The effect which seven oaths in the open air can produce
“Te Deum Laudamus!” exclaimed Master Jehan, creeping out from his hole, “the screech-owls have departed. Och! och! Hax! pax! max! fleas! mad dogs! the devil! I have had enough of their conversation! My head is humming like a bell tower. And mouldy cheese to boot! Come on! Let us descend, take the big brother’s purse and convert all these coins into bottles!”
He cast a glance of tenderness and admiration into the interior of the precious pouch, readjusted his toilet, rubbed up his boots, dusted his poor half sleeves, all gray with ashes, whistled an air, indulged in a sportive pirouette, looked about to see whether there were not something more in the cell to take, gathered up here and there on the furnace some amulet in glass which might serve to bestow, in the guise of a trinket, on Isabeau la Thierrye, finally pushed open the door which his brother had left unfastened, as a last indulgence, and which he, in his turn, left open as a last piece of malice, and descended the circular staircase, skipping like a bird.
In the midst of the gloom of the spiral staircase, he elbowed something which drew aside with a growl; he took it for granted that it was Quasimodo, and it struck him as so droll that he descended the remainder of the staircase holding his sides with laughter. On emerging upon the Place, he laughed yet more heartily.
He stamped his foot when he found himself on the ground once again. “Oh!” said he, “good and honorable pavement of Paris, cursed staircase, fit to put the angels of Jacob’s ladder out of breath! What was I thinking of to thrust myself into that stone gimlet which pierces the sky; all for the sake of eating bearded cheese, and looking at the bell-towers of Paris through a hole in the wall!”
He advanced a few paces, and caught sight of the two screech owls, that is to say, Dom Claude and Master Jacques Charmolue, absorbed in contemplation before a carving on the façade. He approached them on tiptoe, and heard the archdeacon say in a low tone to Charmolue: “’Twas Guillaume de Paris who caused a Job to be carved upon this stone of the hue of lapis-lazuli, gilded on the edges. Job represents the philosopher’s stone, which must also be tried and martyrized in order to become perfect, as saith Raymond Lulle: Sub conservatione formoe speciftoe salva anima.”
“That makes no difference to me,” said Jehan, “’tis I who have the purse.”
At that moment he heard a powerful and sonorous voice articulate behind him a formidable series of oaths. “Sang Dieu! Ventre-.Dieu! Bédieu! Corps de Dieu! Nombril de Belzebuth! Nom d’un pape! Come et tonnerre.”
“Upon my soul!” exclaimed Jehan, “that can only be my friend, Captain Phoebus!”
This name of Phoebus reached the ears of the archdeacon at the moment when he was explaining to the king’s procurator the dragon which is hiding its tail in a bath, from which issue smoke and the head of a king. Dom Claude started, interrupted himself and, to the great amazement of Charmolue, turned round and beheld his brother Jehan accosting a tall officer at the door of the Gondelaurier mansion.
It was, in fact, Captain Phoebus de Châteaupers. He was backed up against a corner of the house of his betrothed and swearing like a heathen.
“By my faith! Captain Phoebus,” said Jehan, taking him by the hand, “you are cursing with admirable vigor.”
“Horns and thunder!” replied the captain.
“Horns and thunder yourself!” replied the student. “Come now, fair captain, whence comes this overflow of fine words?”
“Pardon me, good comrade Jehan,” exclaimed Phoebus, shaking his hand, “a horse going at a gallop cannot halt short. Now, I was swearing at a hard gallop. I have just been with those prudes, and when I come forth, I always find my throat full of curses, I must spit them out or strangle, ventre et tonnerre!”
“Will you come and drink?” asked the scholar.
This proposition calmed the captain.
“I’m willing, but I have no money.”
“But I have!”
“Bah! let’s see it!”
Jehan spread out the purse before the captain’s eyes, with dignity and simplicity. Meanwhile, the archdeacon, who had abandoned the dumbfounded Charmolue where he stood, had approached them and halted a few paces distant, watching them without their noticing him, so deeply were they absorbed in contemplation of the purse.
Phoebus exclaimed: “A purse in your pocket, Jehan! ’tis the moon in a bucket of water, one sees it there but ’tis not there. There is nothing but its shadow. Pardieu! let us wager that these are pebbles!”
Jehan replied coldly: “Here are the pebbles wherewith I pave my fob!”
And without adding another word, he emptied the purse on a neighboring post, with the air of a Roman saving his country.
“True God!” muttered Phoebus, “targes, big-blanks, little blanks, mailles, every two worth one of Tournay, farthings of Paris, real eagle liards! ’Tis dazzling!”
Jehan remained dignified and immovable. Several liards had rolled into the mud; the captain in his enthusiasm stooped to pick them up. Jehan restrained him.
“Fye, Captain Phoebus de Châteaupers!”
Phoebus counted the coins, and turning towards Jehan with solemnity, “Do you know, Jehan, that there are three and twenty sous parisis! whom have you plundered to-night, in the Street Cut-Weazand?”
Jehan flung back his blonde and curly head, and said, half-closing his eyes disdainfully,—
“We have a brother who is an archdeacon and a fool.”
“Corne de Dieu!” exclaimed Phoebus, “the worthy man!”
“Let us go and drink,” said Jehan.
“Where shall we go?” said Phoebus; “‘To Eve’s Apple.’”
“No, captain, to ‘Ancient Science.’ An old woman sawing a basket handle; ’tis a rebus, and I like that.”.
“A plague on rebuses, Jehan! the wine is better at ’Eve’s Apple’; and then, beside the door there is a vine in the sun which cheers me while I am drinking.”
“Well! here goes for Eve and her apple,” said the student, and taking Phoebus’s arm. “By the way, my dear captain, you just mentioned the Rue Coupe-Gueule That is a very bad form of speech; people are no longer so barbarous. They say, Coupe-Gorge.”
The two friends set out towards “Eve’s Apple.” It is unnecessary to mention that they had first gathered up the money, and that the archdeacon followed them.
The archdeacon followed them, gloomy and haggard. Was this the Phoebus whose accursed name had been mingled with all his thoughts ever since his interview with Gringoire? He did not know it, but it was at least a Phoebus, and that magic name sufficed to make the archdeacon follow the two heedless comrades with the stealthy tread of a wolf, listening to their words and observing their slightest gestures with anxious attention. Moreover, nothing was easier than to hear everything they said, as they talked loudly, not in the least concerned that the passers-by were taken into their confidence. They talked of duels, wenches, wine pots, and folly.
At the turning of a street, the sound of a tambourine reached them from a neighboring square. Dom Claude heard the officer say to the scholar,—
“Thunder! Let us hasten our steps!”
“I’m afraid lest the Bohemian should see me.”
“The little girl with the goat.”
“That’s it, Jehan. I always forget her devil of a name. Let us make haste, she will recognize me. I don’t want to have that girl accost me in the street.”
“Do you know her, Phoebus?”
Here the archdeacon saw Phoebus sneer, bend down to Jehan’s ear, and say a few words to him in a low voice; then Phoebus burst into a laugh, and shook his head with a triumphant air.
“Truly?” said Jehan.
“Upon my soul!” said Phoebus.
“Are you sure that she will come?”
“Are you a fool, Jehan? Does one doubt such things?”
“Captain Phoebus, you are a happy gendarme!”
The archdeacon heard the whole of this conversation. His teeth chattered; a visible shiver ran through his whole body. He halted for a moment, leaned against a post like a drunken man, then followed the two merry knaves.
At the moment when he overtook them once more, they had changed their conversation. He heard them singing at the top of their lungs the ancient refrain,—
Les enfants des Petits-Carreaux Se font pendre cornme des veaux.