Our readers have not forgotten the mysterious cell which the Archdeacon had appropriated to himself in this tower. (By the way, I do not know but what it is the same, the interior of which may be seen to this day through a small square window, opening to the east at about a mans height from the floor upon the platform from which the towers springa mere den now, naked, empty, and falling to decay, the ill-plastered walls of which are decorated here and there, at the present moment, by some hideous yellow engravings of cathedral fronts. I presume that this hole is jointly inhabited by bats and spiders, so that a double war of extermination is being carried on there against the flies.)
Every day, an hour before sunset, the Archdeacon mounted the stair of the tower and shut himself up in this cell, where he sometimes spent whole nights. On this day, just as he reached the low door of his retreat and was preparing to insert in the lock the small and intricate key he always carried about with him in the pouch hanging at his side, the jingle of a tambourine and of castanets suddenly smote on his ear, rising up from the Place du Parvis. The cell, as we have said, had but one window looking over the transept roof. Claude Frollo hastily withdrew the key, and in another moment was on the summit of the tower, in that gloomy and intent attitude in which he had been observed by the group of girls.
There he stood, grave, motionless, absorbed in one object, one thought. All Paris was spread out at his feet, with her thousand turrets, her undulating horizon, her river winding under the bridges, her stream of people flowing to and fro in the streets; with the cloud of smoke rising from her many chimneys; with her chain of crested roofs pressing in ever tightening coils round about Notre Dame. But in all that great city the Archdeacon beheld but one spotthe Place du Parvis; and in that crowd but one figurethat of the gipsy girl.
It would have been difficult to analyze the nature of that gaze, or to say whence sprang the flame that blazed in it. His eyes were fixed and yet full of anguish and unrest; and from the profound immobility of his whole body, only faintly agitated now and then by an involuntary tremor, like a tree shaken by the wind; from his rigid arms, more stony than the balustrade on which they leaned, and the petrified smile that distorted his countenance, you would have said that nothing of Claude Frollo was alive save his eyes.
The gipsy girl was dancing and twirling her tambourine on the tip of her finger, throwing it aloft in the air while she danced the Provençal saraband; agile, airy, joyous, wholly unconscious of the sinister gaze falling directly on her head.
The crowd swarmed round her; from time to time, a man tricked out in a long red and yellow coat, went round to keep the circle clear, and then returned to a seat a few paces from the dancer, and took the head of the goat upon his knee. This man appeared to be the companion of the gipsy girl. Claude Frollo, from his elevated position, could not distinguish his features.
No sooner had the Archdeacon caught sight of this individual, than his attention seemed divided between him and the dancer, and his face became more and more overcast. Suddenly he drew himself up, and a tremor ran through his whole frame. Who can that man be? he muttered between his teeth; I have always seen her alone hitherto.
He then vanished under the winding roof of the spiral staircase, and proceeded to descend. As he passed the half-open door of the belfry, he saw something which made him pause. It was Quasimodo, leaning out of an opening in one of the great projecting slate eaves and likewise looking down into the Place, but so profoundly absorbed in contemplation that he was unaware of the passing of his adopted father. His savage eye had a singular expressiona mingled look of fondness and delight.
How strange! murmured Claude. Can he too be looking at the Egyptian? He continued his descent, and in a few moments the troubled Archdeacon entered the Place by the door at the bottom of the tower.
Instead of the Egyptian, on the same carpet, of which the arabesques but a moment before seemed to vanish beneath the fantastic weavings of her dances, the Archdeacon now beheld only the red and yellow man; who, in order to earn an honest penny in his turn, was parading round the circle, his arms akimbo, his head thrown back, very red in the face, and balancing a chair between his teeth. On this chair he had fastened a cat which a woman in the crowd had lent him, and which was swearing with fright.
The stern voice of the Archdeacon so startled the poor devil that he lost his balance, and with it his whole erection, and the chair and the cat came toppling over right on to the heads of the spectators and in the midst of a deafening uproar.
It is probable that Pierre Gringoire (for it was indeed he) would have had a fine account to settle with the owner of the cat, not to speak of all the bruised and scratched faces round him, had he not hastily availed himself of the tumult and taken refuge in the Cathedral, whither Claude Frollo beckoned him to follow.
