Three human hearts differently constructed
Phoebus was not dead, however. Men of that stamp die hard. When Master Philippe Lheulier, advocate extraordinary of the king, had said to poor Esmeralda; “He is dying,” it was an error or a jest. When the archdeacon had repeated to the condemned girl; “He is dead,” the fact is that he knew nothing about it, but that he believed it, that he counted on it, that he did not doubt it, that he devoutly hoped it. It would have been too hard for him to give favorable news of his rival to the woman whom he loved. Any man would have done the same in his place.
It was not that Phoebus’s wound had not been serious, but it had not been as much so as the archdeacon believed. The physician, to whom the soldiers of the watch had carried him at the first moment, had feared for his life during the space of a week, and had even told him so in Latin. But youth had gained the upper hand; and, as frequently happens, in spite of prognostications and diagnoses, nature had amused herself by saving the sick man under the physician’s very nose. It was while he was still lying on the leech’s pallet that he had submitted to the interrogations of Philippe Lheulier and the official inquisitors, which had annoyed him greatly. Hence, one fine morning, feeling himself better, he had left his golden spurs with the leech as payment, and had slipped away. This had not, however, interfered with the progress of the affair. Justice, at that epoch, troubled itself very little about the clearness and definiteness of a criminal suit. Provided that the accused was hung, that was all that was necessary. Now the judge had plenty of proofs against la Esmeralda. They had supposed Phoebus to be dead, and that was the end of the matter.
Phoebus, on his side, had not fled far. He had simply rejoined his company in garrison at Queue-en-Brie, in the Isle-de-France, a few stages from Paris.
After all, it did not please him in the least to appear in this suit. He had a vague feeling that be should play a ridiculous figure in it. On the whole, he did not know what to think of the whole affair. Superstitious, and not given to devoutness, like every soldier who is only a soldier, when he came to question himself about this adventure, he did not feel assured as to the goat, as to the singular fashion in which he had met La Esmeralda, as to the no less strange manner in which she had allowed him to divine her love, as to her character as a gypsy, and lastly, as to the surly monk. He perceived in all these incidents much more magic than love, probably a sorceress, perhaps the devil; a comedy, in short, or to speak in the language of that day, a very disagreeable mystery, in which he played a very awkward part, the rôle of blows and derision. The captain was quite put out of countenance about it; he experienced that sort of shame which our La Fontaine has so admirably defined,—
Ashamed as a fox who has been caught by a fowl.
Moreover, he hoped that the affair would not get noised abroad, that his name would hardly be pronounced in it, and that in any case it would not go beyond the courts of the Tournelle. In this he was not mistaken, there was then no “Gazette des Tribunaux;” and as not a week passed which had not its counterfeiter to boil, or its witch to hang, or its heretic to burn, at some one of the innumerable justices of Paris, people were so accustomed to seeing in all the squares the ancient feudal Themis, bare armed, with sleeves stripped up, performing her duty at the gibbets, the ladders, and the pillories, that they hardly paid any heed to it. Fashionable society of that day hardly knew the name of the victim who passed by at the corner of the street, and it was the populace at the most who regaled themselves with this coarse fare. An execution was an habitual incident of the public highways, like the braising-pan of the baker or the slaughter-house of the knacker. The executioner was only a sort of butcher of a little deeper dye than the rest.
Hence Phoebus’s mind was soon at ease on the score of the enchantress Esmeralda, or Similar, as he called her, concerning the blow from the dagger of the Bohemian or of the surly monk (it mattered little which to him), and as to the issue of the trial. But as soon as his heart was vacant in that direction, Fleur-de-Lys returned to it. Captain Phoebus’s heart, like the physics of that day, abhorred a vacuum.
Queue-en-Brie was a very insipid place to stay at then, a village of farriers, and cow-girls with chapped hands, a long line of poor dwellings and thatched cottages, which borders the grand road on both sides for half a league; a tail (queue), in short, as its name imports.
Fleur-de-Lys was his last passion but one, a pretty girl, a charming dowry; accordingly, one fine morning, quite cured, and assuming that, after the lapse of two months, the Bohemian affair must be completely finished and forgotten, the amorous cavalier arrived on a prancing horse at the door of the Gondelaurier mansion.
