It chanced that upon a fine morning in this same month of March, I think it was on Saturday the 29th, Saint Eustache’s day, our young friend the student, Jehan Frollo du Moulin, perceived, as he was dressing himself, that his breeches, which contained his purse, gave out no metallic ring. “Poor purse,” he said, drawing it from his fob, “what! not the smallest parisis! how cruelly the dice, beer-pots, and Venus have depleted thee! How empty, wrinkled, limp, thou art! Thou resemblest the throat of a fury! I ask you, Messer Cicero, and Messer Seneca, copies of whom, all dog’s-eared, I behold scattered on the floor, what profits it me to know, better than any governor of the mint, or any Jew on the Pont aux Changeurs, that a golden crown stamped with a crown is worth thirty-five unzains of twenty-five sous, and eight deniers parisis apiece, and that a crown stamped with a crescent is worth thirty-six unzains of twenty-six sous, six deniers tournois apiece, if I have not a single wretched black liard to risk on the double-six! Oh! Consul Cicero! this is no calamity from which one extricates one’s self with périphrases,quemadmodum, and verum enim vero!”
He dressed himself sadly. An idea had occurred to him as he laced his boots, but he rejected it at first; nevertheless, it returned, and he put on his waistcoat wrong side out, an evident sign of violent internal combat. At last he dashed his cap roughly on the floor, and exclaimed: “So much the worse! Let come of it what may. I am going to my brother! I shall catch a sermon, but I shall catch a crown.”
Then be hastily donned his long jacket with furred half-sleeves, picked up his cap, and went out like a man driven to desperation.
He descended the Rue de la Harpe toward the City. As he passed the Rue de la Huchette, the odor of those admirable spits, which were incessantly turning, tickled his olfactory apparatus, and he bestowed a loving glance toward the Cyclopean roast, which one day drew from the Franciscan friar, Calatagirone, this pathetic exclamation: Veramente, queste rotisserie sono cosa stupenda! But Jehan had not the wherewithal to buy a breakfast, and he plunged, with a profound sigh, under the gateway of the Petit-Châtelet, that enormous double trefoil of massive towers which guarded the entrance to the City.
He did not even take the trouble to cast a stone in passing, as was the usage, at the miserable statue of that Périnet Leclerc who had delivered up the Paris of Charles VI. to the English, a crime which his effigy, its face battered with stones and soiled with mud, expiated for three centuries at the corner of the Rue de la Harpe and the Rue de Buci, as in an eternal pillory.
The Petit-Pont traversed, the Rue Neuve-Sainte-Geneviève crossed, Jehan de Molendino found himself in front of Notre-Dame. Then indecision seized upon him once more, and he paced for several minutes round the statue of M. Legris, repeating to himself with anguish: “The sermon is sure, the crown is doubtful.”
He stopped a beadle who emerged from the cloister,— “Where is monsieur the archdeacon of Josas?”
“I believe that he is in his secret cell in the tower,” said the beadle; “I should advise you not to disturb him there, unless you come from some one like the pope or monsieur the king.”
Jehan clapped his hands.
“Bécliable! here’s a magnificent chance to see the famous sorcery cell!”
This reflection having brought him to a decision, he plunged resolutely into the small black doorway, and began the ascent of the spiral of Saint-Gilles, which leads to the upper stories of the tower. “I am going to see,” he said to himself on the way. “By the ravens of the Holy Virgin! it must needs be a curious thing, that cell which my reverend brother hides so secretly! ’Tis said that he lights up the kitchens of hell there, and that he cooks the philosopher’s stone there over a hot fire. Bédieu! I care no more for the philosopher’s stone than for a pebble, and I would rather find over his furnace an omelette of Easter eggs and bacon, than the biggest philosopher’s stone in the world."’
On arriving at the gallery of slender columns, he took breath for a moment, and swore against the interminable staircase by I know not how many million cartloads of devils; then he resumed his ascent through the narrow door of the north tower, now closed to the public. Several moments after passing the bell chamber, he came upon a little landing-place, built in a lateral niche, and under the vault of a low, pointed door, whose enormous lock and strong iron bars he was enabled to see through a loophole pierced in the opposite circular wall of the staircase. Persons desirous of visiting this door at the present day will recognize it by this inscription engraved in white letters on the black wall: “J’ADORE CORALIE, 1823. SIGNE UGENE.” “Signé” stands in the text.
