Victor Marie Hugo (18021885). Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
III. Besos Para Golpes
BY1 the time Pierre Grainier reached the Place de Grève he was chilled to the bone. He had made his way across the Pont-aux-Meuniersthe Millers bridgeto avoid the crowd on the Pont-au-Change and the sight of Jehan Fourbaults banners; but the wheel of the episcopal mills had splashed him as he passed, and his coat was wet through. In addition, it seemed to him that the failure of his play made him feel the cold more keenly. He hastened, therefore, to get near the splendid bonfire burning in the middle of the Place, but found it surrounded by a considerable crowd.
Perdition take these Parisians! said he to himselffor as a true dramatic poet, Grainier was greatly addicted to monologuenow they prevent me getting near the fireand Heaven knows I have need of a warm corner! My shoes are veritable sponges, and those cursed mill-wheels have been raining upon me. Devil take the Bishop of Paris and his mills! Id like to know what a bishop wants with a mill. Does he expect he may some day have to turn miller instead of bishop? If he is only waiting for my curse to effect this transformation, he is welcome to it, and may it include his cathedral and his mills as well. Now, let us see if these varlets will make room for me. What are they doing there, Id like to know. Warming themselvesa fine pleasure indeed! Watching a pile of fagots burna grand spectacle, i faith!
On looking closer, however, he perceived that the circle was much wider than necessary for merely warming ones self at the Kings bonfire, and that such a crowd of spectators was not attracted solely by the beauty of a hundred blazing fagots. In the immense space left free between the crowd and the fire a girl was dancing, but whether she was a human being, a sprite, or an angel, was what Grainiersceptical philosopher, ironical poet though he might bewas unable for the moment to determine, so dazzled was he by the fascinating vision.
She was not tall, but her slender and elastic figure made her appear so. Her skin was brown, but one guessed that by day it would have the warm golden tint of the Andalusian and Roman women. Her small foot too, so perfectly at ease in its narrow, graceful shoe, was quite Andalusian. She was dancing, pirouetting, whirling on an old Persian carpet spread carelessly on the ground, and each time her radiant face passed before you, you caught the flash of her great dark eyes.
The crowd stood round her open-mouthed, every eye fixed upon her, and in truth, as she danced thus to the drumming of a tambourine held high above her head by her round and delicate arms, slender, fragile, airy as a wasp, with her gold-laced bodice closely moulded to her form, her bare shoulders, her gaily striped skirt swelling out round her, affording glimpses of her exquisitely shaped limbs, the dusky masses of her hair, her gleaming eyes, she seemed a creature of some other world.
True, she was simply a gipsy; but however disenchanted Grainier might feel, the scene was not without its charm, nor a certain weird magic under the glaring red light of the bonfire which flared over the ring of faces and the figure of the dancing girl and cast a pale glimmer among the wavering shadows at the far end of the Place, flickering over the black and corrugated front of the old Maison-aux-Piliers, or the stone arms of the gibbet opposite.
Among the many faces dyed crimson by this glow was one which, more than all the others, seemed absorbed in contemplation of the dancer. It was the face of a man, austere, calm, and sombre. His costume was hidden by the crowd pressing round him; but though he did not appear to be more than thirty-five, he was bald, showing only a few sparse locks at the temples and they already gray. The broad, high forehead was furrowed, but in the deep-set eyes there glowed an extraordinary youthfulness, a fervid vitality, a consuming passion. Those eyes never moved from the gipsy, and the longer the girl danced and bounded in all the unrestrained grace of her sixteen years, delighting the populace, the gloomier did his thoughts seem to become. Ever and anon a smile and a sigh would meet upon his lips, but the smile was the more grievous of the two.
At this there appeared a pretty little white goat, lively, intelligent, and glossy, with gilded horns and hoofs and a gilt collar, which Grainier had not observed before, as it had been lying on a corner of the carpet, watching its mistress dance.
Djali stood up on her hind legs and began to bleat, while she strutted along with such a delightful air of gravity that the whole circle of spectators, irresistibly carried away by this parody on the devotional manner of the captain of the sharp-shooters, burst into a roar of laughter.
The goat sat up on its hind quarters and proceeded to bleat and wave its fore-feet in so comical a fashion thatexcepting the bad French and worse Latinit was Jacques Charmolue, gesture, accent, attitude, to the life.
The gipsy girl turned round again. Ah, said she, it is that hateful man! then, with a disdainful pout of her under lip, which seemed a familiar little grimace with her, she turned lightly on her heels and began collecting the contributions of the bystanders in her tambourine.