He paid no attention to a tolerably numerous rabble which had assembled in the Place du Parvis, before the portal of Notre-Dame; he remembered that it was the month of May; he supposed that it was some procession, some Pentecost, some festival, hitched his horse to the ring at the door, and gayly ascended the stairs to his beautiful betrothed.
She was alone with her mother.
The scene of the witch, her goat, her cursed alphabet, and Phoebus’s long absences, still weighed on Fleur-de-Lys’s heart. Nevertheless, when she beheld her captain enter, she thought him so handsome, his doublet so new, his baldrick so shining, and his air so impassioned, that she blushed with pleasure. The noble damsel herself was more charming than ever. Her magnificent blond hair was plaited in a ravishing manner, she was dressed entirely in that sky blue which becomes fair people so well, a bit of coquetry which she had learned from Colombe, and her eyes were swimming in that languor of love which becomes them still better.
Phoebus, who had seen nothing in the line of beauty, since he left the village maids of Queue-en-Brie, was intoxicated with Fleur-de-Lys, which imparted to our officer so eager and gallant an air, that his peace was immediately made. Madame de Gondelaurier herself, still maternally seated in her big arm-chair, had not the heart to scold him. As for Fleur-de-Lys’s reproaches, they expired in tender cooings.
The young girl was seated near the window still embroidering her grotto of Neptune. The captain was leaning over the back of her chair, and she was addressing her caressing reproaches to him in a low voice.
“What has become of you these two long months, wicked man?”
“I swear to you,” replied Phoebus, somewhat embarrassed by the question, “that you are beautiful enough to set an archbishop to dreaming.”
She could not repress a smile.
“Good, good, sir. Let my beauty alone and answer my question. A fine beauty, in sooth!”
“Well, my dear cousin, I was recalled to the garrison.
“And where is that, if you please? and why did not you come to say farewell?”
Phoebus was delighted with the first question, which helped him to avoid the second.
“But that is quite close by, monsieur. Why did you not come to see me a single time?”
Here Phoebus was rather seriously embarrassed.
“Because— the service— and then, charming cousin, I have been ill.”
“Ill!” she repeated in alarm.
She poor child was completely upset.
“Oh! do not be frightened at that,” said Phoebus, carelessly, “it was nothing. A quarrel, a sword cut; what is that to you?”
“What is that to me?” exclaimed Fleur-de-Lys, raising her beautiful eyes filled with tears. “Oh! you do not say what you think when you speak thus. What sword cut was that? I wish to know all.”
“Well, my dear fair one, I had a falling out with Mahè Fédy, you know? the lieutenant of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and we ripped open a few inches of skin for each other. That is all.”
The mendacious captain was perfectly well aware that an affair of honor always makes a man stand well in the eyes of a woman. In fact, Fleur-de-Lys looked him full in the face, all agitated with fear, pleasure, and admiration. Still, she was not completely reassured.
“Provided that you are wholly cured, my Phoebus!” said she. “I do not know your Mahè Fédy, but he is a villanous man. And whence arose this quarrel?”
Here Phoebus, whose imagination was endowed with but mediocre power of creation, began to find himself in a quandary as to a means of extricating himself for his prowess.
“Oh! how do I know?— a mere nothing, a horse, a remark! Fair cousin,” he exclaimed, for the sake of changing the conversation, “what noise is this in the Cathedral Square?”
He approached the window.
“Oh! Mon Dieu, fair cousin, how many people there are on the Place!”
“I know not,” said Fleur-de-Lys; “it appears that a witch is to do penance this morning before the church, and thereafter to be hung.”
The captain was so thoroughly persuaded that la Esmeralda’s affair was concluded, that he was but little disturbed by Fleur-de-Lys’s words. Still, he asked her one or two questions.
“What is the name of this witch?”
“I do not know,” she replied.
“And what is she said to have done?”
She shrugged her white shoulders.
“I know not.”
