Victor Marie Hugo (18021885). Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
IV. Master Jacques Coppenole
WHILE the Pensionary of Ghent and his Eminence were exchanging very low bows and a few words in a tone still lower, a tall man, large-featured and of powerful build, prepared to enter abreast with Guillaume Rymthe mastiff with the foxhis felt hat and leathern jerkin contrasting oddly with all the surrounding velvet and silk. Presuming that it was some groom gone astray, the usher stopped him:
The Cardinal was on thorns. Everybody was staring and listening. For two whole days had his Eminence been doing his utmost to lick these Flemish bears into shape in order to make them somewhat presentable in publicthis contretemps was a rude shock.
No, Croix-Dieu! he said in a voice of thunder, Jacques Coppenole, hosier. Hearest thou, usher? Nothing more, nothing less! Gods cross! Hosier is as fine a title as any other! Many a time Monsieur the Archduke has looked for his glove1 among my hose!
Add to this that Coppenole was one of the people, and that the throng beneath him was also composed of the people, wherefore, the understanding between them and him had been instantaneous, electric, and, so to speak, from the same point of view. The Flemish hosiers high and mighty way of putting down the courtiers stirred in these plebeian breasts a certain indefinable sense of self-respect, vague and embryonic as yet in the fifteenth century. And this hosier, who just now had held his own so stoutly before the Cardinal, was one of themselvesa most comfortable reflection to poor devils accustomed to pay respect and obedience to the servants of the servants of the Abbot of Sainte-Geneviéve, the Cardinals train-bearer.
Coppenole saluted his Eminence haughtily, who courteously returned the greeting of the all-powerful burgher, whom even Louis XI feared. Then, while Guillaume Rym, that shrewd and malicious man, as Philippe de Comines says, followed them both with a mocking and supercilious smile, each sought their appointed place, the Cardinal discomfited and anxious, Coppenole calm and dignified, and thinking no doubt that after all his little of hosier was as good as any other, and that Mary of Burgundy, the mother of that Margaret whose marriage Coppenole was helping to arrange, would have feared him less as cardinal than as hosier. For it was not a cardinal who would have stirred up the people of Ghent against the favourites of the daughter of Charles the Bold, and no cardinal could have hardened the crowd with a word against her tears and entreaties when the Lady of Flanders came to supplicate her people for them, even at the foot of their scaffold; whereas the hosier had but to lift his leather-clad arm, and off went your heads my fine gentlemen, Seigneur Guy dHymbercourt and Chancellor Guillaume Hugonet!
The reader may perhaps remember the impudent mendicant who, at the beginning of the Prologue, had established himself upon the projection just below the Cardinals platform. The arrival of the illustrious guests had in nowise made him quit his position, and while prelates and ambassadors were packed on the narrow platform like Dutch herrings in a barrel, the beggar sat quite at his ease with his legs crossed comfortably on the architrave. It was a unique piece of insolence, but nobody had noticed it as yet, the attention of the public being directed elsewhere. For his part, he took no notice of what was going on, but kept wagging his head from side to side with the unconcern of a Neapolitan lazzarone, and mechanically repeating his droning appeal, Charity, I pray you! Certain it was, he was the only person in the whole vast audience who never even deigned to turn his head at the altercation between Coppenole and the usher. Now, it so chanced that the master hosier of Ghent, with whom the people were already so much in sympathy and on whom all eyes were fixed, came and seated himself in the first row on the platform, just above the beggar. What was the amazement of the company to see the Flemish ambassador, after examining the strange figure beneath him, lean over and clap the ragged shoulder amicably. The beggar turnedsurprise, recognition, and pleasure beamed from the two facesthen, absolutely regardless of their surroundings, the hosier and the sham leper fell to conversing in low tones and hand clasped in hand, Clopin Trouillefous ragged arm against the cloth of gold draperies of the balustrade, looking like a caterpillar on an orange.
