Part 8 out of 13
While speaking thus in his softest voice, he approached
extremely near the gypsy; his caressing hands resumed
their place around her supple and delicate waist, his eye
flashed more and more, and everything announced that Monsieur
Phoebus was on the verge of one of those moments when
Jupiter himself commits so many follies that Homer is
obliged to summon a cloud to his rescue.
But Dom Claude saw everything. The door was made of
thoroughly rotten cask staves, which left large apertures for
the passage of his hawklike gaze. This brown-skinned, broad-
shouldered priest, hitherto condemned to the austere virginity
of the cloister, was quivering and boiling in the presence of
this night scene of love and voluptuousness. This young and
beautiful girl given over in disarray to the ardent young man,
made melted lead flow in his-veins; his eyes darted with
sensual jealousy beneath all those loosened pins. Any one who
could, at that moment, have seen the face of the unhappy man
glued to the wormeaten bars, would have thought that he
beheld the face of a tiger glaring from the depths of a cage
at some jackal devouring a gazelle. His eye shone like a
candle through the cracks of the door.
All at once, Phoebus, with a rapid gesture, removed the
gypsy's gorgerette. The poor child, who had remained pale
and dreamy, awoke with a start; she recoiled hastily from the
enterprising officer, and, casting a glance at her bare neck
and shoulders, red, confused, mute with shame, she crossed
her two beautiful arms on her breast to conceal it. Had it
not been for the flame which burned in her cheeks, at the
sight of her so silent and motionless, one would have.
declared her a statue of Modesty. Her eyes were lowered.
But the captain's gesture had revealed the mysterious amulet
which she wore about her neck.
"What is that?" he said, seizing this pretext to approach
once more the beautiful creature whom he had just alarmed.
"Don't touch it!" she replied, quickly, "'tis my guardian.
It will make me find my family again, if I remain worthy
to do so. Oh, leave me, monsieur le capitaine! My mother!
My poor mother! My mother! Where art thou? Come to
my rescue! Have pity, Monsieur Phoebus, give me back my
Phoebus retreated amid said in a cold tone,--
"Oh, mademoiselle! I see plainly that you do not love me!"
"I do not love him!" exclaimed the unhappy child, and at
the same time she clung to the captain, whom she drew to a
seat beside her. "I do not love thee, my Phoebus? What
art thou saying, wicked man, to break my heart? Oh, take
me! take all! do what you will with me, I am thine. What
matters to me the amulet! What matters to me my mother!
'Tis thou who art my mother since I love thee! Phoebus,
my beloved Phoebus, dost thou see me? 'Tis I. Look at me;
'tis the little one whom thou wilt surely not repulse, who
comes, who comes herself to seek thee. My soul, my life, my
body, my person, all is one thing--which is thine, my captain.
Well, no! We will not marry, since that displeases thee; and
then, what am I? a miserable girl of the gutters; whilst
thou, my Phoebus, art a gentleman. A fine thing, truly! A
dancer wed an officer! I was mad. No, Phoebus, no; I will be
thy mistress, thy amusement, thy pleasure, when thou wilt;
a girl who shall belong to thee. I was only made for that,
soiled, despised, dishonored, but what matters it?--beloved.
I shall be the proudest and the most joyous of women. And
when I grow old or ugly, Phoebus, when I am no longer good
to love you, you will suffer me to serve you still. Others
will embroider scarfs for you; 'tis I, the servant, who will
care for them. You will let me polish your spurs, brush your
doublet, dust your riding-boots. You will have that pity,
will you not, Phoebus? Meanwhile, take me! here, Phoebus,
all this belongs to thee, only love me! We gypsies need only
air and love."
So saying, she threw her arms round the officer's neck; she
looked up at him, supplicatingly, with a beautiful smile, and
all in tears. Her delicate neck rubbed against his cloth
doublet with its rough embroideries. She writhed on her
knees, her beautiful body half naked. The intoxicated captain
pressed his ardent lips to those lovely African shoulders.
The young girl, her eyes bent on the ceiling, as she leaned
backwards, quivered, all palpitating, beneath this kiss.
