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BOOK EIGHTH. CHAPTER I.
THE CROWN CHANGED INTO A DRY LEAF.
Gringoire and the entire Court of Miracles were suffering mortal anxiety.
For a whole month they had not known what had become of la Esmeralda, which greatly
pained the Duke of Egypt and his friends the vagabonds, nor what had become of the
goat, which redoubled Gringoire's grief.
One evening the gypsy had disappeared, and since that time had given no signs of life.
All search had proved fruitless.
Some tormenting bootblacks had told Gringoire about meeting her that same
evening near the Pont Saint-Michel, going off with an officer; but this husband,
after the fashion of Bohemia, was an
incredulous philosopher, and besides, he, better than any one else, knew to what a
point his wife was virginal.
He had been able to form a judgment as to the unconquerable modesty resulting from
the combined virtues of the amulet and the gypsy, and he had mathematically calculated
the resistance of that chastity to the second power.
Accordingly, he was at ease on that score. Still he could not understand this
disappearance.
It was a profound sorrow. He would have grown thin over it, had that
been possible.
He had forgotten everything, even his literary tastes, even his great work, De
figuris regularibus et irregularibus, which it was his intention to have printed with
the first money which he should procure
(for he had raved over printing, ever since he had seen the "Didascalon" of Hugues de
Saint Victor, printed with the celebrated characters of Vindelin de Spire).
One day, as he was passing sadly before the criminal Tournelle, he perceived a
considerable crowd at one of the gates of the Palais de Justice.
"What is this?" he inquired of a young man who was coming out.
"I know not, sir," replied the young man. "'Tis said that they are trying a woman who
hath assassinated a gendarme.
It appears that there is sorcery at the bottom of it, the archbishop and the
official have intervened in the case, and my brother, who is the archdeacon of Josas,
can think of nothing else.
Now, I wished to speak with him, but I have not been able to reach him because of the
throng, which vexes me greatly, as I stand in need of money."
"Alas! sir," said Gringoire, "I would that I could lend you some, but, my breeches are
worn to holes, and 'tis not crowns which have done it."
He dared not tell the young man that he was acquainted with his brother the archdeacon,
to whom he had not returned after the scene in the church; a negligence which
embarrassed him.
The scholar went his way, and Gringoire set out to follow the crowd which was mounting
the staircase of the great chamber.
In his opinion, there was nothing like the spectacle of a criminal process for
dissipating melancholy, so exhilaratingly stupid are judges as a rule.
The populace which he had joined walked and elbowed in silence.
After a slow and tiresome march through a long, gloomy corridor, which wound through
the court-house like the intestinal canal of the ancient edifice, he arrived near a
low door, opening upon a hall which his
lofty stature permitted him to survey with a glance over the waving heads of the
rabble. The hall was vast and gloomy, which latter
fact made it appear still more spacious.
The day was declining; the long, pointed windows permitted only a pale ray of light
to enter, which was extinguished before it reached the vaulted ceiling, an enormous
trellis-work of sculptured beams, whose
thousand figures seemed to move confusedly in the shadows, many candles were already
lighted here and there on tables, and beaming on the heads of clerks buried in
masses of documents.
The anterior portion of the ball was occupied by the crowd; on the right and
left were magistrates and tables; at the end, upon a platform, a number of judges,
whose rear rank sank into the shadows, sinister and motionless faces.
The walls were sown with innumerable fleurs-de-lis.
A large figure of Christ might be vaguely descried above the judges, and everywhere
there were pikes and halberds, upon whose points the reflection of the candles placed
tips of fire.
"Monsieur," Gringoire inquired of one of his neighbors, "who are all those persons
ranged yonder, like prelates in council?"
"Monsieur," replied the neighbor, "those on the right are the counsellors of the grand
chamber; those on the left, the councillors of inquiry; the masters in black gowns, the
messires in red."
"Who is that big red fellow, yonder above them, who is sweating?" pursued Gringoire.
"It is monsieur the president."
"And those sheep behind him?" continued Gringoire, who as we have seen, did not
love the magistracy, which arose, possibly, from the grudge which he cherished against
the Palais de Justice since his dramatic misadventure.
"They are messieurs the masters of requests of the king's household."
"And that boar in front of him?"
"He is monsieur the clerk of the Court of Parliament."
"And that crocodile on the right?" "Master Philippe Lheulier, advocate
extraordinary of the king."
"And that big, black tom-cat on the left?" "Master Jacques Charmolue, procurator of
the king in the Ecclesiastical Court, with the gentlemen of the officialty."
"Come now, monsieur," said Gringoire, "pray what are all those fine fellows doing
yonder?" "They are judging."
"Judging whom?
I do not see the accused." "'Tis a woman, sir.
You cannot see her. She has her back turned to us, and she is
hidden from us by the crowd.
Stay, yonder she is, where you see a group of partisans."
"Who is the woman?" asked Gringoire. "Do you know her name?"
"No, monsieur, I have but just arrived.
I merely assume that there is some sorcery about it, since the official is present at
the trial."
"Come!" said our philosopher, "we are going to see all these magistrates devour human
flesh. 'Tis as good a spectacle as any other."
"Monsieur," remarked his neighbor, "think you not, that Master Jacques Charmolue has
a very sweet air?" "Hum!" replied Gringoire.
"I distrust a sweetness which hath pinched nostrils and thin lips."
Here the bystanders imposed silence upon the two chatterers.
They were listening to an important deposition.
"Messeigneurs," said an old woman in the middle of the hall, whose form was so
concealed beneath her garments that one would have pronounced her a walking heap of
rags; "Messeigneurs, the thing is as true
as that I am la Falourdel, established these forty years at the Pont Saint Michel,
and paying regularly my rents, lord's dues, and quit rents; at the gate opposite the
house of Tassin-Caillart, the dyer, which
is on the side up the river--a poor old woman now, but a pretty maid in former
days, my lords.
Some one said to me lately, 'La Falourdel, don't use your spinning-wheel too much in
the evening; the devil is fond of combing the distaffs of old women with his horns.
