But soon the ever-increasing uproar round the church, and the bleating of her goatawakened before herselfbroke these slumbers. She sat up, listened, looked around; then, frightened at the glare and the noise, hurried out of her cell to see what was the matter. The aspect of the Place, the strange visions moving in it, the disorder of this nocturnal assault, the hideous crowd dimly visible through the darkness, hopping about like a cloud of frogs, the hoarse croaking of the multitude, the scattered red torches flitting to and fro in the storm like will-o-the-wisps flitting over the misty face of a swampall seemed to her like some mysterious battle between the phantoms of the witches Sabbath and the stone monsters of the Cathedral. Imbued from her childhood with the superstitions of the gipsy tribe, her first idea was that she had happened unawares on the Satanic rites of the weird beings proper to the night. Whereupon she hastened back to cower in her cell, asking of her humble couch some less horrible nightmare.
But, by degrees, the first fumes of her terror cleared away from her brain, and by the constantly increasing noise, and other signs of reality, she discovered that she was beset, not by spectres, but by human beings. At this her fear changed; not in degree, but in kind. The thought of the possibility of a popular rising to drag her from her place of refuge flashed into her mind. The prospect of once more losing life, hope, Phbus, who still was ever-present in her dreams of the future, her utter helplessness, all flight barred, her abandonment, her friendless statethese and a thousand other cruel thoughts overwhelmed her. She fell upon her knees, her head upon her couch her hands clasped upon her head, overcome by anxiety and terror; and gipsy, idolatress, and pagan as she was, began with sobs and tremblings to ask mercy of the God of the Christians, and pray to Our Lady, her hostess. For, even though one believe in nothing, there come moments in life in which one instinctively turns to the religion of the temple nearest at hand.
She remained thus prostrated for a considerable time, trembling, in truth, more than she prayed, frozen with terror at the breath of that furious multitude coming ever nearer; ignorant of the nature of the storm, of what was in progress, what they were doing, what they wanted; but having the presentiment of some dreadful issue.
In truth, the little goat had not waited for Gringoire to name himself. He had scarcely crossed the threshold before she began rubbing herself fondly against his knee, covering the poet with caresses and with white hairs, for she was casting her coat, Gringoire returning her endearments.
Then, setting down his lantern, the philosopher seated himself on the floor, clasping Djali enthusiastically in his arms. Oh, tis an engaging beast! More remarkable, no doubt, for its beauty and cleanliness than for its size; but ingenious, subtle, and lettered as a grammarian! Come, my Djali, let us see if thou hast not forgotten any of thy pretty tricks! How does Maître Jacques Charmolue when
The man in black did not let him finish. He went up to him and pushed him roughly by the shoulder. Gringoire got up again. You are right, said he, I had forgotten that we were in haste. However, that is no reason, master, for hustling people so roughly. My dear pretty one, your life is in danger, and Djalis too. They want to hang you again. We are your friends, and have come to save you. Follow us.
She had perforce to content herself with this explanation. Gringoire took her by the hand, his companion picked up the lantern and walked ahead of them. The poor girl was bewildered with fear and let herself be led, the goat came skipping after them, so overjoyed at seeing Gringoire once more that she made him stumble at every other step by thrusting her horns between his legs.
They rapidly descended the stairs of the towers, crossed the church, which was dark and totally deserted but echoing with the frightful uproar without, and issued by the Porte Rouge into the court-yard of the cloister. The cloister was deserted, the clergy having taken refuge in the bishops house, there to offer up their prayers together. The courtyard was empty save for a few terrified lackeys crouching in the darkest corners. They made their way to the small door leading out of the court-yard to the Terrain. The man in black opened it with a key he carried with him. Our readers are aware that the Terrain was a tongue of land enclosed by walls on the side next the city, belonging to the chapter of Notre Dame, and forming the end of the island on the east, behind the church. They found this enclosure perfectly solitary. Here, even the noise in the air was sensibly less, the clamour of the assault reaching their ears confusedly and deadened. They could now hear the rustling of the leaves of the solitary tree planted at the point of the Terrain as the fresh breeze swept up from the river. Nevertheless, they were still very close to danger. The buildings nearest them were the bishops residence and the church. There were visible signs of great confusion within the bishops residence. Its dark mass was streaked with lights flitting from window to window, just as after burning a piece of paper, bright sparks run in a thousand fantastic lines across the dark mound of ashes. Beside it, the huge black towers of Notre Dame rearing themselves over the long nave, sharply outlined against the vast red glow which filled the Parvis, looked like the gigantic andirons of some Cyclopean fire-place.
