Victor Marie Hugo (18021885). Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
VIII. The Convenience of Windows Overlooking the River
CLAUDE FROLLOfor we presume the reader, more intelligent than Phbus, has seen throughout this adventure no other spectre-monk than the ArchdeaconClaude Frollo groped about him for some moments in the darksome hole into which the captain had thrust him. It was one of those corners which builders sometimes reserve in the angle between the roof and the supporting wall. The vertical section of this den, as Phbus had very aptly termed it, would have exhibited a triangle. It had no window of any description, and the slope of the roof prevented one standing upright in it. Claude, therefore, was forced to crouch in the dust and the plaster that cracked under him. His head was burning. Groping about him on the floor, he found a piece of broken glass which he pressed to his forehead, and so found some slight relief from its coldness.
According to what fatal order was he disposing in his thoughts La Esmeralda, Phbus, Jacques Charmolue, his fondly loved young brother, abandoned by him in the gutter, his cloth, his reputation perhaps, dragged thus into the house of the notorious old procuressall these imagesthese wild doings? I cannot say; but it is very certain that they formed a horrible group in his minds eye.
He had been waiting a quarter of an hour, and he felt that he had aged a century in that time. Suddenly he heard the wooden ladder creak. Some one was ascending it. The trap-door opened again, and once more the light made its appearance. In the worm-eaten door of his retreat there was a crack; to this he pressed his face and could thus see all that went on in the adjoining space. The old cat-faced hag came first through the trap-door, lamp in hand; then followed Phbus, twirling his mustaches; and lastly a third person, a beautiful and graceful figureLa Esmeralda. To the priest she issued from below like a dazzling apparition. Claude shook, a mist spread before his eyes, his pulses throbbed violently, everything turned round him, there was a roaring in his ears; he saw and heard no more.
When he came to himself again, Phbus and Esmeralda were alone, seated upon the wooden chest beside the lamp, the light of which revealed to the Archdeacon the two youthful figures and a miserable pallet at the back of the attic.
Close to the couch was a window, the casement of which, cracked and bulging like a spiders web in the rain, showed through its broken strands a small patch of sky, and far down it the moon reclining on a pillow of soft clouds.
The girl was blushing, panting, confused. Her long, drooping lashes shaded her glowing cheeks. The officer, to whom she dared not lift her eyes, was radiant. Mechanically, and with a ravishing coy air, she was tracing incoherent lines on the bench with the tip of her finger, her eyes following the movement. Her foot was hidden, for the little goat was lying on it.
A dull affair enough, the conversation of a pair of loversone never-ending I love you; a musical phrase, but terribly monotonous and insipid to the indifferent listener. But Claude was no indifferent listener.
Alas! said she, it is that I am breaking a vowI shall never find my parentsthe amulet will lose its virtuebut what of that?what need have I of a father or mother now? And she fixed on the soldier her large dark eyes, dewy with tenderness and delight.
There was around the girl such a halo of chastity, such a perfume of virtue, that Phbus was not quite at his ease with her. These words, however, emboldened him. You love me! he exclaimed with transport, and threw his arm round the gipsys waist. He had only been on the lookout for an opportunity.
Phbus, the gipsy went on, at the same time gently disengaging her waist from the officers clinging hands, you are good, you are generous, you are handsome. You saved meme, who am but a poor wandering gipsy girl. I had long dreamed of an officer who should save my life. It was of you I dreamed before I met you, my Phbus. The officer of my dream wore a fine uniform like yours, a grand look, a sword. You are called Phbus; it is a beautiful name. I love your name; I love your sword. Draw your sword, Phbus, and let me look at it.
Here Phbus availed himself of the opportunity, as she bent over the sword, to press a kiss upon her fair neck which made the girl flush crimson and draw herself up, while the priest ground his teeth in the darkness.
The gipsy girl gave two or three little taps of her pretty hand on his mouth with a playfulness that was full of childlike grace and gaiety. No, no, I will not listen to anything. Do you love me? I want you to tell me if you love me.
Do I love thee, angel of my life! exclaimed the captain, sinking on one knee before her. I am thinebody, blood, and soul; all, all would I give for thee. I love thee, and have never loved but thee.
The captain had so often repeated this sentence, on so many similar occasions, that he delivered it at one breath, and without a single blunder. At this passionate declaration the Egyptian raised to the dingy ceilingwhich here took the place of heavena look full of ineffable happiness. Oh, she murmured, this is the moment at which one should die!
Die! cried the amorous captain. What are you saying, my angel? This is the time to live, or Jupiter is but a scoundrel! To die at the beginning of so delicious an occasion! Corne de bæufthat were a poor joke indeed! No, indeed. Listen, my dear Similar, EsmenardaPardon me! but youve got a name so prodigiously Saracen that I cant get it out properlytis a thicket that always brings me up short.
Oh, tis not worth crying about, sweetheart! Its a name one must get accustomed to, thats all. Once I know it by heart, twill come readily enough. Listen, then, my Similar, I love you to distractionits positively miraculous how much I love you. I know a little girl who is bursting with rage over it.