“Ugh!” said the scholar; “’tis here, no doubt.”
The key was in the lock, the door was very close to him; he gave it a gentle push and thrust his head through the opening.
The reader cannot have failed to turn over the admirable works of Rembrandt, that Shakespeare of painting. Amid so many marvellous engravings, there is one etching in particular, which is supposed to represent Doctor Faust, and which it is impossible to contemplate without being dazzled. It represents a gloomy cell; in the centre is a table loaded with hideous objects; skulls, spheres, alembics, compasses, hieroglyphic parchments. The doctor is before this table clad in his large coat and covered to the very eyebrows with his furred cap. He is visible only to his waist. He has half risen from his immense arm-chair, his clenched fists rest on the table, and he is gazing with curiosity and terror at a large luminous circle, formed of magic letters, which gleams from the wall beyond, like the solar spectrum in a dark chamber. This cabalistic sun seems to tremble before the eye, and fills the wan cell with its mysterious radiance. It is horrible and it is beautiful.
Something very similar to Faust’s cell presented itself to Jehan’s view, when he ventured his head through the half-open door. It also was a gloomy and sparsely lighted retreat. There also stood a large arm-chair and a large table, compasses, alembics, skeletons of animals suspended from the ceiling, a globe rolling on the floor, hippocephali mingled promiscuously with drinking cups, in which quivered leaves of gold, skulls placed upon vellum checkered with figures and characters, huge manuscripts piled up wide open, without mercy on the cracking corners of the parchment; in short, all the rubbish of science, and everywhere on this confusion dust and spiders’ webs; but there was no circle of luminous letters, no doctor in an ecstasy contemplating the flaming vision, as the eagle gazes upon the sun.
Nevertheless, the cell was not deserted. A man was seated in the arm-chair, and bending over the table. Jehan, to whom his back was turned, could see only his shoulders and the back of his skull; but he had no difficulty in recognizing that bald head, which nature had provided with an eternal tonsure, as though desirous of marking, by this external symbol, the archdeacon’s irresistible clerical vocation.
Jehan accordingly recognized his brother; but the door had been opened so softly, that nothing warned Dom Claude of his presence. The inquisitive scholar took advantage of this circumstance to examine the cell for a few moments at his leisure. A large furnace, which he had not at first observed, stood to the left of the arm-chair, beneath the window. The ray of light which penetrated through this aperture made its way through a spider’s circular web, which tastefully inscribed its delicate rose in the arch of the window, and in the centre of which the insect architect hung motionless, like the hub of this wheel of lace. Upon the furnace were accumulated in disorder, all sorts of vases, earthenware bottles, glass retorts, and mattresses of charcoal. Jehan observed, with a sigh, that there was no frying-pan. “How cold the kitchen utensils are!” he said to himself.
In fact, there was no fire in the furnace, and it seemed as though none had been lighted for a long time. A glass mask, which Jehan noticed among the utensils of alchemy, and which served no doubt, to protect the archdeacon’s face when he was working over some substance to be dreaded, lay in one corner covered with dust and apparently forgotten. Beside it lay a pair of bellows no less dusty, the upper side of which bore this inscription incrusted in copper letters: SPIRA SPERA.