The man with the lantern walked straight to the point of the Terrain where, at the extreme edge of the water, were the decaying remains of a fence of stakes interlaced with laths, on which a low vine had spread its few starveling branches like the fingers of an open hand. Behind it, in the shadow of the fence, a little boat lay moored. The man motioned Gringoire and his companion to enter, and the goat jumped in after them. The man himself got in last. He cut the rope of the boat, pushed off from the shore with a long boat-hook, and seizing a pair of oars, seated himself in the bow and rowed with all his might out into mid-stream. The Seine runs very strong at this part, and he had considerable difficulty in clearing the point of the island.
Gringoires first care, on entering the boat, was to take the goat upon his knees. He settled himself in the stern, and the girl, whom the unknown man inspired with indefinable uneasiness, seated herself as close as possible to the poet.
Oh! he cried, now we are safe, all four of us! and added with the air of a profound thinker: We are indebted sometimes to fortune, sometimes to strategy, for the happy issue of a great undertaking.
The boat was making its way slowly across to the right bank. The gipsy girl regarded their unknown companion with secret terror. He had carefully shut off the light of his dark-lantern, and was now only dimly perceptible in the bow of the boat, like a shadowy phantom. His hood, which was still pulled down, formed a kind of mask to his face, and each time that in rowing he opened his arms, his long hanging black sleeves gave them the appearance of enormous bats wings. As yet he had breathed not a word. There was no sound in the boat but the regular splash of the oars and the rippling of the water against the sides of the skiff.
Upon my soul! suddenly exclaimed Gringoire, we are as lively as a company of horned-owls! We observe a silence of Pythagoreans or of fishes! Pasque-Dieu! my friends, I wish that some one would converse with me. The human voice is music in the human ear. That is not my own saying, but of Didymus of Alexandria, and an illustrious saying it is! Certes, Didymus of Alexandria was no mediocre philosopher. One word, my pretty oneonly one word, I entreat you. By the way, you used to make a droll little grimace, peculiar to yourself; do you make it still? You must know, my dear, that the Parliament has full jurisdiction over all places of sanctuary, and that you were in great peril in that little cell of yours in Notre Dame? The little trochilus builds its nest in the crocodiles jaws. Master, heres the moon appearing again. If they only do not catch sight of us! We are performing a laudable act in saving mademoiselle, and yet they would string us up in the Kings name if they were to catch us. Alas, that every human action should have two handles! They blame in me what they crown in thee. One man admires Cæsar, and abuses Catiline. Is that not so, master? What say you to this philosophy? I possess the philosophy of instinct, of nature, ut apes geometriam. What, no answer from anybody? You are both, it seems, in a very churlish mood!
You oblige me to do the talking alone. That is what we call in tragedy a monologue. Pasque-Dieu!I would have you know that I am just come from King Louis XI, and that I have caught that oath from himPasque-Dieu! they are keeping up a glorious howling in the city! Tis a bad, wicked old king. He is all wrapped in furs. He still owes me the money for my epithalamium, and he all but hanged me to-night, which would have greatly hindered my career. He is niggardly towards men of merit. He would do well to read the four books of Salvian of CologneAdversus Avaritiam. In good sooth, he is a king very narrow in his dealings with men of letters, and who commits most barbarous crueltiesa sponge laid upon the people, and sucking up their money. His thrift is as the spleen that grows big upon the wasting of the other members. And so the complaints against the hardness of the times turn to murmurs against the prince. Under this mild and pious lord of ours the gibbets are weighed down with corpses, the blocks rot with gore, the prisons burst like overfilled sacks. This king robs with one hand, and hangs with the other. He is the purveyor for Mme. Gabelle1 and M. Gibbet. The high are stripped of their dignities, and the low are increasingly loaded with fresh burdens. Tis an exorbitant prince. I like not this monarch. What say you, my master?