Well, thats enough. You shall see how much I love you too. May the great demon Neptune stick me on his fork, if I dont make you the happiest creature living. Well have a pretty little lodging somewhere. My archers shall parade before your windows. They are all mounted, and cut out those of Captain Mignon completely. There are billmen, cross-bowmen, and culverin-men. I will take you to the great musters of the Paris men-at-arms at the Grange de Rully. Thats a very magnificent sight. Eighty thousand sixty-seven banners of the trade guilds; the standards of the Parliament, of the Chamber of Accounts, the Public Treasury, of the Workers in the Mintin short, a devilish fine show! Then Ill take you to see the lions at the Kings palacebeasts of prey, you knowwomen always like that.
Emboldened by her gentleness the captain clasped his arm about her waist without her offering any resistance; he then began softly to unlace the pretty creatures bodice, and so disarranged her neckerchief, that from out of it the panting priest beheld the gipsys beautiful bare shoulder rise, round and dusky as the moon through a misty horizon.
The girl let Phbus work his will. She seemed unconscious of what he was doing. The captains eyes gleamed. Suddenly she turned to him Phbus, she said with a look of boundless love, teach me your religion.
And as he said this in his most insinuating tones, he drew still closer to the gipsy; his caressing arms had resumed their clasp about that slender, pliant waist; his eye kindled more and more, and everything proclaimed that Captain Phbus was obviously approaching one of those moments at which Jupiter himself behaves so foolishly that worthy old Homer is obliged to draw a cloud over the scene.
Dom Claude, however, saw everything. The door was merely of worm-eaten old puncheon ribs, and left between them ample passage for his vulture gaze. This dark-skinned, broad-shouldered priest, condemned hitherto to the austere chastity of the cloister, shivered and burned alternately at this night-scene of love and passion. The sight of this lovely, dishevelled girl in the arms of a young and ardent lover turned the blood in his veins to molten lead. He felt an extraordinary commotion within him; his eye penetrated with lascivious jealously under all these unfastened clasps and laces. Any one seeing the wretched mans countenance pressed close against the worm-eaten bars would have taken it for the face of a tiger looking through his cage at some jackal devouring a gazelle.
By a sudden, rapid movement Phbus snatched the gipsys kerchief completely off her neck. The poor girl, who had sat pale and dreamy, started from her reverie. She brusquely tore herself away from the too enterprising young officer, and catching sight of her bare neck and shoulders, blushing, confused, and mute with shame, she crossed her beautiful arms over her bosom to hide it. But for the flame that burned in her cheeks, to see her thus standing, silent and motionless, with drooping eyes, you would have taken her for a statue of Modesty.
Do not touch it, she answered quickly, it is my protection. Through it I shall find my parents again if I remain worthy of that. Oh, leave me, Monsieur le Captaine! Mother! my poor mother! where art thou? Come to my aid! Have pity, Monsieur Phbusgive me back my kerchief to cover my bosom.
Not love him! cried the poor unhappy child, clinging wildly to him and drawing him down to the seat beside her. I do not love thee, my Phbus? What words are these, cruel, to rend my heart! Oh, cometake me! take all! do with me what thou wilt! I am thine. What matters the amulet! What is my mother to me now! Thou art father and mother to me now, since I love thee! Phbus, beloved, look at mesee, tis Itis that poor little one whom thou wilt not spurn from thee, and who comes, who comes herself to seek thee. My soul, my life, myselfall, all belong to thee, my captain. Well, so be itwe will not marry, since it is not thy wish. Besides, what am I but a miserable child of the gutter, while thou, my Phbus, art a gentleman. A fine thing, truly! A dancing girl to espouse an officer! I was mad! No, Phbus, I will be thy paramour, thy toy, thy pleasurewhat thou wiltonly something that belongs to theefor what else was I made? Soiled, despised, dishonoured, what care I? if only I be loved I shall be the proudest and happiest of women. And when I shall be old and ugly, when I am no longer worthy of your love, monseigneur, you will suffer me to serve you. Others will embroider scarfs for youI, the handmaid, will have care of them. You will let me polish your spurs, brush your doublet, and rub the dust from off your riding-bootswill you not, Phbus? You will grant me so much? And meanwhile, take meI am thineonly love me! We gipsies, that is all we asklove and the free air of heaven!
Speaking thus, she threw her arms around the soldiers neck and raised her eyes to his in fond entreaty, smiling through her tears. Her tender bosom was chafed by the woolen doublet and its rough embroidery as the fair, half-nude form clung to his breast. The captain, quite intoxicated, pressed his lips to those exquisite shoulders, and the girl, lying back in his arms, with half-closed eyes, glowed and trembled under his kisses.
Suddenly above the head of Phbus she beheld another heada livid, convulsed face with the look as of one of the damned, and beside that face a raised hand holding a dagger. It was the face and the hand of the priest. He had broken in the door and stood behind the pair. Phbus could not see him.
When she came to her senses she found herself surrounded by the soldiers of the watch; the captain was being borne away bathed in his blood, the priest had vanished, the window at the back of the room overlooking the river was wide open; they picked up a cloak which they supposed to belong to the officer, and she heard them saying to one another: