Part 8 out of 13
health's sake." He shook his head, and at times read attentively a
portion treating of heart-disease in Aviccunas, translated by Vossiscus
Fortunatus, Louvain, 1650, an old worm-eaten book of his.
Dea, when fatigued, suffered from perspirations and drowsiness, and took
a daily _siesta_, as we have already seen. One day, while she was lying
asleep on the bearskin, Gwynplaine was out, and Ursus bent down softly
and applied his ear to Dea's heart. He seemed to listen for a few
minutes, and then stood up, murmuring, "She must not have any shock. It
would find out the weak place."
The crowd continued to flock to the performance of "Chaos Vanquished."
The success of the Laughing Man seemed inexhaustible. Every one rushed
to see him; no longer from Southwark only, but even from other parts of
London. The general public began to mingle with the usual audience,
which no longer consisted of sailors and drivers only; in the opinion of
Master Nicless, who was well acquainted with crowds, there were in the
crowd gentlemen and baronets disguised as common people. Disguise is one
of the pleasures of pride, and was much in fashion at that period. This
mixing of the aristocratic element with the mob was a good sign, and
showed that their popularity was extending to London. The fame of
Gwynplaine has decidedly penetrated into the great world. Such was the
fact. Nothing was talked of but the Laughing Man. He was talked about
even at the Mohawk Club, frequented by noblemen.
In the Green Box they had no idea of all this. They were content to be
happy. It was intoxication to Dea to feel, as she did every evening, the
crisp and tawny head of Gwynplaine. In love there is nothing like habit.
The whole of life is concentrated in it. The reappearance of the stars
is the custom of the universe. Creation is nothing but a mistress, and
the sun is a lover. Light is a dazzling caryatid supporting the world.
Each day, for a sublime minute, the earth, covered by night, rests on
the rising sun. Dea, blind, felt a like return of warmth and hope within
her when she placed her hand on the head of Gwynplaine.
To adore each other in the shadows, to love in the plenitude of silence;
who could not become reconciled to such an eternity?
One evening Gwynplaine, feeling within him that overflow of felicity
which, like the intoxication of perfumes, causes a sort of delicious
faintness, was strolling, as he usually did after the performance, in
the meadow some hundred paces from the Green Box. Sometimes in those
high tides of feeling in our souls we feel that we would fain pour out
the sensations of the overflowing heart. The night was dark but clear.
The stars were shining. The whole fair-ground was deserted. Sleep and
forgetfulness reigned in the caravans which were scattered over
One light alone was unextinguished. It was the lamp of the Tadcaster
Inn, the door of which was left ajar to admit Gwynplaine on his return.
Midnight had just struck in the five parishes of Southwark, with the
breaks and differences of tone of their various bells. Gwynplaine was
dreaming of Dea. Of whom else should he dream? But that evening, feeling
singularly troubled, and full of a charm which was at the same time a
pang, he thought of Dea as a man thinks of a woman. He reproached
himself for this. It seemed to be failing in respect to her. The
husband's attack was forming dimly within him. Sweet and imperious
impatience! He was crossing the invisible frontier, on this side of
which is the virgin, on the other, the wife. He questioned himself
anxiously. A blush, as it were, overspread his mind. The Gwynplaine of
long ago had been transformed, by degrees, unconsciously in a mysterious
growth. His old modesty was becoming misty and uneasy. We have an ear of
light, into which speaks the spirit; and an ear of darkness, into which
speaks the instinct. Into the latter strange voices were making their
proposals. However pure-minded may be the youth who dreams of love, a
certain grossness of the flesh eventually comes between his dream and
him. Intentions lose their transparency. The unavowed desire implanted
by nature enters into his conscience. Gwynplaine felt an indescribable
yearning of the flesh, which abounds in all temptation, and Dea was
scarcely flesh. In this fever, which he knew to be unhealthy, he
transfigured Dea into a more material aspect, and tried to exaggerate
her seraphic form into feminine loveliness. It is thou, O woman, that we
Love comes not to permit too much of paradise. It requires the fevered
skin, the troubled life, the unbound hair, the kiss electrical and
irreparable, the clasp of desire. The sidereal is embarrassing, the
ethereal is heavy. Too much of the heavenly in love is like too much
fuel on a fire: the flame suffers from it. Gwynplaine fell into an
exquisite nightmare; Dea to be clasped in his arms--Dea clasped in them!
He heard nature in his heart crying out for a woman. Like a Pygmalion in
a dream modelling a Galathea out of the azure, in the depths of his soul
he worked at the chaste contour of Dea--a contour with too much of
heaven, too little of Eden. For Eden is Eve, and Eve was a female, a
carnal mother, a terrestrial nurse; the sacred womb of generations; the
breast of unfailing milk; the rocker of the cradle of the newborn world,
and wings are incompatible with the bosom of woman. Virginity is but the
hope of maternity. Still, in Gwynplaine's dreams, Dea, until now, had
been enthroned above flesh. Now, however, he made wild efforts in
thought to draw her downwards by that thread, sex, which ties every girl
to earth. Not one of those birds is free. Dea, like all the rest, was
within this law; and Gwynplaine, though he scarcely acknowledged it,
felt a vague desire that she should submit to it. This desire possessed
him in spite of himself, and with an ever-recurring relapse. He pictured
Dea as woman. He came to the point of regarding her under a hitherto
unheard-of form; as a creature no longer of ecstasy only, but of
voluptuousness; as Dea, with her head resting on the pillow. He was
ashamed of this visionary desecration. It was like an attempt at
profanation. He resisted its assault. He turned from it, but it returned
again. He felt as if he were committing a criminal assault. To him Dea
was encompassed by a cloud. Cleaving that cloud, he shuddered, as though
he were raising her chemise. It was in April. The spine has its dreams.
He rambled at random with the uncertain step caused by solitude. To have
no one by is a provocative to wander. Whither flew his thoughts? He
would not have dared to own it to himself. To heaven? No. To a bed. You
were looking down upon him, O ye stars.
Why talk of a man in love? Rather say a man possessed. To be possessed
by the devil, is the exception; to be possessed by a woman, the rule.
Every man has to bear this alienation of himself. What a sorceress is a
pretty woman! The true name of love is captivity.
Man is made prisoner by the soul of a woman; by her flesh as well, and
sometimes even more by the flesh than by the soul. The soul is the true
love, the flesh, the mistress.
We slander the devil. It was not he who tempted Eve. It was Eve who
tempted him. The woman began. Lucifer was passing by quietly. He
perceived the woman, and became Satan.
The flesh is the cover of the unknown. It is provocative (which is
strange) by its modesty. Nothing could be more distracting. It is full
of shame, the hussey!
It was the terrible love of the surface which was then agitating
Gwynplaine, and holding him in its power. Fearful the moment in which
man covets the nakedness of woman! What dark things lurk beneath the
fairness of Venus!
Something within him was calling Dea aloud, Dea the maiden, Dea the
other half of a man, Dea flesh and blood, Dea with uncovered bosom. That
cry was almost driving away the angel. Mysterious crisis through which
all love must pass and in which the Ideal is in danger! Therein is the
predestination of Creation. Moment of heavenly corruption! Gwynplaine's
love of Dea was becoming nuptial. Virgin love is but a transition. The
moment was come. Gwynplaine coveted the woman.
He coveted a woman!
Precipice of which one sees but the first gentle slope!
The indistinct summons of nature is inexorable. The whole of woman--what
Luckily, there was no woman for Gwynplaine but Dea--the only one he
desired, the only one who could desire him.
Gwynplaine felt that vague and mighty shudder which is the vital claim
of infinity. Besides there was the aggravation of the spring. He was
breathing the nameless odours of the starry darkness. He walked forward
in a wild feeling of delight. The wandering perfumes of the rising sap,
the heady irradiations which float in shadow, the distant opening of
nocturnal flowers, the complicity of little hidden nests, the murmurs of
waters and of leaves, soft sighs rising from all things, the freshness,
the warmth, and the mysterious awakening of April and May, is the vast
diffusion of sex murmuring, in whispers, their proposals of
voluptuousness, till the soul stammers in answer to the giddy
provocation. The ideal no longer knows what it is saying.
Any one observing Gwynplaine walk would have said, "See!--a drunken
He almost staggered under the weight of his own heart, of spring, and of
The solitude in the bowling-green was so peaceful that at times he spoke
aloud. The consciousness that there is no listener induces speech.
He walked with slow steps, his head bent down, his hands behind him, the
left hand in the right, the fingers open.
Suddenly he felt something slipped between his fingers.
He turned round quickly.
In his hand was a paper, and in front of him a man.
It was the man who, coming behind him with the stealth of a cat, had
placed the paper in his fingers.
The paper was a letter.
The man, as he appeared pretty clearly in the starlight, was small,
chubby-cheeked, young, sedate, and dressed in a scarlet livery, exposed
from top to toe through the opening of a long gray cloak, then called a
capenoche, a Spanish word contracted; in French it was _cape-de-nuit_.
His head was covered by a crimson cap, like the skull-cap of a cardinal,
on which servitude was indicated by a strip of lace. On this cap was a
plume of tisserin feathers. He stood motionless before Gwynplaine, like
a dark outline in a dream.
Gwynplaine recognized the duchess's page.
Before Gwynplaine could utter an exclamation of surprise, he heard the
thin voice of the page, at once childlike and feminine in its tone,
saying to him,--
"At this hour to-morrow, be at the corner of London Bridge. I will be
there to conduct you--"
"Whither?" demanded Gwynplaine.
"Where you are expected."
Gwynplaine dropped his eyes on the letter, which he was holding
mechanically in his hand.
When he looked up the page was no longer with him.
He perceived a vague form lessening rapidly in the distance. It was the
little valet. He turned the corner of the street, and solitude reigned
Gwynplaine saw the page vanish, then looked at the letter. There are
moments in our lives when what happens seems not to happen. Stupor keeps
us for a moment at a distance from the fact.
Gwynplaine raised the letter to his eyes, as if to read it, but soon
perceived that he could not do so for two reasons--first, because he had
not broken the seal; and, secondly, because it was too dark.