'Tis certain that the surly monk who was round about the temple last year, now
prowls in the City. Take care, La Falourdel, that he doth not
knock at your door.'
One evening I was spinning on my wheel, there comes a knock at my door; I ask who
it is. They swear.
I open.
Two men enter. A man in black and a handsome officer.
Of the black man nothing could be seen but his eyes, two coals of fire.
All the rest was hat and cloak.
They say to me,--'The Sainte-Marthe chamber.'--'Tis my upper chamber, my lords,
my cleanest. They give me a crown.
I put the crown in my drawer, and I say: 'This shall go to buy tripe at the
slaughter-house of la Gloriette to-morrow.' We go up stairs.
On arriving at the upper chamber, and while my back is turned, the black man
disappears. That dazed me a bit.
The officer, who was as handsome as a great lord, goes down stairs again with me.
He goes out.
In about the time it takes to spin a quarter of a handful of flax, he returns
with a beautiful young girl, a doll who would have shone like the sun had she been
coiffed.
She had with her a goat; a big billy-goat, whether black or white, I no longer
remember. That set me to thinking.
The girl does not concern me, but the goat!
I love not those beasts, they have a beard and horns.
They are so like a man. And then, they smack of the witches,
sabbath.
However, I say nothing. I had the crown.
That is right, is it not, Monsieur Judge?
I show the captain and the wench to the upper chamber, and I leave them alone; that
is to say, with the goat.
I go down and set to spinning again--I must inform you that my house has a ground floor
and story above.
I know not why I fell to thinking of the surly monk whom the goat had put into my
head again, and then the beautiful girl was rather strangely decked out.
All at once, I hear a cry upstairs, and something falls on the floor and the window
opens.
I run to mine which is beneath it, and I behold a black mass pass before my eyes and
fall into the water. It was a phantom clad like a priest.
It was a moonlight night.
I saw him quite plainly. He was swimming in the direction of the
city. Then, all of a tremble, I call the watch.
The gentlemen of the police enter, and not knowing just at the first moment what the
matter was, and being merry, they beat me. I explain to them.
We go up stairs, and what do we find? my poor chamber all blood, the captain
stretched out at full length with a dagger in his neck, the girl pretending to be
dead, and the goat all in a fright.
'Pretty work!' I say, 'I shall have to wash that floor for
more than a fortnight. It will have to be scraped; it will be a
terrible job.'
They carried off the officer, poor young man, and the wench with her bosom all bare.
But wait, the worst is that on the next day, when I wanted to take the crown to buy
tripe, I found a dead leaf in its place."
The old woman ceased. A murmur of horror ran through the
audience. "That phantom, that goat,--all smacks of
magic," said one of Gringoire's neighbors.
"And that dry leaf!" added another. "No doubt about it," joined in a third,
"she is a witch who has dealings with the surly monk, for the purpose of plundering
officers."
Gringoire himself was not disinclined to regard this as altogether alarming and
probable.
"Goody Falourdel," said the president majestically, "have you nothing more to
communicate to the court?"
"No, monseigneur," replied the crone, "except that the report has described my
house as a hovel and stinking; which is an outrageous fashion of speaking.
The houses on the bridge are not imposing, because there are such multitudes of
people; but, nevertheless, the butchers continue to dwell there, who are wealthy
folk, and married to very proper and handsome women."
The magistrate who had reminded Gringoire of a crocodile rose,--
"Silence!" said he.
"I pray the gentlemen not to lose sight of the fact that a dagger was found on the
person of the accused.
Goody Falourdel, have you brought that leaf into which the crown which the demon gave
you was transformed? "Yes, monseigneur," she replied; "I found
it again.
Here it is."
A bailiff banded the dead leaf to the crocodile, who made a doleful shake of the
head, and passed it on to the president, who gave it to the procurator of the king
in the ecclesiastical court, and thus it made the circuit of the hail.
"It is a birch leaf," said Master Jacques Charmolue.
"A fresh proof of magic."
A counsellor took up the word.
"Witness, two men went upstairs together in your house: the black man, whom you first
saw disappear and afterwards swimming in the Seine, with his priestly garments, and
the officer.
Which of the two handed you the crown?" The old woman pondered for a moment and
then said,--"The officer." A murmur ran through the crowd.
"Ah!" thought Gringoire, "this makes some doubt in my mind."
But Master Philippe Lheulier, advocate extraordinary to the king, interposed once
more.
"I will recall to these gentlemen, that in the deposition taken at his bedside, the
assassinated officer, while declaring that he had a vague idea when the black man
accosted him that the latter might be the
surly monk, added that the phantom had pressed him eagerly to go and make
acquaintance with the accused; and upon his, the captain's, remarking that he had
no money, he had given him the crown which the said officer paid to la Falourdel.
Hence, that crown is the money of hell."
This conclusive observation appeared to dissipate all the doubts of Gringoire and
the other sceptics in the audience.
"You have the documents, gentlemen," added the king's advocate, as he took his seat;
"you can consult the testimony of Phoebus de Chateaupers."
At that name, the accused sprang up, her head rose above the throng.
Gringoire with horror recognized la Esmeralda.
She was pale; her tresses, formerly so gracefully braided and spangled with
sequins, hung in disorder; her lips were blue, her hollow eyes were terrible.
Alas!
"Phoebus!" she said, in bewilderment; "where is he?
O messeigneurs! before you kill me, tell me, for pity sake, whether he still lives?"
"Hold your tongue, woman," replied the president, "that is no affair of ours."
"Oh! for mercy's sake, tell me if he is alive!" she repeated, clasping her
beautiful emaciated hands; and the sound of her chains in contact with her dress, was
heard.
"Well!" said the king's advocate roughly, "he is dying.
Are you satisfied?"
The unhappy girl fell back on her criminal's seat, speechless, tearless,
white as a wax figure.
The president bent down to a man at his feet, who wore a gold cap and a black gown,
a chain on his neck and a wand in his hand. "Bailiff, bring in the second accused."