“Oh, mon Dieu Jesus!” said her mother; “there are so many witches nowadays that I dare say they burn them without knowing their names. One might as well seek the name of every cloud in the sky. After all, one may be tranquil. The good God keeps his register.” Here the venerable dame rose and came to the window. “Good Lord! you are right, Phoebus,” said she. “The rabble is indeed great. There are people on all the roofs, blessed be God! Do you know, Phoebus, this reminds me of my best days. The entrance of King Charles VII., when, also, there were many people. I no longer remember in what year that was. When I speak of this to you, it produces upon you the effect,— does it not?— the effect of something very old, and upon me of something very young. Oh! the crowd was far finer than at the present day. They even stood upon the machicolations of the Porte Sainte-Antoine. The king had the queen on a pillion, and after their highnesses came all the ladies mounted behind all the lords. I remember that they laughed loudly, because beside Amanyon de Garlande, who was very short of stature, there rode the Sire Matefelon, a chevalier of gigantic size, who had killed heaps of English. It was very fine. A procession of all the gentlemen of France, with their oriflammes waving red before the eye. There were some with pennons and some with banners. How can I tell? the Sire de Calm with a pennon; Jean de Châteaumorant with a banner; the Sire de Courcy with a banner, and a more ample one than any of the others except the Duc de Bourbon. Alas! ’tis a sad thing to think that all that has existed and exists no longer!”
The two lovers were not listening to the venerable dowager. Phoebus had returned and was leaning on the back of his betrothed’s chair, a charming post whence his libertine glance plunged into all the openings of Fleur-de-Lys’s gorget. This gorget gaped so conveniently, and allowed him to see so many exquisite things and to divine so many more, that Phoebus, dazzled by this skin with its gleams of satin, said to himself, “How can any one love anything but a fair skin?”
Both were silent. The young girl raised sweet, enraptured eyes to him from time to time, and their hair mingled in a ray of spring sunshine.
“Phoebus,” said Fleur-de-Lys suddenly, in a low voice, “we are to be married three months hence; swear to me that you have never loved any other woman than myself.”
“I swear it, fair angel!” replied Phoebus, and his passionate glances aided the sincere tone of his voice in convincing Fleur-de-Lys.
Meanwhile, the good mother, charmed to see the betrothed pair on terms of such perfect understanding, had just quitted the apartment to attend to some domestic matter; Phoebus observed it, and this so emboldened the adventurous captain that very strange ideas mounted to his brain. Fleur-de-Lys loved him, he was her betrothed; she was alone with him; his former taste for her had re-awakened, not with all its fresh-ness but with all its ardor; after all, there is no great harm in tasting one’s wheat while it is still in the blade; I do not know whether these ideas passed through his mind, but one thing is certain, that Fleur-de-Lys was suddenly alarmed by the expression of his glance. She looked round and saw that her mother was no longer there.
“Good heavens!” said she, blushing and uneasy, “how very warm I am?”
“I think, in fact,” replied Phoebus, “that it cannot be far from midday. The sun is troublesome. We need only lower the curtains.”
“No, no,” exclaimed the poor little thing, “on the contrary, I need air.”
And like a fawn who feels the breath of the pack of hounds, she rose, ran to the window, opened it, and rushed upon the balcony.
Phoebus, much discomfited, followed her.
The Place du Parvis Notre-Dame, upon which the balcony looked, as the reader knows, presented at that moment a singular and sinister spectacle which caused the fright of the timid Fleur-de-Lys to change its nature.
An immense crowd, which overflowed into all the neighboring streets, encumbered the Place, properly speaking. The little wall, breast high, which surrounded the Place, would not have sufficed to keep it free had it not been lined with a thick hedge of sergeants and hackbuteers, culverines in hand. Thanks to this thicket of pikes and arquebuses, the Parvis was empty. Its entrance was guarded by a force of halberdiers with the armorial bearings of the bishop. The large doors of the church were closed, and formed a contrast with the innumerable windows on the Place, which, open to their very gables, allowed a view of thousands of heads heaped up almost like the piles of bullets in a park of artillery.
The surface of this rabble was dingy, dirty, earthy. The spectacle which it was expecting was evidently one of the sort which possess the privilege of bringing out and calling together the vilest among the populace. Nothing is so hideous as the noise which was made by that swarm of yellow caps and dirty heads. In that throng there were more laughs than cries, more women than men.
From time to time, a sharp and vibrating voice pierced the general clamor.
“Ohé! Mahiet Baliffre! Is she to be hung yonder?”
“Fool! t’is here that she is to make her apology in her shift! the good God is going to cough Latin in her face! That is always done here, at midday. If ’tis the gallows that you wish, go to the Grève.”
“I will go there, afterwards.”
“Tell me, la Boucanbry? Is it true that she has refused a confessor?”
“It appears so, La Bechaigne.”
“You see what a pagan she is!”
“’Tis the custom, monsieur. The bailiff of the courts is bound to deliver the malefactor ready judged for execution if he be a layman, to the provost of Paris; if a clerk, to the official of the bishopric.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Oh, God!” said Fleur-de-Lys, “the poor creature!”
This thought filled with sadness the glance which she cast upon the populace. The captain, much more occupied with her than with that pack of the rabble, was amorously rumpling her girdle behind. She turned round, entreating and smiling.
“Please let me alone, Phoebus! If my mother were to return, she would see your hand!”
At that moment, midday rang slowly out from the clock of Notre-Dame. A murmur of satisfaction broke out in the crowd. The last vibration of the twelfth stroke had hardly died away when all heads surged like the waves beneath a squall, and an immense shout went up from the pavement, the windows, and the roofs,
“There she is!”
Fleur-de-Lys pressed her hands to her eyes, that she might not see.
“Charming girl,” said Phoebus, “do you wish to withdraw?”
“No,” she replied; and she opened through curiosity, the eyes which she had closed through fear.
A tumbrel drawn by a stout Norman horse, and all surrounded by cavalry in violet livery with white crosses, had just debouched upon the Place through the Rue Saint-Pierre-aux-Boeufs. The sergeants of the watch were clearing a passage for it through the crowd, by stout blows from their clubs. Beside the cart rode several officers of justice and police, recognizable by their black costume and their awkwardness in the saddle. Master Jacques Charmolue paraded at their head.
In the fatal cart sat a young girl with her arms tied behind her back, and with no priest beside her. She was in her shift; her long black hair (the fashion then was to cut it off only at the foot of the gallows) fell in disorder upon her half-bared throat and shoulders.
Athwart that waving hair, more glossy than the plumage of a raven, a thick, rough, gray rope was visible, twisted and knotted, chafing her delicate collar-bones and twining round the charming neck of the poor girl, like an earthworm round a flower. Beneath that rope glittered a tiny amulet ornamented with bits of green glass, which had been left to her no doubt, because nothing is refused to those who are about to die. The spectators in the windows could see in the bottom of the cart her naked legs which she strove to hide beneath her, as by a final feminine instinct. At her feet lay a little goat, bound. The condemned girl held together with her teeth her imperfectly fastened shift. One would have said that she suffered still more in her misery from being thus exposed almost naked to the eyes of all. Alas! modesty is not made for such shocks.
“Jesus!” said Fleur-de-Lys hastily to the captain. “Look fair cousin, ’tis that wretched Bohemian with the goat.”
So saying, she turned to Phoebus. His eyes were fixed on the tumbrel. He was very pale.
“What Bohemian with the goat?” he stammered.
“What!” resumed Fleur-de-Lys, “do you not remember?”
Phoebus interrupted her.
“I do not know what you mean.”
He made a step to re-enter the room, but Fleur-de-Lys, whose jealousy, previously so vividly aroused by this same gypsy, had just been re-awakened, Fleur-de-Lys gave him a look full of penetration and distrust. She vaguely recalled at that moment having heard of a captain mixed up in the trial of that witch.
“What is the matter with you?” she said to Phoebus, “one would say, that this woman had disturbed you.”
Phoebus forced a sneer,—
“Me! Not the least in the world! Ah! yes, certainly!”
“Remain, then!” she continued imperiously, “and let us see the end.”
The unlucky captain was obliged to remain. He was somewhat reassured by the fact that the condemned girl never removed her eyes from the bottom of the cart. It was but too surely la Esmeralda. In this last stage of opprobrium and misfortune, she was still beautiful; her great black eyes appeared still larger, because of the emaciation of her cheeks; her pale profile was pure and sublime. She resembled what she had been, in the same degree that a virgin by Masaccio, resembles a virgin of Raphael,— weaker, thinner, more delicate.