It was some minutes before he remembered that there was a lamp at the
inn. He took a few steps sideways, as if he knew not whither he was
A somnambulist, to whom a phantom had given a letter, might walk as he
At last he made up his mind. He ran rather than walked towards the inn,
stood in the light which broke through the half-open door, and by it
again examined the closed letter. There was no design on the seal, and
on the envelope was written, "_To Gwynplaine_." He broke the seal, tore
the envelope, unfolded the letter, put it directly under the light, and
read as follows:--
"You are hideous; I am beautiful. You are a player; I am a duchess. I am
the highest; you are the lowest. I desire you! I love you! Come!"
BOOK THE FOURTH.
_THE CELL OF TORTURE._
THE TEMPTATION OF ST. GWYNPLAINE.
One jet of flame hardly makes a prick in the darkness; another sets fire
to a volcano.
Some sparks are gigantic.
Gwynplaine read the letter, then he read it over again. Yes, the words
were there, "I love you!"
Terrors chased each other through his mind.
The first was, that he believed himself to be mad.
He was mad; that was certain: He had just seen what had no existence.
The twilight spectres were making game of him, poor wretch! The little
man in scarlet was the will-o'-the-wisp of a dream. Sometimes, at night,
nothings condensed into flame come and laugh at us. Having had his laugh
out, the visionary being had disappeared, and left Gwynplaine behind
Such are the freaks of darkness.
The second terror was, to find out that he was in his right senses.
A vision? Certainly not. How could that be? Had he not a letter in his
hand? Did he not see an envelope, a seal, paper, and writing? Did he not
know from whom that came? It was all clear enough. Some one took a pen
and ink, and wrote. Some one lighted a taper, and sealed it with wax.
Was not his name written on the letter--"_To Gwynplaine_?" The paper was
scented. All was clear.
Gwynplaine knew the little man. The dwarf was a page. The gleam was a
livery. The page had given him a rendezvous for the same hour on the
morrow, at the corner of London Bridge.
Was London Bridge an illusion?
No, no. All was clear. There was no delirium. All was reality.
Gwynplaine was perfectly clear in his intellect. It was not a
phantasmagoria, suddenly dissolving above his head, and fading into
nothingness. It was something which had really happened to him. No,
Gwynplaine was not mad, nor was he dreaming. Again he read the letter.
Well, yes! But then?
That then was terror-striking.
There was a woman who desired him! If so, let no one ever again
pronounce the word incredible! A woman desire him! A woman who had seen
his face! A woman who was not blind! And who was this woman? An ugly
one? No; a beauty. A gipsy? No; a duchess!
What was it all about, and what could it all mean? What peril in such a
triumph! And how was he to help plunging into it headlong?
What! that woman! The siren, the apparition, the lady in the visionary
box, the light in the darkness! It was she! Yes; it was she!
The crackling of the fire burst out in every part of his frame. It was
the strange, unknown lady, she who had previously so troubled his
thoughts; and his first tumultuous feelings about this woman returned,
heated by the evil fire. Forgetfulness is nothing but a palimpsest: an
incident happens unexpectedly, and all that was effaced revives in the
blanks of wondering memory.
Gwynplaine thought that he had dismissed that image from his
remembrance, and he found that it was still there; and she had put her
mark in his brain, unconsciously guilty of a dream. Without his
suspecting it, the lines of the engraving had been bitten deep by
reverie. And now a certain amount of evil had been done, and this train
of thought, thenceforth, perhaps, irreparable, he took up again eagerly.
What! she desired him! What! the princess descend from her throne, the
idol from its shrine, the statue from its pedestal, the phantom from its
cloud! What! from the depths of the impossible had this chimera come!
This deity of the sky! This irradiation! This nereid all glistening
with jewels! This proud and unattainable beauty, from the height of her
radiant throne, was bending down to Gwynplaine! What! had she drawn up
her chariot of the dawn, with its yoke of turtle-doves and dragons,
before Gwynplaine, and said to him, "Come!" What! this terrible glory of
being the object of such abasement from the empyrean, for Gwynplaine!
This woman, if he could give that name to a form so starlike and
majestic, this woman proposed herself, gave herself, delivered herself
up to him! Wonder of wonders! A goddess prostituting herself for him!
The arms of a courtesan opening in a cloud to clasp him to the bosom of
a goddess, and that without degradation! Such majestic creatures cannot
be sullied. The gods bathe themselves pure in light; and this goddess
who came to him knew what she was doing. She was not ignorant of the
incarnate hideousness of Gwynplaine. She had seen the mask which was his
face; and that mask had not caused her to draw back. Gwynplaine was
loved notwithstanding it!
Here was a thing surpassing all the extravagance of dreams. He was loved
in consequence of his mask. Far from repulsing the goddess, the mask
attracted her. Gwynplaine was not only loved; he was desired. He was
more than accepted; he was chosen. He, chosen!
What! there, where this woman dwelt, in the regal region of
irresponsible splendour, and in the power of full, free will; where
there were princes, and she could take a prince; nobles, and she could
take a noble; where there were men handsome, charming, magnificent, and
she could take an Adonis: whom did she take? Gnafron! She could choose
from the midst of meteors and thunders, the mighty six-winged seraphim,
and she chose the larva crawling in the slime. On one side were
highnesses and peers, all grandeur, all opulence, all glory; on the
other, a mountebank. The mountebank carried it! What kind of scales
could there be in the heart of this woman? By what measure did she weigh
her love? She took off her ducal coronet, and flung it on the platform
of a clown! She took from her brow the Olympian aureola, and placed it
on the bristly head of a gnome! The world had turned topsy-turvy. The
insects swarmed on high, the stars were scattered below, whilst the
wonder-stricken Gwynplaine, overwhelmed by a falling ruin of light, and
lying in the dust, was enshrined in a glory. One all-powerful,
revolting against beauty and splendour, gave herself to the damned of
night; preferred Gwynplaine to Antinoues; excited by curiosity, she
entered the shadows, and descending within them, and from this
abdication of goddess-ship was rising, crowned and prodigious, the
royalty of the wretched. "You are hideous. I love you." These words
touched Gwynplaine in the ugly spot of pride. Pride is the heel in which
all heroes are vulnerable. Gwynplaine was flattered in his vanity as a
monster. He was loved for his deformity. He, too, was the exception, as
much and perhaps more than the Jupiters and the Apollos. He felt
superhuman, and so much a monster as to be a god. Fearful bewilderment!
Now, who was this woman? What did he know about her? Everything and
nothing. She was a duchess, that he knew; he knew, also, that she was
beautiful and rich; that she had liveries, lackeys, pages, and footmen
running with torches by the side of her coroneted carriage. He knew that
she was in love with him; at least she said so. Of everything else he
was ignorant. He knew her title, but not her name. He knew her thought;
he knew not her life. Was she married, widow, maiden? Was she free? Of
what family was she? Were there snares, traps, dangers about her? Of the
gallantry existing on the idle heights of society; the caves on those
summits, in which savage charmers dream amid the scattered skeletons of
the loves which they have already preyed on; of the extent of tragic
cynicism to which the experiments of a woman may attain who believes
herself to be beyond the reach of man--of things such as these
Gwynplaine had no idea. Nor had he even in his mind materials out of
which to build up a conjecture, information concerning such things being
very scanty in the social depths in which he lived. Still he detected a
shadow; he felt that a mist hung over all this brightness. Did he
understand it? No. Could he guess at it? Still less. What was there
behind that letter? One pair of folding doors opening before him,
another closing on him, and causing him a vague anxiety. On the one side
an avowal; on the other an enigma--avowal and enigma, which, like two
mouths, one tempting, the other threatening, pronounce the same word,
Never had perfidious chance taken its measures better, nor timed more
fitly the moment of temptation. Gwynplaine, stirred by spring, and by
the sap rising in all things, was prompt to dream the dream of the
flesh. The old man who is not to be stamped out, and over whom none of
us can triumph, was awaking in that backward youth, still a boy at
It was just then, at the most stormy moment of the crisis, that the
offer was made him, and the naked bosom of the Sphinx appeared before
his dazzled eyes. Youth is an inclined plane. Gwynplaine was stooping,
and something pushed him forward. What? the season, and the night. Who?
Were there no month of April, man would be a great deal more virtuous.
The budding plants are a set of accomplices! Love is the thief, Spring
Gwynplaine was shaken.
There is a kind of smoke of evil, preceding sin, in which the conscience
cannot breathe. The obscure nausea of hell comes over virtue in
temptation. The yawning abyss discharges an exhalation which warns the
strong and turns the weak giddy. Gwynplaine was suffering its mysterious
Dilemmas, transient and at the same time stubborn, were floating before
him. Sin, presenting itself obstinately again and again to his mind, was
taking form. The morrow, midnight? London Bridge, the page? Should he
go? "Yes," cried the flesh; "No," cried the soul.
Nevertheless, we must remark that, strange as it may appear at first
sight, he never once put himself the question, "Should he go?" quite
distinctly. Reprehensible actions are like over-strong brandies--you
cannot swallow them at a draught. You put down your glass; you will see
to it presently; there is a strange taste even about that first drop.
One thing is certain: he felt something behind him pushing him, forward
towards the unknown. And he trembled. He could catch a glimpse of a
crumbling precipice, and he drew back, stricken by the terror encircling
him. He closed his eyes. He tried hard to deny to himself that the
adventure had ever occurred, and to persuade himself into doubting his
reason. This was evidently his best plan; the wisest thing he could do
was to believe himself mad.
Fatal fever! Every man, surprised by the unexpected, has at times felt
the throb of such tragic pulsations. The observer ever listens with
anxiety to the echoes resounding from the dull strokes of the
battering-ram of destiny striking against a conscience.
Alas! Gwynplaine put himself questions. Where duty is clear, to put
oneself questions is to suffer defeat.
There are invasions which the mind may have to suffer. There are the
Vandals of the soul--evil thoughts coming to devastate our virtue. A
thousand contrary ideas rushed into Gwynplaine's brain, now following
each other singly, now crowding together. Then silence reigned again,
and he would lean his head on his hands, in a kind of mournful
attention, as of one who contemplates a landscape by night.