The man in black let the garrulous poet babble on. He was still struggling against the strong full current that separates the prow of the city from the poop of the Ile Notre Dame, now called the Ile Saint Louis.
By-the-bye, master, Gringoire began again suddenly; just as we reached the Parvis through the raging crowd of truands, did your reverence remark the poor little devil whose brains that deaf ringer of yours was in the act of dashing out against the parapet of the gallery of kings? I am near-sighted, and could not recognise him. Who can it have been, think you?
The unknown answered not a word, but he ceased rowing abruptly; his arms fell slack as if broken, his head dropped upon his breast, and Esmeralda heard him sigh convulsively. She started violently; she had heard sighs like that before.
The boat, left to itself, drifted for a few moments with the stream; but the man in black roused himself at last, grasped the oars again, and set the boat once more upstream. He doubled the point of the Ile Notre Dame, and made for the landing-place at the hay wharf.
Ah! said Gringoire, we are passing the Logis Barbeau. Look, master, at that group of black roofs that form such quaint angles over there, just underneath that mass of low-hanging gray cloud, through which the moon looks all crushed and spread abroad like the yolk of an egg when the shell is broken. Tis a very fine mansion. It has a chapel crowned by a small dome which is wholly lined with admirably carved enrichments. Just above it, you can see the bell-tower, very delicately perforated. It also possesses a pleasant garden comprising a pond, an aviary, an echo, a mall, a labyrinth, and wild beast house, and many bosky paths very agreeable to Venus. Besides, theres a very naughty tree which they call the pander, because it cloaked the pleasures of a notorious princess and a certain Constable of Francea man of wit and gallantry. Alas! we poor philosophers are to a Constable of France as the cabbage or radish-bed to the garden of the Louvre. Well, what matters it after all? Life is a mixture of good and evil for the great even as for us. Sorrow is ever by the side of joy, the spondee beside the dactyl. Master, I must tell you that story of the Logis Barbeau some day; it had a tragical ending. It happened in 1319, in the reign of Philippe V, the longest reign of all the kings of France. The moral of the story is that the temptations of the flesh are pernicious and malign. Let our eyes not linger too long upon our neighbours wife, however much our senses may be excited by her beauty. Fornication is a very libertine thought. Adultery, a prying into the pleasant delights of another. Ohé! the noise grows louder over there!
In truth, the uproar was increasing round Notre Dame. They listened. They were plainly shouts of victory. Suddenly a hundred torches, their light flashing upon the helmets of men-at-arms, spread themselves rapidly over the church at every height, over the towers, the galleries, under the buttresses, appearing to be searching for something; and soon the distant shouts reached the ears of the fugitives: The gipsy! the witch! Death to the Egyptian!
The unhappy girl dropped her face in her hands, and the unknown began rowing furiously towards the bank. Meanwhile our philosopher cogitated rapidly. He clasped the goat in his arms, and edged gently away from the gipsy, who pressed closer and closer to his side as her only remaining protection.
Certainly Gringoire was on the horns of a cruel dilemma. He reflected that the goat too, by the existing legislation, was bound to be hanged if retaken, which would be a sad pity, poor little Djali! that two condemned females thus clinging on to him were more than he could manage, and that finally his companion asked for nothing better than to take charge of the gipsy girl. Nevertheless, a violent struggle went on in his mind, during which, like the Jupiter of the Iliad, he weighed the gipsy and the goat by turns in the balance, looking first at one and then at the other, his eyes moist with tears, while he muttered between his teeth, And yet I cannot save both of you!
The bumping of the boat against the landing-place shook him out of his musings. The sinister hubbub still resounded through the city. The unknown rose, advanced to the girl, and made as if to help her ashore; but she evaded him, and laid hold of Gringoires sleeve; whereat he, in turn, being fully occupied with the goat, almost repulsed her. She accordingly sprang ashore by herself, but in such a state of fear and bewilderment that she knew not what she did or whither she was going. She stood thus a moment, stupefied, gazing down at the swift flowing water. When she somewhat recovered her senses, she found herself alone on the landing-stage with the unknown man. Gringoire had apparently availed himself of the moment of their going ashore to vanish with the goat among the labyrinth of houses of the Rue Grenier sur lEau.