Moreover, there was nothing in her which was not shaken in some sort, and which with the exception of her modesty, she did not let go at will, so profoundly had she been broken by stupor and despair. Her body bounded at every jolt of the tumbrel like a dead or broken thing; her gaze was dull and imbecile. A tear was still visible in her eyes, but motionless and frozen, so to speak.
Meanwhile, the lugubrious cavalcade has traversed the crowd amid cries of joy and curious attitudes. But as a faithful historian, we must state that on beholding her so beautiful, so depressed, many were moved with pity, even among the hardest of them.
The tumbrel had entered the Parvis.
It halted before the central portal. The escort ranged themselves in line on both sides. The crowd became silent, and, in the midst of this silence full of anxiety and solemnity, the two leaves of the grand door swung back, as of themselves, on their hinges, which gave a creak like the sound of a fife. Then there became visible in all its length, the deep, gloomy church, hung in black, sparely lighted with a few candles gleaming afar off on the principal altar, opened in the midst of the Place which was dazzling with light, like the mouth of a cavern. At the very extremity, in the gloom of the apse, a gigantic silver cross was visible against a black drapery which hung from the vault to the pavement. The whole nave was deserted. But a few heads of priests could be seen moving confusedly in the distant choir stalls, and, at the moment when the great door opened, there escaped from the church a loud, solemn, and monotonous chanting, which cast over the head of the condemned girl, in gusts, fragments of melancholy psalms,—
“Non timebo millia populi circumdantis me: exsurge, Domine; salvum me fac, Deus!”
“Salvum me fac, Deus, quoniam intraverunt aquoe usque ad animam meam.
“Infixus sum in limo profundi; et non est substantia.”
At the same time, another voice, separate from the choir, intoned upon the steps of the chief altar, this melancholy offertory,-
“Qui verbum meum audit, et credit ei qui misit me, habet vitam oeternam et in judicium non venit; sed transit a morte im vitam.”
This chant, which a few old men buried in the gloom sang from afar over that beautiful creature, full of youth and life, caressed by the warm air of spring, inundated with sunlight was the mass for the dead.
The people listened devoutly.
The unhappy girl seemed to lose her sight and her consciousness in the obscure interior of the church. Her white lips moved as though in prayer, and the headsman’s assistant who approached to assist her to alight from the cart, heard her repeating this word in a low tone,— “Phoebus.”
They untied her hands, made her alight, accompanied by her goat, which had also been unbound, and which bleated with joy at finding itself free: and they made her walk barefoot on the hard pavement to the foot of the steps leading to the door. The rope about her neck trailed behind her. One would have said it was a serpent following her.
Then the chanting in the church ceased. A great golden cross and a row of wax candles began to move through the gloom. The halberds of the motley beadles clanked; and, a few moments later, a long procession of priests in chasubles, and deacons in dalmatics, marched gravely towards the condemned girl, as they drawled their song, spread out before her view and that of the crowd. But her glance rested on the one who marched at the head, immediately after the cross-bearer.
“Oh!” she said in a low voice, and with a shudder, “’tis he again! the priest!”
It was in fact, the archdeacon. On his left he had the sub-chanter, on his right, the chanter, armed with his official wand. He advanced with head thrown back, his eyes fixed and wide open, intoning in a strong voice,—
“De ventre inferi clamavi, et exaudisti vocem meam.
“Et projecisti me in profundum in corde mans, et flumem circumdedit me.”
At the moment when he made his appearance in the full daylight beneath the lofty arched portal, enveloped in an ample cope of silver barred with a black cross, he was so pale that more than one person in the crowd thought that one of the marble bishops who knelt on the sepulchral stones of the choir had risen and was come to receive upon the brink of the tomb, the woman who was about to die.
She, no less pale, no less like a statue, had hardly noticed that they had placed in her hand a heavy, lighted candle of yellow wax; she had not heard the yelping voice of the clerk reading the fatal contents of the apology; when they told her to respond with Amen, she responded Amen. She only recovered life and force when she beheld the priest make a sign to her guards to withdraw, and himself advance alone towards her.
Then she felt her blood boil in her head, and a remnant of indignation flashed up in that soul already benumbed and cold.
The archdeacon approached her slowly; even in that extremity, she beheld him cast an eye sparkling with sensuality, jealousy, and desire, over her exposed form. Then he said aloud,—
“Young girl, have you asked God’s pardon for your faults and shortcomings?”