Suddenly he felt that he was no longer thinking. His reverie had reached
that point of utter darkness in which all things disappear.
He remembered, too, that he had not entered the inn. It might be about
two o'clock in the morning.
He placed the letter which the page had brought him in his side-pocket;
but perceiving that it was next his heart, he drew it out again,
crumpled it up, and placed it in a pocket of his hose. He then directed
his steps towards the inn, which he entered stealthily, and without
awaking little Govicum, who, while waiting up for him, had fallen asleep
on the table, with his arms for a pillow. He closed the door, lighted a
candle at the lamp, fastened the bolt, turned the key in the lock,
taking, mechanically, all the precautions usual to a man returning home
late, ascended the staircase of the Green Box, slipped into the old
hovel which he used as a bedroom, looked at Ursus who was asleep, blew
out his candle, and did not go to bed.
Thus an hour passed away. Weary, at length, and fancying that bed and
sleep were one, he laid his head upon the pillow without undressing,
making darkness the concession of closing his eyes. But the storm of
emotions which assailed him had not waned for an instant. Sleeplessness
is a cruelty which night inflicts on man. Gwynplaine suffered greatly.
For the first time in his life, he was not pleased with himself. Ache of
heart mingled with gratified vanity. What was he to do? Day broke at
last; he heard Ursus get up, but did not raise his eyelids. No truce for
him, however. The letter was ever in his mind. Every word of it came
back to him in a kind of chaos. In certain violent storms within the
soul thought becomes a liquid. It is convulsed, it heaves, and
something rises from it, like the dull roaring of the waves. Flood and
flow, sudden shocks and whirls, the hesitation of the wave before the
rock; hail and rain clouds with the light shining through their breaks;
the petty flights of useless foam; wild swell broken in an instant;
great efforts lost; wreck appearing all around; darkness and universal
dispersion--as these things are of the sea, so are they of man.
Gwynplaine was a prey to such a storm.
At the acme of his agony, his eyes still closed, he heard an exquisite
voice saying, "Are you asleep, Gwynplaine?" He opened his eyes with a
start, and sat up. Dea was standing in the half-open doorway. Her
ineffable smile was in her eyes and on her lips. She was standing there,
charming in the unconscious serenity of her radiance. Then came, as it
were, a sacred moment. Gwynplaine watched her, startled, dazzled,
awakened. Awakened from what?--from sleep? no, from sleeplessness. It
was she, it was Dea; and suddenly he felt in the depths of his being the
indescribable wane of the storm and the sublime descent of good over
evil; the miracle of the look from on high was accomplished; the blind
girl, the sweet light-bearer, with no effort beyond her mere presence,
dissipated all the darkness within him; the curtain of cloud was
dispersed from the soul as if drawn by an invisible hand, and a sky of
azure, as though by celestial enchantment, again spread over
Gwynplaine's conscience. In a moment he became by the virtue of that
angel, the great and good Gwynplaine, the innocent man. Such mysterious
confrontations occur to the soul as they do to creation. Both were
silent--she, who was the light; he, who was the abyss; she, who was
divine; he, who was appeased; and over Gwynplaine's stormy heart Dea
shone with the indescribable effect of a star shining on the sea.
FROM GAY TO GRAVE.
How simple is a miracle! It was breakfast hour in the Green Box, and Dea
had merely come to see why Gwynplaine had not joined their little
"It is you!" exclaimed Gwynplaine; and he had said everything. There was
no other horizon, no vision for him now but the heavens where Dea was.
His mind was appeased--appeased in such a manner as he alone can
understand who has seen the smile spread swiftly over the sea when the
hurricane had passed away. Over nothing does the calm come so quickly as
over the whirlpool. This results from its power of absorption. And so it
is with the human heart. Not always, however.
Dea had but to show herself, and all the light that was in Gwynplaine
left him and went to her, and behind the dazzled Gwynplaine there was
but a flight of phantoms. What a peacemaker is adoration! A few minutes
afterwards they were sitting opposite each other, Ursus between them,
Homo at their feet. The teapot, hung over a little lamp, was on the
table. Fibi and Vinos were outside, waiting.
They breakfasted as they supped, in the centre compartment. From the
position in which the narrow table was placed, Dea's back was turned
towards the aperture in the partition which was opposite the entrance
door of the Green Box. Their knees were touching. Gwynplaine was pouring
out tea for Dea. Dea blew gracefully on her cup. Suddenly she sneezed.
Just at that moment a thin smoke rose above the flame of the lamp, and
something like a piece of paper fell into ashes. It was the smoke which
had caused Dea to sneeze.
"What was that?" she asked.
"Nothing," replied Gwynplaine.
And he smiled. He had just burnt the duchess's letter.
The conscience of the man who loves is the guardian angel of the woman
whom he loves.
Unburdened of the letter, his relief was wondrous, and Gwynplaine felt
his integrity as the eagle feels its wings.
It seemed to him as if his temptation had evaporated with the smoke, and
as if the duchess had crumbled into ashes with the paper.
Taking up their cups at random, and drinking one after the other from
the same one, they talked. A babble of lovers, a chattering of sparrows!
Child's talk, worthy of Mother Goose or of Homer! With two loving
hearts, go no further for poetry; with two kisses for dialogue, go no
further for music.
"Do you know something?"
"Gwynplaine, I dreamt that we were animals, and had wings."
"Wings; that means birds," murmured Gwynplaine.
"Fools! it means angels," growled Ursus.
And their talk went on.
"If you did not exist, Gwynplaine?"
"It could only be because there was no God."
"The tea is too hot; you will burn yourself, Dea."
"Blow on my cup."
"How beautiful you are this morning!"
"Do you know that I have a great many things to say to you?"
"I love you."
"I adore you."
And Ursus said aside, "By heaven, they are polite!"
Exquisite to lovers are their moments of silence! In them they gather,
as it were, masses of love, which afterwards explode into sweet
"Do you know! In the evening, when we are playing our parts, at the
moment when my hand touches your forehead--oh, what a noble head is
yours, Gwynplaine!--at the moment when I feel your hair under my
fingers, I shiver; a heavenly joy comes over me, and I say to myself, In
all this world of darkness which encompasses me, in this universe of
solitude, in this great obscurity of ruin in which I am, in this quaking
fear of myself and of everything, I have one prop; and he is there. It
is he--it is you."
"Oh! you love me," said Gwynplaine. "I, too, have but you on earth. You
are all in all to me. Dea, what would you have me do? What do you
desire? What do you want?"
"I do not know. I am happy."
"Oh," replied Gwynplaine, "we are happy."
Ursus raised his voice severely,--
"Oh, you are happy, are you? That's a crime. I have warned you already.
You are happy! Then take care you aren't seen. Take up as little room as
you can. Happiness ought to stuff itself into a hole. Make yourselves
still less than you are, if that can be. God measures the greatness of
happiness by the littleness of the happy. The happy should conceal
themselves like malefactors. Oh, only shine out like the wretched
glowworms that you are, and you'll be trodden on; and quite right too!
What do you mean by all that love-making nonsense? I'm no duenna, whose
business it is to watch lovers billing and cooing. I'm tired of it all,
I tell you; and you may both go to the devil."
And feeling that his harsh tones were melting into tenderness, he
drowned his emotion in a loud grumble.
"Father," said Dea, "how roughly you scold!"
"It's because I don't like to see people too happy."
Here Homo re-echoed Ursus. His growl was heard from beneath the lovers'
Ursus stooped down, and placed his hand on Homo's head.
"That's right; you're in bad humour, too. You growl. The bristles are
all on end on your wolf's pate. You don't like all this love-making.
That's because you are wise. Hold your tongue, all the same. You have
had your say and given your opinion; be it so. Now be silent."
The wolf growled again. Ursus looked under the table at him.
"Be still, Homo! Come, don't dwell on it, you philosopher!"
But the wolf sat up, and looked towards the door, showing his teeth.
"What's wrong with you now?" said Ursus. And he caught hold of Homo by
the skin of the neck.
Heedless of the wolf's growls, and wholly wrapped up in her own thoughts
and in the sound of Gwynplaine's voice, which left its after-taste
within her, Dea was silent, and absorbed by that kind of esctasy
peculiar to the blind, which seems at times to give them a song to
listen to in their souls, and to make up to them for the light which
they lack by some strain of ideal music. Blindness is a cavern, to which
reaches the deep harmony of the Eternal.
While Ursus, addressing Homo, was looking down, Gwynplaine had raised
his eyes. He was about to drink a cup of tea, but did not drink it. He
placed it on the table with the slow movement of a spring drawn back;
his fingers remained open, his eyes fixed. He scarcely breathed.
A man was standing in the doorway, behind Dea. He was clad in black,
with a hood. He wore a wig down to his eyebrows, and held in his hand
an iron staff with a crown at each end. His staff was short and massive.
He was like Medusa thrusting her head between two branches in Paradise.
Ursus, who had heard some one enter and raised his head without loosing
his hold of Homo, recognized the terrible personage. He shook from head
to foot, and whispered to Gwynplaine,--
"It's the wapentake."
Gwynplaine recollected. An exclamation of surprise was about to escape
him, but he restrained it. The iron staff, with the crown at each end,
was called the iron weapon. It was from this iron weapon, upon which the
city officers of justice took the oath when they entered on their
duties, that the old wapentakes of the English police derived their
Behind the man in the wig, the frightened landlord could just be
perceived in the shadow.
Without saying a word, a personification of the Muta Themis of the old
charters, the man stretched his right arm over the radiant Dea, and
touched Gwynplaine on the shoulder with the iron staff, at the same time
pointing with his left thumb to the door of the Green Box behind him.
These gestures, all the more imperious for their silence, meant, "Follow
_Pro signo exeundi, sursum trahe_, says the old Norman record.
He who was touched by the iron weapon had no right but the right of
obedience. To that mute order there was no reply. The harsh penalties of
the English law threatened the refractory. Gwynplaine felt a shock under
the rigid touch of the law; then he sat as though petrified.