The poor little gipsy shuddered to find herself alone with this man. She strove to speak, to cry out, to call to Gringoire, but her tongue clove to the roof of her mouth, and no sound issued from her lips. Suddenly she felt the hand of the unknown grasp hersa cold, strong hand. Her teeth chattered, she turned paler than the moonbeams that shone upon her. The man said not a word, but strode away in the direction of the Place de Grève, still holding her firmly by the hand.
At that moment she had a dim sense of the irresistible force of destiny. All power of will forsook her; she let him drag her along, running to keep pace with him: the ground at this part of the quay rose somewhat, but to her they seemed to be rushing down an incline.
She looked on all sidesnot a single passenger to be seen; the quay was absolutely deserted. She heard no sound, she perceived no sign of life save in the glaring and tumultuous city, from which she was only separated by an arm of the river, and from which her own name reached her coupled with shouts of death. All the rest of Paris lay around her shadowy and silent as the grave.
Meanwhile the stranger was dragging her along in the same silence and at the same rapid pace. She had no recollection of any of the streets they traversed. Passing a lighted window she made a last effort, and stopping suddenly, screamed, Help!
The citizen at the window opened it, and showing himself in his night-shirt and a lamp in his hand, looked out stupidly on to the quay, muttered a few words which she could not catch, and closed his shutter once more. Her last ray of hope was extinguished.
From time to time she gathered sufficient strength to ask in a voice broken by the roughness of the pavement and the breathless haste of their motion: Who are you? Who are you? But there was no reply.
In this manner they presently reached an open square of considerable size. The moon shone faintly out; a sort of black cross was dimly visible standing in the middle. It was a gibbet. She saw this, and in a flash knew where she was. It was the Place de Grève.
Listen, said he; and she shivered at the sound of the ill-omened voice that she had not heard for so long. Listen, he went on, speaking with that broken and gasping utterance which bespeaks the profoundest inward upheaval. We have arrived at our destination. I would speak with thee. This is the Grève; we have reached the extreme limit. Fate has delivered each of us into the hand of the other. Thou shalt have the disposing of my soul; I, of thy life. Here is a place and an hour beyond which there is no seeing. Listen to me, then. I will tell theebut first, name not thy Phbus to me. (And while he spoke thus he paced to and fro, like a man incapable of standing still, dragging her with him.) Speak not of him! Mark me, if thou utterest his name, I know not what I shall do, but it will be something terrible.
Turn not away from me thus. Hear me; tis a matter of the utmost import. First, this is what has happenedtis no laughing matter, I warrant! What was I saying? Remind me! Ahthere is a decree of Parliament delivering thee over to execution again. I have but now succeeded in rescuing thee out of their hands. But they are on thy track. Behold!
He stretched his arm towards the city, where, in truth, the search seemed to be eagerly prosecuted. The noise of it drew nearer. The tower of the lieutenants house opposite the Grève was full of lights and bustle, and they could see soldiers running about the opposite quay with torches in their hands, shouting, The gipsy! Where is the gipsy? Death to her! death!
Thou seest plainly, resumed the priest, that they are in pursuit of thee and that I lie not. Oh, I love thee. Nay, speak not, open not thy lips, if it be to tell me that thou hatest me. I am resolved not to hear that again. I have just saved thee. Let me finish what I have to say. I can save thee altogether; I have prepared everything. It remains for thee to desire it. As thou wilt, so I can do.
She wrenched herself from his grasp and fell at the foot of the gibbet, clasping her arms round that grim pillar; and, half turning her beautiful head, gazed at the priest over her shoulder. It might have been a Madonna at the foot of the Cross. The priest had remained transfixed, his finger pointing to the gibbet, motionless as a statue.
I love you, he resumed, and the girl still kneeling at the gibbet, her long hair falling around her, let him speak without interrupting him. His tones were plaintive now and gentle, contrasting sadly with the harsh disdain stamped upon his features. Yes, in spite of all, tis perfectly true. Is there then nothing to show for this fire that consumes my heart! Alas! night and dayyes, girl, night and daydoes that deserve no pity? Tis a love of the night and the day, I tell youtis torture! Oh! my torment is too great, my poor child. Tis a thing worthy of compassion, I do protest to you. You see, I speak in all gentleness. I would fain have you cease to abhor me. Look you, when a man loves a woman, it is not his fault! Oh, my God! What! will you then never forgive me? will you hate me ever thus? And is this the end? That is what makes me wicked, look you, and horrible to myself. You will not even look at me. You are, may-be, thinking of something else while I stand here talking to you, and we both are trembling on the brink of eternity! But above all things, speak not to me of that soldier! What! I might fling myself at your knees, I might kiss, not your feetfor that you will not have, but the ground under your feet! I might sob like a child, might tear from my breast, not words, but my very heart, to tell you that I love youand all would be in vainall! And yet, there is nothing in your soul but what is tender and merciful. Loving kindness beams from you; you are all goodness and sweetness, full of pity and grace. Alas! your harshness is for me alone. Oh, bitter fate!
He buried his face in his hands. The girl could hear him weeping; it was the first time. Standing thus, and shaken by sobs, he made a more wretched and suppliant figure even than on his knees. He wept on for a while.
Enough, he said presently, the first violence of his emotion spent. I find no words. And yet I had well pondered what I would say to you. And now I tremble and shiver, I grow faint-hearted at the decisive moment. I feel that something transcendent wraps us round, and my tongue falters. Oh, I shall fall to the ground if you will not take pity on me, pity on yourself! Condemn us not both to perdition. Didst thou but know how much I love thee!what a heart is mine! the desertion of all virtue, the abandonment of myself! A doctor, I mock at science; a gentleman, I tarnish my name; a priest, I make of my missal a pillow of wantonnessI spit in the face of my Redeemer! And all for thee, enchantress; to be more worthy of thy hell! And yet thou rejectest the damned! Oh, let me tell thee allmore than this, something still more horrible, more horrible!
There was a pause, and then he began again. What have I done with him, Lord? I took him, I reared him, I nourished him, loved him, idolized him, andI killed him! Yes, Lord, before my very eyes they dashed his head against the stones of thy house; and it was because of me, because of this woman, because of her
Madness gleamed from his sunken eyes; his voice dropped away; two or three times he repeated mechanically, and with long pauses between, like the last prolonged vibrations of the strokes of a bell, Because of herbecause of her At last, though his lips still moved, no articulate sound came from them, then suddenly he felt in a heap like a house crumbling to pieces, and remained motionless on the ground, his head on his knees.
A faint movement of the girl, drawing away her foot from under him, brought him to himself. He slowly swept his hand over his haggard cheeks, and gazed for some moments at his fingers, surprised to find them wet. What, he murmured, have I been weeping?
Woe is me! thou canst see me weep unmoved! Child, knowest thou that such tears are molten lava? Is it then indeed true, that in the man we hate nothing can melt us? Thou wouldst see me die and wouldst laugh. Oh, I cannot see thee die! One word, one single word of kindness! I ask not that thou shouldst say thou lovest me; tell me only that thou art willing I should save thee. That will suffice: I will save thee in return for that. If notoh, time flies! I entreat thee, by all that is sacred, wait not till I turn to stone again like this gibbet, that yearns for thee also! Remember that I hold both our destinies in my hand; that I am frenziedit is terriblethat I may let everything go, and that there lies beneath us, unhappy girl, a bottomless pit wherein my fall will follow thine to all eternity! One word of kindness! Say one word! but one word!
Good, then; yes, an assassin! he cried, and I will have thee. Thou wilt not have me for a slave; thou shalt have me for thy master. I will take my prey; I have a den whither I will drag thee. Thou shalt follow me; thou must follow me, or I will deliver thee up! Thou must die, my fair one, or be mine! belong to me, the priest, the apostate, the murderer! and this very night, hearest thou? Come! kiss me, little fool! The grave or my bed!
