesquely disguised in coif and kirtle, it is very possible they will burst out laughing. On the other hand, even if they do hang me—well, the rope is a death like any other—nay, rather it is not death like any other—it is a death worthy of a sage who has swung gently all his life between the extremes—a death which, like the mind of the true sceptic, is neither flesh nor fish; a death thoroughly expressive of Pyrrhonism and hesitation, which holds the mean between heaven and earth, which holds you in suspension. ’Tis the death of a philosopher and to which mayhap I was predestined. It is magnificent to die as one has lived!” 107
  The priest interrupted him. “So it is a bargain, then?” 108
  “When all’s said and done,” pursued Grainier with exaltation, “what is death? An uncomfortable moment—a tollgate—the transit from little to nothing. Some one having asked Cercidas of Megalopolis whether he could die willingly, he replied, ‘Wherefore not? for after my death I should see those great men: Pythagoras among the philosophers, Hecatæus among the historians, Homer among the poets, Olympus among the musicians.’” 109
  The Archdeacon held out his hand. “It is settled, then? You will come to-morrow?” 110
  This action brought Grainier down to the realities. “Faith no!” said he in the tone of a man who awakens. “Let myself be hanged?—’tis too absurd! I will not.” 111
  “God be with you, then!” and the Archdeacon muttered between his teeth, “We shall meet again!” 112
  “I have no desire to meet that devil of man again,” thought Grainier. He ran after Dom Claude. “Hark you, Monsieur the Archdeacon, no offence between old friends! You are interested in this girl—my wife I mean—that’s very well. You have devised a stratagem for getting her sagely out of Notre Dame, but your plan is highly unpleasant for me, Grainier. If I only had another to suggest!—Let me tell you that a most luminous inspiration has this instant come to me. How if I had a practicable scheme for extricating her from this tight place without exposing my own neck to the slightest danger of a slip-knot, what would you say? Would not that suffice you? Is it absolutely necessary that I should be hanged to satisfy you?” 113
  The priest was tearing at the buttons of his soutance with impatience. “Oh, babbling stream of words! Out with thy plan!” 114
  “Yes,” said Grainier, speaking to himself and rubbing his nose with his forefinger in sign of deep cogitation; “that’s it! The vagabonds are good-hearted fellows! The tribe of Egypt loves her. They will rise at a word. Nothing easier. A surprise—and under cover of the disorder, carry her off—perfectly easily! This very next night. Nothing would please them better.” 115
  “The plan—speak!” said the priest, shaking him. 116
  Grainier turned to him majestically. 117
  “Let me be! see you not that I am composing?” He ruminated again for a few moments, then began to clap his hands at his thought. “Admirable! he cried, “an assured success!” 118
  “The plan!” repeated Claude, enraged. 119
  Grainier was radiant. “Hist!” said he, “let me tell it you in a whisper. ’Tis a counterplot that’s really brilliant, and will get us all clear out of the affair. Pardieu! you must admit that I’m no fool.” 120
  He stopped short. “Ah, but the little goat—is she with the girl?” 121
  “Yes—yes—devil take thee! go on!” 122
  “They would hang her too, would they not?” 123
  “What’s that to me?” 124
  “Yes, they would hang her. They hanged a sow last month, sure enough. The hangman likes that—he east the beast afterward. Hang my pretty Djali! Poor sweet lamb!” 125
  “A murrain on thee!” cried Dom Claude. “’Tis thou art the hangman. What plan for saving her hats thou found, rascal? Must thou be delivered of thy scheme with the forceps?” 126
  “Gently, master. This is it.” Grainier bent to the Archdeacon’s ear and spoke very low, casting an anxious glance up and down the street, in which, however, there was not a soul to be seen. When he had finished, Dom Claude touched his hand and said coldly: “’Tis well. Till to-morrow, then.” 127
  “Till to-morrow,” repeated Grainier, and while the Archdeacon retreated in one direction, he went off in the other, murmuring to himself: “This is a nice business, M. Pierre Grainier! Never mind, it’s not to say because one’s of small account one need be frightened at a great undertaking. Biton carried a great bull on his shoulders; wagtails and linnets cross the ocean.” 128

Note 1.  Food, drink, sleep, love—all in moderation. [back]



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