If, instead of having been merely grazed on the shoulder, he had been
struck a violent blow on the head with the iron staff, he could not have
been more stunned. He knew that the police-officer summoned him to
follow; but why? _That_ he could not understand.
On his part Ursus, too, was thrown into the most painful agitation, but
he saw through matters pretty distinctly. His thoughts ran on the
jugglers and preachers, his competitors, on informations laid against
the Green Box, on that delinquent the wolf, on his own affair with the
three Bishopsgate commissioners, and who knows?--perhaps--but that
would be too fearful--Gwynplaine's unbecoming and factious speeches
touching the royal authority.
He trembled violently.
Dea was smiling.
Neither Gwynplaine nor Ursus pronounced a word. They had both the same
thought--not to frighten Dea. It may have struck the wolf as well, for
he ceased growling. True, Ursus did not loose him.
Homo, however, was a prudent wolf when occasion required. Who is there
who has not remarked a kind of intelligent anxiety in animals? It may be
that to the extent to which a wolf can understand mankind he felt that
he was an outlaw.
Resistance was impracticable, as Gwynplaine knew. He remembered Ursus's
words, and there was no question possible. He remained standing in front
of the wapentake. The latter raised the iron staff from Gwynplaine's
shoulder, and drawing it back, held it out straight in an attitude of
command--a constable's attitude which was well understood in those days
by the whole people, and which expressed the following order: "Let this
man, and no other, follow me. The rest remain where they are. Silence!"
No curious followers were allowed. In all times the police have had a
taste for arrests of the kind. This description of seizure was termed
sequestration of the person.
The wapentake turned round in one motion, like a piece of mechanism
revolving on its own pivot, and with grave and magisterial step
proceeded towards the door of the Green Box.
Gwynplaine looked at Ursus. The latter went through a pantomime composed
as follows: he shrugged his shoulders, placed both elbows close to his
hips, with his hands out, and knitted his brows into chevrons--all which
signifies, "We must submit to the unknown."
Gwynplaine looked at Dea. She was in her dream. She was still smiling.
He put the ends of his fingers to his lips, and sent her an unutterable
Ursus, relieved of some portion of his terror now that the wapentake's
back was turned, seized the moment to whisper in Gwynplaine's ear,--
"On your life, do not speak until you are questioned."
Gwynplaine, with the same care to make no noise as he would have taken
in a sickroom, took his hat and cloak from the hook on the partition,
wrapped himself up to the eyes in the cloak, and pushed his hat over his
forehead. Not having been to bed, he had his working clothes still on,
and his leather esclavin round his neck. Once more he looked at Dea.
Having reached the door, the wapentake raised his staff and began to
descend the steps; then Gwynplaine set out as if the man was dragging
him by an invisible chain. Ursus watched Gwynplaine leave the Green Box.
At that moment the wolf gave a low growl; but Ursus silenced him, and
whispered, "He is coming back."
In the yard, Master Nicless was stemming, with servile and imperious
gestures, the cries of terror raised by Vinos and Fibi, as in great
distress they watched Gwynplaine led away, and the mourning-coloured
garb and the iron staff of the wapentake.
The two girls were like petrifactions: they were in the attitude of
stalactites. Govicum, stunned, was looking open-mouthed out of a window.
The wapentake preceded Gwynplaine by a few steps, never turning round or
looking at him, in that icy ease which is given by the knowledge that
one is the law.
In death-like silence they both crossed the yard, went through the dark
taproom, and reached the street. A few passers-by had collected about
the inn door, and the justice of the quorum was there at the head of a
squad of police. The idlers, stupefied, and without breathing a word,
opened out and stood aside, with English discipline, at the sight of the
constable's staff. The wapentake moved off in the direction of the
narrow street then called the Little Strand, running by the Thames; and
Gwynplaine, with the justice of the quorum's men in ranks on each side,
like a double hedge, pale, without a motion except that of his steps,
wrapped in his cloak as in a shroud, was leaving the inn farther and
farther behind him as he followed the silent man, like a statue
following a spectre.
LEX, REX, FEX.
Unexplained arrest, which would greatly astonish an Englishman nowadays,
was then a very usual proceeding of the police. Recourse was had to it,
notwithstanding the Habeas Corpus Act, up to George II.'s time,
especially in such delicate cases as were provided for by _lettres de
cachet_ in France; and one of the accusations against which Walpole had
to defend himself was that he had caused or allowed Neuhoff to be
arrested in that manner. The accusation was probably without foundation,
for Neuhoff, King of Corsica, was put in prison by his creditors.
These silent captures of the person, very usual with the Holy Vaehme in
Germany, were admitted by German custom, which rules one half of the old
English laws, and recommended in certain cases by Norman custom, which
rules the other half. Justinian's chief of the palace police was called
"_silentiarius imperialis_." The English magistrates who practised the
captures in question relied upon numerous Norman texts:--_Canes latrant,
sergentes silent. Sergenter agere, id est tacere_. They quoted
Lundulphus Sagax, paragraph 16: _Facit imperator silentium_. They quoted
the charter of King Philip in 1307: _Multos tenebimus bastonerios qui,
obmutescentes, sergentare valeant_. They quoted the statutes of Henry I.
of England, cap. 53: _Surge signo jussus. Taciturnior esto. Hoc est esse
in captione regis_. They took advantage especially of the following
description, held to form part of the ancient feudal franchises of
England:--"Sous les viscomtes sont les serjans de l'espee, lesquels
doivent justicier vertueusement a l'espee tous ceux qui suient malveses
compagnies, gens diffamez d'aucuns crimes, et gens fuites et
forbannis.... et les doivent si vigoureusement et discretement
apprehender, que la bonne gent qui sont paisibles soient gardez
paisiblement et que les malfeteurs soient espoantes." To be thus
arrested was to be seized "a le glaive de l'espee." (_Vetus Consuetudo
Normanniae_, MS. part I, sect. I, ch. 11.) The jurisconsults referred
besides "_in Charta Ludovici Hutum pro Normannis_, chapter _Servientes
spathae_." _Servientes spathae_, in the gradual approach of base Latin
to our idioms, became _sergentes spadae_.
These silent arrests were the contrary of the _Clameur de Haro_, and
gave warning that it was advisable to hold one's tongue until such time
as light should be thrown upon certain matters still in the dark. They
signified questions reserved, and showed in the operation of the police
a certain amount of _raison d'etat_.
The legal term "private" was applied to arrests of this description. It
was thus that Edward III., according to some chroniclers, caused
Mortimer to be seized in the bed of his mother, Isabella of France.
This, again, we may take leave to doubt; for Mortimer sustained a siege
in his town before being captured.
Warwick, the king-maker, delighted in practising this mode of "attaching
people." Cromwell made use of it, especially in Connaught; and it was
with this precaution of silence that Trailie Arcklo, a relation of the
Earl of Ormond, was arrested at Kilmacaugh.
These captures of the body by the mere motion of justice represented
rather the _mandat de comparution_ than the warrant of arrest. Sometimes
they were but processes of inquiry, and even argued, by the silence
imposed upon all, a certain consideration for the person seized. For the
mass of the people, little versed as they were in the estimate of such
shades of difference, they had peculiar terrors.
It must not be forgotten that in 1705, and even much later, England was
far from being what she is to-day. The general features of its
constitution were confused and at times very oppressive. Daniel Defoe,
who had himself had a taste of the pillory, characterizes the social
order of England, somewhere in his writings, as the "iron hands of the
law." There was not only the law; there was its arbitrary
administration. We have but to recall Steele, ejected from Parliament;
Locke, driven from his chair; Hobbes and Gibbon, compelled to flight;
Charles Churchill, Hume, and Priestley, persecuted; John Wilkes sent to
the Tower. The task would be a long one, were we to count over the
victims of the statute against seditious libel. The Inquisition had, to
some extent, spread its arrangements throughout Europe, and its police
practice was taken as a guide. A monstrous attempt against all rights
was possible in England. We have only to recall the _Gazetier Cuirasse_.
In the midst of the eighteenth century, Louis XV. had writers, whose
works displeased him, arrested in Piccadilly. It is true that George II.
laid his hands on the Pretender in France, right in the middle of the
hall at the opera. Those were two long arms--that of the King of France
reaching London; that of the King of England, Paris! Such was the
liberty of the period.
URSUS SPIES THE POLICE.
As we have already said, according to the very severe laws of the police
of those days, the summons to follow the wapentake, addressed to an
individual, implied to all other persons present the command not to
Some curious idlers, however, were stubborn, and followed from afar off
the _cortege_ which had taken Gwynplaine into custody.
Ursus was of them. He had been as nearly petrified as any one has a
right to be. But Ursus, so often assailed by the surprises incident to a
wandering life, and by the malice of chance, was, like a ship-of-war,
prepared for action, and could call to the post of danger the whole
crew--that is to say, the aid of all his intelligence.
He flung off his stupor and began to think. He strove not to give way to
emotion, but to stand face to face with circumstances.
To look fortune in the face is the duty of every one not an idiot; to
seek not to understand, but to act.
Presently he asked himself, What could he do?
Gwynplaine being taken, Ursus was placed between two terrors--a fear for
Gwynplaine, which instigated him to follow; and a fear for himself,
which urged him to remain where he was.
Ursus had the intrepidity of a fly and the impassibility of a sensitive
plant. His agitation was not to be described. However, he took his
resolution heroically, and decided to brave the law, and to follow the
wapentake, so anxious was he concerning the fate of Gwynplaine.
His terror must have been great to prompt so much courage.
To what valiant acts will not fear drive a hare!
The chamois in despair jumps a precipice. To be terrified into
imprudence is one of the forms of fear.
Gwynplaine had been carried off rather than arrested. The operation of
the police had been executed so rapidly that the Fair field, generally
little frequented at that hour of the morning, had scarcely taken
cognizance of the circumstance.
Scarcely any one in the caravans had any idea that the wapentake had
come to take Gwynplaine. Hence the smallness of the crowd.
Gwynplaine, thanks to his cloak and his hat, which nearly concealed his
face, could not be recognized by the passers-by.
Before he went out to follow Gwynplaine, Ursus took a precaution. He
spoke to Master Nicless, to the boy Govicum, and to Fibi and Vinos, and
insisted on their keeping absolute silence before Dea, who was ignorant
of everything. That they should not utter a syllable that could make her
suspect what had occurred; that they should make her understand that the
cares of the management of the Green Box necessitated the absence of
Gwynplaine and Ursus; that, besides, it would soon be the time of her
daily siesta, and that before she awoke he and Gwynplaine would have
returned; that all that had taken place had arisen from a mistake; that
it would be very easy for Gwynplaine and himself to clear themselves
before the magistrate and police; that a touch of the finger would put
the matter straight, after which they should both return; above all,
that no one should say a word on the subject to Dea. Having given these
directions he departed.
Ursus was able to follow Gwynplaine without being remarked. Though he
kept at the greatest possible distance, he so managed as not to lose
sight of him. Boldness in ambuscade is the bravery of the timid.
After all, notwithstanding the solemnity of the attendant circumstances,
Gwynplaine might have been summoned before the magistrate for some
unimportant infraction of the law.
Ursus assured himself that the question would be decided at once.
The solution of the mystery would be made under his very eyes by the
direction taken by the _cortege_ which took Gwynplaine from Tarrinzeau
Field when it reached the entrance of the lanes of the Little Strand.
If it turned to the left, it would conduct Gwynplaine to the justice
hall in Southwark. In that case there would be little to fear, some
trifling municipal offence, an admonition from the magistrate, two or
three shillings to pay, and Gwynplaine would be set at liberty, and the
representation of "Chaos Vanquished" would take place in the evening as
usual. In that case no one would know that anything unusual had
If the _cortege_ turned to the right, matters would be serious.
There were frightful places in that direction.
When the wapentake, leading the file of soldiers between whom Gwynplaine
walked, arrived at the small streets, Ursus watched them breathlessly.
There are moments in which a man's whole being passes into his eyes.
Which way were they going to turn?
They turned to the right.
Ursus, staggering with terror, leant against a wall that he might not
There is no hypocrisy so great as the words which we say to ourselves,
"_I wish to know the worst_!" At heart we do not wish it at all. We have
a dreadful fear of knowing it. Agony is mingled with a dim effort not to
see the end. We do not own it to ourselves, but we would draw back if we
dared; and when we have advanced, we reproach ourselves for having done
Thus did Ursus. He shuddered as he thought,--
"Here are things going wrong. I should have found it out soon enough.
What business had I to follow Gwynplaine?"
Having made this reflection, man being but self-contradiction, he
increased his pace, and, mastering his anxiety, hastened to get nearer
the _cortege_, so as not to break, in the maze of small streets, the
thread between Gwynplaine and himself.
The _cortege_ of police could not move quickly, on account of its
The wapentake led it.
The justice of the quorum closed it.
This order compelled a certain deliberation of movement.
All the majesty possible in an official shone in the justice of the
quorum. His costume held a middle place between the splendid robe of a
doctor of music of Oxford and the sober black habiliments of a doctor of
divinity of Cambridge. He wore the dress of a gentleman under a long
_godebert_, which is a mantle trimmed with the fur of the Norwegian
hare. He was half Gothic and half modern, wearing a wig like Lamoignon,
and sleeves like Tristan l'Hermite. His great round eye watched
Gwynplaine with the fixedness of an owl's.
He walked with a cadence. Never did honest man look fiercer.
Ursus, for a moment thrown out of his way in the tangled skein of
streets, overtook, close to Saint Mary Overy, the _cortege_, which had
fortunately been retarded in the churchyard by a fight between children
and dogs--a common incident in the streets in those days. "_Dogs and
boys_," say the old registers of police, placing the dogs before the
A man being taken before a magistrate by the police was, after all, an
everyday affair, and each one having his own business to attend to, the
few who had followed soon dispersed. There remained but Ursus on the
track of Gwynplaine.
They passed before two chapels opposite to each other, belonging the one
to the Recreative Religionists, the other to the Hallelujah
League--sects which flourished then, and which exist to the present day.
Then the _cortege_ wound from street to street, making a zigzag,
choosing by preference lanes not yet built on, roads where the grass
grew, and deserted alleys.
At length it stopped.
It was in a little lane with no houses except two or three hovels. This
narrow alley was composed of two walls--one on the left, low; the other
on the right, high. The high wall was black, and built in the Saxon
style with narrow holes, scorpions, and large square gratings over
narrow loopholes. There was no window on it, but here and there slits,
old embrasures of _pierriers_ and archegayes. At the foot of this high
wall was seen, like the hole at the bottom of a rat-trap, a little
wicket gate, very elliptical in its arch.
This small door, encased in a full, heavy girding of stone, had a grated
peephole, a heavy knocker, a large lock, hinges thick and knotted, a
bristling of nails, an armour of plates, and hinges, so that altogether
it was more of iron than of wood.
There was no one in the lane--no shops, no passengers; but in it there
was heard a continual noise, as if the lane ran parallel to a torrent.
There was a tumult of voices and of carriages. It seemed as if on the
other side of the black edifice there must be a great street, doubtless
the principal street of Southwark, one end of which ran into the
Canterbury road, and the other on to London Bridge.
All the length of the lane, except the _cortege_ which surrounded
Gwynplaine, a watcher would have seen no other human face than the pale
profile of Ursus, hazarding a hall advance from the shadow of the corner
of the wall--looking, yet fearing to see. He had posted himself behind
the wall at a turn of the lane.
The constables grouped themselves before the wicket. Gwynplaine was in
the centre, the wapentake and his baton of iron being now behind him.
The justice of the quorum raised the knocker, and struck the door three
times. The loophole opened.
The justice of the quorum said,--
"By order of her Majesty."
The heavy door of oak and iron turned on its hinges, making a chilly
opening, like the mouth of a cavern. A hideous depth yawned in the
Ursus saw Gwynplaine disappear within it.
A FEARFUL PLACE.
The wapentake entered behind Gwynplaine.
Then the justice of the quorum.
Then the constables.
The wicket was closed.
The heavy door swung to, closing hermetically on the stone sills,
without any one seeing who had opened or shut it. It seemed as if the
bolts re-entered their sockets of their own act. Some of these
mechanisms, the inventions of ancient intimidation, still exist in old
prisons--doors of which you saw no doorkeeper. With them the entrance to
a prison becomes like the entrance to a tomb.
This wicket was the lower door of Southwark Jail.
There was nothing in the harsh and worm-eaten aspect of this prison to
soften its appropriate air of rigour.
Originally a pagan temple, built by the Catieuchlans for the Mogons,
ancient English gods, it became a palace for Ethelwolf and a fortress
for Edward the Confessor; then it was elevated to the dignity of a
prison, in 1199, by John Lackland. Such was Southwark Jail. This jail,
at first intersected by a street, like Chenonceaux by a river, had been
for a century or two a gate--that is to say, the gate of the suburb; the
passage had then been walled up. There remain in England some prisons
of this nature. In London, Newgate; at Canterbury, Westgate; at
Edinburgh, Canongate. In France the Bastile was originally a gate.
Almost all the jails of England present the same appearance--a high wall
without and a hive of cells within. Nothing could be more funereal than
the appearance of those prisons, where spiders and justice spread their
webs, and where John Howard, that ray of light, had not yet penetrated.
Like the old Gehenna of Brussels, they might well have been designated
Treurenberg--_the house of tears_.
Men felt before such buildings, at once so savage and inhospitable, the
same distress that the ancient navigators suffered before the hell of
slaves mentioned by Plautus, islands of creaking chains,
_ferricrepiditae insulae_, when they passed near enough to hear the
clank of the fetters.
Southwark Jail, an old place of exorcisms and torture, was originally
used solely for the imprisonment of sorcerers, as was proved by two
verses engraved on a defaced stone at the foot of the wicket,--
Sunt arreptitii, vexati daemone multo
Est energumenus, quem daemon possidet unus.
Lines which draw a subtle delicate distinction between the demoniac and
man possessed by a devil.
At the bottom of this inscription, nailed flat against the wall, was a
stone ladder, which had been originally of wood, but which had been
changed into stone by being buried in earth of petrifying quality at a
place called Apsley Gowis, near Woburn Abbey.
The prison of Southwark, now demolished, opened on two streets, between
which, as a gate, it formerly served as means of communication. It had
two doors. In the large street a door, apparently used by the
authorities; and in the lane the door of punishment, used by the rest of
the living and by the dead also, because when a prisoner in the jail
died it was by that issue that his corpse was carried out. A liberation
not to be despised. Death is release into infinity.
It was by the gate of punishment that Gwynplaine had been taken into
prison. The lane, as we have said, was nothing but a little passage,
paved with flints, confined between two opposite walls. There is one of
the same kind at Brussels called _Rue d'une Personne_. The walls were
unequal in height. The high one was the prison; the low one, the
cemetery--the enclosure for the mortuary remains of the jail--was not
higher than the ordinary stature of a man. In it was a gate almost
opposite the prison wicket. The dead had only to cross the street; the
cemetery was but twenty paces from the jail. On the high wall was
affixed a gallows; on the low one was sculptured a Death's head. Neither
of these walls made its opposite neighbour more cheerful.
THE KIND OF MAGISTRACY UNDER THE WIGS OF FORMER DAYS.
Any one observing at that moment the other side of the prison--its
facade--would have perceived the high street of Southwark, and might
have remarked, stationed before the monumental and official entrance to
the jail, a travelling carriage, recognized as such by its imperial. A
few idlers surrounded the carriage. On it was a coat of arms, and a
personage had been seen to descend from it and enter the prison.
"Probably a magistrate," conjectured the crowd. Many of the English
magistrates were noble, and almost all had the right of bearing arms. In
France blazon and robe were almost contradictory terms. The Duke
Saint-Simon says, in speaking of magistrates, "people of that class." In
England a gentleman was not despised for being a judge.
There are travelling magistrates in England; they are called judges of
circuit, and nothing was easier than to recognize the carriage as the
vehicle of a judge on circuit. That which was less comprehensible was,
that the supposed magistrate got down, not from the carriage itself, but
from the box, a place which is not habitually occupied by the owner.
Another unusual thing. People travelled at that period in England in two
ways--by coach, at the rate of a shilling for five miles; and by post,
paying three half-pence per mile, and twopence to the postillion after
each stage. A private carriage, whose owner desired to travel by relays,
paid as many shillings per horse per mile as the horseman paid pence.
The carriage drawn up before the jail in Southwark had four horses and
two postillions, which displayed princely state. Finally, that which
excited and disconcerted conjectures to the utmost was the circumstance
that the carriage was sedulously shut up. The blinds of the windows
were closed up. The glasses in front were darkened by blinds; every
opening by which the eye might have penetrated was masked. From without,
nothing within could be seen, and most likely from within, nothing could
be seen outside. However, it did not seem probable that there was any
one in the carriage.
Southwark being in Surrey, the prison was within the jurisdiction of the
sheriff of the county.
Such distinct jurisdictions were very frequent in England. Thus, for
example, the Tower of London was not supposed to be situated in any
county; that is to say, that legally it was considered to be in air. The
Tower recognized no authority of jurisdiction except in its own
constable, who was qualified as _custos turris_. The Tower had its
jurisdiction, its church, its court of justice, and its government
apart. The authority of its _custos_, or constable, extended, beyond
London, over twenty-one hamlets. As in Great Britain legal singularities
engraft one upon another the office of the master gunner of England was
derived from the Tower of London. Other legal customs seem still more
whimsical. Thus, the English Court of Admiralty consults and applies the
laws of Rhodes and of Oleron, a French island which was once English.
The sheriff of a county was a person of high consideration. He was
always an esquire, and sometimes a knight. He was called _spectabilis_
in the old deeds, "a man to be looked at"--kind of intermediate title
between _illustris_ and _clarissimus_; less than the first, more than
the second. Long ago the sheriffs of the counties were chosen by the
people; but Edward II., and after him Henry VI., having claimed their
nomination for the crown, the office of sheriff became a royal
They all received their commissions from majesty, except the sheriff of
Westmoreland, whose office was hereditary, and the sheriffs of London
and Middlesex, who were elected by the livery in the common hall.
Sheriffs of Wales and Chester possessed certain fiscal prerogatives.
These appointments are all still in existence in England, but, subjected
little by little to the friction of manners and ideas, they have lost
their old aspects. It was the duty of the sheriff of the county to
escort and protect the judges on circuit. As we have two arms, he had
two officers; his right arm the under-sheriff, his left arm the justice
of the quorum. The justice of the quorum, assisted by the bailiff of the
hundred, termed the wapentake, apprehended, examined, and, under the
responsibility of the sheriff, imprisoned, for trial by the judges of
circuit, thieves, murderers, rebels, vagabonds, and all sorts of felons.
The shade of difference between the under-sheriff and the justice of the
quorum, in their hierarchical service towards the sheriff, was that the
under-sheriff accompanied and the justice of the quorum assisted.
The sheriff held two courts--one fixed and central, the county court;
and a movable court, the sheriff's turn. He thus represented both unity
and ubiquity. He might as judge be aided and informed on legal questions
by the serjeant of the coif, called _sergens coifae_, who is a
serjeant-at-law, and who wears under his black skull-cap a fillet of
white Cambray lawn.
The sheriff delivered the jails. When he arrived at a town in his
province, he had the right of summary trial of the prisoners, of which
he might cause either their release or the execution. This was called a
jail delivery. The sheriff presented bills of indictment to the
twenty-four members of the grand jury. If they approved, they wrote
above, _billa vera_; if the contrary, they wrote _ignoramus_. In the
latter case the accusation was annulled, and the sheriff had the
privilege of tearing up the bill. If during the deliberation a juror
died, this legally acquitted the prisoner and made him innocent, and the
sheriff, who had the privilege of arresting the accused, had also that
of setting him at liberty.
That which made the sheriff singularly feared and respected was that he
had the charge of executing all the orders of her Majesty--a fearful
latitude. An arbitrary power lodges in such commissions.
The officers termed vergers, the coroners making part of the sheriff's
_cortege_, and the clerks of the market as escort, with gentlemen on
horseback and their servants in livery, made a handsome suite. The
sheriff, says Chamberlayne, is the "life of justice, of law, and of the
In England an insensible demolition constantly pulverizes and dissevers
laws and customs. You must understand in our day that neither the
sheriff, the wapentake, nor the justice of the quorum could exercise
their functions as they did then. There was in the England of the past a
certain confusion of powers, whose ill-defined attributes resulted in
their overstepping their real bounds at times--a thing which would be
impossible in the present day. The usurpation of power by police and
justices has ceased. We believe that even the word "wapentake" has
changed its meaning. It implied a magisterial function; now it signifies
a territorial division: it specified the centurion; it now specifies the
Moreover, in those days the sheriff of the county combined with
something more and something less, and condensed in his own authority,
which was at once royal and municipal, the two magistrates formerly
called in France the civil lieutenant of Paris and the lieutenant of
police. The civil lieutenant of Paris, Monsieur, is pretty well
described in an old police note: "The civil lieutenant has no dislike to
domestic quarrels, because he always has the pickings" (22nd July 1704).
As to the lieutenant of police, he was a redoubtable person, multiple
and vague. The best personification of him was Rene d'Argenson, who, as
was said by Saint-Simon, displayed in his face the three judges of hell
The three judges of hell sat, as has already been seen, at Bishopsgate,
When Gwynplaine heard the wicket shut, creaking in all its bolts, he
trembled. It seemed to him that the door which had just closed was the
communication between light and darkness--opening on one side on the
living, human crowd, and on the other on a dead world; and now that
everything illumined by the sun was behind him, that he had stepped over
the boundary of life and was standing without it, his heart contracted.
What were they going to do with him? What did it all mean? Where was he?
He saw nothing around him; he found himself in perfect darkness. The
shutting of the door had momentarily blinded him. The window in the door
had been closed as well. No loophole, no lamp. Such were the precautions
of old times. It was forbidden to light the entrance to the jails, so
that the newcomers should take no observations.
Gwynplaine extended his arms, and touched the wall on the right side and
on the left. He was in a passage. Little by little a cavernous daylight
exuding, no one knows whence, and which floats about dark places, and to
which the dilatation of the pupil adjusts itself slowly, enabled him to
distinguish a feature here and there, and the corridor was vaguely
sketched out before him.
Gwynplaine, who had never had a glimpse of penal severities, save in the
exaggerations of Ursus, felt as though seized by a sort of vague
gigantic hand. To be caught in the mysterious toils of the law is
frightful. He who is brave in all other dangers is disconcerted in the
presence of justice. Why? Is it that the justice of man works in
twilight, and the judge gropes his way? Gwynplaine remembered what Ursus
had told him of the necessity for silence. He wished to see Dea again;
he felt some discretionary instinct, which urged him not to irritate.
Sometimes to wish to be enlightened is to make matters worse; on the
other hand, however, the weight of the adventure was so overwhelming
that he gave way at length, and could not restrain a question.
"Gentlemen," said he, "whither are you taking me?"
They made no answer.
It was the law of silent capture, and the Norman text is formal: _A
silentiariis ostio, praepositis introducti sunt_.
This silence froze Gwynplaine. Up to that moment he had believed himself
to be firm: he was self-sufficing. To be self-sufficing is to be
powerful. He had lived isolated from the world, and imagined that being
alone he was unassailable; and now all at once he felt himself under the
pressure of a hideous collective force. How was he to combat that
horrible anonyma, the law? He felt faint under the perplexity; a fear of
an unknown character had found a fissure in his armour; besides, he had
not slept, he had not eaten, he had scarcely moistened his lips with a
cup of tea. The whole night had been passed in a kind of delirium, and
the fever was still on him. He was thirsty; perhaps hungry. The craving
of the stomach disorders everything. Since the previous evening all
kinds of incidents had assailed him. The emotions which had tormented
had sustained him. Without the storm a sail would be a rag. But his was
the excessive feebleness of the rag, which the wind inflates till it
tears it. He felt himself sinking. Was he about to fall without
consciousness on the pavement? To faint is the resource of a woman, and
the humiliation of a man. He hardened himself, but he trembled. He felt
as one losing his footing.
They began to move forward.
They advanced through the passage.
There was no preliminary registry, no place of record. The prisons in
those times were not overburdened with documents. They were content to
close round you without knowing why. To be a prison, and to hold
The procession was obliged to lengthen itself out, taking the form of
the corridor. They walked almost in single file; first the wapentake,
then Gwynplaine, then the justice of the quorum, then the constables,
advancing in a group, and blocking up the passage behind Gwynplaine as
with a bung. The passage narrowed. Now Gwynplaine touched the walls with
both his elbows. In the roof, which was made of flints, dashed with
cement, was a succession of granite arches jutting out, and still more
contracting the passage. He had to stoop to pass under them. No speed
was possible in that corridor. Any one trying to escape through it would
have been compelled to move slowly. The passage twisted. All entrails
are tortuous; those of a prison as well as those of a man. Here and
there, sometimes to the right and sometimes to the left, spaces in the
wall, square and closed by large iron gratings, gave glimpses of flights
of stairs, some descending and some ascending.
They reached a closed door; it opened. They passed through, and it
closed again. Then they came to a second door, which admitted them; then
to a third, which also turned on its hinges. These doors seemed to open
and shut of themselves. No one was to be seen. While the corridor
contracted, the roof grew lower, until at length it was impossible to
stand upright. Moisture exuded from the wall. Drops of water fell from
the vault. The slabs that paved the corridor were clammy as an
intestine. The diffused pallor that served as light became more and
more a pall. Air was deficient, and, what was singularly ominous, the
passage was a descent.
Close observation was necessary to perceive that there was such a
descent. In darkness a gentle declivity is portentous. Nothing is more
fearful than the vague evils to which we are led by imperceptible
It is awful to descend into unknown depths.
How long had they proceeded thus? Gwynplaine could not tell.
Moments passed under such crushing agony seem immeasurably prolonged.
