Victor Marie Hugo (18021885). Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
III. End of the Crown Piece Changed into a Withered Leaf
WHEN, pale and limping, she re-entered the Court of Justice, she was greeted by a general murmur of pleasurearising on the part of the public from that feeling of satisfied impatience experienced at the theatre at the expiration of the last entracte of a play, when the curtain rises and one knows that the end is about to begin; and on the part of the judges from the hope of soon getting their supper. The little goat, too, bleated with joy. She would have run to her mistress, but they had tied her to the bench.
Night had now completely fallen. The candles, which had not been increased in number, gave so little light that the walls of the court were no longer visible. Darkness enveloped every object in a kind of mist, through which the apathetic faces of the judges were barely distinguishable. Opposite to them, at the extremity of the long hall, they could just see a vague white point standing out against the murky background. It was the prisoner.
She had dragged herself to her place. When Charmolue had magisterially installed himself in his, he sat down, then rose and said, without allowing all too much of his satisfaction at his success to become apparent: The prisoner has confessed all.
Maître Charmolue drew forth an appalling document, and commenced reading with much gesticulation and the exaggerated emphasis of the Bar a Latin oration, in which all the evidences of the trial were set out in Ciceronian periphrases, flanked by citations from Plautus. We regret being unable to offer our readers this remarkable composition. The author delivered it with marvellous eloquence. He had not concluded the exordium before the perspiration was streaming from his brow and his eyes starting from his head.
Sirs! he cried (this time in French, for it was not in the document), Satan is so profoundly involved in this affair, that behold him present at our councils and making a mock of the majesty of the law. Behold him!
So saying, he pointed to the goat, which, seeing Charmolue gesticulate, thought it the right and proper thing to do like-wise, and seated on her haunches was mimicking to the best of her ability with her fore-feet and bearded head the impressive pantomime of the Kings Attorney in the Ecclesiastical Court. This, if you will remember, was one of her most engaging performances.
It was long indeed, but the peroration was admirable. The last sentence ran thuslet the reader add in imagination the raucous voice and broken-winded elocution of Maître Charmolue:
Ideo, domini, coram stryga demonstrata, crimine patente, intentione criminis existente, in nomine sanctæ ecclesiæ Nostræ-Dominæ Parisiensis, quæ est in saisina habendi omnimodam altam et bassam, justitiam in illa hac intemerata Civitatis insula, tenore præsentium declaramus nos requirere, primo, aliquandam pecuniariam indemnitatem; secundo, amendationem honorabilem ante portalium maximum Nostræ-Dominæ, ecclesiæ cathedralis; tertio, sententiam, in virtute cujus ista stryga cum sua capella, seu in trivio vulgariter dicta La Grève, seu in insula exeunte in fluvio Sequanæ, juxta pointam jardini regalis, executæ sint.1
Monsieur the President, replied the advocate, since the defendant has confessed the crime, I have but one word to say to these gentlemen. I bring to their notice the following passage of the Salic law: If a witch have devoured a man and be convicted of it, she shall pay a fine of eight thousand deniers, which makes two hundred sous of gold. Let the court condemn my client to the fine.
The votes were taken without leaving the court. The judges gave their votes without a moments hesitationthey were in a hurry. One after another their heads were bared at the lugubrious question addressed to them in turn in a low voice by the President. The hapless prisoner seemed to be looking at them, but her glazed eyes no longer saw anything.
Bohemian girl, on such a day as it shall please our lord the King to appoint, at the hour of noon, you shall be taken in a tumbrel, in your shift, barefoot, a rope round your neck, before the great door of Notre Dame, there to do penance with a wax candle of two pounds weight in your hands; and from there you shall be taken to the Place-de-Grève, where you will be hanged and strangled on the town gibbet, and your goat likewise; and shall pay to the Office three lion-pieces of gold in reparation of the crimes, by you committed and confessed, of sorcery, magic, prostitution, and murder against the person of the Sieur Phbus de Châteaupers. And God have mercy on your soul!
Note 1. Therefore, gentlemen, the witchcraft being proved and the crime made manifest, as likewise the criminal intention, in the name of the holy church of Notre Dame de Paris, which is seized of the right of all manner of justice high and low, within this inviolate island of the city, we declare by the tenor of these presents that we require, firstly, a pecuniary compensation; secondly, penance before the great portal of the cathedral church of Notre-Dame; thirdly, a sentence, by virtue of which this witch, together with her goat, shall either in the public square, commonly called La Grève, or in the island stretching out into the river Seine, adjacent to the point of the royal gardens, be executed. [back]