All eyes turned towards a small door, which opened, and, to the great agitation of
Gringoire, gave passage to a pretty goat with horns and hoofs of gold.
The elegant beast halted for a moment on the threshold, stretching out its neck as
though, perched on the summit of a rock, it had before its eyes an immense horizon.
Suddenly it caught sight of the gypsy girl, and leaping over the table and the head of
a clerk, in two bounds it was at her knees; then it rolled gracefully on its mistress's
feet, soliciting a word or a caress; but
the accused remained motionless, and poor Djali himself obtained not a glance.
"Eh, why--'tis my villanous beast," said old Falourdel, "I recognize the two
perfectly!"
Jacques Charmolue interfered. "If the gentlemen please, we will proceed
to the examination of the goat." He was, in fact, the second criminal.
Nothing more simple in those days than a suit of sorcery instituted against an
animal.
We find, among others in the accounts of the provost's office for 1466, a curious
detail concerning the expenses of the trial of Gillet-Soulart and his sow, "executed
for their demerits," at Corbeil.
Everything is there, the cost of the pens in which to place the sow, the five hundred
bundles of brushwood purchased at the port of Morsant, the three pints of wine and the
bread, the last repast of the victim
fraternally shared by the executioner, down to the eleven days of guard and food for
the sow, at eight deniers parisis each. Sometimes, they went even further than
animals.
The capitularies of Charlemagne and of Louis le Debonnaire impose severe penalties
on fiery phantoms which presume to appear in the air.
Meanwhile the procurator had exclaimed: "If the demon which possesses this goat, and
which has resisted all exorcisms, persists in its deeds of witchcraft, if it alarms
the court with them, we warn it that we
shall be forced to put in requisition against it the gallows or the stake.
Gringoire broke out into a cold perspiration.
Charmolue took from the table the gypsy's tambourine, and presenting it to the goat,
in a certain manner, asked the latter,-- "What o'clock is it?"
The goat looked at it with an intelligent eye, raised its gilded hoof, and struck
seven blows. It was, in fact, seven o'clock.
A movement of terror ran through the crowd.
Gringoire could not endure it. "He is destroying himself!" he cried aloud;
"You see well that he does not know what he is doing."
"Silence among the louts at the end of the hail!" said the bailiff sharply.
Jacques Charmolue, by the aid of the same manoeuvres of the tambourine, made the goat
perform many other tricks connected with the date of the day, the month of the year,
etc., which the reader has already witnessed.
And, by virtue of an optical illusion peculiar to judicial proceedings, these
same spectators who had, probably, more than once applauded in the public square
Djali's innocent magic were terrified by it beneath the roof of the Palais de Justice.
The goat was undoubtedly the devil.
It was far worse when the procurator of the king, having emptied upon a floor a certain
bag filled with movable letters, which Djali wore round his neck, they beheld the
goat extract with his hoof from the
scattered alphabet the fatal name of Phoebus.
The witchcraft of which the captain had been the victim appeared irresistibly
demonstrated, and in the eyes of all, the gypsy, that ravishing dancer, who had so
often dazzled the passers-by with her
grace, was no longer anything but a frightful vampire.
However, she betrayed no sign of life; neither Djali's graceful evolutions, nor
the menaces of the court, nor the suppressed imprecations of the spectators
any longer reached her mind.
In order to arouse her, a police officer was obliged to shake her unmercifully, and
the president had to raise his voice,-- "Girl, you are of the Bohemian race,
addicted to deeds of witchcraft.
You, in complicity with the bewitched goat implicated in this suit, during the night
of the twenty-ninth of March last, murdered and stabbed, in concert with the powers of
darkness, by the aid of charms and
underhand practices, a captain of the king's arches of the watch, Phoebus de
Chateaupers. Do you persist in denying it?"
"Horror!" exclaimed the young girl, hiding her face in her hands.
"My Phoebus! Oh, this is hell!"
"Do you persist in your denial?" demanded the president coldly.
"Do I deny it?" she said with terrible accents; and she rose with flashing eyes.
The president continued squarely,--
"Then how do you explain the facts laid to your charge?"
She replied in a broken voice,-- "I have already told you.
I do not know.
'Twas a priest, a priest whom I do not know; an infernal priest who pursues me!"
"That is it," retorted the judge; "the surly monk."
"Oh, gentlemen! have mercy!
I am but a poor girl--" "Of Egypt," said the judge.
Master Jacques Charmolue interposed sweetly,--
"In view of the sad obstinacy of the accused, I demand the application of the
torture." "Granted," said the president.
The unhappy girl quivered in every limb.
But she rose at the command of the men with partisans, and walked with a tolerably firm
step, preceded by Charmolue and the priests of the officiality, between two rows of
halberds, towards a medium-sized door which
suddenly opened and closed again behind her, and which produced upon the grief-
stricken Gringoire the effect of a horrible mouth which had just devoured her.
When she disappeared, they heard a plaintive bleating; it was the little goat
mourning. The sitting of the court was suspended.
A counsellor having remarked that the gentlemen were fatigued, and that it would
be a long time to wait until the torture was at an end, the president replied that a
magistrate must know how to sacrifice himself to his duty.
"What an annoying and vexatious hussy," said an aged judge, "to get herself put to
the question when one has not supped!"
-BOOK EIGHTH. CHAPTER II.
CONTINUATION OF THE CROWN WHICH WAS CHANGED INTO A DRY LEAF.
After ascending and descending several steps in the corridors, which were so dark
that they were lighted by lamps at mid-day, La Esmeralda, still surrounded by her
lugubrious escort, was thrust by the police into a gloomy chamber.
This chamber, circular in form, occupied the ground floor of one of those great
towers, which, even in our own century, still pierce through the layer of modern
edifices with which modern Paris has covered ancient Paris.
There were no windows to this cellar; no other opening than the entrance, which was
low, and closed by an enormous iron door.
Nevertheless, light was not lacking; a furnace had been constructed in the
thickness of the wall; a large fire was lighted there, which filled the vault with
its crimson reflections and deprived a
miserable candle, which stood in one corner, of all radiance.
