Victor Marie Hugo (18021885). Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
IV. A Tear for a Drop of Water
THE CONCLUDING words of the foregoing chapter may be described as the point of junction of two scenes which, till that moment, had been running parallel, each on its own particular stage; the onewhich we have just been followingat the Rat-Hole; the othernow to be describedon the pillory. The former had been witnessed only by the three women with whom the reader has just been made acquainted; the latter had for audience the whole crowd which we saw gathering in the Place de Grève round the pillory and the gibbet.
This crowd, in whom the sight of the four sergeants stationed since nine in the morning at the four corners of the pillory had roused the pleasing expectation of a penal exhibition of some sortnot, perhaps, a hanging, but a flogging, a cutting off of ears or the likethis crowd had increased so rapidly that the four mounted men, finding themselves too closely pressed, had more than once been under the necessity of tightening it, as they called it then, by great lashes of their whips and their horses heels.
The populace, well accustomed to waiting for public executions, manifested but little impatience. They amused themselves by looking at the pillory, a very simple structure, consisting of a hollow cube of masonry some ten feet in height. A steep flight of steps of unhewn stonecalled par excellence the ladderled to the top platform, on which lay horizontally a wheel of stout oak. To this wheel the victim was bound kneeling and with his hands pinioned behind him; a shaft of timber, set in motion by a windlass concealed in the interior of the structure, caused the wheel to rotate horizontally, thus presenting the face of the culprit to every point of the Place in succession. This was called turning the criminal.
It will be seen from the description that the pillory of the Grève was far from possessing the many attractions of that at the Halles. Here was nothing architectural, nothing monumentalno roof embellished with an iron cross, no octagon lantern tower, no slender pilasters blossoming out against the edge of the roof into acanthus-leafed and flowery capitals, no fantastic, dragon-headed gargoyles, no carved wood-work, no delicate sculpture cut deeply into the stone.
One had to be content with the four rough-hewn sides of stone and an ugly stone gibbet, mean and bare, at the side of it. The show would have been a poor one to the amateur of Gothic architecture, but truly nobody could be more indifferent in the matter of architecture than the good burghers of the Middle Ages; they cared not a jot for the beauty of a pillory.
At last the culprit arrived, tied to a carts tail, and soon as he was hoisted on to the platform and, bound with cords and straps to the wheel, was plainly visible from every point of the Place, a prodigious hooting mingled with laughter and acclamations burst from the assembled crowd. They had recognised Quasimodo.
It was indeed he. Strange turn of fortunes wheel!to be pilloried on the same spot on which, but the day before, he had been saluted, acclaimed Pope and Prince of Fools, and counted in his train the Duke of Egypt, the King of Tunis, and the Emperor of Galilee. One thing, however, is certain, there was no mind in that crowd, not even his own, though in turn the victor and the vanquished, that thought of drawing this parallel. Gringoire and his philosophy were lacking at this spectacle.
Presently Michel Noiret, appointed trumpeter to our lord the King, after imposing silence on the people, made proclamation of the sentence, pursuant to the ordinance and command of the Lord Provost. He then fell back behind the cart with his men.
Quasimodo, quite impassive, never stirred a muscle. All resistance was impossible to him by reason of what, in the parlance of the old criminal law, was described as the strength and firmness of the bondsin other words, the cords and chains probably cut into his flesh. This tradition of the dungeon and the galleys has been handed down to us and carefully preserved among us civilized, tender-hearted, humane people in the shape of the manaclesnot forgetting the bagnio and the guillotine, of course.
Quasimodo had passively let himself be led, thrust, carried, hoisted up, bound and rebound. Nothing was to be discovered in his face but the bewilderment of the savage or the idiot. He was known to be deaf; he might also have been blind.
They thrust him on to his knees on the wheel, they stripped him to the waist; he made no resistance. They bound him down with a fresh arrangement of cords and leathern thongs; he let them bind and strap him. Only from time to time he breathed heavily, like a calf whose head swings and bumps over the edge of a butchers cart.
The blockhead, said Jehan Frollo of the Mill to his friend Robin Poussepain (for the two scholars had followed the culprit, as in duty bound), he knows no more what its all about than a bumble-bee shut in a box!
There was a great burst of laughter from the crowd when, stripped naked to their view, they caught sight of Quasimodos hump, his camels breast, his brawny, hairy shoulders. During the merriment a man in the livery of the Town, short of stature and of burly make, ascended to the platform and stationed himself beside the culprit. His name was quickly circulated among the spectators. It was Master Pierrat Torterue, official torturer to the Châtelet.
