Victor Marie Hugo (18021885). Notre Dame de Paris.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
III. Vive la Joie!
THE READER may perhaps remember that a portion of the Court of Miracles was enclosed by the ancient wall of the city, a good many towers of which were beginning at that time to fall into decay. One of these towers had been converted by the truands into a place of entertainment, with a tavern in the basement, and the rest in the upper stores. This tower was the most animated, and consequently the most hideous, spot in the whole Vagabond quartera monstrous hive, buzzing day and night. At night, when the rest of the rabble were asleepwhen not a lighted window was to be seen in the squalid fronts of the houses round the Place, when all sound had ceased in the innumerable tenements with their swarms of thieves, loose women, stolen or bastard childrenthe joyous tower could always be distinguished by the uproar that issued from it, and by the crimson glow of light streaming out from the loopholes, the windows, the fissures in the gaping walls, escaping, as it were, from every pore.
The tavern, as we have said, was in the basement. The descent to it was through a low door and down a steep, narrow stair. Over the door, by way of sign, hung an extraordinary daub representing new-coined sols and dead fowls, with the punning legend underneath, Aux sonneurs1pour les trépassés!The ringers for the dead.
One evening, when the curfew was ringing from all the steeples of Paris, the sergeants of the watch, could they have entered the redoubtable Court of Miracles, might have remarked that a greater hubbub than usual was going on in the tavern of the Vagabonds; that they were drinking deeper and swearing harder. Without, in the Place, were a number of groups conversing in low tones, as when some great plot is brewing, and here and there some fellow crouched down and sharpened a villainous iron blade on a flagstone.
Meanwhile, in the tavern itself, wine and gambling formed so strong a diversion to the ideas that occupied the Vagabonds, that it would have been difficult to gather from the conversation of the drinkers what the matter was which so engaged them. Only they wore a gayer air than usual, and every one of them had some weapon or other gleaming between his kneesa pruning hook, an axed, a broadsword, or the crook of some ancient blunderbuss.
The hall, which was circular in form, was very spacious; but the tables were so crowded together and the drinkers so numerous, that the whole contents of the tavernmen, women, benches, tankards, drinkers, sleepers, gamblers, the able-bodied and the crippledseemed thrown pell-mell together, with about as much order and harmony as a heap of oysters hells. A few tallow candles guttered on the table; but the real source of light to the tavern, that which sustained in the cabaret the character of the chandelier in an opera house, was the fire. This cellar was so damp that the fire was never allowed to go out, even in the height of summer; an immense fireplace with a carved chimney piece, and crowded with heavy andirons and cooking utensils, contained one of those huge fires of wood and turf which in a village street at night cast the deep red glow of the forge windows on the opposite wall. A great dog, gravely seated in the ashes, was turning a spit hung with meat.
In spite of the prevailing confusion, after the first glance three principal groups might be singled out, pressing round the several personages already known to the reader. One of these personages, fantastically benzene with many an Oriental gaudy, was Manias Hungary Spica, Duke of Egypt and Bohemia. The old rogue was seated cross legged on a table, his finger upraised, exhibiting in a loud voice his skill in white and black magic to many an open-mouthed face that surrounded him.
Another crowd was gathered thick round our old friend the King of Tunis, armed to the teeth. Clop in Trouillefou, with a very serious mien and in a low voice, was superintending the ransacking of an enormous cask full of arms staved open before him and disgorging a profusion of axes, swords, firelocks, coats of mail, lance and pike heads, crossbows and arrows, like apples and grapes from a cornucopia. Each one took something from the heapone a morion, another a rapier, a third a cross-hilted dagger. The very children were arming, and even the worst cripples, mere torsos of men, all barbed and cuirassed, were crawling about among the legs of the drinkers like so many great beetles.