Grands blancs, petits blancs, targes, liards à laigle, every description of small coin, were now showered upon her. Suddenly, just as she was passing Grainier, he, in sheer absence of mind, thrust his hand into his pocket, so that the girl stopped in front of him.
Diable! exclaimed the poet, finding at the bottom of his pocket realityin other words, nothing. And yet, here was this pretty girl, her great eyes fixed on him, holding out her tambourine expectantly. Grainier broke out in a cold perspiration. If he had had all Peru in his pocket, he would most certainly have handed it to the dancing girl, but Grainier did not possess Peruand in any case America had not yet been discovered.
The girl turned in alarm. This was not the voice of the bald man; it was the voice of a woman, one full of fanaticism and malice. However, the exclamation which startled the gipsy girl highly delighted a noisy band of children prowling about the Place.
Tis the recluse of the Tour-Roland! they cried with discordant shouts of laughter; tis the sachette2 scolding again. Has she not had any supper? Lets take her something from the public buffet! and they rushed in a mass towards the Maison-aux-Piliers.
Meanwhile Grainier had taken advantage of the dancing girls perturbation to eclipse himself, and the childrens mocking shouts reminded him that he too had had no supper. He hastened to the buffet, but the little rascals had been too quick for him, and by the time he arrived they had swept the board. There was not even a miserable piece of honeybread at five sous the pound. Nothing was left against the wall but the slender fleur de lis and roses painted there in 1434 by Mathieu Biternein sooth, a poor kind of supper.
It is not exactly gay to have to go to bed supperless, but it is still less entertaining neither to have supped nor to know where you are going to get a bed. Yet this was Gringoires plightwithout a prospect of food or lodging. He found himself pressed on all sides by necessity, and he considered necessity extremely hard on him. He had long ago discovered this truththat Jupiter created man during a fit of misanthropy, and throughout life the destiny of the wise man holds his philosophy in a state of siege. For his own part, Grainier had never seen the blockade so complete. He heard his stomach sound a parley, and he thought it too bad that his evil fate should be enabled to take his philosophy by famine.
He was sinking deeper and deeper into this melancholy mood, when his attention was suddenly aroused by the sound of singing, most sweet but full of strange and fantastic modulations. It was the gipsy girl.
Her voice, like her dancing and her beauty, had some indefinable and charming qualitysomething pure and sonorous; something, so to speak, soaring, winged. Her singing was a ceaseless flow of melody, of unexpected cadences, of simple phrases dotted over with shrill and staccato notes, of liquid runs that would have taxed a nightingale, but in which the harmony was never lost, of soft octave undulations that rose and fell like the bosom of the fair singer. And all the while her beautiful face expressed with singular mobility all the varying emotions of her song, from the wildest inspiration to the most virginal dignityone moment a maniac, the next a queen.
The words she sang were in a tongue unknown to Grainier and apparently to herself, so little did the expression she put into her song fit the sense of the words. Thus, on her lips these four lines were full of sparkling gaiety:
The gipsys song disturbed Gringoires reverie, but only as a swan ruffles the water. He listened in a sort of trance, unconscious of all around him. It was the first moment for many hours that he forgot his woes.
The rest of the audience agreed with him. The foul fiend take the old sachette! growled more than one of them, and the invisible spoil-sport might have had reason to repent of her attacks on the gipsy, if the attention of crowd had not been distracted by the procession of the Pope of Fools, now pouring into the Place de Grève, after making the tour of the streets with its blaze of torches and its deafening hubbub.
This procession which our readers saw issuing from the Palais de Justice had organized itself en route, and had been recruited by all the ruffians, all the idle pickpockets and unemployed vagabonds of Paris, so that by this time it had reached most respectable proportions.