The iron grating which served to close the oven, being raised at that moment, allowed
only a view at the mouth of the flaming vent-hole in the dark wall, the lower
extremity of its bars, like a row of black
and pointed teeth, set flat apart; which made the furnace resemble one of those
mouths of dragons which spout forth flames in ancient legends.
By the light which escaped from it, the prisoner beheld, all about the room,
frightful instruments whose use she did not understand.
In the centre lay a leather mattress, placed almost flat upon the ground, over
which hung a strap provided with a buckle, attached to a brass ring in the mouth of a
flat-nosed monster carved in the keystone of the vault.
Tongs, pincers, large ploughshares, filled the interior of the furnace, and glowed in
a confused heap on the coals.
The sanguine light of the furnace illuminated in the chamber only a confused
mass of horrible things. This Tartarus was called simply, The
Question Chamber.
On the bed, in a negligent attitude, sat Pierrat Torterue, the official torturer.
His underlings, two gnomes with square faces, leather aprons, and linen breeches,
were moving the iron instruments on the coals.
In vain did the poor girl summon up her courage; on entering this chamber she was
stricken with horror.
The sergeants of the bailiff of the courts drew up in line on one side, the priests of
the officiality on the other. A clerk, inkhorn, and a table were in one
corner.
Master Jacques Charmolue approached the gypsy with a very sweet smile.
"My dear child," said he, "do you still persist in your denial?"
"Yes," she replied, in a dying voice.
"In that case," replied Charmolue, "it will be very painful for us to have to question
you more urgently than we should like. Pray take the trouble to seat yourself on
this bed.
Master Pierrat, make room for mademoiselle, and close the door."
Pierrat rose with a growl. "If I shut the door," he muttered, "my fire
will go out."
"Well, my dear fellow," replied Charmolue, "leave it open then."
Meanwhile, la Esmeralda had remained standing.
That leather bed on which so many unhappy wretches had writhed, frightened her.
Terror chilled the very marrow of her bones; she stood there bewildered and
stupefied.
At a sign from Charmolue, the two assistants took her and placed her in a
sitting posture on the bed.
They did her no harm; but when these men touched her, when that leather touched her,
she felt all her blood retreat to her heart.
She cast a frightened look around the chamber.
It seemed to her as though she beheld advancing from all quarters towards her,
with the intention of crawling up her body and biting and pinching her, all those
hideous implements of torture, which as
compared to the instruments of all sorts she had hitherto seen, were like what bats,
centipedes, and spiders are among insects and birds.
"Where is the physician?" asked Charmolue.
"Here," replied a black gown whom she had not before noticed.
She shuddered.
"Mademoiselle," resumed the caressing voice of the procucrator of the Ecclesiastical
court, "for the third time, do you persist in denying the deeds of which you are
accused?"
This time she could only make a sign with her head.
"You persist?" said Jacques Charmolue. "Then it grieves me deeply, but I must
fulfil my office."
"Monsieur le Procureur du Roi," said Pierrat abruptly, "How shall we begin?"
Charmolue hesitated for a moment with the ambiguous grimace of a poet in search of a
rhyme.
"With the boot," he said at last. The unfortunate girl felt herself so
utterly abandoned by God and men, that her head fell upon her breast like an inert
thing which has no power in itself.
The tormentor and the physician approached her simultaneously.
At the same time, the two assistants began to fumble among their hideous arsenal.
At the clanking of their frightful irons, the unhappy child quivered like a dead frog
which is being galvanized. "Oh!" she murmured, so low that no one
heard her; "Oh, my Phoebus!"
Then she fell back once more into her immobility and her marble silence.
This spectacle would have rent any other heart than those of her judges.
One would have pronounced her a poor sinful soul, being tortured by Satan beneath the
scarlet wicket of hell.
The miserable body which that frightful swarm of saws, wheels, and racks were about
to clasp in their clutches, the being who was about to be manipulated by the harsh
hands of executioners and pincers, was that
gentle, white, fragile creature, a poor grain of millet which human justice was
handing over to the terrible mills of torture to grind.
Meanwhile, the callous hands of Pierrat Torterue's assistants had bared that
charming leg, that tiny foot, which had so often amazed the passers-by with their
delicacy and beauty, in the squares of Paris.
"'Tis a shame!" muttered the tormentor, glancing at these graceful and delicate
forms.
Had the archdeacon been present, he certainly would have recalled at that
moment his symbol of the spider and the fly.
Soon the unfortunate girl, through a mist which spread before her eyes, beheld the
boot approach; she soon beheld her foot encased between iron plates disappear in
the frightful apparatus.
Then terror restored her strength. "Take that off!" she cried angrily; and
drawing herself up, with her hair all dishevelled: "Mercy!"
She darted from the bed to fling herself at the feet of the king's procurator, but her
leg was fast in the heavy block of oak and iron, and she sank down upon the boot, more
crushed than a bee with a lump of lead on its wing.
At a sign from Charmolue, she was replaced on the bed, and two coarse hands adjusted
to her delicate waist the strap which hung from the ceiling.
"For the last time, do you confess the facts in the case?" demanded Charmolue,
with his imperturbable benignity. "I am innocent."
"Then, mademoiselle, how do you explain the circumstance laid to your charge?"
"Alas, monseigneur, I do not know." "So you deny them?"
"All!"
"Proceed," said Charmolue to Pierrat.
Pierrat turned the handle of the screw- jack, the boot was contracted, and the
unhappy girl uttered one of those horrible cries which have no orthography in any
human language.
"Stop!" said Charmolue to Pierrat. "Do you confess?" he said to the gypsy.
"All!" cried the wretched girl. "I confess!
I confess!
Mercy!" She had not calculated her strength when
she faced the torture.
Poor child, whose life up to that time had been so joyous, so pleasant, so sweet, the
first pain had conquered her!
"Humanity forces me to tell you," remarked the king's procurator, "that in confessing,
it is death that you must expect." "I certainly hope so!" said she.
