We are delighted to be able to inform the reader, that during the whole of this scene, Gringoire and his piece had stood firm. His actors, spurred on by him, had not ceased to spout his comedy, and he had not ceased to listen to it. He had made up his mind about the tumult, and was determined to proceed to the end, not giving up the hope of a return of attention on the part of the public. This gleam of hope acquired fresh life, when he saw Quasimodo, Coppenole, and the deafening escort of the pope of the procession of fools quit the hall amid great uproar. The throng rushed eagerly after them. “Good,” he said to himself, “there go all the mischief-makers.” Unfortunately, all the mischief-makers constituted the entire audience. In the twinkling of an eye, the grand hall was empty.
To tell the truth, a few spectators still remained, some scattered, others in groups around the pillars, women, old men, or children, who had had enough of the uproar and tumult. Some scholars were still perched astride of the window-sills, engaged in gazing into the Place.
“Well,” thought Gringoire, “here are still as many as are required to hear the end of my mystery. They are few in number, but it is a choice audience, a lettered audience.”
An instant later, a symphony which had been intended to produce the greatest effect on the arrival of the Virgin, was lacking. Gringoire perceived that his music had been carried off by the procession of the Pope of the Fools. “Skip it,” said he, stoically.
He approached a group of bourgeois, who seemed to him to be discussing his piece. This is the fragment of conversation which he caught,—
“You know, Master Cheneteau, the Hôtel de Navarre, which belonged to Monsieur de Nemours?”
“Yes, opposite the Chapelle de Braque.”
“Well, the treasury has just let it to Guillaume Alixandre, historian, for six hivres, eight sols, parisian, a year.”
“How rents are going up!”
“Come,” said Gringoire to himself, with a sigh, “the others are listening.”
“Comrades,” suddenly shouted one of the young scamps from the window, “La Esmeralda! La Esmeralda in the Place!”
This word produced a magical effect. Every one who was left in the hall flew to the windows, climbing the walls in order to see, and repeating, “La Esmeralda! La Esmeralda?” At the same time, a great sound of applause was heard from without.
“What’s the meaning of this, of the Esmeralda?” said Gringoire, wringing his hands in despair. “Ah, good heavens! it seems to be the turn of the windows now.”
He returned towards the marble table, and saw that the representation had been interrupted. It was precisely at the instant when Jupiter should have appeared with his thunder. But Jupiter was standing motionless at the foot of the stage.
“Michel Giborne!” cried the irritated poet, “what are you doing there? Is that your part? Come up!”
“Alas!” said Jupiter, “a scholar has just seized the ladder.”
Gringoire looked. It was but too true. All communication between his plot and its solution was intercepted.
“The rascal,” he murmured. “And why did he take that ladder?”
“In order to go and see the Esmeralda,” replied Jupiter piteously. “He said, ’Come, here’s a ladder that’s of no use!’ and he took it.”
This was the last blow. Gringoire received it with resignation.
“May the devil fly away with you!” he said to the comedian, “and if I get my pay, you shall receive yours.”
Then he beat a retreat, with drooping head, but the last in the field, like a general who has fought well.
And as he descended the winding stairs of the courts: “A fine rabble of asses and dolts these Parisians!” he muttered between his teeth; “they come to hear a mystery and don’t listen to it at all! They are engrossed by every one, by Chopin Trouillefou, by the cardinal, by Coppenole, by Quasimodo, by the devil! but by Madame the Virgin Mary, not at all. If I had known, I’d have given you Virgin Mary; you ninnies! And I! to come to see faces and behold only backs! to be a poet, and to reap the success of an apothecary! It is true that Homerus begged through the Greek towns, and that Naso died in exile among the Muscovites. But may the devil flay me if I understand what they mean with their Esmeralda! What is that word, in the first place?— ’tis Egyptian!”