Other inscriptions were written, in accordance with the fashion of the hermetics, in great numbers on the walls; some traced with ink, others engraved with a metal point. There were, moreover, Gothic letters, Hebrew letters, Greek letters, and Roman letters, pell-mell; the inscriptions overflowed at haphazard, on top of each other, the more recent effacing the more ancient, and all entangled with each other, like the branches in a thicket, like pikes in an affray. It was, in fact, a strangely confused mingling of all human philosophies, all reveries, all human wisdom. Here and there one shone out from among the rest like a banner among lance heads. Generally, it was a brief Greek or Roman device, such as the Middle Ages knew so well how to formulate.—Unde? Inde?— Homo homini monstrurn-Ast’ra, castra, nomen, numen.— Meya Bibklov, ueya xaxov.— Sapere aude. Fiat ubi vult— etc.; sometimes a word devoid of all apparent sense, Avayxoqpayia, which possibly contained a bitter allusion to the regime of the cloister; sometimes a simple maxim of clerical discipline formulated in a regular hexameter Coelestem dominum terrestrem dicite dominum. There was also Hebrew jargon, of which Jehan, who as yet knew but little Greek, understood nothing; and all were traversed in every direction by stars, by figures of men or animals, and by intersecting triangles; and this contributed not a little to make the scrawled wall of the cell resemble a sheet of paper over which a monkey had drawn back and forth a pen filled with ink.
The whole chamber, moreover, presented a general aspect of abandonment and dilapidation; and the bad state of the utensils induced the supposition that their owner had long been distracted from his labors by other preoccupations. Meanwhile, this master, bent over a vast manuscript, ornamented with fantastical illustrations, appeared to be tormented by an idea which incessantly mingled with his meditations. That at least was Jehan’s idea, when he heard him exclaim, with the thoughtful breaks of a dreamer thinking aloud,—
“Yes, Manou said it, and Zoroaster taught it! the sun is born from fire, the moon from the sun; fire is the soul of the universe; its elementary atoms pour forth and flow incessantly upon the world through infinite channels! At the point where these currents intersect each other in the heavens, they produce light; at their points of intersection on earth, they produce gold. Light, gold; the same thing! From fire to the concrete state. The difference between the visible and the palpable, between the fluid and the solid in the same substance, between water and ice, nothing more. These are no dreams; it is the general law of nature. But what is one to do in order to extract from science the secret of this general law? What! this light which inundates my hand is gold! These same atoms dilated in accordance with a certain law need only be condensed in accordance with another law. How is it to be done? Some have fancied by burying a ray of sunlight, Averroës,— yes, ’tis Averroës,— Averroës buried one under the first pillar on the left of the sanctuary of the Koran, in the great Mahometan mosque of Cordova; but the vault cannot he opened for the purpose of ascertaining whether the operation has succeeded, until after the lapse of eight thousand years.
“The devil!” said Jehan, to himself, “’tis a long while to wait for a crown!”
“Others have thought,” continued the dreamy archdeacon, “that it would be better worth while to operate upon a ray of Sirius. But ’tis exceeding hard to obtain this ray pure, because of the simultaneous presence of other stars whose rays mingle with it. Flamel esteemed it more simple to operate upon terrestrial fire. Flamel! there’s predestination in the name! Flamma! yes, fire. All lies there. The diamond is contained in the carbon, gold is in the fire. But how to extract it? Magistri affirms that there are certain feminine names, which possess a charm so sweet and mysterious, that it suffices to pronounce them during the operation. Let us read what Manon says on the matter: ’Where women are honored, the divinities are rejoiced; where they are despised, it is useless to pray to God. The mouth of a woman is constantly pure; it is a running water, it is a ray of sunlight. The name of a woman should be agreeable, sweet, fanciful; it should end in long vowels, and resemble words of benediction.’ Yes, the sage is right; in truth, Maria, Sophia, la Esmeral— Damnation! always that thought!”
And he closed the book violently.
He passed his hand over his brow, as though to brush away the idea which assailed him; then he took from the table a nail and a small hammer, whose handle was curiously painted with cabalistic letters.
“For some time,” he said with a bitter smile, “I have failed in all my experiments! one fixed idea possesses me, and sears my brain like fire. I have not even been able to discover the secret of Cassiodorus, whose lamp burned without wick and without oil. A simple matter, nevertheless— ”
“The deuce!” muttered Jehan in his beard.