And she fell back upon the leather bed, dying, doubled up, allowing herself to hang
suspended from the strap buckled round her waist.
"Come, fair one, hold up a little," said Master Pierrat, raising her.
"You have the air of the lamb of the Golden Fleece which hangs from Monsieur de
Bourgogne's neck."
Jacques Charmolue raised his voice, "Clerk, write.
Young Bohemian maid, you confess your participation in the feasts, witches'
sabbaths, and witchcrafts of hell, with ghosts, hags, and vampires?
Answer."
"Yes," she said, so low that her words were lost in her breathing.
"You confess to having seen the ram which Beelzebub causes to appear in the clouds to
call together the witches' sabbath, and which is beheld by socerers alone?"
"Yes."
"You confess to having adored the heads of Bophomet, those abominable idols of the
Templars?" "Yes."
"To having had habitual dealings with the devil under the form of a goat familiar,
joined with you in the suit?" "Yes."
"Lastly, you avow and confess to having, with the aid of the demon, and of the
phantom vulgarly known as the surly monk, on the night of the twenty-ninth of March
last, murdered and assassinated a captain named Phoebus de Chateaupers?"
She raised her large, staring eyes to the magistrate, and replied, as though
mechanically, without convulsion or agitation,--
"Yes."
It was evident that everything within her was broken.
"Write, clerk," said Charmolue. And, addressing the torturers, "Release the
prisoner, and take her back to the court."
When the prisoner had been "unbooted," the procurator of the ecclesiastical court
examined her foot, which was still swollen with pain.
"Come," said he, "there's no great harm done.
You shrieked in good season. You could still dance, my beauty!"
Then he turned to his acolytes of the officiality,--"Behold justice enlightened
at last! This is a solace, gentlemen!
Madamoiselle will bear us witness that we have acted with all possible gentleness."
-BOOK EIGHTH. CHAPTER III.
END OF THE CROWN WHICH WAS TURNED INTO A DRY LEAF.
When she re-entered the audience hall, pale and limping, she was received with a
general murmur of pleasure.
On the part of the audience there was the feeling of impatience gratified which one
experiences at the theatre at the end of the last entr'acte of the comedy, when the
curtain rises and the conclusion is about to begin.
On the part of the judges, it was the hope of getting their suppers sooner.
The little goat also bleated with joy.
He tried to run towards his mistress, but they had tied him to the bench.
Night was fully set in.
The candles, whose number had not been increased, cast so little light, that the
walls of the hall could not be seen. The shadows there enveloped all objects in
a sort of mist.
A few apathetic faces of judges alone could be dimly discerned.
Opposite them, at the extremity of the long hail, they could see a vaguely white point
standing out against the sombre background.
This was the accused. She had dragged herself to her place.
When Charmolue had installed himself in a magisterial manner in his own, he seated
himself, then rose and said, without exhibiting too much self-complacency at his
success,--"The accused has confessed all."
"Bohemian girl," the president continued, "have you avowed all your deeds of magic,
prostitution, and assassination on Phoebus de Chateaupers."
Her heart contracted.
She was heard to sob amid the darkness. "Anything you like," she replied feebly,
"but kill me quickly!"
"Monsieur, procurator of the king in the ecclesiastical courts," said the president,
"the chamber is ready to hear you in your charge."
Master Charmolue exhibited an alarming note book, and began to read, with many gestures
and the exaggerated accentuation of the pleader, an oration in Latin, wherein all
the proofs of the suit were piled up in
Ciceronian periphrases, flanked with quotations from Plautus, his favorite comic
author. We regret that we are not able to offer to
our readers this remarkable piece.
The orator pronounced it with marvellous action.
Before he had finished the exordium, the perspiration was starting from his brow,
and his eyes from his bead.
All at once, in the middle of a fine period, he interrupted himself, and his
glance, ordinarily so gentle and even stupid, became menacing.
"Gentlemen," he exclaimed (this time in French, for it was not in his copy book),
"Satan is so mixed up in this affair, that here he is present at our debates, and
making sport of their majesty.
Behold!"
So saying, he pointed to the little goat, who, on seeing Charmolue gesticulating,
had, in point of fact, thought it appropriate to do the same, and had seated
himself on his haunches, reproducing to the
best of his ability, with his forepaws and his bearded head the pathetic pantomine of
the king's procurator in the ecclesiastical court.
This was, if the reader remembers, one of his prettiest accomplishments.
This incident, this last proof, produced a great effect.
The goat's hoofs were tied, and the king's procurator resumed the thread of his
eloquence. It was very long, but the peroration was
admirable.
Here is the concluding phrase; let the reader add the hoarse voice and the
breathless gestures of Master Charmolue,
"Ideo, domni, coram stryga demonstrata, crimine patente, intentione criminis
existente, in nornine sanctoe ecclesioe Nostroe-Domince Parisiensis quoe est in
saisina habendi omnimodam altam et bassam
justitiam in illa hac intemerata Civitatis insula, tenore proesentium declaremus nos
requirere, primo, aliquamdam pecuniariam indemnitatem; secundo, amendationem
honorabilem ante portalium maximum Nostroe-
Dominoe, ecclesioe cathedralis; tertio, sententiani in virtute cujus ista styrga
cum sua capella, seu in trivio vulgariter dicto la Greve, seu in insula exeunte in
fluvio Secanoe, juxta pointam juardini regalis, executatoe sint!"
He put on his cap again and seated himself.
"Eheu!" sighed the broken-hearted Gringoire, "bassa latinitas--bastard
latin!"
Another man in a black gown rose near the accused; he was her lawyer.--The judges,
who were fasting, began to grumble. "Advocate, be brief," said the president.
"Monsieur the President," replied the advocate, "since the defendant has
confessed the crime, I have only one word to say to these gentlemen.
Here is a text from the Salic law; 'If a witch hath eaten a man, and if she be
convicted of it, she shall pay a fine of eight thousand deniers, which amount to two
hundred sous of gold.'
May it please the chamber to condemn my client to the fine?"
