Victor Marie Hugo (18021885). Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
III. The Bells
SINCE his taste of the pillory, the neighbours in the vicinity of Notre Dame thought they perceived a remarkable abatement in Quasimodos rage for bell-ringing. Before that time the smallest excuse set the bells goinglong morning chimes that lasted from prime to compline; full peals for a high mass, full-toned runs flashing up and down the smaller bells for a wedding or a christening, and filling the air with an exquisite network of sweet sound. The ancient minster, resonant and vibrating to her foundations, lived in a perpetual jubilant tumult of bells. Some self-willed spirit of sound seemed to have entered into her and to be sending forth a never-ending song from all those brazen throats. And now that spirit had departed. The Cathedral seemed wilfully to maintain a sullen silence. Festivals and burials had their simple accompaniment, plain and meagrewhat the Church demandednot a note beyond. Of the two voices that proceed from a churchthat of the organ within and the bells withoutonly the organ remained. It seemed as though there were no longer any musicians in the belfries. Nevertheless, Quasimodo was still there; what had come over him? Was it that the shame and despair of the pillory still lingered in his heart, that his soul still quivered under the lash of the torturer, that his horror of such treatment had swallowed up all other feeling in him, even his passion for the bells?or was it rather that Marie had a rival in the heart of the bell-ringer of Notre Dame, and that the great bell and her fourteen sisters were being neglected for something more beautiful?
It happened that in this year of grace 1482, the Feast of the Annunciation fell on Tuesday, the 25th of March. On that day the air was so pure and light that Quasimodo felt some return of affection for his bells. He accordingly ascended the northern tower, while the beadle below threw wide the great doors of the church, which consisted, at that time, of enormous panels of strong wood, padded with leather, bordered with gilded iron nails, and framed in carving very skilfully wrought.
Arrived in the lofty cage of the bells, Quasimodo gazed for some time with a sorrowful shake of the head at his six singing birds, as if he mourned over something alien that had come between him and his old loves. But when he had set them going, when he felt the whole cluster of bells move under his hands, when he sawfor he could not hear itthe palpitating octave ascending and descending in that enormous diapason, like a bird fluttering from bough to boughwhen the demon of music, with his dazzling shower of stretti, trills, and arpeggios, had taken possession of the poor deaf creature, then he became happy once more, he forgot his former woes, and as the weight lifted from his heart his face lit up with joy.
Come, Gabrielle, said he, come now, pour all thy voice into the Place, to-day is high festival. Thibauld, bestir thyself, thou art lagging behind; on with thee, art grown rusty, sluggard? That is wellquick! quick! led not the clapper be seen. Make them all deaf like me. Thats the way, my brave Thibauld. Guillaume! Guillaume! thou art the biggest, and Pasquier is the smallest, and yet Pasquier works better than thou. I warrant that those who can hear would say so too. Right so, my Garbrielle! louder, louder! Hey! you two up there, you sparrows, what are you about? I do not see you make the faintest noise? What ails those brazen beaks of yours that look to be yawning when they should be singing? Up, up, to your work! Tis the Feast of the Annunciation. The sun shines bright, and well have a merry peal. What, Guillaume! Out of breath, my poor fat one!
Happening, however, to glance between the large slate tiles which cover, up to a certain height, the perpendicular walls of the steeple, he saw down in the square a fantastically dressed girl spreading out a carpet, on which a little goat came and took up its position and a group of spectators formed a circle round. This sight instantly changed the current of his thoughts, and cooled his musical enthusiasm as a breath of cold air congeals a stream of flowing resin. He stood still, turned his back on the bells, and crouching down behind the slate eaves fixed on the dancer that dreamy, tender, and softened look which once already had astonished the Archdeacon. Meanwhile the neglected bells suddenly fell silent, to the great disappointment of lovers of carillons who were listening in all good faith from the Pont-aux-Change, and now went away as surprised and disgusted as a dog that has been offered a bone and gets a stone instead.