Suddenly they halted.
The darkness was intense.
The corridor widened somewhat. Gwynplaine heard close to him a noise of
which only a Chinese gong could give an idea; something like a blow
struck against the diaphragm of the abyss. It was the wapentake striking
his wand against a sheet of iron.
That sheet of iron was a door.
Not a door on hinges, but a door which was raised and let down.
Something like a portcullis.
There was a sound of creaking in a groove, and Gwynplaine was suddenly
face to face with a bit of square light. The sheet of metal had just
been raised into a slit in the vault, like the door of a mouse-trap.
An opening had appeared.
The light was not daylight, but glimmer; but on the dilated eyeballs of
Gwynplaine the pale and sudden ray struck like a flash of lightning.
It was some time before he could see anything. To see with dazzled eyes
is as difficult as to see in darkness.
At length, by degrees, the pupil of his eye became proportioned to the
light, just as it had been proportioned to the darkness, and he was able
to distinguish objects. The light, which at first had seemed too bright,
settled into its proper hue and became livid. He cast a glance into the
yawning space before him, and what he saw was terrible.
At his feet were about twenty steps, steep, narrow, worn, almost
perpendicular, without balustrade on either side, a sort of stone ridge
cut out from the side of a wall into stairs, entering and leading into
a very deep cell. They reached to the bottom.
The cell was round, roofed by an ogee vault with a low arch, from the
fault of level in the top stone of the frieze, a displacement common to
cells under heavy edifices.
The kind of hole acting as a door, which the sheet of iron had just
revealed, and on which the stairs abutted, was formed in the vault, so
that the eye looked down from it as into a well.
The cell was large, and if it was the bottom of a well, it must have
been a cyclopean one. The idea that the old word "_cul-de-basse-fosse_"
awakens in the mind can only be applied to it if it were a lair of wild
The cell was neither flagged nor paved. The bottom was of that cold,
moist earth peculiar to deep places.
In the midst of the cell, four low and disproportioned columns sustained
a porch heavily ogival, of which the four mouldings united in the
interior of the porch, something like the inside of a mitre. This porch,
similar to the pinnacles under which sarcophagi were formerly placed,
rose nearly to the top of the vault, and made a sort of central chamber
in the cavern, if that could be called a chamber which had only pillars
in place of walls.
From the key of the arch hung a brass lamp, round and barred like the
window of a prison. This lamp threw around it--on the pillars, on the
vault, on the circular wall which was seen dimly behind the pillars--a
wan light, cut by bars of shadow.
This was the light which had at first dazzled Gwynplaine; now it threw
out only a confused redness.
There was no other light in the cell--neither window, nor door, nor
Between the four pillars, exactly below the lamp, in the spot where
there was most light, a pale and terrible form lay on the ground.
It was lying on its back; a head was visible, of which the eyes were
shut; a body, of which the chest was a shapeless mass; four limbs
belonging to the body, in the position of the cross of Saint Andrew,
were drawn towards the four pillars by four chains fastened to each foot
and each hand.
These chains were fastened to an iron ring at the base of each column.
The form was held immovable, in the horrible position of being
quartered, and had the icy look of a livid corpse.
It was naked. It was a man.
Gwynplaine, as if petrified, stood at the top of the stairs, looking
down. Suddenly he heard a rattle in the throat.
The corpse was alive.
Close to the spectre, in one of the ogives of the door, on each side of
a great seat, which stood on a large flat stone, stood two men swathed
in long black cloaks; and on the seat an old man was sitting, dressed in
a red robe--wan, motionless, and ominous, holding a bunch of roses in
The bunch of roses would have enlightened any one less ignorant that
Gwynplaine. The right of judging with a nosegay in his hand implied the
holder to be a magistrate, at once royal and municipal. The Lord Mayor
of London still keeps up the custom. To assist the deliberations of the
judges was the function of the earliest roses of the season.
The old man seated on the bench was the sheriff of the county of Surrey.
His was the majestic rigidity of a Roman dignitary.
The bench was the only seat in the cell.
By the side of it was a table covered with papers and books, on which
lay the long, white wand of the sheriff. The men standing by the side of
the sheriff were two doctors, one of medicine, the other of law; the
latter recognizable by the Serjeant's coif over his wig. Both wore black
robes--one of the shape worn by judges, the other by doctors.
Men of these kinds wear mourning for the deaths of which they are the
Behind the sheriff, at the edge of the flat stone under the seat, was
crouched--with a writing-table near to him, a bundle of papers on his
knees, and a sheet of parchment on the bundle--a secretary, in a round
wig, with a pen in his hand, in the attitude of a man ready to write.
This secretary was of the class called keeper of the bag, as was shown
by a bag at his feet.
These bags, in former times employed in law processes, were termed bags
With folded arms, leaning against a pillar, was a man entirely dressed
in leather, the hangman's assistant.
These men seemed as if they had been fixed by enchantment in their
funereal postures round the chained man. None of them spoke or moved.
There brooded over all a fearful calm.
What Gwynplaine saw was a torture chamber. There were many such in
The crypt of Beauchamp Tower long served this purpose, as did also the
cell in the Lollards' prison. A place of this nature is still to be seen
in London, called "the Vaults of Lady Place." In this last-mentioned
chamber there is a grate for the purpose of heating the irons.
All the prisons of King John's time (and Southwark Jail was one) had
their chambers of torture.
The scene which is about to follow was in those days a frequent one in
England, and might even, by criminal process, be carried out to-day,
since the same laws are still unrepealed. England offers the curious
sight of a barbarous code living on the best terms with liberty. We
confess that they make an excellent family party.
Some distrust, however, might not be undesirable. In the case of a
crisis, a return to the penal code would not be impossible. English
legislation is a tamed tiger with a velvet paw, but the claws are still
there. Cut the claws of the law, and you will do well. Law almost
ignores right. On one side is penalty, on the other humanity.
Philosophers protest; but it will take some time yet before the justice
of man is assimilated to the justice of God.
Respect for the law: that is the English phrase. In England they
venerate so many laws, that they never repeal any. They save themselves
from the consequences of their veneration by never putting them into
execution. An old law falls into disuse like an old woman, and they
never think of killing either one or the other. They cease to make use
of them; that is all. Both are at liberty to consider themselves still
young and beautiful. They may fancy that they are as they were. This
politeness is called respect.
Norman custom is very wrinkled. That does not prevent many an English
judge casting sheep's eyes at her. They stick amorously to an antiquated
atrocity, so long as it is Norman. What can be more savage than the
gibbet? In 1867 a man was sentenced to be cut into four quarters and
offered to a woman--the Queen.
Still, torture was never practised in England. History asserts this as
a fact. The assurance of history is wonderful.
Matthew of Westminster mentions that the "Saxon law, very clement and
kind," did not punish criminals by death; and adds that "it limited
itself to cutting off the nose and scooping out the eyes." That was all!
Gwynplaine, scared and haggard, stood at the top of the steps, trembling
in every limb. He shuddered from head to foot. He tried to remember what
crime he had committed. To the silence of the wapentake had succeeded
the vision of torture to be endured. It was a step, indeed, forward; but
a tragic one. He saw the dark enigma of the law under the power of which
he felt himself increasing in obscurity.
The human form lying on the earth rattled in its throat again.
Gwynplaine felt some one touching him gently on his shoulder.
It was the wapentake.
Gwynplaine knew that meant that he was to descend.
He descended the stairs step by step. They were very narrow, each eight
or nine inches in height. There was no hand-rail. The descent required
caution. Two steps behind Gwynplaine followed the wapentake, holding up
his iron weapon; and at the same interval behind the wapentake, the
justice of the quorum.
As he descended the steps, Gwynplaine felt an indescribable extinction
of hope. There was death in each step. In each one that he descended
there died a ray of the light within him. Growing paler and paler, he
reached the bottom of the stairs.
The larva lying chained to the four pillars still rattled in its throat.
A voice in the shadow said,--
It was the sheriff addressing Gwynplaine.
Gwynplaine took a step forward.
"Closer," said the sheriff.
The justice of the quorum murmured in the ear of Gwynplaine, so gravely
that there was solemnity in the whisper, "You are before the sheriff of
the county of Surrey."
Gwynplaine advanced towards the victim extended in the centre of the
cell. The wapentake and the justice of the quorum remained where they
were, allowing Gwynplaine to advance alone.
When Gwynplaine reached the spot under the porch, close to that
miserable thing which he had hitherto perceived only from a distance,
but which was a living man, his fear rose to terror. The man who was
chained there was quite naked, except for that rag so hideously modest,
which might be called the vineleaf of punishment, the _succingulum_ of
the Romans, and the _christipannus_ of the Goths, of which the old
Gallic jargon made _cripagne_. Christ wore but that shred on the cross.
The terror-stricken sufferer whom Gwynplaine now saw seemed a man of
about fifty or sixty years of age. He was bald. Grizzly hairs of beard
bristled on his chin. His eyes were closed, his mouth open. Every tooth
was to be seen. His thin and bony face was like a death's-head. His arms
and legs were fastened by chains to the four stone pillars in the shape
of the letter X. He had on his breast and belly a plate of iron, and on
this iron five or six large stones were laid. His rattle was at times a
sigh, at times a roar.
The sheriff, still holding his bunch of roses, took from the table with
the hand which was free his white wand, and standing up said, "Obedience
to her Majesty."
Then he replaced the wand upon the table.
Then in words long-drawn as a knell, without a gesture, and immovable as
the sufferer, the sheriff, raising his voice, said,--
"Man, who liest here bound in chains, listen for the last time to the
voice of justice; you have been taken from your dungeon and brought to
this jail. Legally summoned in the usual forms, _formaliis verbis
pressus_; not regarding to lectures and communications which have been
made, and which will now be repeated, to you; inspired by a bad and
perverse spirit of tenacity, you have preserved silence, and refused to
answer the judge. This is a detestable licence, which constitutes, among
deeds punishable by cashlit, the crime and misdemeanour of overseness."
The serjeant of the coif on the right of the sheriff interrupted him,
and said, with an indifference indescribably lugubrious in its effect,
"_Overhernessa_. Laws of Alfred and of Godrun, chapter the sixth."