He bent down to her ear, and added (the spectators supposed that he was receiving her last confession): “Will you have me? I can still save you!”
She looked intently at him: “Begone, demon, or I will denounce you!”
He gave vent to a horrible smile: “You will not be believed. You will only add a scandal to a crime. Reply quickly! Will you have me?”
“What have you done with my Phoebus?”
“He is dead!” said the priest.
At that moment the wretched archdeacon raised his head mechanically and beheld at the other end of the Place, in the balcony of the Gondelaurier mansion, the captain standing beside Fleur-de-Lys. He staggered, passed his hand across his eyes, looked again, muttered a curse, and all his features were violently contorted.
“Well, die then!” he hissed between his teeth. “No one shall have you.” Then, raising his hand over the gypsy, he exclaimed in a funereal voice:— “I nunc, anima anceps, et sit tibi Deus misenicors!"
This was the dread formula with which it was the custom to conclude these gloomy ceremonies. It was the signal agreed upon between the priest and the executioner.
The crowd knelt.
“Kyrie eleison," said the priests, who had remained beneath the arch of the portal.
“Kyrie eleison,” repeated the throng in that murmur which runs over all heads, like the waves of a troubled sea.
“Amen,” said the archdeacon.
He turned his back on the condemned girl, his head sank upon his breast once more, he crossed his hands and rejoined his escort of priests, and a moment later he was seen to disappear, with the cross, the candles, and the copes, beneath the misty arches of the cathedral, and his sonorous voice was extinguished by degrees in the choir, as he chanted this verse of despair,—
“Omnes gurgites tui et fluctus tui super me transierunt."
At the same time, the intermittent clash of the iron butts of the beadles’ halberds, gradually dying away among the columns of the nave, produced the effect of a clock hammer striking the last hour of the condemned.
The doors of Notre-Dame remained open, allowing a view of the empty desolate church, draped in mourning, without candles, and without voices.
The condemned girl remained motionless in her place, waiting to be disposed of. One of the sergeants of police was obliged to notify Master Charmolue of the fact, as the latter, during this entire scene, had been engaged in studying the bas-relief of the grand portal which represents, according to some, the sacrifice of Abraham; according to others, the philosopher’s alchemical operation: the sun being figured forth by the angel; the fire, by the fagot; the artisan, by Abraham.
There was considerable difficulty in drawing him away from that contemplation, but at length he turned round; and, at a signal which he gave, two men clad in yellow, the executioner’s assistants, approached the gypsy to bind her hands once more.
The unhappy creature, at the moment of mounting once again the fatal cart, and proceeding to her last halting-place, was seized, possibly, with some poignant clinging to life. She raised her dry, red eyes to heaven, to the sun, to the silvery clouds, cut here and there by a blue trapezium or triangle; then she lowered them to objects around her, to the earth, the throng, the houses; all at once, while the yellow man was binding her elbows, she uttered a terrible cry, a cry of joy. Yonder, on that balcony, at the corner of the Place, she had just caught sight of him, of her friend, her lord, Phoebus, the other apparition of her life!
The judge had lied! the priest had lied! it was certainly he, she could not doubt it; he was there, handsome, alive, dressed in his brilliant uniform, his plume on his head, his sword by his side!
“Phoebus!” she cried, “my Phoebus!”
And she tried to stretch towards him arms trembling with love and rapture, but they were bound.
Then she saw the captain frown, a beautiful young girl who was leaning against him gazed at him with disdainful lips and irritated eyes; then Phoebus uttered some words which did not reach her, and both disappeared precipitately behind the window opening upon the balcony, which closed after them.
“Phoebus!” she cried wildly, “can it be you believe it?” A monstrous thought had just presented itself to her. She remembered that she had been condemned to death for murder committed on the person of Phoebus de Châteaupers.
She had borne up until that moment. But this last blow was too harsh. She fell lifeless on the pavement.
“Come,” said Charmolue, “carry her to the cart, and make an end of it.”