First came Egypt, the Duke of the Gipsies at the head, on horseback, with his counts on foot holding his bridle and stirrups and followed by the whole gipsy tribe, men and women, pell-mell, their children screeching on their shoulders, and all of them, duke, counts, and rabble, in rags and tinsel. Then came the Kingdom of Argot, otherwise all the vagabonds in France, marshalled in order of their various ranks, the lowest being first. Thus they marched, four abreast, bearing the divers insignia of their degrees in that strange faculty, most of them maimed in one way or another, some halt, some minus a handthe courtauds de boutanche (shoplifters), the coquillarts (pilgrims), the hubins (housebreakers), the sabouleux (sham epileptics), the calots (dotards), the francs-mitoux (schnorrers), the polissons (street rowdies), the piètres (sham cripples), the capons (card-sharpers), the malingreux (infirm), the marcandiers (hawkers), the narquois (thimble-riggers), the orphelines (pickpockets), the archisuppôts (arch-thieves), and the cagoux (master-thieves)a list long enough to have wearied Homer himself. It was not without difficulty that in the middle of a conclave of cagoux and archisuppôts one discovered the King of Argot, the Grand Coësre, huddled up in a little cart drawn by two great dogs. The Kingdom of Argot was followed by the Empire of Galilee, led by Guillaume Rousseau, Emperor of Galilee, walking majestically in a purple, wine-stained robe, preceded by mummers performing sham-fights and war-dances, and surrounded by his macebearers, his satellites, and his clerks of the exchequer. Last of all came the members of the Basoche with their garlanded maypoles, their black robes, their music worthy of a witches Sabbath, and their great yellow wax candles. In the center of this crowd the great officers of the Con fraternity of Fools bore on their shoulders a sort of litter more loaded with candles than the shrine of Sainte-Genevieve at the time of the plague. And on it, resplendent in cope, choosier, and miter, sat enthroned the new Pope of the Fools, Quasimodo, the hunchback, the bell ringer of Notre Dame.
Each section of this grotesque procession had its special music. The gipsies scraped their balafos5 and banged their tambourines. The Arguersnot a very musical racehad got no further than the viola, the cow horn, and the Gothic rebel of the twelfth century. The Empire of Galilee was not much betterscarcely that you distinguished in its music the squeak of some primitive fiddle dating from the infancy of the art, and still confined to the relax. But it was round the Fools Pope that all the musical treasures of the age were gathered in one glorious discordancetreble rebels, tenor rebels, not to mention flutes and brasses. Alas, our readers will remember that this was Gringoires orchestra.
It would be difficult to convey an idea of the degree of beatitude and proud satisfaction which had gradually spread over the sad and hideous countenance of Quasimodo during his progress from the Palais to the Place de Grève. It was the first gleam of self-approbation he had ever experienced. Hitherto, humiliation, disdain, disgust alone had been his portion. Deaf as he was, he relished like any true Pope the acclamations of the multitude, whom he hated because he felt they hated him. What matter that his people were a rabble of Fools, of halt and maimed, of thieves, of beggars? They were a people and he was a sovereign. And he accepted seriously all this ironical applause, all this mock reverence, with which, however, we are bound to say, there was mingled a certain amount of perfectly genuine fear. For the hunchback was very strong, and though bow-legged was active, and though deaf, was resentfulthree qualities which have a way of tempering ridicule.
For the rest, it is highly improbable that the new Pope of Fools was conscious either of the sentiments he experienced or of those which he inspired. The mind lodged in that misshapen body must inevitably be itself defective and dim, so that whatever he felt at that moment, he was aware of it but in a vague, uncertain, confused way. But joy pierced the gloom and pride predominated. Around that sombre and unhappy countenance there was a halo of light.
It was therefore not without surprise and terror that suddenly, just as Quasimodo in this semi-ecstatic state was passing the Maison-aux-Piliers in his triumphant progress, they saw a man dart from the crowd, and with a gesture of hate, snatch from his hand the choosier of gilt wood, the emblem of his mock papacy.
This bold person was the same man who, a moment before, had scared the poor gipsy girl with his words of menace and hatred. He wore the habit of an ecclesiastic, and the moment he disengaged himself from the crowd, Grainier, who had not observed him before, recognised him. Tiens! said he with a cry of astonishment, it is my master in Hermetics, Dom Claude Frollo the Archdeacon. What the devil can he want with that one-eyed brute? He will assuredly be devoured!
On this there began a strange dialogue between the two of signs and gestures, for neither of them uttered a word: the priest standing angry, menacing, masterful; Quasimodo prostrate before him, humbled and suppliant; and yet Quasimodo could certainly have crushed the priest with his finger and thumb.
At this the Fraternity of Fools, the first stupor of surprise passed, prepared to defend their Pope thus rudely dethroned, while the Egyptians, the Arguers, and the Basoche in a body closed yelping round the priest.
When they had made their way across the Place the curious and idle rabble made as if to follow, whereupon Quasimodo took up his position in the rear and followed the Archdeacon, facing the crowd, thick-set, snarling, hideous, shaggy, ready for a spring, gnashing his tusks, growling like a wild beast, and causing wild oscillations in the crowd by a mere gesture or a look.
So they were allowed to turn unhindered into a dark and narrow street, where no one ventured to follow them, so effectually was the entrance barred by the mere image of Quasimodo and his gnashing fangs.