The novelty of this extraordinary scene excited such a stir of merriment in the Hall that the Cardinals attention was attracted. He bent forward, but being unable from where he sat to do more than catch a very imperfect glimpse of Trouillefous unsightly coat, he naturally imagined that it was merely a beggar asking alms, and, incensed at his presumption
Noë! Noë! shouted the crowd; and from that moment Master Coppenole enjoyed in Paris as in Ghent great favour with the people, as men of his stamp always do, says Philippe de Comines, when they are thus indifferent to authority.
And now, with such of our readers as have the power to generalize an image and an idea, as it is the fashion to say nowadays, permit us to ask if they are able to form a clear picture of the scene presented by the vast parallelogram of the great Hall at the moment to which we draw their attention. In the middle of the western wall is the magnificent and spacious platform draped with cloth of gold, entered by a small Gothic doorway, through which files a procession of grave and reverend personages whose names are announced in succession by the strident voice of the usher. The first benches are already occupied by a crowd of venerable figures muffled in robes of ermine, velvet, and scarlet cloth. Around this platformon which reigns decorous silencebelow, opposite, everywhere, the seething multitude, the continuous hum of voices, all eyes fixed on every face on the platform, a thousand muttered repetitions of each name. In truth, a curious spectacle and worthy of the attention of the spectators. But stay, what is that kind of erection at the opposite end of the Hall, having four party-coloured puppets on it and four others underneath; and who is that pale figure standing beside it clad in sombre black? Alas! dear reader, it is none other than Pierre Gringoire and his Prologue, both of which we had utterly forgotten.
From the moment when the Cardinal entered, Gringoire had never ceased to exert himself to keep his Prologue above water. First he had vehemently urged the actors, who had faltered, and stopped short, to proceed and raise their voices; then, perceiving that nobody was listening to them, he stopped them again, and during the quarter of an hour the interruption had lasted had never ceased tapping his foot impatiently, fuming, calling upon Gisquette and Liénarde, urging those near him to insist on the continuation of the Prologuein vain. Not one of them would transfer his attention from the Cardinal, the Embassy, the platformthe one centre of this vast radius of vision. It must also be admitted, and we say it with regret, that by the time his Eminence appeared on the scene and caused so marked a diversion, the audience was beginning to find the Prologue just a little tedious. After all, whether you looked at the platform or the marble table, the play was the samethe conflict between Labour and Clergy, Aristocracy and Commerce. And most of them preferred to watch these personages as they lived and breathed, elbowing each other in actual flesh and blood on the platform, in the Flemish Embassy, under the Cardinals robe or Coppenoles leathern jerkin, than painted, tricked out, speaking in stilted verse, mere dummies stuffed into yellow and white tunics, as Gringoire represented them.
This half consent was enough for Gringoire, and taking the business into his own hands, he began calling out, making himself as much one of the crowd as possible: Begin the Mystery again! Begin again!
What the devils all the hubbub about down there? said Joannes de Molendino (for Gringoire was making noise enough for half a dozen). What, comrades, is the Mystery not finished and done with? They are going to begin again; thats not fair!
He approached his Eminence, and with no slight fear of his displeasure, explained in faltering accents the unseemly behaviour of the populace: how, the hour of noon having arrived before his Eminence, the players had been forced into commencing without waiting for his Eminence.
The persons on the stage accordingly resumed the thread of their discourse, and Gringoire hoped that at least the remainder of his great work would get a hearing. But this hope was doomed to speedy destruction like his other illusions. Silence had indeed been established to a certain extent, but Gringoire had not observed that when the Cardinal gave the order for the Mystery to proceed, the platform was far from being filled, and that the Flemish ambassadors were followed by other persons belonging to the rest of the cortège, whose names and titles, hurled intermittently by the usher into the midst of his dialogue, caused considerable havoc therein. Imagine the effect in a drama of to-day of the doorkeeper bawling between the lines, or even between the first two halves of an alexandrine, such parentheses as these:
This peculiar accompaniment, which made it so difficult to follow the piece, was the more exasperating to Gringoire as he was well aware that the interest increased rapidly as the work advanced, and that it only wanted hearing to be a complete success. It would indeed be difficult to imagine a plot more ingeniously and dramatically constructed. The four characters of the Prologue were still engaged in bewailing their hopeless dilemma when Venus herself, vera incessu patuit dea, appeared before them, wearing a splendid robe emblazoned with the ship of the city of Paris.2 She had come to claim for herself the dolphin promised to the Most Fair. She had the support of Jupiter, whose thunder was heard rumbling in the dressing-room, and the goddess was about to bear away her prize-in other words, to espouse Monsieur the Dauphinwhen a little girl, clad in white damask, and holding a daisy in her hand (transparent personification of Marguerite of Flanders), arrived on the scene to contest it with Venus. Coup de théâtre and quick change. After a brisk dispute, Marguerite, Venus, and the side characters agreed to refer the matter to the good judgment of the Blessed Virgin. There was another fine part, that of Don Pedro, King of Mesopotamia; but it was difficult amid so many interruptions to make out exactly what was his share in the transaction. And all this had scrambled up the ladder.
But the play was done for; not one of these many beauties was heard or understood. It seemed as if, with the entrance of the Cardinal, an invisible and magic thread had suddenly drawn all eyes from the marble table to the platform, from the southern to the western side of the Hall. Nothing could break the spell, all eyes were tenaciously fixed in that direction, and each fresh arrival, his detestable name, his appearance, his dress, made a new diversion. Excepting Gisquette and Liénarde, who turned from time to time if Gringoire plucked them by the sleeve, and the big, patient man, not a soul was listening, not one face was turned towards the poor, deserted Morality. Gringoire looked upon an unbroken vista of profiles.
With what bitterness did he watch his fair palace of fame and poetry crumble away bit by bit! And to think that these same people had been on the point of rioting from impatience to hear his piece! And now that they had got it, they cared not a jot for itthe very same performance which had commenced amid such unanimous applause. Eternal flow and ebb of popular favour! And to think they had nearly hanged the sergeants of the Provost! What would he not have given to go back to that honey-sweet moment!
However, at last all the guests had arrived and the ushers brutal monologue perforce came to an end. Gringoire heaved a sigh of relief. The actors spouted away bravely. Then, what must Master Coppenole the hosier do but start up suddenly, and in the midst of undivided attention deliver himself of the following abominable harangue:
Messires the burghers and squires of Paris, hang me if I know what were all doing here. To be sure, I do perceive over in that corner on a sort of stage some people who look as if they were going to fight. I do not know if this is what you call a Mystery, but I am quite certain it is not very amusing. They wrestle only with their tongues. For the last quarter of an hour I have been waiting to see the first blow struck, but nothing happens. They are poltroons and maul one another only with foul words. You should have had some fighters over from London or Rotterdam, then there would have been some pretty fisticuffing if you likeblows that could have been heard out on the Place. But these are sorry folk. They should at least give us a Morrisdance or some such mummery. This is not what I had been given to expect. I had been promised a Feast of Fools and the election of a Pope. We too have our pope of fools at Ghent, in that we are behind nobody. Croix-Dieu! This is how we manage it. We get a crowd together as here; then everybody in turn thrusts his head through a hole and pulls a face at the others. The one who by universal consent makes the ugliest face is chosen Pope. Thats our way. Its most diverting. Shall we choose your Pope after the same fashion? It would at any rate be less tedious than listening to these babblers. If they like to take their turn at grimacing theyre welcome. What say you, my masters? We have here sufficiently queer samples of both sexes to give us a good Flemish laugh, and enough ugly faces to justify our hopes of a beautiful grimace.
Gringoire would fain have replied, but stupefaction, wrath, and indignation rendered him speechless. Besides, the proposal of the popular hosier was received with such enthusiasm by these townsfolk, so flattered by being addressed as Squires, that further resistance was useless. There was nothing for it but to go with the stream. Gringoire buried his face in his hands, not being fortunate enough to possess a mantle wherewith to veil his countenance like the Agamemnon of Timanthes.