All at once, above Phoebus's head she beheld another head;
a green, livid, convulsed face, with the look of a lost soul;
near this face was a hand grasping a poniard.--It was the
face and hand of the priest; he had broken the door and he
was there. Phoebus could not see him. The young girl
remained motionless, frozen with terror, dumb, beneath that
terrible apparition, like a dove which should raise its head
at the moment when the hawk is gazing into her nest with its
She could not even utter a cry. She saw the poniard descend
upon Phoebus, and rise again, reeking.
"Maledictions!" said the captain, and fell.
At the moment when her eyes closed, when all feeling vanished
in her, she thought that she felt a touch of fire imprinted
upon her lips, a kiss more burning than the red-hot iron of
When she recovered her senses, she was surrounded by
soldiers of the watch they were carrying away the captain,
bathed in his blood the priest had disappeared; the window
at the back of the room which opened on the river was
wide open; they picked up a cloak which they supposed to
belong to the officer and she heard them saying around her,
"'Tis a sorceress who has stabbed a captain."
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
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
"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
"Who is that big red fellow, yonder above them, who is sweating?"
"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, be 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
"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
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
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,--
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
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 Châteaupers."
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
"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 Débonnaire
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
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
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
Châteaupers. 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!"
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
"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.
"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?"
"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?"
"You confess to having adored the heads of Bophomet, those
abominable idols of the Templars?"
"To having had habitual dealings with the devil under the
form of a goat familiar, joined with you in the suit?"
"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 Châteaupers?"
She raised her large, staring eyes to the magistrate, and
replied, as though mechanically, without convulsion or agitation,--
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,
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."
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
"Bohemian girl," the president continued, "have you avowed all
your deeds of magic, prostitution, and assassination on
Phoebus de Châteaupers."
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,
"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 Grève, ~seu in insula
exeunte in fluvio Secanoe, juxta pointam juardini regalis, executatoe
* The substance of this exordium is contained in the president's
He put on his cap again and seated himself.
"Eheu!" sighed the broken-hearted Gringoire, "~bassa latinitas~--bastard
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 Grève, 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 Châteaupers. May God have mercy on your soul!"
"Oh! 'tis a dream!" she murmured; and she felt rough hands bearing
~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
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?"
The words, the accent, the sound of his voice made her tremble.
The priest continued, in a hollow voice,--
"Are you prepared?"
"Oh!" said she, "will it be soon?"
Her head, which had been raised with joy, fell back upon
"'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
"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
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
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.
"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.
"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
"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 his foot. I became vagrant and wandering like yourself.
I waited for you under porches, I stood on the lookout for
you at the street corners, I watched for you from the summit
of my tower. Every evening I returned to myself more
charmed, more despairing, more bewitched, more lost!
"I had learned who you were; an Egyptian, Bohemian,
gypsy, zingara. How could I doubt the magic? Listen. I
hoped that a trial would free me from the charm. A witch
enchanted Bruno d'Ast; he had her burned, and was cured. I
knew it. I wanted to try the remedy. First I tried to have
you forbidden the square in front of Notre-Dame, hoping to
forget you if you returned no more. You paid no heed to it.
You returned. Then the idea of abducting you occurred to
me. One night I made the attempt. There were two of us.
We already had you in our power, when that miserable officer
came up. He delivered you. Thus did he begin your unhappiness,
mine, and his own. Finally, no longer knowing what to
do, and what was to become of me, I denounced you to the official.
"I thought that I should be cured like Bruno d'Ast. I also
had a confused idea that a trial would deliver you into my
hands; that, as a prisoner I should hold you, I should have
you; that there you could not escape from me; that you had
already possessed me a sufficiently long time to give me the
right to possess you in my turn. When one does wrong, one
must do it thoroughly. 'Tis madness to halt midway in the
monstrous! The extreme of crime has its deliriums of joy.
A priest and a witch can mingle in delight upon the truss of
straw in a dungeon!
"Accordingly, I denounced you. It was then that I terrified
you when we met. The plot which I was weaving against
you, the storm which I was heaping up above your head, burst
from me in threats and lightning glances. Still, I hesitated.
My project had its terrible sides which made me shrink back.
"Perhaps I might have renounced it; perhaps my hideous
thought would have withered in my brain, without bearing
fruit. I thought that it would always depend upon me to
follow up or discontinue this prosecution. But every evil
thought is inexorable, and insists on becoming a deed; but
where I believed myself to be all powerful, fate was more
powerful than I. Alas! 'tis fate which has seized you and
delivered you to the terrible wheels of the machine which I
had constructed doubly. Listen. I am nearing the end.