"An abrogated text," said the advocate extraordinary of the king.
"Nego, I deny it," replied the advocate.
"Put it to the vote!" said one of the councillors; "the crime is manifest, and it
is late." They proceeded to take a vote without
leaving the room.
The judges signified their assent without giving their reasons, they were in a hurry.
Their capped heads were seen uncovering one after the other, in the gloom, at the
lugubrious question addressed to them by the president in a low voice.
The poor accused had the appearance of looking at them, but her troubled eye no
longer saw. Then the clerk began to write; then he
handed a long parch-ment to the president.
Then the unhappy girl heard the people moving, the pikes clashing, and a freezing
voice saying to her,--"Bohemian wench, on the day when it shall seem good to our lord
the king, at the hour of noon, you will be
taken in a tumbrel, in your shift, with bare feet, and a rope about your neck,
before the grand portal of Notre-Dame, and you will there make an apology with a wax
torch of the weight of two pounds in your
hand, and thence you will be conducted to the Place de Greve, where you will be
hanged and strangled on the town gibbet; and likewise your goat; and you will pay to
the official three lions of gold, in
reparation of the crimes by you committed and by you confessed, of sorcery and magic,
debauchery and murder, upon the person of the Sieur Phoebus de Chateaupers.
May God have mercy on your soul!"
"Oh! 'tis a dream!" she murmured; and she felt rough hands bearing her away.
-BOOK EIGHTH. CHAPTER IV.
LASCIATE OGNI SPERANZA --LEAVE ALL HOPE BEHIND, YE WHO ENTER HERE.
In the Middle Ages, when an edifice was complete, there was almost as much of it in
the earth as above it.
Unless built upon piles, like Notre-Dame, a palace, a fortress, a church, had always a
double bottom.
In cathedrals, it was, in some sort, another subterranean cathedral, low, dark,
mysterious, blind, and mute, under the upper nave which was overflowing with light
and reverberating with organs and bells day and night.
Sometimes it was a sepulchre.
In palaces, in fortresses, it was a prison, sometimes a sepulchre also, sometimes both
together.
These mighty buildings, whose mode of formation and vegetation we have elsewhere
explained, had not simply foundations, but, so to speak, roots which ran branching
through the soil in chambers, galleries,
and staircases, like the construction above.
Thus churches, palaces, fortresses, had the earth half way up their bodies.
The cellars of an edifice formed another edifice, into which one descended instead
of ascending, and which extended its subterranean grounds under the external
piles of the monument, like those forests
and mountains which are reversed in the mirror-like waters of a lake, beneath the
forests and mountains of the banks.
At the fortress of Saint-Antoine, at the Palais de Justice of Paris, at the Louvre,
these subterranean edifices were prisons.
The stories of these prisons, as they sank into the soil, grew constantly narrower and
more gloomy. They were so many zones, where the shades
of horror were graduated.
Dante could never imagine anything better for his hell.
These tunnels of cells usually terminated in a sack of a lowest dungeon, with a vat-
like bottom, where Dante placed Satan, where society placed those condemned to
death.
A miserable human existence, once interred there; farewell light, air, life, ogni
speranza--every hope; it only came forth to the scaffold or the stake.
Sometimes it rotted there; human justice called this "forgetting."
Between men and himself, the condemned man felt a pile of stones and jailers weighing
down upon his head; and the entire prison, the massive bastille was nothing more than
an enormous, complicated lock, which barred him off from the rest of the world.
It was in a sloping cavity of this description, in the oubliettes excavated by
Saint-Louis, in the inpace of the Tournelle, that la Esmeralda had been
placed on being condemned to death, through
fear of her escape, no doubt, with the colossal court-house over her head.
Poor fly, who could not have lifted even one of its blocks of stone!
Assuredly, Providence and society had been equally unjust; such an excess of
unhappiness and of torture was not necessary to break so frail a creature.
There she lay, lost in the shadows, buried, hidden, immured.
Any one who could have beheld her in this state, after having seen her laugh and
dance in the sun, would have shuddered.
Cold as night, cold as death, not a breath of air in her tresses, not a human sound in
her ear, no longer a ray of light in her eyes; snapped in twain, crushed with
chains, crouching beside a jug and a loaf,
on a little straw, in a pool of water, which was formed under her by the sweating
of the prison walls; without motion, almost without breath, she had no longer the power
to suffer; Phoebus, the sun, midday, the
open air, the streets of Paris, the dances with applause, the sweet babblings of love
with the officer; then the priest, the old crone, the poignard, the blood, the
torture, the gibbet; all this did, indeed,
pass before her mind, sometimes as a charming and golden vision, sometimes as a
hideous nightmare; but it was no longer anything but a vague and horrible struggle,
lost in the gloom, or distant music played
up above ground, and which was no longer audible at the depth where the unhappy girl
had fallen. Since she had been there, she had neither
waked nor slept.
In that misfortune, in that cell, she could no longer distinguish her waking hours from
slumber, dreams from reality, any more than day from night.
All this was mixed, broken, floating, disseminated confusedly in her thought.
She no longer felt, she no longer knew, she no longer thought; at the most, she only
dreamed.
Never had a living creature been thrust more deeply into nothingness.
Thus benumbed, frozen, petrified, she had barely noticed on two or three occasions,
the sound of a trap door opening somewhere above her, without even permitting the
passage of a little light, and through
which a hand had tossed her a bit of black bread.
Nevertheless, this periodical visit of the jailer was the sole communication which was
left her with mankind.
A single thing still mechanically occupied her ear; above her head, the dampness was
filtering through the mouldy stones of the vault, and a drop of water dropped from
them at regular intervals.
She listened stupidly to the noise made by this drop of water as it fell into the pool
beside her.
This drop of water falling from time to time into that pool, was the only movement
which still went on around her, the only clock which marked the time, the only noise
which reached her of all the noise made on the surface of the earth.
To tell the whole, however, she also felt, from time to time, in that cesspool of mire
and darkness, something cold passing over her foot or her arm, and she shuddered.