“Hence,” continued the priest, “one wretched thought is sufficient to render a man weak and beside himself! Oh! how Claude Pernelle would laugh at me. She who could not turn Nicholas Flamel aside, for one moment, from his pursuit of the great work! What! I hold in my hand the magic hammer of Zéchiélé! at every blow dealt by the formidable rabbi, from the depths of his cell, upon this nail, that one of his enemies whom he had condemned, were he a thousand leagues away, was buried a cubit deep in the earth which swallowed him. The King of France himself, in consequence of once having inconsiderately knocked at the door of the thermaturgist, sank to the knees through the pavement of his own Paris. This took place three centuries ago. Well! I possess the hammer and the nail, and in my hands they are utensils no more formidable than a club in the hands of a maker of edge tools. And yet all that is required is to find the magic word which Zéchiélé pronounced when he struck his nail.”
“What nonsense!” thought Jehan.
“Let us see, let us try!” resumed the archdeacon briskly. “Were I to succeed, I should behold the blue spark flash from the head of the nail. Emen-Hétan! Emen-Hétan! That’s not it. Sigéani! Sigéani! May this nail open the tomb to any one who bears the name of Phoebus! A curse upon it! Always and eternally the same idea!”
And he flung away the hammer in a rage. Then he sank down so deeply on the arm-chair and the table, that Jehan lost him from view behind the great pile of manuscripts. For the space of several minutes, all that he saw was his fist convulsively clenched on a book. Suddenly, Dom Claude sprang up, seized a compass and engraved in silence upon the wall in capital letters, this Greek word
“My brother is mad,” said Jehan to himself; “it would have been far more simple to write Fatum, every one is not obliged to know Greek.”
The archdeacon returned and seated himself in his armchair, and placed his head on both his hands, as a sick man does, whose head is heavy and burning.
The student watched his brother with surprise. He did not know, he who wore his heart on his sleeve, he who observed only the good old law of Nature in the world, he who allowed his passions to follow their inclinations, and in whom the lake of great emotions was always dry, so freely did he let it off each day by fresh drains,— he did not know with what fury the sea of human passions ferments and boils when all egress is denied to it, how it accumulates, how it swells, how it overflows, how it hollows out the heart; how it breaks in inward sobs, and dull convulsions, until it has rent its dikes and burst its bed. The austere and glacial envelope of Claude Frollo, that cold surface of steep and inaccessible virtue, had always deceived Jehan. The merry scholar had never dreamed that there was boiling lava, furious and profound, beneath the snowy brow of AEtna.
We do not know whether he suddenly became conscious of these things; but, giddy as he was, he understood that he had seen what he ought not to have seen, that he had just surprised the soul of his elder brother in one of its most secret altitudes, and that Claude must not be allowed to know it. Seeing that the archdeacon had fallen back into his former immobility, he withdrew his head very softly, and made some noise with his feet outside the door, like a person who has just arrived and is giving warning of his approach.
“Enter!” cried the archdeacon, from the interior of his cell; “I was expecting you. I left the door unlocked expressly; enter Master Jacques!”
The scholar entered boldly. The archdeacon, who was very much embarrassed by such a visit in such a place, trembled in his arm-chair. “What! ’tis you, Jehan?”
“’Tis a J, all the same,” said the scholar, with his ruddy, merry, and audacious face.
Dom Claude’s visage had resumed its severe expression.
“What are you come for?”
“Brother,” replied the scholar, making an effort to assume a decent, pitiful, and modest mien, and twirling his cap in his hands with an innocent air; “I am come to ask of you— ”
“A little lecture on morality, of which I stand greatly in need,” Jehan did not dare to add aloud,— “and a little money of which I am in still greater need.” This last member of his phrase remained unuttered.
“Monsieur,” said the archdeacon, in a cold tone, “I am greatly displeased with you.”
“Alas!” sighed the scholar.
Dom Claude made his arm-chair describe a quarter circle, and gazed intently at Jehan.
“I am very glad to see you.”
This was a formidable exordium. Jehan braced himself for a rough encounter.
“Jehan, complaints are brought me about you every day. What affray was that in which you bruised with a cudgel a little vicomte, Albert de Ramonchamp?”
“Oh!” said Jehan, “a vast thing that! A malicious page amused himself by splashing the scholars, by making his horse gallop through the mire!”
“Who,” pursued the archdeacon, “is that Mahiet Fargel, whose gown you have torn? Tunicam dechiraverunt, saith the complaint.”