And lastly, a third audiencemuch the noisiest, most jovial, and numerous of the lotcrowded the benches and tables, listening to the haranguing and swearing of a flutelike voice which proceeded from a figure dressed in a complete suit of heavy armour from casque to spurs. The individual thus trussed up in full panoply was so buried under his warlike accoutrements that nothing of his person was visible but an impudent tip-tilted nose, a lock of golden hair, a rosy mouth, and a pair of bold blue eyes. His belt bristled with daggers and poniards, a large sword hung at one side, a rusty cross-bow at the other, a vast jug of wine stood before him, and in his right arm he held a strapping wench with uncovered bosom. Every mouth in his neighbourhood was laughing, drinking, swearing.
Add to these twenty minor groups; the serving men and women running to and fro with wine and beer-cans on their heads, the players absorbed in the various games of hazardbilles (a primitive form of billiards), dice, cards, backgammon, the intensely exciting tringlet (a form of spilikins), quarrels in one corner, kisses in anotherand some idea may be formed of the scene, over which flickered the light of the great blazing fire, setting a thousand grotesque and enormous shadows dancing on the tavern walls.
Two card-players were disputing. Knave! cried the reddest-faced of the two, shaking his fist at the other, Ill so mark thee thou mightest take the place of knave of clubs in our lord the Kings own pack of cards!
Children, said the Duke of Egypt to his audience in a falsetto voice, the witches of France go to the Sabbaths without ointment, or broomsticks, or any other mount, by a few magic words only. The witches of Italy have always a goat in readiness at the door. All are bound to go up the chimney.
Noël! Noël! he cried. My first day in armour! A Vagabond! Im a Vagabond, body of Christ! pour me some wine! My friends, my name is Jean Frollo of the Mill, and Im a gentleman. Its my opinion that if the Almighty were a man-at-arms hed turn robber. Brothers, we are bound on a great expedition. We are doughty men. Lay siege to the church, break in the doors, bring out the maid, save her from the judges, save her from the priests, dismantle the cloister, burn the bishop in his housewell do all this in less time than it takes a burgomaster to eat a mouthful of soup. Our cause is a righteous onewe loot Notre Dame, and there you are! Well hang Quasimodo. Are you acquainted with Quasimodo, fair ladies? Have you seen him snorting on the back of the big bell on a day of high festival? Corne du Père! tis a grand sightyoud say it was a devil astride a gaping maw. Hark ye, my friends; I am a truand to the bottom of my heart, I am Argotier to the soul, Im a born Cagou. I was very rich, but Ive spent all I had. My mother wanted to make me an officer, my father a subdeacon, my aunt a criminal councillor, my grandmother a protonotary, but I made myself a Vagabond. I told my father so, and he spat his curse in my face; my mother, the good old lady, fell to weeping and spluttering like the log in that fireplace. So hey for a merry life! Im a whole madhouse in myself. Landlady, my duck, some more wineIve got some money left yet, but no more of that Suresnes, it rasps my throat. Why, corbuf, its like gargling with a basket!
The crowd received his every utterance with yells of laughter, and seeing that the uproar was increasing round him, the scholar cried: O glorious uproar! Populi debacchantis populosa debacchatio! and set off singing, his eyes swinging in apparent ecstasy, in the tone of a canon chanting vespers: Qua cantica! quæ organa! quæ cantilenæ! quæ melodiæ hic sine fine decantantur; sonant melliflua hymnorum organa, suavissima angelorum melodia, cantica canticorum mira.2
The weasel goes by the name of Adnine, the fox is Bluefoot or Woodranger, the wolf. Grayfoot of Giltfoot, the bear, Old Man, or Grandfather. The cap of a gnome renders one invisible and makes one see invisible things. When a toad is baptized it should be clad in velvetred or blacka bell at its neck, a bell on its foot. The godfather holds the head, the godmother the hinder parts. It is the demon Sidragasum that has the power of making girls dance naked.
Well, comrades, exclaimed the huckster, to Notre Dame, then! All the more because in the chapel of Saints Féréol and Ferrution there are two statues, one of Saint-John the Baptist and the other of Saint-Anthony, both of pure gold, weighing together seven gold marks and fifteen esterlins,3 and the pedestals of silver-gilt weigh seventeen marks five ounces. I know itI am a goldsmith.