How long had she been there?
She did not know.
She had a recollection of a sentence of death pronounced somewhere, against some
one, then of having been herself carried away, and of waking up in darkness and
silence, chilled to the heart.
She had dragged herself along on her hands. Then iron rings that cut her ankles, and
chains had rattled.
She had recognized the fact that all around her was wall, that below her there was a
pavement covered with moisture and a truss of straw; but neither lamp nor air-hole.
Then she had seated herself on that straw and, sometimes, for the sake of changing
her attitude, on the last stone step in her dungeon.
For a while she had tried to count the black minutes measured off for her by the
drop of water; but that melancholy labor of an ailing brain had broken off of itself in
her head, and had left her in stupor.
At length, one day, or one night, (for midnight and midday were of the same color
in that sepulchre), she heard above her a louder noise than was usually made by the
turnkey when he brought her bread and jug of water.
She raised her head, and beheld a ray of reddish light passing through the crevices
in the sort of trapdoor contrived in the roof of the inpace.
At the same time, the heavy lock creaked, the trap grated on its rusty hinges,
turned, and she beheld a lantern, a hand, and the lower portions of the bodies of two
men, the door being too low to admit of her seeing their heads.
The light pained her so acutely that she shut her eyes.
When she opened them again the door was closed, the lantern was deposited on one of
the steps of the staircase; a man alone stood before her.
A monk's black cloak fell to his feet, a cowl of the same color concealed his face.
Nothing was visible of his person, neither face nor hands.
It was a long, black shroud standing erect, and beneath which something could be felt
moving. She gazed fixedly for several minutes at
this sort of spectre.
But neither he nor she spoke. One would have pronounced them two statues
confronting each other.
Two things only seemed alive in that cavern; the wick of the lantern, which
sputtered on account of the dampness of the atmosphere, and the drop of water from the
roof, which cut this irregular sputtering
with its monotonous splash, and made the light of the lantern quiver in concentric
waves on the oily water of the pool. At last the prisoner broke the silence.
"Who are you?"
"A priest." The words, the accent, the sound of his
voice made her tremble. The priest continued, in a hollow voice,--
"Are you prepared?"
"For what?" "To die."
"Oh!" said she, "will it be soon?" "To-morrow."
Her head, which had been raised with joy, fell back upon her breast.
"'Tis very far away yet!" she murmured; "why could they not have done it to-day?"
"Then you are very unhappy?" asked the priest, after a silence.
"I am very cold," she replied.
She took her feet in her hands, a gesture habitual with unhappy wretches who are
cold, as we have already seen in the case of the recluse of the Tour-Roland, and her
teeth chattered.
The priest appeared to cast his eyes around the dungeon from beneath his cowl.
"Without light! without fire! in the water! it is horrible!"
"Yes," she replied, with the bewildered air which unhappiness had given her.
"The day belongs to every one, why do they give me only night?"
"Do you know," resumed the priest, after a fresh silence, "why you are here?"
"I thought I knew once," she said, passing her thin fingers over her eyelids, as
though to aid her memory, "but I know no longer."
All at once she began to weep like a child.
"I should like to get away from here, sir. I am cold, I am afraid, and there are
creatures which crawl over my body." "Well, follow me."
So saying, the priest took her arm.
The unhappy girl was frozen to her very soul.
Yet that hand produced an impression of cold upon her.
"Oh!" she murmured, "'tis the icy hand of death.
Who are you?" The priest threw back his cowl; she looked.
It was the sinister visage which had so long pursued her; that demon's head which
had appeared at la Falourdel's, above the head of her adored Phoebus; that eye which
she last had seen glittering beside a dagger.
This apparition, always so fatal for her, and which had thus driven her on from
misfortune to misfortune, even to torture, roused her from her stupor.
It seemed to her that the sort of veil which had lain thick upon her memory was
rent away.
All the details of her melancholy adventure, from the nocturnal scene at la
Falourdel's to her condemnation to the Tournelle, recurred to her memory, no
longer vague and confused as heretofore,
but distinct, harsh, clear, palpitating, terrible.
These souvenirs, half effaced and almost obliterated by excess of suffering, were
revived by the sombre figure which stood before her, as the approach of fire causes
letters traced upon white paper with
invisible ink, to start out perfectly fresh.
It seemed to her that all the wounds of her heart opened and bled simultaneously.
"Hah!" she cried, with her hands on her eyes, and a convulsive trembling, "'tis the
priest!"
Then she dropped her arms in discouragement, and remained seated, with
lowered head, eyes fixed on the ground, mute and still trembling.
The priest gazed at her with the eye of a hawk which has long been soaring in a
circle from the heights of heaven over a poor lark cowering in the wheat, and has
long been silently contracting the
formidable circles of his flight, and has suddenly swooped down upon his prey like a
flash of lightning, and holds it panting in his talons.
She began to murmur in a low voice,--
"Finish! finish! the last blow!" and she drew her head down in terror between her
shoulders, like the lamb awaiting the blow of the butcher's axe.
"So I inspire you with horror?" he said at length.
She made no reply. "Do I inspire you with horror?" he
repeated.
Her lips contracted, as though with a smile.
"Yes," said she, "the headsman scoffs at the condemned.
Here he has been pursuing me, threatening me, terrifying me for months!
Had it not been for him, my God, how happy it should have been!
It was he who cast me into this abyss!
Oh heavens! it was he who killed him! my Phoebus!"
Here, bursting into sobs, and raising her eyes to the priest,--
"Oh! wretch, who are you?
What have I done to you? Do you then, hate me so?
Alas! what have you against me?" "I love thee!" cried the priest.
Her tears suddenly ceased, she gazed at him with the look of an idiot.
He had fallen on his knees and was devouring her with eyes of flame.
"Dost thou understand?
I love thee!" he cried again. "What love!" said the unhappy girl with a
shudder. He resumed,--
"The love of a damned soul."
Both remained silent for several minutes, crushed beneath the weight of their
emotions; he maddened, she stupefied.
"Listen," said the priest at last, and a singular calm had come over him; "you shall
know all I am about to tell you that which I have hitherto hardly dared to say to
myself, when furtively interrogating my
conscience at those deep hours of the night when it is so dark that it seems as though
God no longer saw us. Listen.
Before I knew you, young girl, I was happy."
"So was I!" she sighed feebly. "Do not interrupt me.
Yes, I was happy, at least I believed myself to be so.
I was pure, my soul was filled with limpid light.
No head was raised more proudly and more radiantly than mine.
Priests consulted me on chastity; doctors, on doctrines.
Yes, science was all in all to me; it was a sister to me, and a sister sufficed.
Not but that with age other ideas came to me.
More than once my flesh had been moved as a woman's form passed by.
That force of sex and blood which, in the madness of youth, I had imagined that I had
stifled forever had, more than once, convulsively raised the chain of iron vows
which bind me, a miserable wretch, to the cold stones of the altar.
But fasting, prayer, study, the mortifications of the cloister, rendered my
soul mistress of my body once more, and then I avoided women.
Moreover, I had but to open a book, and all the impure mists of my brain vanished
before the splendors of science.
In a few moments, I felt the gross things of earth flee far away, and I found myself
once more calm, quieted, and serene, in the presence of the tranquil radiance of
eternal truth.
As long as the demon sent to attack me only vague shadows of women who passed
occasionally before my eyes in church, in the streets, in the fields, and who hardly
recurred to my dreams, I easily vanquished him.
Alas! if the victory has not remained with me, it is the fault of God, who has not
created man and the demon of equal force.
Listen. One day--"
Here the priest paused, and the prisoner heard sighs of anguish break from his
breast with a sound of the death rattle.
He resumed,-- "One day I was leaning on the window of my
cell. What book was I reading then?
Oh! all that is a whirlwind in my head.
I was reading. The window opened upon a Square.
I heard a sound of tambourine and music. Annoyed at being thus disturbed in my
revery, I glanced into the Square.
What I beheld, others saw beside myself, and yet it was not a spectacle made for
human eyes.
There, in the middle of the pavement,--it was midday, the sun was shining brightly,--
a creature was dancing.
A creature so beautiful that God would have preferred her to the Virgin and have chosen
her for his mother and have wished to be born of her if she had been in existence
when he was made man!
Her eyes were black and splendid; in the midst of her black locks, some hairs
through which the sun shone glistened like threads of gold.
Her feet disappeared in their movements like the spokes of a rapidly turning wheel.
Around her head, in her black tresses, there were disks of metal, which glittered
in the sun, and formed a coronet of stars on her brow.
Her dress thick set with spangles, blue, and dotted with a thousand sparks, gleamed
like a summer night. Her brown, supple arms twined and untwined
around her waist, like two scarfs.
The form of her body was surprisingly beautiful.
Oh! what a resplendent figure stood out, like something luminous even in the
sunlight!
Alas, young girl, it was thou! Surprised, intoxicated, charmed, I allowed
myself to gaze upon thee.
I looked so long that I suddenly shuddered with terror; I felt that fate was seizing
hold of me." The priest paused for a moment, overcome
with emotion.
Then he continued,-- "Already half fascinated, I tried to cling
fast to something and hold myself back from falling.
I recalled the snares which Satan had already set for me.
The creature before my eyes possessed that superhuman beauty which can come only from
heaven or hell.
It was no simple girl made with a little of our earth, and dimly lighted within by the
vacillating ray of a woman's soul. It was an angel! but of shadows and flame,
and not of light.
At the moment when I was meditating thus, I beheld beside you a goat, a beast of
witches, which smiled as it gazed at me. The midday sun gave him golden horns.
Then I perceived the snare of the demon, and I no longer doubted that you had come
from hell and that you had come thence for my perdition.
I believed it."
Here the priest looked the prisoner full in the face, and added, coldly,--
"I believe it still.
Nevertheless, the charm operated little by little; your dancing whirled through my
brain; I felt the mysterious spell working within me.
All that should have awakened was lulled to sleep; and like those who die in the snow,
I felt pleasure in allowing this sleep to draw on.
All at once, you began to sing.
What could I do, unhappy wretch? Your song was still more charming than your
dancing. I tried to flee.
Impossible.
I was nailed, rooted to the spot. It seemed to me that the marble of the
pavement had risen to my knees. I was forced to remain until the end.
My feet were like ice, my head was on fire.
At last you took pity on me, you ceased to sing, you disappeared.
The reflection of the dazzling vision, the reverberation of the enchanting music
disappeared by degrees from my eyes and my ears.
Then I fell back into the embrasure of the window, more rigid, more feeble than a
statue torn from its base. The vesper bell roused me.
I drew myself up; I fled; but alas! something within me had fallen never to
rise again, something had come upon me from which I could not flee."
He made another pause and went on,--
"Yes, dating from that day, there was within me a man whom I did not know.
I tried to make use of all my remedies. The cloister, the altar, work, books,--
follies!
Oh, how hollow does science sound when one in despair dashes against it a head full of
passions! Do you know, young girl, what I saw
thenceforth between my book and me?
You, your shade, the image of the luminous apparition which had one day crossed the
space before me.
But this image had no longer the same color; it was sombre, funereal, gloomy as
the black circle which long pursues the vision of the imprudent man who has gazed
intently at the sun.
"Unable to rid myself of it, since I heard your song humming ever in my head, beheld
your feet dancing always on my breviary, felt even at night, in my dreams, your form
in contact with my own, I desired to see
you again, to touch you, to know who you were, to see whether I should really find
you like the ideal image which I had retained of you, to shatter my dream,
perchance, with reality.
At all events, I hoped that a new impression would efface the first, and the
first had become insupportable. I sought you.
I saw you once more.
Calamity! When I had seen you twice, I wanted to see
you a thousand times, I wanted to see you always.
Then--how stop myself on that slope of hell?--then I no longer belonged to myself.
The other end of the thread which the demon had attached to my wings he had fastened to