No one had yet observed in the gallery of the statues of the kings, carved directly above the arches of the portal, a strange spectator, who had, up to that time, observed everything with such impassiveness, with a neck so strained, a visage so hideous that, in his motley accoutrement of red and violet, he might have been taken for one of those stone monsters through whose mouths the long gutters of the cathedral have discharged their waters for six hundred years. This spectator had missed nothing that had taken place since midday in front of the portal of Notre-Dame. And at the very beginning he had securely fastened to one of the small columns a large knotted rope, one end of which trailed on the flight of steps below. This being done, he began to look on tranquilly, whistling from time to time when a blackbird flitted past. Suddenly, at the moment when the superintendent’s assistants were preparing to execute Charmolue’s phlegmatic order, he threw his leg over the balustrade of the gallery, seized the rope with his feet, his knees and his hands; then he was seen to glide down the façade, as a drop of rain slips down a window-pane, rush to the two executioners with the swiftness of a cat which has fallen from a roof, knock them down with two enormous fists, pick up the gypsy with one hand, as a child would her doll, and dash back into the church with a single bound, lifting the young girl above his head and crying in a formidable voice,—
This was done with such rapidity, that had it taken place at night, the whole of it could have been seen in the space of a single flash of lightning.
“Sanctuary! Sanctuary!” repeated the crowd; and the clapping of ten thousand hands made Quasimodo’s single eye sparkle with joy and pride.
This shock restored the condemned girl to her senses. She raised her eyelids, looked at Quasimodo, then closed them again suddenly, as though terrified by her deliverer.
Charmolue was stupefied, as well as the executioners and the entire escort. In fact, within the bounds of Notre-Dame, the condemned girl could not be touched. The cathedral was a place of refuge. All temporal jurisdiction expired upon its threshold.
Quasimodo had halted beneath the great portal, his huge feet seemed as solid on the pavement of the church as the heavy Roman pillars. His great, bushy head sat low between his shoulders, like the heads of lions, who also have a mane and no neck. He held the young girl, who was quivering all over, suspended from his horny hands like a white drapery; but he carried her with as much care as though he feared to break her or blight her. One would have said that he felt that she was a delicate, exquisite, precious thing, made for other hands than his. There were moments when he looked as if not daring to touch her, even with his breath. Then, all at once, he would press her forcibly in his arms, against his angular bosom, like his own possession, his treasure, as the mother of that child would have done. His gnome’s eye, fastened upon her, inundated her with tenderness, sadness, and pity, and was suddenly raised filled with lightnings. Then the women laughed and wept, the crowd stamped with enthusiasm, for, at that moment Quasimodo had a beauty of his own. He was handsome; he, that orphan, that foundling, that outcast, he felt himself august and strong, he gazed in the face of that society from which he was banished, and in which he had so powerfully intervened, of that human justice from which he had wrenched its prey, of all those tigers whose jaws were forced to remain empty, of those policemen, those judges, those executioners, of all that force of the king which he, the meanest of creatures, had just broken, with the force of God.
And then, it was touching to behold this protection which had fallen from a being so hideous upon a being so unhappy, a creature condemned to death saved by Quasimodo. They were two extremes of natural and social wretchedness, coming into contact and aiding each other.
Meanwhile, after several moments of triumph, Quasimodo had plunged abruptly into the church with his burden. The populace, fond of all prowess, sought him with their eyes, beneath the gloomy nave, regretting that he had so speedily disappeared from their acclamations. All at once, he was seen to re-appear at one of the extremities of the gallery of the kings of France; he traversed it, running like a madman, raising his conquest high in his arms and shouting: “Sanctuary!” The crowd broke forth into fresh applause. The gallery passed, he plunged once more into the interior of the church. A moment later, he re-appeared upon the upper platform, with the gypsy still in his arms, still running madly, still crying, “Sanctuary!” and the throng applauded. Finally, he made his appearance for the third time upon the summit of the tower where hung the great bell; from that point he seemed to be showing to the entire city the girl whom he had saved, and his voice of thunder, that voice which was so rarely heard, and which he never heard himself, repeated thrice with frenzy, even to the clouds: “Sanctuary! Sanctuary! Sanctuary!”
“Noel! Noel!” shouted the populace in its turn; and that immense acclamation flew to astonish the crowd assembled at the Grève on the other bank, and the recluse who was still waiting with her eyes riveted on the gibbet.