He first proceeded to deposit on a corner of the pillory a black hour-glass, the upper cup of which was filled with red sand, which ran into the lower receptacle; he then divested himself of his party-coloured doublet, and dangling from his right hand there appeared a scourge with long, slender, white thongsshining, knotted, interlacedand armed with metal claws. With his left hand he carelessly drew the shirtsleeve up his right arm as high as the shoulder.
At this Jehan Frollo, lifting his curly, fair head above the crowd (for which purpose he had mounted on the shoulders of Robin Poussepain), shouted: Walk up, walk up, ladies and gentlemen, and see them scourge Maître Quasimodo, bell-ringer to my brother the reverend archdeacon of Josas, a rare specimen of Oriental architecture, with a domed back, and twisted columns for legs!
The torturer now stamped his foot; the wheel began to move. Quasimodo swayed under his bonds, and the amazement suddenly depicted on that misshapen countenance gave a fresh impulse to the peals of laughter round about.
Suddenly, at the moment when the wheel in its rotation presented to Master Pierrat Quasimodos enormous back, the torturer raised his arm, the thongs hissed shrilly through the air, like a handful of vipers, and fell with fury on the shoulders of the hapless wretch.
Quasimodo recoiled as if suddenly startled out of sleep. Now he began to understand. He writhed in his bonds, the muscles of his face contracted violently in surprise and pain, but not a sound escaped him. He only rolled his head from side to side, like a bull stung in the flank by a gadfly.
A second stroke followed the first, then a third, and another, and another. The wheel ceased not to turn, nor the lashes to rain down. Soon the blood began to flow; it trickled in a thousand streams over the dark shoulders of the hunchback, and the keen thongs, as they swung round in the air, scattered it in showers over the multitude.
Quasimodo had resumed, in appearance at least, his former impassibility. At first he had striven, silently and without any great external movement, to burst his bonds. His eye kindled, his muscles contracted, his limbs gathered themselves up. The effort was powerful, strenuous, desperate, and the cords and straps were strained to their utmost tension; but the seasoned bonds of the provostry held. They cracked, but that was all. Quasimodo desisted, exhausted by the effort, and the stupefaction on his face was succeeded by an expression of bitter and hopeless discouragement. He closed his single eye, dropped his head upon his breast, and gave no further sign of life.
Thenceforward he did not stir; nothing could wring a movement from himneither the blood, that did not cease to flow, nor the strokes which fell with redoubled fury, nor the violence of the torturer, who had worked himself into a state of frenzy, nor the shrill and strident whistle of the scourge.
At length an usher of the Châtelet, clad in black, mounted on a black horse, and stationed at the foot of the ladder since the beginning of the chastisement, pointed with his ebony staff to the hour-glass. The torturer held his hand, the wheel stopped. Quasimodo slowly reopened his eye.
The scourging was over. Two assistants of the torturer bathed the lacerated shoulders of the culprit, applied to them some kind of unguent which immediately closed the wounds, and threw over his back a yellow cloth shaped like a chasuble; Pierrat Torterue meanwhile letting the blood drain from the lashes of his scourge in great drops on to the ground.
But all was not yet over for poor Quasimodo. He had still to undergo that hour on the pillory which Maître Florian Barbedienne had so judiciously added to the sentence of Messire Robert dEstouteville; and all merely to prove the truth of John of Cumeness ancient physiological and psychological jeu de mots: Surdus absurdus.
The peopleparticularly in the Middle Agesare to society what the child is in the family; and as long as they are allowed to remain at that primitive stage of ignorance, of moral and intellectual nonage, it may be said of them as of childhoodIt is an age that knows not pity.
We have already shown that Quasimodo was universally hatedfor more than one good reason, it must be admittedfor there was hardly an individual among the crowd of spectators but had or thought he had some cause of complaint against the malevolent hunchback of Notre Dame. All had rejoiced to see him make his appearance on the pillory; and the severe punishment he had just undergone, and the pitiable plight in which it had left him, so far from softening the hearts of the populace, had rendered their hatred more malicious by pointing it with the sting of merriment.
Accordingly, public vengeancevindicte publique, as the jargon of the law courts still has itbeing satisfied, a thousand private revenges now had their turn. Here, as in the great Hall, the women were most in evidence. Every one of them had some grudge against himsome for his wicked deeds, others for his ugly faceand the latter were the most incensed of the two.