The Cathedral was already dark and deserted, the transepts were full of deepest shadow, and the lamps of the chapels were beginning to twinkle like stars under the black vault of the roof. The great central rose-window alone, whose thousand tints were flooded by a horizontal stream of evening sunshine, gleamed in the shadow like a star of diamonds and cast its dazzling image on the opposite side of the nave.
When they had proceeded a few steps, Dom Claude leaned against a pillar and regarded Gringoire steadfastly. This look was not the one Gringoire had feared to encounter in his shame at being surprised by so grave and learned a personage in his merry-andrew costume. There was in the priests gaze no touch of disdain or mockery; it was serious, calm, and searching. The Archdeacon was the first to break silence.
Now Maître Pierre, you have many things to explain to me. And first, how comes it that I have seen nothing of you for the last two months, and then find you in the public street in noble guise i sooth!part red, part yellow, like a Caudebec apple!
Messire, answered Gringoire plaintively, it is in very truth a preposterous outfit, and you behold me about as comfortable as a cat with a pumpkin on its head. It is, I acknowledge, an ill deed on my part to expose the gentlemen of the watch to the risk of belabouring, under this motley coat, the back of a Pythagorean philosopher. But what would you, my reverend master? The fault lies with my old doublet, which basely deserted me at the beginning of winter under the protest that it was falling in rags, and that it was under the necessity of reposing itself in the ragmans pack. Que faire? Civilization has not yet reached that point that one may go quite naked, as old Diogenes would have wished. Add to this that the wind blew very cold, and the month of January is not the season to successfully initiate mankind into this new mode. This coat offered itself, I accepted it, and abandoned my old black tunic, which, for a hermetic such as I am, was far from being hermetically closed. Behold me then, in my buffoons habit, like Saint-Genestus. What would you have?it is an eclipse. Apollo, as you know, tended the flocks of Admetes.
I admit, master, that it is better to philosophize and poetize, to blow fire in a furnace or receive it from heaven, than to be balancing cats in the public squares. And when you suddenly addressed me, I felt as stupid as an ass in front of a roasting-pit. But whats to be done, messire? One must eat to live, and the finest Alexandrine verses are nothing between the teeth as compared with a piece of cheese. Now, I composed for the Lady Margaret of Flanders that famous epithalamium, as you know, and the town has not paid me for it, pretending that it was not good enough; as if for four crowns you could give them a tragedy of Sophocles! Hence, see you, I was near dying of hunger. Happily I am fairly strong in the jaws; so I said to my jaw: Perform some feats of strength and equilibriumfeed yourself. Ale to ipsam. A band of vagabonds who are become my very good friends, taught me twenty different herculean feats; and now I feed my teeth every night with the bread they have earned in the day. After all, concedo, I concede that it is but a sorry employ of my intellectual faculties, and that man is not made to pass his life in tambourining and carrying chairs in his teeth. But, reverend master, it is not enough to pass ones life; one must keep it.
Gringoire hastened to relate to him as succinctly as possible what the reader already knows: his adventure in the Court of Miracles and his broken-pitcher marriage. The marriage appeared as yet to have had no result whatever, the gipsy girl continuing every night to defraud him of his conjugal rights as on that first one. Tis mortifying, and thats the truth, he concluded; but it all comes of my having had the ill-luck to espouse a virgin.
It is difficult to explain, returned the poet. There is superstition in it. My wife, as an old thief among us called the Duke of Egypt has told me, is a foundlingor a lostling, which is the same thing. She wears about her neck an amulet which, they declare, will some day enable her to find her parents again, but which would lose its virtue if the girl lost hers. Whence it follows that we both of us remain perfectly virtuous.
Why, Dom Claude, how should a man fight against a superstition? She has got that in her head. I hold it to be rare enough to find this nunlike prudery keeping itself so fiercely aloof among all these easily conquered gipsy girls.