"One day,--again the sun was shining brilliantly--I behold
man pass me uttering your name and laughing, who carries
sensuality in his eyes. Damnation! I followed him; you
know the rest."
The young girl could find but one word:
"Oh, my Phoebus!"
"Not that name!" said the priest, grasping her arm
violently. "Utter not that name! Oh! miserable wretches
that we are, 'tis that name which has ruined us! or, rather
we have ruined each other by the inexplicable play of fate!
you are suffering, are you not? you are cold; the night makes
you blind, the dungeon envelops you; but perhaps you still
have some light in the bottom of your soul, were it only your
childish love for that empty man who played with your heart,
while I bear the dungeon within me; within me there is
winter, ice, despair; I have night in my soul.
"Do you know what I have suffered? I was present at your
trial. I was seated on the official's bench. Yes, under one of
the priests' cowls, there were the contortions of the
damned. When you were brought in, I was there; when you were
questioned, I was there.--Den of wolves!--It was my crime, it
was my gallows that I beheld being slowly reared over your
head. I was there for every witness, every proof, every plea;
I could count each of your steps in the painful path; I was
still there when that ferocious beast--oh! I had not foreseen
torture! Listen. I followed you to that chamber of anguish.
I beheld you stripped and handled, half naked, by the infamous
hands of the tormentor. I beheld your foot, that foot
which I would have given an empire to kiss and die, that
foot, beneath which to have had my head crushed I should have
felt such rapture,--I beheld it encased in that horrible boot,
which converts the limbs of a living being into one bloody
clod. Oh, wretch! while I looked on at that, I held beneath
my shroud a dagger, with which I lacerated my breast. When
you uttered that cry, I plunged it into my flesh; at a second
cry, it would have entered my heart. Look! I believe that it
He opened his cassock. His breast was in fact, mangled as
by the claw of a tiger, and on his side he had a large and
badly healed wound.
The prisoner recoiled with horror.
"Oh!" said the priest, "young girl, have pity upon me!
You think yourself unhappy; alas! alas! you know not what
unhappiness is. Oh! to love a woman! to be a priest! to be
hated! to love with all the fury of one's soul; to feel that one
would give for the least of her smiles, one's blood, one's vitals,
one's fame, one's salvation, one's immortality and eternity, this
life and the other; to regret that one is not a king, emperor,
archangel, God, in order that one might place a greater slave
beneath her feet; to clasp her night and day in one's dreams
and one's thoughts, and to behold her in love with the
trappings of a soldier and to have nothing to offer her but a
priest's dirty cassock, which will inspire her with fear and
disgust! To be present with one's jealousy and one's rage,
while she lavishes on a miserable, blustering imbecile,
treasures of love and beauty! To behold that body whose form
burns you, that bosom which possesses so much sweetness,
that flesh palpitate and blush beneath the kisses of another!
Oh heaven! to love her foot, her arm, her shoulder, to think
of her blue veins, of her brown skin, until one writhes for
whole nights together on the pavement of one's cell, and to
behold all those caresses which one has dreamed of, end in
torture! To have succeeded only in stretching her upon the
leather bed! Oh! these are the veritable pincers, reddened
in the fires of hell. Oh! blessed is he who is sawn between
two planks, or torn in pieces by four horses! Do you know
what that torture is, which is imposed upon you for long
nights by your burning arteries, your bursting heart, your
breaking head, your teeth-knawed hands; mad tormentors
which turn you incessantly, as upon a red-hot gridiron, to a
thought of love, of jealousy, and of despair! Young girl,
mercy! a truce for a moment! a few ashes on these live
coals! Wipe away, I beseech you, the perspiration which
trickles in great drops from my brow! Child! torture me
with one hand, but caress me with the other! Have pity,
young girl! Have pity upon me!"
The priest writhed on the wet pavement, beating his head
against the corners of the stone steps. The young girl gazed
at him, and listened to him.
When he ceased, exhausted and panting, she repeated in a
"Oh my Phoebus!"
The priest dragged himself towards her on his knees.