Quasimodo was deaf, but he saw very clearly, and the fury of the populace was not less forcibly expressed in their faces than in their words. Besides, the stones that struck him explained the bursts of laughter.
At first he bore it well enough. But, by degrees, the patience that had remained inflexible under the scourge of the torturer relaxed and broke down under the insect stings. The Austrian bull that bears unmoved the attack of the picadors is exasperated by the dogs and banderillas.
Slowly he cast a look of menace over the crowd; but, bound hand and foot as he was, his glance was impotent to drive away these flies that stung his wounds. He shook himself in his toils, and his furious struggles made the old wheel of the pillory creak upon its timbers; all of which merely served to increase the hooting and derision.
Then the poor wretch, finding himself unable to burst his fetters, became quiet again; only at intervals a sigh of rage burst from his tortured breast. No flush of shame dyed that face. He was too far removed from social convention, too near a state of nature to know what shame was. In any case, at that degree of deformity, is a sense of infamy possible? But resentment, hatred, and despair slowly spread a cloud over that hideous countenance, growing ever more gloomy, ever more charged with electricity, which flashed in a thousand lightnings from the eye of the Cyclops.
Nevertheless, the cloud lifted a moment, at the appearance of a mule which passed through the crowd, ridden by a priest. From the moment that he caught sight of the priest, the poor victims countenance softened, and the rage that distorted it gave place to a strange soft smile full of ineffable tenderness. As the priest approached nearer, this smile deepened, became more distinct, more radiant, as though the poor creature hailed the advent of a saviour. Alas! no sooner was the mule come near enough to the pillory for its rider to recognise the person of the culprit, than the priest cast down his eyes, turned his steed abruptly, and hastened away, as if anxious to escape any humiliating appeal, and not desirous of being recognised and greeted by a poor devil in such a position.
Suddenly he renewed his struggles against his bonds with such desperation that the old structure on which he was fixed rocked beneath him. Then, breaking the silence he had obstinately preserved, he cried aloud in a hoarse and furious voice, more like the cry of a dog than a human being, and that rang above the hooting and the shouts, Water!
This cry of distress, far from moving them to compassion, only added to the amusement of the populace gathered round the pillory, who, it must be admitted, taking them in a mass, were scarcely less cruel and brutal than that debased tribe of vagabonds whom we have already introduced to the reader. Not a voice was raised around the unhappy victim save in mockery of his thirst. Undoubtedly his appearance at that momentwith his purple, streaming face, his eye bloodshot and distraught, the foam of rage and pain upon his lips, his lolling tonguemade him an object rather of repulsion than of pity; but we are bound to say that had there even been among the crowd some kind, charitable soul tempted to carry a cup of water to that poor wretch in agony, there hung round the steps of the pillory, in the prejudice of the times, an atmosphere of infamy and shame dire enough to have repelled the Good Samaritan himself.
Quasimodos eye flashed. It was the gipsy girl he had attempted to carry off the night before, for which piece of daring he felt in some confused way he was being chastised at that very moment; which was not in the least the case, seeing that he was punished only for the misfortune of being deaf and having had a deaf judge. However, he doubted not that she, too, had come to have her revenge and to aim a blow at him like the rest.
He beheld her rapidly ascend the steps. Rage and vexation choked him; he would have burst the pillory in fragments if he could, and if the flash of his eye had possessed the lightnings power, the gipsy would have been reduced to ashes before ever she reached the platform.
Then from that eye, hitherto so dry and burning, there rolled a great tear which trickled down the uncouth face, so long distorted by despair and painthe first, maybe, the hapless creature had ever shed.
When, at last, he had finished, the poor wretch advanced his black lipsno doubt to kiss the fair hands which had just brought him relief; but the girl, mistrusting him perhaps, and remembering the violent attempt of the night before, drew back her hand with the frightened gesture of a child expecting to be bitten by some animal. Whereat the poor, deaf creature fixed upon her a look full of reproach and sadness.
In any place it would have been a touching spectacle to see a beautiful girlso fresh, so pure, so kind, and so unprotectedhastening thus to succour so much of misery, of deformity and wickedness. On a pillory, it became sublime.
It was at this moment that the recluse through the loophole of her cell, caught sight of the gipsy girl on the steps of the pillory, and launched her sinister imprecation: Cursed be thou, daughter of Egypt! cursed! cursed!