Gringoire has many good ideas in succession.— rue des bernardins
As soon as Pierre Gringoire had seen how this whole affair was turning, and that there would decidedly be the rope, hanging, and other disagreeable things for the principal personages in this comedy, he had not cared to identify himself with the matter further. The outcasts with whom he had remained, reflecting that, after all, it was the best company in Paris,— the outcasts had continued to interest themselves in behalf of the gypsy. He had thought it very simple on the part of people who had, like herself, nothing else in prospect but Charmolue and Torterue, and who, unlike himself, did not gallop through the regions of imagination between the wings of Pegasus. From their remarks, he had learned that his wife of the broken crock had taken refuge in Notre-Dame, and he was very glad of it. But he felt no temptation to go and see her there. He meditated occasionally on the little goat, and that was all. Moreover, he was busy executing feats of strength during the day for his living, and at night he was engaged in composing a memorial against the Bishop of Paris, for he remembered having been drenched by the wheels of his mills, and he cherished a grudge against him for it. He also occupied himself with annotating the fine work of Baudry-lé-Rouge, Bishop of Noyon and Tournay, De Cupa Petrarum, which had given him a violent passion for architecture, an inclination which had replaced in his heart his passion for hermeticism, of which it was, moreover, only a natural corollary, since there is an intimate relation between hermeticism and masonry. Gringoire had passed from the love of an idea to the love of the form of that idea.
One day he had halted near Saint Germain-l’Auxerrois, at the corner of a mansion called “For-l’Evêque " (the Bishop’s Tribunal), which stood opposite another called “For-lé-Roi” (the King’s Tribunal). At this For-l’Evêque, there was a charming chapel of the fourteenth century, whose apse was on the street. Gringoire was devoutly examining its exterior sculptures. He was in one of those moments of egotistical, exclusive, supreme, enjoyment when the artist beholds nothing in the world but art, and the world in art. All at once he feels a hand laid gravely on his shoulder. He turns round. It was his old friend, his former master, monsieur the archdeacon.
He was stupefied. It was a long time since he had seen the archdeacon, and Dom Claude was one of those solemn and impassioned men, a meeting with whom always upsets the equilibrium of a sceptical philosopher.
The archdeacon maintained silence for several minutes, during which Gringoire had time to observe him. He found Dom Claude greatly changed; pale as a winter’s morning, with hollow eyes, and hair almost white. The priest broke the silence at length, by saying, in a tranquil but glacial tone,—
“How do you do, Master Pierre?”
“My health?” replied Gringoire. “Eh! eh! one can say both one thing and another on that score. Still, it is good, on the whole. I take not too much of anything. You know, master, that the secret of keeping well, according to Hippocrates; id est: cibi, potus, somni, vénus, omnia moderata sint.”
“So you have no care, Master Pierre?” resumed the archdeacon, gazing intently at Gringoire.
“None, i’ faith!”
“And what are you doing now?”
“You see, master. I am examining the chiselling of these stones, and the manner in which yonder bas-relief is thrown out.”
The priest began to smile with that bitter smile which raises only one corner of the mouth.
“And that amuses you?”
“’Tis paradise!” exclaimed Gringoire. And leaning over the sculptures with the fascinated air of a demonstrator of living phenomena: “Do you not think, for instance, that yon metamorphosis in bas-relief is executed with much adroitness, delicacy and patience? Observe that slender column. Around what capital have you seen foliage more tender and better caressed by the chisel. Here are three raised bosses of Jean Maillevin. They are not the finest works of this great master. Nevertheless, the naïveté, the sweetness of the faces, the gayety of the attitudes and draperies, and that inexplicable charm which is mingled with all the defects, render the little figures very diverting and delicate, perchance, even too much so. You think that it is not diverting?”
“Yes, certainly!” said the priest.
“And if you were to see the interior of the chapel!” resumed the poet, with his garrulous enthusiasm. “Carvings everywhere. ’Tis as thickly clustered as the head of a cabbage! The apse is of a very devout, and so peculiar a fashion that I have never beheld anything like it elsewhere!”
Dom Claude interrupted him,—
“You are happy, then?”
Gringoire replied warmly;—
“On my honor, yes! First I loved women, then animals. Now I love stones. They are quite as amusing as women and animals, and less treacherous.”
The priest laid his hand on his brow. It was his habitual gesture.
“Stay!” said Gringoire, “one has one’s pleasures!” He took the arm of the priest, who let him have his way, and made him enter the staircase turret of For-l’Evêque. “Here is a staircase! every time that I see it I am happy. It is of the simplest and rarest manner of steps in Paris. All the steps are bevelled underneath. Its beauty and simplicity consist in the interspacing of both, being a foot or more wide, which are interlaced, interlocked, fitted together, enchained enchased, interlined one upon another, and bite into each other in a manner that is truly firm and graceful.”
“And you desire nothing?”
“And you regret nothing?”
“Neither regret nor desire. I have arranged my mode of life.”
“What men arrange,” said Claude, “things disarrange.”
“I am a Pyrrhonian philosopher,” replied Gringoire, “and I hold all things in equilibrium.”
“And how do you earn your living?”
“I still make epics and tragedies now and then; but that which brings me in most is the industry with which you are acquainted, master; carrying pyramids of chairs in my teeth.”
“The trade is but a rough one for a philosopher.”
“’Tis still equilibrium,” said Gringoire. “When one has an idea, one encounters it in everything.”
“I know that,” replied the archdeacon.
After a silence, the priest resumed,—
“You are, nevertheless, tolerably poor?”
“Poor, yes; unhappy, no.”
At that moment, a trampling of horses was heard, and our two interlocutors beheld defiling at the end of the street, a company of the king’s unattached archers, their lances borne high, an officer at their head. The cavalcade was brilliant, and its march resounded on the pavement.
“How you gaze at that officer!” said Gringoire, to the archdeacon.
“Because I think I recognize him.”
“What do you call him?”
“I think,” said Claude, “that his name is Phoebus de Châteaupers.”
“Phoebus! A curious name! There is also a Phoebus, Comte de Foix. I remember having known a wench who swore only by the name of Phoebus.”
“Come away from here,” said the priest. “I have something to say to you.”
From the moment of that troop’s passing, some agitation had pierced through the archdeacon’s glacial envelope. He walked on. Gringoire followed him, being accustomed to obey him, like all who had once approached that man so full of ascendency. They reached in silence the Rue des Bernardins, which was nearly deserted. Here Dom Claude paused.
“What have you to say to me, master?” Gringoire asked him.
“Do you not think that the dress of those cavaliers whom we have just seen is far handsomer than yours and mine?”
Gringoire tossed his head.
“I’ faith! I love better my red and yellow jerkin, than those scales of iron and steel. A fine pleasure to produce, when you walk, the same noise as the Quay of Old Iron, in an earthquake!”
“So, Gringoire, you have never cherished envy for those handsome fellows in their military doublets?”
“Envy for what, monsieur the archdeacon? their strength, their armor, their discipline? Better philosophy and independence in rags. I prefer to be the head of a fly rather than the tail of a lion.”
“That is singular,” said the priest dreamily. “Yet a handsome uniform is a beautiful thing.”
Gringoire, perceiving that he was in a pensive mood, quitted him to go and admire the porch of a neighboring house. He came back clapping his hands.
“If you were less engrossed with the fine clothes of men of war, monsieur the archdeacon, I would entreat you to come and see this door. I have always said that the house of the Sieur Aubry had the most superb entrance in the world.”
“Pierre Gringoire,” said the archdeacon, “What have you done with that little gypsy dancer?”
“La Esmeralda? You change the conversation very abruptly.”
“Was she not your wife?”
“Yes, by virtue of a broken crock. We were to have four years of it. By the way,” added Gringoire, looking at the archdeacon in a half bantering way, “are you still thinking of her?”
“And you think of her no longer?”
“Very little. I have so many things. Good heavens, how pretty that little goat was!”
“Had she not saved your life?”
“’Tis true, pardieu!”
“Well, what has become of her? What have you done with her?”
“I cannot tell you. I believe that they have hanged her.”
“You believe so?”
“I am not sure. When I saw that they wanted to hang people, I retired from the game.”
“That is all you know of it?”
“Wait a bit. I was told that she had taken refuge in Notre-Dame, and that she was safe there, and I am delighted to hear it, and I have not been able to discover whether the goat was saved with her, and that is all I know.”
“I will tell you more,” cried Dom Claude; and his voice, hitherto low, slow, and almost indistinct, turned to thunder. “She has in fact, taken refuge in Notre-Dame. But in three days justice will reclaim her, and she will be hanged on the Grève. There is a decree of parliament.”
“That’s annoying,” said Gringoire.
The priest, in an instant, became cold and calm again.
“And who the devil,” resumed the poet, “has amused himself with soliciting a decree of reintegration? Why couldn’t they leave parliament in peace? What harm does it do if a poor girl takes shelter under the flying buttresses of Notre-Dame, beside the swallows’ nests?”
“There are satáns in this world,” remarked the archdeacon.
“’Tis devilish badly done,” observed Gringoire.
The archdeacon resumed after a silence,—
“So, she saved your life?”
“Among my good friends the outcasts. A little more or a little less and I should have been hanged. They would have been sorry for it to-day.”
“Would not you like to do something for her?”
“I ask nothing better, Dom Claude; but what if I entangle myself in some villanous affair?”
“What matters it?”
“Bah! what matters it? You are good, master, that you are! I have two great works already begun.”
The priest smote his brow. In spite of the calm which he affected, a violent gesture betrayed his internal convulsions from time to time.
“How is she to be saved?”
Gringoire said to him; “Master, I will reply to you; Il padelt, which means in Turkish, ‘God is our hope.’”
“How is she to be saved?” repeated Claude dreamily.
Gringoire smote his brow in his turn.
“Listen, master. I have imagination; I will devise expedients for you. What if one were to ask her pardon from the king?”
“Of Louis XI.! A pardon!”
“To take the tiger’s bone from him!”
Gringoire began to seek fresh expedients.
“Well, stay! Shall I address to the midwives a request accompanied by the declaration that the girl is with child!”
This made the priest’s hollow eye flash.
“With child! knave! do you know anything of this?”
Gringoire was alarmed by his air. He hastened to say, “Oh, no, not I! Our marriage was a real forismaritagium. I stayed outside. But one might obtain a respite, all the same.”
“Madness! Infamy! Hold your tongue!”
“You do wrong to get angry,” muttered Gringoire. “One obtains a respite; that does no harm to any one, and allows the midwives, who are poor women, to earn forty deniers parisis.”
The priest was not listening to him!
“But she must leave that place, nevertheless!” he murmured, “the decree is to be executed within three days. Moreover, there will be no decree; that Quasimodo! Women have very depraved tastes!” He raised his voice: “Master Pierre, I have reflected well; there is but one means of safety for her.”
“What? I see none myself.”
“Listen, Master Pierre, remember that you owe your life to her. I will tell you my idea frankly. The church is watched night and day; only those are allowed to come out, who have been seen to enter. Hence you can enter. You will come. I will lead you to her. You will change clothes with her. She will take your doublet; you will take her petticoat.”
“So far, it goes well,” remarked the philosopher, “and then?”
“And then? she will go forth in your garments; you will remain with hers. You will be hanged, perhaps, but she will be saved.”
Gringoire scratched his ear, with a very serious air. “Stay!” said he, “that is an idea which would never have occurred to me unaided.”
At Dom Claude’s proposition, the open and benign face of the poet had abruptly clouded over, like a smiling Italian landscape, when an unlucky squall comes up and dashes a cloud across the sun.
“Well! Gringoire, what say you to the means?”
“I say, master, that I shall not be hanged, perchance, but that I shall be hanged indubitably.
“That concerns us not.”
“The deuce!” said Gringoire.
“She has saved your life. ’Tis a debt that you are discharging.”
“There are a great many others which I do not discharge.”
“Master Pierre, it is absolutely necessary.”
The archdeacon spoke imperiously.”
“Listen, Dom Claude,” replied the poet in utter consternation. You cling to that idea, and you are wrong. I do not see why I should get myself hanged in some one else’s place.”
“What have you, then, which attaches you so strongly to life?”
“Oh! a thousand reasons!”
“What reasons, if you please?”
“What? The air, the sky, the morning, the evening, the moonlight, my good friends the thieves, our jeers with the old hags of go-betweens, the fine architecture of Paris to study, three great books to make, one of them being against the bishops and his mills; and how can I tell all? Anaxagoras said that he was in the world to admire the sun. And then, from morning till night, I have the happiness of passing all my days with a man of genius, who is myself, which is very agreeable.”
“A head fit for a mule bell!” muttered the archdeacon. “Oh! tell me who preserved for you that life which you render so charming to yourself? To whom do you owe it that you breathe that air, behold that sky, and can still amuse your lark’s mind with your whimsical nonsense and madness? Where would you be, had it not been for her? Do you then desire that she through whom you are alive, should die? that she should die, that beautiful, sweet, adorable creature, who is necessary to the light of the world and more divine than God, while you, half wise, and half fool, a vain sketch of something, a sort of vegetable, which thinks that it walks, and thinks that it thinks, you will continue to live with the life which you have stolen from her, as useless as a candle in broad daylight? Come, have a little pity, Gringoire; be generous in your turn; it was she who set the example.”
The priest was vehement. Gringoire listened to him at first with an undecided air, then he became touched, and wound up with a grimace which made his pallid face resemble that of a new-born infant with an attack of the colic.
“You are pathetic!” said he, wiping away a tear. “Well! I will think about it. That’s a queer idea of yours.— After all,” he continued after a pause, “who knows? perhaps they will not hang me. He who becomes betrothed does not always marry. When they find me in that little lodging so grotesquely muffled in petticoat and coif, perchance they will burst with laughter. And then, if they do hang me,— well! the halter is as good a death as any. ’Tis a death worthy of a sage who has wavered all his life; a death which is neither flesh nor fish, like the mind of a veritable sceptic; a death all stamped with Pyrrhonism and hesitation, which holds the middle station betwixt heaven and earth, which leaves you in suspense. ’Tis a philosopher’s death, and I was destined thereto, perchance. It is magnificent to die as one has lived.”
The priest interrupted him: “Is it agreed.”
“What is death, after all?” pursued Gringoire with exaltation. “A disagreeable moment, a toll-gate, the passage of little to nothingness. Some one having asked Cercidas, the Megalopolitan, if he were willing to die: ‘Why not?’ he replied; ’for after my death I shall see those great men, Pythagoras among the philosophers, Hecataeus among historians, Homer among poets, Olympus among musicians.’”
The archdeacon gave him his hand: “It is settled, then? You will come to-morrow?”
This gesture recalled Gringoire to reality.
“Ah! i’ faith no!” he said in the tone of a man just waking up. “Be hanged! ’tis too absurd. I will not.”
“Farewell, then!” and the archdeacon added between his teeth: “I’ll find you again!”
“I do not want that devil of a man to find me,” thought Gringoire; and he ran after Dom Claude. “Stay, monsieur the archdeacon, no ill-feeling between old friends! You take an interest in that girl, my wife, I mean, and ’tis well. You have devised a scheme to get her out of Notre-Dame, but your way is extremely disagreeable to me, Gringoire. If I had only another one myself! I beg to say that a luminous inspiration has just occurred to me. If I possessed an expedient for extricating her from a dilemma, without compromising my own neck to the extent of a single running knot, what would you say to it? Will not that suffice you? Is it absolutely necessary that I should be hanged, in order that you may be content?”
The priest tore out the buttons of his cassock with impatience: “Stream of words! What is your plan?”
“Yes,” resumed Gringoire, talking to himself and touching his nose with his forefinger in sign of meditation,— “that’s it!— The thieves are brave fellows!— The tribe of Egypt love her!— They will rise at the first word!— Nothing easier!— A sudden stroke.— Under cover of the disorder, they will easily carry her off!— Beginning to-morrow evening. They will ask nothing better.
“The plan! speak,” cried the archdeacon shaking him.
Gringoire turned majestically towards him: “Leave me! You see that I am composing.” He meditated for a few moments more, then began to clap his hands over his thought, crying: “Admirable! success is sure!”
“The plan!” repeated Claude in wrath.
Gringoire was radiant.
“Come, that I may tell you that very softly. ’Tis a truly gallant counter-plot, which will extricate us all from the matter. Pardieu, it must be admitted that I am no fool.”
He broke off.
“Oh, by the way! is the little goat with the wench?”
“Yes. The devil take you!”
“They would have hanged it also, would they not?”
“What is that to me?”
“Yes, they would have hanged it. They hanged a sow last month. The headsman loveth that; he eats the beast afterwards. Take my pretty Djali! Poor little lamb!”
“Malediction!” exclaimed Dom Claude. “You are the executioner. What means of safety have you found, knave? Must your idea be extracted with the forceps?”
“Very fine, master, this is it.”
Gringoire bent his head to the archdeacon’s head and spoke to him in a very low voice, casting an uneasy glance the while from one end to the other of the street, though no one was passing. When he had finished, Dom Claude took his hand and said coldly : “’Tis well. Farewell until to-morrow.”
“Until to-morrow,” repeated Gringoire. And, while the archdeacon was disappearing in one direction, he set off in the other, saying to himself in a low voice: “Here’s a grand affair, Monsieur Pierre Gringoire. Never mind! ’Tis not written that because one is of small account one should take fright at a great enterprise. Bitou carried a great bull on his shoulders; the water-wagtails, the warblers, and the buntings traverse the ocean.”