But she has three things to protect her: the Duke of Egypt, who has taken her under his wing, reckoning, may-be, to sell her later on to some fat abbot or other; her whole tribe, who hold her in singular veneration, like the Blessed Virgin herself; and a certain pretty little dagger, which the jade always carries about with her, despite the provosts ordinances, and which darts out in her hand when you squeeze her waist. Tis a fierce wasp, believe me!
By Gringoires account, Esmeralda was a harmless and charming creature; pretty, apart from a little grimace which was peculiar to her; artless and impassioned; ignorant of everything and enthusiastic over everything; fond above all things of dancing, of all the stir and movement of the open air; not dreaming as yet of the difference between man and woman; a sort of human bee, with invisible wings to her feet, and living in a perpetual whirlwind. She owed this nature to the wandering life she had led. Gringoire had ascertained that, as quite a little child, she had gone all through Spain and Catalonia, and into Sicily; he thought even that the caravan of Zingari, to which she belonged, had carried her into the kingdom of Algiersa country situated in Achaia, which Achaia was adjoining on one side to lesser Albania and Greece, and on the other to the sea of the Sicilies, which is the way to Constantinople. The Bohemians, said Gringoire, were vassals of the King of Algeria, in his capacity of Chief of the nation of the White Moors. Certain it was that Esmeralda had come into France while yet very young by way of Hungary.
From all these countries the girl had brought with her fragments of fantastic jargons, outlandish songs and ideas which made her language almost as motley as her half-Egyptian, half-Parisian costume. For the rest, the people of the quarters which she frequented loved her for her gaiety, her kindness, her lively ways, for her dancing and her songs. In all the town she believed herself to be hated by two persons only, of whom she often spoke with dread: the sachette of the Tour-Roland, an evil-tempered recluse who cherished an unreasoning malice against gipsies, and who cursed the poor dancer every time she passed before her window; and a priest, who never crossed her path without hurling at her words and looks that terrified her. This last circumstance perturbed the Archdeacon greatly, though Gringoire paid no heed to the fact, the two months that had elapsed having sufficed to obliterate from the thoughtless poets mind the singular details of that evening on which he had first encountered the gipsy girl, and the circumstance of the Archdeacons presence on that occasion. For the rest, the little dancer feared nothing; she did not tell fortunes, and consequently was secure from those persecutions for magic so frequently instituted against the gipsy women. And then Gringoire was at least a brother to her, if he could not be a husband. After all, the philosopher endured very patiently this kind of platonic marriage. At all events it insured him food and a lodging. Each morning he set out from the thieves quarter, most frequently in company with the gipsy girl; he helped her to gain her little harvest of small coin in the streets; and each evening they returned to the same roof, he let her bolt herself into her own little chamber, and then slept the sleep of the just. A very agreeable existence on the whole, said he, and very favourable to reflection. Besides, in his heart and inner conscience, the philosopher was not quite sure that he was desperately in love with the gipsy. He loved her goat almost as much. It was a charming beast, gentle, intelligent, not to say intellectual; a goat of parts. (Nothing was commoner in the Middle Ages than these trained animals, which created immense wonderment among the uninitiated, but frequently brought their instructor to the stake.) However, the sorceries of the goat with the gilded hoofs were of a very innocent nature. Gringoire explained them to the Archdeacon, who appeared strangely interested in these particulars. In most cases it was sufficient to present the tambourine to the goat in such or such a manner, for it to perform the desired trick. It had been trained to this by its mistress, who had such a singular talent for these devices that two months had sufficed her to teach the goat to compose, with movable letters, the word Phbus.
Hark you, Maître Pierre Gringoire. You are not yet damned, as far as I know. I am interested in you, and wish you well. Now, the slightest contact with that demon of a gipsy girl will infallibly make you a servant of Satanas. You know tis always the body that ruins the soul. Woe betide you if you come nigh that woman! I have spoken.
Another time, continued the poet, with a grin, before I went to bed, I looked through her key-hole, and beheld the most delicious damsel in her shift that ever made a bedstead creak under her naked foot.
To the foul fiend with thee! cried the priest, with a look of fury; and thrusting the amazed Gringoire from him by the shoulder, he plunged with long strides into the impenetrable gloom of the Cathedral arches.