"I beseech you," he cried, "if you have any heart, do not
repulse me! Oh! I love you! I am a wretch! When you
utter that name, unhappy girl, it is as though you crushed all
the fibres of my heart between your teeth. Mercy! If you
come from hell I will go thither with you. I have done
everything to that end. The hell where you are, shall he
paradise; the sight of you is more charming than that of God!
Oh! speak! you will have none of me? I should have thought
the mountains would be shaken in their foundations on the
day when a woman would repulse such a love. Oh! if you
only would! Oh! how happy we might be. We would flee--I
would help you to flee,--we would go somewhere, we would
seek that spot on earth, where the sun is brightest, the sky
the bluest, where the trees are most luxuriant. We would
love each other, we would pour our two souls into each other,
and we would have a thirst for ourselves which we would
quench in common and incessantly at that fountain of
She interrupted with a terrible and thrilling laugh.
"Look, father, you have blood on your fingers!"
The priest remained for several moments as though petrified,
with his eyes fixed upon his hand.
"Well, yes!" he resumed at last, with strange gentleness,
"insult me, scoff at me, overwhelm me with scorn! but come,
come. Let us make haste. It is to be to-morrow, I tell you.
The gibbet on the Grève, you know it? it stands always
ready. It is horrible! to see you ride in that tumbrel! Oh
mercy! Until now I have never felt the power of my love
for you.--Oh! follow me. You shall take your time to love
me after I have saved you. You shall hate me as long as you
will. But come. To-morrow! to-morrow! the gallows! your
execution! Oh! save yourself! spare me!"
He seized her arm, he was beside himself, he tried to drag
She fixed her eye intently on him.
"What has become of my Phoebus?"
"Ah!" said the priest, releasing her arm, "you are pitiless."
"What has become of Phoebus?" she repeated coldly.
"He is dead!" cried the priest.
"Dead!" said she, still icy and motionless "then why do
you talk to me of living?"
He was not listening to her.
"Oh! yes," said he, as though speaking to himself, "he
certainly must be dead. The blade pierced deeply. I believe
I touched his heart with the point. Oh! my very soul was at
the end of the dagger!"
The young girl flung herself upon him like a raging tigress,
and pushed him upon the steps of the staircase with
"Begone, monster! Begone, assassin! Leave me to die!
May the blood of both of us make an eternal stain upon your
brow! Be thine, priest! Never! never! Nothing shall unite
us! not hell itself! Go, accursed man! Never!"
The priest had stumbled on the stairs. He silently disentangled
his feet from the folds of his robe, picked up his lantern
again, and slowly began the ascent of the steps which led
to the door; he opened the door and passed through it.
All at once, the young girl beheld his head reappear; it
wore a frightful expression, and he cried, hoarse with rage
"I tell you he is dead!"
She fell face downwards upon the floor, and there was no
longer any sound audible in the cell than the sob of the drop
of water which made the pool palpitate amid the darkness.
I do not believe that there is anything sweeter in the world
than the ideas which awake in a mother's heart at the sight
of her child's tiny shoe; especially if it is a shoe for
festivals, for Sunday, for baptism, the shoe embroidered to the
very sole, a shoe in which the infant has not yet taken a step.
That shoe has so much grace and daintiness, it is so impossible
for it to walk, that it seems to the mother as though she saw her
child. She smiles upon it, she kisses it, she talks to it; she
asks herself whether there can actually be a foot so tiny; and
if the child be absent, the pretty shoe suffices to place the
sweet and fragile creature before her eyes. She thinks she
sees it, she does see it, complete, living, joyous, with its
delicate hands, its round head, its pure lips, its serene eyes
whose white is blue. If it is in winter, it is yonder, crawling
on the carpet, it is laboriously climbing upon an ottoman, and the
mother trembles lest it should approach the fire. If it is summer
time, it crawls about the yard, in the garden, plucks up the
grass between the paving-stones, gazes innocently at the big
dogs, the big horses, without fear, plays with the shells, with
the flowers, and makes the gardener grumble because he finds
sand in the flower-beds and earth in the paths. Everything
laughs, and shines and plays around it, like it, even the breath
of air and the ray of sun which vie with each other in disporting
among the silky ringlets of its hair. The shoe shows all this
to the mother, and makes her heart melt as fire melts wax.