“Ah bah! a wretched cap of a Montaigu! Isn’t that it?”
“The complaint says tunicam and not cappettam. Do you know Latin?”
Jehan did not reply.
“Yes,” pursued the priest shaking his head, “that is the state of learning and letters at the present day. The Latin tongue is hardly understood, Syriac is unknown, Greek so odious that ’tis accounted no ignorance in the most learned to skip a Greek word without reading it, and to say, ’Groecum est non legitur.’”
The scholar raised his eyes boldly. “Monsieur my brother, doth it please you that I shall explain in good French vernacular that Greek word which is written yonder on the wall?”
A slight flush spread over the cheeks of the priest with their high bones, like the puff of smoke which announces on the outside the secret commotions of a volcano. The student hardly noticed it.
“Well, Jehan,” stammered the elder brother with an effort, “What is the meaning of yonder word?”
Dom Claude turned pale again, and the scholar pursued carelessly.
“And that word below it, graved by the same hand, ’Ayáyvela, signifies ‘impurity.’ You see that people do know their Greek.”
And the archdeacon remained silent. This Greek lesson had rendered him thoughtful.
Master Jehan, who possessed all the artful ways of a spoiled child, judged that the moment was a favorable one in which to risk his request. Accordingly, he assumed an extremely soft tone and began,—
“My good brother, do you hate me to such a degree as to look savagely upon me because of a few mischievous cuffs and blows distributed in a fair war to a pack of lads and brats, quibusdam marmosetis? You see, good Brother Claude, that people know their Latin.”
But all this caressing hypocrisy did not have its usual effect on the severe elder brother. Cerberus did not bite at the honey cake. The archdeacon’s brow did not lose a single wrinkle.
“What are you driving at?” he said dryly.
“Well, in point of fact, this!” replied Jehan bravely, “I stand in need of money.”
At this audacious declaration, the archdeacon’s visage assumed a thoroughly pedagogical and paternal expression.
“You know, Monsieur Jehan, that our fief of Tirecbappe, putting the direct taxes and the rents of the nine and twenty houses in a block, yields only nine and thirty livres, eleven sous, six deniers, Parisian. It is one half more than in the time of the brothers Paclet, but it is not much.”
“I need money,” said Jehan stoically.
“You know that the official has decided that our twenty-one houses should he moved full into the fief of the Bishopric, and that we could redeem this homage only by paying the reverend bishop two marks of silver gilt of the price of six livres parisis. Now, these two marks I have not yet been able to get together. You know it.”
“I know that I stand in need of money,” repeated Jehan for the third time.
“And what are you going to do with it?”
This question caused a flash of hope to gleam before Jehan’s eyes. He resumed his dainty, caressing air.
“Stay, dear Brother Claude, I should not come to you, with any evil motive. There is no intention of cutting a dash in the taverns with your unzains, and of strutting about the streets of Paris in a caparison of gold brocade, with a lackey, cum meo laquasio. No, brother, ’tis for a good work.”
“What good work?” demanded Claude, somewhat surprised.
“Two of my friends wish to purchase an outfit for the infant of a poor Haudriette widow. It is a charity. It will cost three forms, and I should like to contribute to it.”
“What are names of your two friends?”
“Pierre l’Assommeur and Baptiste Croque-Oison.”
“Hum,” said the archdeacon; “those are names as fit for a good work as a catapult for the chief altar.”
It is certain that Jehan had made a very bad choice of names for his two friends. He realized it too late.
“And then,” pursued the sagacious Claude, “what sort of an infant’s outfit is it that is to cost three forms, and that for the child of a Haudriette? Since when have the Haudriette widows taken to having babes in swaddling-clothes?”
Jehan broke the ice once more.
“Eh, well! yes! I need money in order to go and see Isabeau la Thierrye to-night; in the Val-d’ Amour!”
“Impure wretch!” exclaimed the priest.
“Avayveia!” said Jehan.
This quotation, which the scholar borrowed with malice, perchance, from the wall of the cell, produced a singular effect on the archdeacon. He bit his lips and his wrath was drowned in a crimson flush.
“Begone,” he said to Jehan. “I am expecting some one.”