The sheriff resumed.
"The law is respected by all except by scoundrels who infest the woods
where the hinds bear young."
Like one clock striking after another, the serjeant said,--
"_Qui faciunt vastum in foresta ubi damoe solent founinare_."
"He who refuses to answer the magistrate," said the sheriff, "is
suspected of every vice. He is reputed capable of every evil."
The serjeant interposed.
"_Prodigus, devorator, profusus, salax, ruffianus, ebriosus, luxuriosus,
simulator, consumptor patrimonii, elluo, ambro, et gluto_."
"Every vice," said the sheriff, "means every crime. He who confesses
nothing, confesses everything. He who holds his peace before the
questions of the judge is in fact a liar and a parricide."
"_Mendax et parricida_," said the serjeant.
The sheriff said,--
"Man, it is not permitted to absent oneself by silence. To pretend
contumaciousness is a wound given to the law. It is like Diomede
wounding a goddess. Taciturnity before a judge is a form of rebellion.
Treason to justice is high treason. Nothing is more hateful or rash. He
who resists interrogation steals truth. The law has provided for this.
For such cases, the English have always enjoyed the right of the foss,
the fork, and chains."
"_Anglica Charta_, year 1088," said the serjeant. Then with the same
mechanical gravity he added, "_Ferrum, et fossam, et furcas cum aliis
The sheriff continued,--
"Man! Forasmuch as you have not chosen to break silence, though of sound
mind and having full knowledge in respect of the subject concerning
which justice demands an answer, and forasmuch as you are diabolically
refractory, you have necessarily been put to torture, and you have been,
by the terms of the criminal statutes, tried by the '_Peine forte et
dure_.' This is what has been done to you, for the law requires that I
should fully inform you. You have been brought to this dungeon. You have
been stripped of your clothes. You have been laid on your back naked on
the ground, your limbs have been stretched and tied to the four pillars
of the law; a sheet of iron has been placed on your chest, and as many
stones as you can bear have been heaped on your belly, 'and more,' says
"_Plusque_," affirmed the serjeant.
The sheriff continued,--
"In this situation, and before prolonging the torture, a second summons
to answer and to speak has been made you by me, sheriff of the county of
Surrey, and you have satanically kept silent, though under torture,
chains, shackles, fetters, and irons."
"_Attachiamenta legalia_," said the serjeant.
"On your refusal and contumacy," said the sheriff, "it being right that
the obstinacy of the law should equal the obstinacy of the criminal, the
proof has been continued according to the edicts and texts. The first
day you were given nothing to eat or drink."
"_Hoc est superjejunare_," said the serjeant.
There was silence, the awful hiss of the man's breathing was heard from
under the heap of stones.
The serjeant-at-law completed his quotation.
"_Adde augmentum abstinentiae ciborum diminutione. Consuetudo
brittanica_, art. 504."
The two men, the sheriff and the serjeant, alternated. Nothing could be
more dreary than their imperturbable monotony. The mournful voice
responded to the ominous voice; it might be said that the priest and the
deacon of punishment were celebrating the savage mass of the law.
The sheriff resumed,--
"On the first day you were given nothing to eat or drink. On the second
day you were given food, but nothing to drink. Between your teeth were
thrust three mouthfuls of barley bread. On the third day they gave you
to drink, but nothing to eat. They poured into your mouth at three
different times, and in three different glasses, a pint of water taken
from the common sewer of the prison. The fourth day is come. It is
to-day. Now, if you do not answer, you will be left here till you die.
Justice wills it."
The Serjeant, ready with his reply, appeared.
"_Mors rei homagium est bonae legi_."
"And while you feel yourself dying miserably," resumed the sheriff, "no
one will attend to you, even when the blood rushes from your throat,
your chin, and your armpits, and every pore, from the mouth to the
"_A throtabolla_," said the Serjeant, "_et pabu et subhircis et a
grugno usque ad crupponum_."
The sheriff continued,--
"Man, attend to me, because the consequences concern you. If you
renounce your execrable silence, and if you confess, you will only be
hanged, and you will have a right to the meldefeoh, which is a sum of
"_Damnum confitens_," said the Serjeant, "_habeat le meldefeoh. Leges
Inae_, chapter the twentieth."
"Which sum," insisted the sheriff, "shall be paid in doitkins, suskins,
and galihalpens, the only case in which this money is to pass, according
to the terms of the statute of abolition, in the third of Henry V., and
you will have the right and enjoyment of _scortum ante mortem_, and then
be hanged on the gibbet. Such are the advantages of confession. Does it
please you to answer to justice?"
The sheriff ceased and waited.
The prisoner lay motionless.
The sheriff resumed,--
"Man, silence is a refuge in which there is more risk than safety. The
obstinate man is damnable and vicious. He who is silent before justice
is a felon to the crown. Do not persist in this unfilial disobedience.
Think of her Majesty. Do not oppose our gracious queen. When I speak to
you, answer her; be a loyal subject."
The patient rattled in the throat.
The sheriff continued,--
"So, after the seventy-two hours of the proof, here we are at the fourth
day. Man, this is the decisive day. The fourth day has been fixed by the
law for the confrontation."
"_Quarta die, frontem ad frontem adduce_," growled the Serjeant.
"The wisdom of the law," continued the sheriff, "has chosen this last
hour to hold what our ancestors called 'judgment by mortal cold,' seeing
that it is the moment when men are believed on their yes or their no."
The serjeant on the right confirmed his words.
"_Judicium pro frodmortell, quod homines credendi sint per suum ya et
per suum no_. Charter of King Adelstan, volume the first, page one
hundred and sixty-three."
There was a moment's pause; then the sheriff bent his stern face towards
"Man, who art lying there on the ground--"
"Man," he cried, "do you hear me?"
The man did not move.
"In the name of the law," said the sheriff, "open your eyes."
The man's lids remained closed.
The sheriff turned to the doctor, who was standing on his left.
"Doctor, give your diagnostic."
"_Probe, da diagnosticum_," said the serjeant.
The doctor came down with magisterial stiffness, approached the man,
leant over him, put his ear close to the mouth of the sufferer, felt the
pulse at the wrist, the armpit, and the thigh, then rose again.
"Well?" said the sheriff.
"He can still hear," said the doctor.
"Can he see?" inquired the sheriff.
The doctor answered, "He can see."
On a sign from the sheriff, the justice of the quorum and the wapentake
advanced. The wapentake placed himself near the head of the patient. The
justice of the quorum stood behind Gwynplaine.
The doctor retired a step behind the pillars.
Then the sheriff, raising the bunch of roses as a priest about to
sprinkle holy water, called to the prisoner in a loud voice, and became
"O wretched man, speak! The law supplicates before she exterminates you.
You, who feign to be mute, remember how mute is the tomb. You, who
appear deaf, remember that damnation is more deaf. Think of the death
which is worse than your present state. Repent! You are about to be left
alone in this cell. Listen! you who are my likeness; for I am a man!
Listen, my brother, because I am a Christian! Listen, my son, because I
am an old man! Look at me; for I am the master of your sufferings, and I
am about to become terrible. The terrors of the law make up the majesty
of the judge. Believe that I myself tremble before myself. My own power
alarms me. Do not drive me to extremities. I am filled by the holy
malice of chastisement. Feel, then, wretched man, the salutary and
honest fear of justice, and obey me. The hour of confrontation is come,
and you must answer. Do not harden yourself in resistance. Do not that
which will be irrevocable. Think that your end belongs to me. Half man,
half corpse, listen! At least, let it not be your determination to
expire here, exhausted for hours, days, and weeks, by frightful agonies
of hunger and foulness, under the weight of those stones, alone in this
cell, deserted, forgotten, annihilated, left as food for the rats and
the weasels, gnawed by creatures of darkness while the world comes and
goes, buys and sells, whilst carriages roll in the streets above your
head. Unless you would continue to draw painful breath without remission
in the depths of this despair--grinding your teeth, weeping,
blaspheming--without a doctor to appease the anguish of your wounds,
without a priest to offer a divine draught of water to your soul. Oh! if
only that you may not feel the frightful froth of the sepulchre ooze
slowly from your lips, I adjure and conjure you to hear me. I call you
to your own aid. Have pity on yourself. Do what is asked of you. Give
way to justice. Open your eyes, and see if you recognize this man!"
The prisoner neither turned his head nor lifted his eyelids.
The sheriff cast a glance first at the justice of the quorum and then at
The justice of the quorum, taking Gwynplaine's hat and mantle, put his
hands on his shoulders and placed him in the light by the side of the
chained man. The face of Gwynplaine stood out clearly from the
surrounding shadow in its strange relief.
At the same time, the wapentake bent down, took the man's temples
between his hands, turned the inert head towards Gwynplaine, and with
his thumbs and his first fingers lifted the closed eyelids.
The prisoner saw Gwynplaine. Then, raising his head voluntarily, and
opening his eyes wide, he looked at him.
He quivered as much as a man can quiver with a mountain on his breast,
and then cried out,--
"'Tis he! Yes; 'tis he!"
And he burst into a horrible laugh.
"'Tis he!" he repeated.
Then his head fell back on the ground, and he closed his eyes again.
"Registrar, take that down," said the justice.
Gwynplaine, though terrified, had, up to that moment, preserved a calm
exterior. The cry of the prisoner, "'Tis he!" overwhelmed him
completely. The words, "Registrar, take that down!" froze him. It seemed
to him that a scoundrel had dragged him to his fate without his being
able to guess why, and that the man's unintelligible confession was
closing round him like the clasp of an iron collar. He fancied himself
side by side with him in the posts of the same pillory. Gwynplaine lost
his footing in his terror, and protested. He began to stammer incoherent
words in the deep distress of an innocent man, and quivering, terrified,
lost, uttered the first random outcries that rose to his mind, and words
of agony like aimless projectiles.
"It is not true. It was not me. I do not know the man. He cannot know
me, since I do not know him. I have my part to play this evening. What
do you want of me? I demand my liberty. Nor is that all. Why have I been