But when the child is lost, these thousand images of joy,
of charms, of tenderness, which throng around the little shoe,
become so many horrible things. The pretty broidered shoe
is no longer anything but an instrument of torture which
eternally crushes the heart of the mother. It is always the
same fibre which vibrates, the tenderest and most sensitive;
but instead of an angel caressing it, it is a demon who is
wrenching at it.
One May morning, when the sun was rising on one of those
dark blue skies against which Garofolo loves to place his
Descents from the Cross, the recluse of the Tour-Roland heard
a sound of wheels, of horses and irons in the Place de Grève.
She was somewhat aroused by it, knotted her hair upon her
ears in order to deafen herself, and resumed her contemplation,
on her knees, of the inanimate object which she had
adored for fifteen years. This little shoe was the universe
to her, as we have already said. Her thought was shut up in
it, and was destined never more to quit it except at death.
The sombre cave of the Tour-Roland alone knew how many bitter
imprecations, touching complaints, prayers and sobs she had
wafted to heaven in connection with that charming bauble of
rose-colored satin. Never was more despair bestowed upon a
prettier and more graceful thing.
It seemed as though her grief were breaking forth more
violently than usual; and she could be heard outside
lamenting in a loud and monotonous voice which rent the heart.
"Oh my daughter!" she said, "my daughter, my poor, dear
little child, so I shall never see thee more! It is over!
It always seems to me that it happened yesterday! My God!
my God! it would have been better not to give her to me
than to take her away so soon. Did you not know that our
children are part of ourselves, and that a mother who has lost
her child no longer believes in God? Ah! wretch that I am
to have gone out that day! Lord! Lord! to have taken her
from me thus; you could never have looked at me with her,
when I was joyously warming her at my fire, when she
laughed as she suckled, when I made her tiny feet creep up
my breast to my lips? Oh! if you had looked at that, my
God, you would have taken pity on my joy; you would not
have taken from me the only love which lingered, in my heart!
Was I then, Lord, so miserable a creature, that you could not
look at me before condemning me?--Alas! Alas! here is the
shoe; where is the foot? where is the rest? Where is the
child? My daughter! my daughter! what did they do with
thee? Lord, give her back to me. My knees have been
worn for fifteen years in praying to thee, my God! Is not
that enough? Give her back to me one day, one hour, one
minute; one minute, Lord! and then cast me to the demon for
all eternity! Oh! if I only knew where the skirt of your
garment trails, I would cling to it with both hands, and you
would be obliged to give me back my child! Have you no
pity on her pretty little shoe? Could you condemn a poor
mother to this torture for fifteen years? Good Virgin! good
Virgin of heaven! my infant Jesus has been taken from me,
has been stolen from me; they devoured her on a heath, they
drank her blood, they cracked her bones! Good Virgin, have
pity upon me. My daughter, I want my daughter! What is
it to me that she is in paradise? I do not want your angel, I
want my child! I am a lioness, I want my whelp. Oh! I will
writhe on the earth, I will break the stones with my forehead,
and I will damn myself, and I will curse you, Lord, if you
keep my child from me! you see plainly that my arms are all
bitten, Lord! Has the good God no mercy?--Oh! give me
only salt and black bread, only let me have my daughter to
warm me like a sun! Alas! Lord my God. Alas! Lord my
God, I am only a vile sinner; but my daughter made me pious.
I was full of religion for the love of her, and I beheld you
through her smile as through an opening into heaven. Oh!
if I could only once, just once more, a single time, put this
shoe on her pretty little pink foot, I would die blessing you,
good Virgin. Ah! fifteen years! she will be grown up now!
--Unhappy child! what! it is really true then I shall never
see her more, not even in heaven, for I shall not go there
myself. Oh! what misery to think that here is her shoe,
and that that is all!"
The unhappy woman flung herself upon that shoe; her
consolation and her despair for so many years, and her vitals
were rent with sobs as on the first day; because, for a mother
who has lost her child, it is always the first day. That grief
never grows old. The mourning garments may grow white and
threadbare, the heart remains dark.
At that moment, the fresh and joyous cries of children
passed in front of the cell. Every time that children crossed
her vision or struck her ear, the poor mother flung herself into
the darkest corner of her sepulchre, and one would have said,
that she sought to plunge her head into the stone in order not
to hear them. This time, on the contrary, she drew herself
upright with a start, and listened eagerly. One of the little
boys had just said,--
"They are going to hang a gypsy to-day."
With the abrupt leap of that spider which we have seen
fling itself upon a fly at the trembling of its web, she rushed
to her air-hole, which opened as the reader knows, on the
Place de Grève. A ladder had, in fact, been raised up against
the permanent gibbet, and the hangman's assistant was busying
himself with adjusting the chains which had been rusted
by the rain. There were some people standing about.
The laughing group of children was already far away. The
sacked nun sought with her eyes some passer-by whom she
might question. All at once, beside her cell, she perceived a
priest making a pretext of reading the public breviary, but
who was much less occupied with the "lectern of latticed
iron," than with the gallows, toward which he cast a fierce
and gloomy glance from time to time. She recognized monsieur
the archdeacon of Josas, a holy man.
"Father," she inquired, "whom are they about to hang yonder?"
The priest looked at her and made no reply; she repeated
her question. Then he said,--
"I know not."
"Some children said that it was a gypsy," went on the recluse.
"I believe so," said the priest.
Then Paquette la Chantefleurie burst into hyena-like laughter.
"Sister," said the archdeacon, "do you then hate the
"Do I hate them!" exclaimed the recluse, " they are vampires,
stealers of children! They devoured my little daughter,
my child, my only child! I have no longer any heart,
they devoured it!"
She was frightful. The priest looked at her coldly.
"There is one in particular whom I hate, and whom I have
cursed," she resumed; "it is a young one, of the age which
my daughter would be if her mother had not eaten my daughter.
Every time that that young viper passes in front of my cell,
she sets my blood in a ferment."
"Well, sister, rejoice," said the priest, icy as a sepulchral
statue; "that is the one whom you are about to see die."
His head fell upon his bosom and he moved slowly away.
The recluse writhed her arms with joy.
"I predicted it for her, that she would ascend thither!
Thanks, priest!" she cried.
And she began to pace up and down with long strides
before the grating of her window, her hair dishevelled, her
eyes flashing, with her shoulder striking against the wall,
with the wild air of a female wolf in a cage, who has long
been famished, and who feels the hour for her repast drawing near.
THREE HUMAN HEARTS DIFFERENTLY CONSTRUCTED.
Phoebus was not dead, however. Men of that stamp die
hard. When Master Philippe Lheulier, advocate extraordinary
of the king, had said to poor Esmeralda; "He is dying,"
it was an error or a jest. When the archdeacon had repeated
to the condemned girl; "He is dead," the fact is that he
knew nothing about it, but that he believed it, that he
counted on it, that he did not doubt it, that he devoutly
hoped it. It would have been too hard for him to give
favorable news of his rival to the woman whom he loved.
Any man would have done the same in his place.
It was not that Phoebus's wound had not been serious, but
it had not been as much so as the archdeacon believed. The
physician, to whom the soldiers of the watch had carried him
at the first moment, had feared for his life during the space
of a week, and had even told him so in Latin. But youth
had gained the upper hand; and, as frequently happens, in
spite of prognostications and diagnoses, nature had amused
herself by saving the sick man under the physician's very
nose. It was while he was still lying on the leech's pallet
that he had submitted to the interrogations of Philippe
Lheulier and the official inquisitors, which had annoyed him
greatly. Hence, one fine morning, feeling himself better,
he had left his golden spurs with the leech as payment, and
had slipped away. This had not, however, interfered with
the progress of the affair. Justice, at that epoch, troubled
itself very little about the clearness and definiteness of a
criminal suit. Provided that the accused was hung, that was
all that was necessary. Now the judge had plenty of proofs
against la Esmeralda. They had supposed Phoebus to be
dead, and that was the end of the matter.
Phoebus, on his side, had not fled far. He had simply
rejoined his company in garrison at Queue-en-Brie, in the
Isle-de-France, a few stages from Paris.
After all, it did not please him in the least to appear in
this suit. He had a vague feeling that be should play a
ridiculous figure in it. On the whole, he did not know
what to think of the whole affair. Superstitious, and not
given to devoutness, like every soldier who is only a soldier,
when he came to question himself about this adventure, he
did not feel assured as to the goat, as to the singular fashion
in which he had met La Esmeralda, as to the no less strange
manner in which she had allowed him to divine her love, as
to her character as a gypsy, and lastly, as to the surly monk.