Here they served Jehans supper. He lolled on the bosom of the girl beside him. By Saint-Voult-de-Lucques, called familiarly Saint-Goguelu, now Im perfectly happy! he cried. Here in front of me I see a blockhead with the beardless face of an archduke. On my left is another with teeth so long they hide his chin. Body of Mahomet! Comrade! thou hats all the appearance of a draper, and hats the effrontery to come and sit by me! I am noble, my friend, and trade is incompatible with nobility. Get thee farther off. Holà, you there! no fighting! How now! Baptiste Croque-Oison, wouldst risk that splendid nose of thine under the gross fists of yonder bumpkin! Imbecile! Non cuiquam datum est habere nasum.4 Truly thou art divine, Jacqueline Rouge-Oreille! pity tis thou hats no hair. Holà! My names Jean Frollo, and my brothers an archdeaconmay the devil fly away with him! Every word I tell you is the truth. By turning Vagabond, I have cheerfully renounced the half of a house situate in paradise promised me by my brotherdimidem donum in paradisoI quote the very words. Ive a property in the Rue Tirechappe, and all the women run after meas true as its true that Saint-Eligius was an excellent goldsmith, and that the five trades of the good city of Paris are the tanners, the leather-dressers, the baldrick-makers, the purse-makers, and the leather-scourers, and that Saint-Laurence was burned with hot egg-shells. I swear to you, comrades,
My charmer, tis moonlight; look through that loophole how the wind rumples the cloudsjust as I do with thy kerchief. Girls, snuff the children and the candles. Christ and Mahomet! what am I eating now? Hey there, old jade! the hairs that are missing from the heads of thy trulls we find in the omelets! Hark ye, old lady, I prefer my omelets bald. May the devil flatten thy nose! A fine tavern of Beelzebub, in sooth, where the wenches comb themselves with the forks!
Grainier turned to him with a melancholy smile. I love the fire, my dear sir. Not for the trivial reason that it warms our feet and cooks our soup, but because it throws out sparks. Sometimes I pass whole hours watching the sparks. I discover a host of things in those stars that sprinkle the dark background of the fireplace. Those stars are worlds.
You speak like a man, Manias, returned the King of Tunis. Besides, it will be an easy matter. Theres no resistance to fear in the church. The priests are so many hares, and we are in full force. The men of the Parliament will be finely balked to-morrow when they come to fetch her! By the bowels of the Pope, they shall not hang the pretty creature!
Grainier, on his part, aroused from his meditations, was contemplating the wild scene of license and uproar around him, while he murmured to himself: Luxuriosa res vinum et tumultuosa ebrietas.5 Ah, how wise am I to eschew drinking, and how excellent is the saying of Saint-Benedict: Vinum apostatare facit etiam sapientes!6
The word acted on the truands like the order to mount on a regiment, and the entire bandmen, women, and childrenpoured out of the tavern with a great clatter of arms and iron. The moon was obscured. The Court of Miracles lay in utter darknessnot a single light was to be seen, but it was far from being deserted. A great crowd of men and women stood in the Place talking to one another in low voices. There was a continuous deep hum, and many a weapon flashed in the gloom.
Ten minutes later the horsemen of the night-watch were fleeing in terror before a long procession, black and silent, pouring down towards the Pont-au-Change through the tortuous streets that run in every direction through the dense quarter of the Halles.
Note 2. What chants! what instruments! what songs and melodies without end are sung here! Hymns from mellifluous pipes are sounding, sweetest of angels melodies, the most wonderful song of all songs. [back]
Note 3. Obsolete goldsmith weight of 28 45 grains. [back]
Note 4. It is not given to every one to have a nose. [back]
Note 5. A dissolute thing is wine and leads to noisy intoxication. [back]
Note 6. The avoiding of wine also makes a man wise. [back]