The scholar made one more effort.
“Brother Claude, give me at least one little parisis to buy something to eat.”
“How far have you gone in the Decretals of Gratian?” demanded Dom Claude.
“I have lost my copy books.
“Where are you in your Latin humanities?”
“My copy of Horace has been stolen.”
“Where are you in Aristotle?”
“I’ faith! brother what father of the church is it, who says that the errors of heretics have always had for their lurking place the thickets of Aristotle’s metaphysics? A plague on Aristotle! I care not to tear my religion on his metaphysics.”
“Young man,” resumed the archdeacon, “at the king’s last entry, there was a young gentleman, named Philippe de Comines, who wore embroidered on the housings of his horse this device, upon which I counsel you to meditate: Qui non laborat, non manducet.”
The scholar remained silent for a moment, with his finger in his ear, his eyes on the ground, and a discomfited mien.
All at once he turned round to Claude with the agile quickness of a wagtail.
“So, my good brother, you refuse me a sou parisis, wherewith to buy a crust at a baker’s shop?”
“Qui non laborat, non manducet.”
At this response of the inflexible archdeacon, Jehan hid his head in his hands, like a woman sobbing, and exclaimed with an expression of despair: “Orororororoi.”
“What is the meaning of this, sir?” demanded Claude, surprised at this freak.
“What indeed!” said the scholar; and he lifted to Claude his impudent eyes into which he had just thrust his fists in order to communicate to them the redness of tears; “’tis Greek! ’tis an anapaest of AEschylus which expresses grief perfectly.”
And here he burst into a laugh so droll and violent that it made the archdeacon smile. It was Claude’s fault, in fact: why had he so spoiled that child?
“Oh! good Brother Claude,” resumed Jehan, emboldened by this smile, “look at my worn out boots. Is there a cothurnus in the world more tragic than these boots, whose soles are hanging out their tongues?”
The archdeacon promptly returned to his original severity.
“I will send you some new boots, but no money.”
“Only a poor little parisis, brother,” continued the suppliant Jehan. “I will learn Gratian by heart, I will believe firmly in God, I will be a regular Pythagoras of science and virtue. But one little parisis, in mercy! Would you have famine bite me with its jaws which are gaping in front of me, blacker, deeper, and more noisome than a Tartarus or the nose of a monk?”
Dom Claude shook his wrinkled head: “Qui non laborat— ”
Jehan did not allow him to finish.
“Well,” he exclaimed, “to the devil then! Long live joy! I will live in the tavern, I will fight, I will break pots and I will go and see the wenches.” And thereupon, he hurled his cap at the wall, and snapped his fingers like castanets.
The archdeacon surveyed him with a gloomy air.
“Jehan, you have no soul.”
“In that case, according to Epicurius, I lack a something made of another something which has no name.”
“Jehan, you must think seriously of amending your ways.”
“Oh, come now,” cried the student, gazing in turn at his brother and the alembics on the furnace, “everything is preposterous here, both ideas and bottles!”
“Jehan, you are on a very slippery downward road. Do you know whither you are going?”
“To the wine-shop,” said Jehan.
“The wine-shop leads to the pillory.”
“’Tis as good a lantern as any other, and perchance with that one, Diogenes would have found his man.”
“The pillory leads to the gallows.”
“The gallows is a balance which has a man at one end and the whole earth at the other. ’Tis fine to be the man.”
“The gallows leads to hell.”
“’Tis a big fire.”.
“Jehan, Jehan, the end will be bad.”
“The beginning will have been good.”
At that moment, the sound of a footstep was heard on the staircase.
“Silence!” said the archdeacon, laying his finger on his mouth, “here is Master Jacques. Listen, Jehan,” he added, in a low voice; “have a care never to speak of what you shall have seen or heard here. Hide yourself quickly under the furnace, and do not breathe.”
The scholar concealed himself; just then a happy idea occurred to him.
“By the way, Brother Claude, a form for not breathing.”
“Silence! I promise.”
“You must give it to me.”
“Take it, then!” said the archdeacon angrily, flinging his purse at him.
Jehan darted under the furnace again, and the door opened.