He perceived in all these incidents much more magic than
love, probably a sorceress, perhaps the devil; a comedy,
in short, or to speak in the language of that day, a very
disagreeable mystery, in which he played a very awkward part,
the role of blows and derision. The captain was quite put
out of countenance about it; he experienced that sort of
shame which our La Fontaine has so admirably defined,--
Ashamed as a fox who has been caught by a fowl.
Moreover, he hoped that the affair would not get noised
abroad, that his name would hardly be pronounced in it,
and that in any case it would not go beyond the courts of the
Tournelle. In this he was not mistaken, there was then no
"Gazette des Tribunaux;" and as not a week passed which had
not its counterfeiter to boil, or its witch to hang, or its
heretic to burn, at some one of the innumerable justices of Paris,
people were so accustomed to seeing in all the squares the
ancient feudal Themis, bare armed, with sleeves stripped up,
performing her duty at the gibbets, the ladders, and the
pillories, that they hardly paid any heed to it. Fashionable
society of that day hardly knew the name of the victim who
passed by at the corner of the street, and it was the populace
at the most who regaled themselves with this coarse fare. An
execution was an habitual incident of the public highways,
like the braising-pan of the baker or the slaughter-house of
the knacker. The executioner was only a sort of butcher of
a little deeper dye than the rest.
Hence Phoebus's mind was soon at ease on the score of the
enchantress Esmeralda, or Similar, as he called her, concerning
the blow from the dagger of the Bohemian or of the surly
monk (it mattered little which to him), and as to the issue of
the trial. But as soon as his heart was vacant in that
direction, Fleur-de-Lys returned to it. Captain Phoebus's
heart, like the physics of that day, abhorred a vacuum.
Queue-en-Brie was a very insipid place to stay at then, a
village of farriers, and cow-girls with chapped hands, a long
line of poor dwellings and thatched cottages, which borders
the grand road on both sides for half a league; a tail (queue),
in short, as its name imports.
Fleur-de-Lys was his last passion but one, a pretty girl, a
charming dowry; accordingly, one fine morning, quite cured,
and assuming that, after the lapse of two months, the
Bohemian affair must be completely finished and forgotten,
the amorous cavalier arrived on a prancing horse at the
door of the Gondelaurier mansion.
He paid no attention to a tolerably numerous rabble which
had assembled in the Place du Parvis, before the portal of
Notre-Dame; he remembered that it was the month of May;
he supposed that it was some procession, some Pentecost, some
festival, hitched his horse to the ring at the door, and gayly
ascended the stairs to his beautiful betrothed.
She was alone with her mother.
The scene of the witch, her goat, her cursed alphabet, and
Phoebus's long absences, still weighed on Fleur-de-Lys's heart.
Nevertheless, when she beheld her captain enter, she thought
him so handsome, his doublet so new, his baldrick so shining,
and his air so impassioned, that she blushed with pleasure.
The noble damsel herself was more charming than ever. Her
magnificent blond hair was plaited in a ravishing manner, she
was dressed entirely in that sky blue which becomes fair
people so well, a bit of coquetry which she had learned from
Colombe, and her eyes were swimming in that languor of love
which becomes them still better.
Phoebus, who had seen nothing in the line of beauty, since
he left the village maids of Queue-en-Brie, was intoxicated
with Fleur-de-Lys, which imparted to our officer so eager and
gallant an air, that his peace was immediately made. Madame
de Gondelaurier herself, still maternally seated in her big arm-
chair, had not the heart to scold him. As for Fleur-de-Lys's
reproaches, they expired in tender cooings.
The young girl was seated near the window still embroidering
her grotto of Neptune. The captain was leaning over the
back of her chair, and she was addressing her caressing
reproaches to him in a low voice.
"What has become of you these two long months, wicked man?"
"I swear to you," replied Phoebus, somewhat embarrassed
by the question, "that you are beautiful enough to set an
archbishop to dreaming."
She could not repress a smile.
"Good, good, sir. Let my beauty alone and answer my
question. A fine beauty, in sooth!"
"Well, my dear cousin, I was recalled to the garrison.
"And where is that, if you please? and why did not you