He turned red, then white, then loosed his hold on her with a darkling look. Thinking herself victorious, she went on: I tell thee I belong to my Phbus; that it is Phbus I love; Phbus, who is fair to look upon. Thou, priest, art old, thou art frightful. Get thee gone!
He uttered a sudden scream, like some poor wretch under the branding-iron. Die, then! said he, grinding his teeth. She caught his terrible look and turned to fly; but he seized her, shook her, threw her on the ground, and walked rapidly towards the corner of the Tour-Roland, dragging her after him along the pavement by her little hands.
A guttural laugh from the other side of the wall made answer to these bloodthirsty words. The gipsy saw the priest hurry away towards the Pont Notre Dame, from which direction came the clatter of horses hoofs.
The girl had recognised the evil-minded recluse. Panting with terror, she strove to free herself. In vain she writhed and turned in agony and despair, the other held her with incredible strength. The lean bony fingers that clutched her were clenched and met round her fleshthat hand seemed rivetted to her arm. It was more than a chain, more than an iron ring: it was a pair of pincers endowed with life and understanding, issuing from a wall.
Exhausted at last, she fell against the wall, and the fear of death came upon her. She thought of all that made life desirableof youth, the sight of the sky, all the varying aspects of nature, of love and Phbus, of all that was going from her and all that was approaching, of the priest who was even now betraying her, of the executioner he would bring, of the gibbet standing ready. Terror mounted even to the roots of her hair, and she heard the sinister laugh of the recluse as she hissed at her: Ha! ha! thou art going to be hanged!
What hast thou done to me, sayest thou? Ah, what hast thou done to me, gipsy! Well, listen. I had a childIhearest thou?I had a childa child, I tell thee! The fairest little daughter! My Agnes and she paused and kissed something distractedly in the gloom. Well, seest thou, daughter of Egypt, they took my child from me; they stole my child! That is what thou hast done to me!
Oh, yes, rejoined the recluse, thou must have been born then. Thou wert one of them. She would be about thy agethou seest therefore! For fifteen years have I been here; fifteen years have I suffered; fifteen years have I been smiting my head against these four walls. I tell thee that they were gipsy women that stole her from medost thou hear?and that devoured her with their teeth. Hast thou a heart? Picture to thyself a child playing, sucking, sleepingso sweet, so innocent! Well, thatall thatwas what they stole from me, what they killed! The God in heaven knows it! To-day it is my turn; I shall eat of the Egyptian! Oh, that these bars were not so close, that I might bite thee! But my head is too big. The poor, pretty thing! while she slept! And if they did wake her as they took her away, she might scream as she would; I was not there! Ah, you gipsy mothers that ate my child, come hither now and look at yours! And she laughed again and ground her teeththe two actions were alike in that frenzied countenance.
Day was beginning to dawn. As the wan gray light spread gradually over the scene, the gibbet was growing more and more distinct in the centre of the Place. On the other side, in the direction of the Pont Notre Dame, the poor girl thought she heard the sound of cavalry approaching.
Madame! she cried, clasping her hands and falling on her knees, dishevelled, wild, frantic with terror; Madame! have pity! They are coming. I never harmed you: will you see me die in this horrible manner before your very eyes? You have pity for me, I am sure. It is too dreadful. Let me fly; leave go of me, for pitys sake! I cannot die like that!
Give me back my little Agnes! Gudule went on. Thou knowest not where she is? Then die! I will tell thee. I was a wanton, I had a child, they stole my child. It was the gipsies. Thou seest plainly that thou must die. When thy mother the gipsy comes to seek for thee, I shall say to her, Mother, behold that gibbet! Else give me back my child! Dost thou know where she is, my little girl? Here, let me show thee. Here is her shoe; tis all thats left to me of her. Dost know where the fellow to it is? If thou knowest, tell me, and I will go on my knees to fetch it, even to the other end of the world.
Quicker than a flash of lightning the recluse had compared the two shoes, read the inscription on the parchment, then pressed her face, radiant with ineffable joy, against the cross-bars of the loophole, crying again:
The girl put her hand through the opening, and the mother threw herself upon it, pressing her lips to it, remaining thus lost to everything but that kiss, giving no sign of life but a sob that shook her frame at long intervals. For the poor mother was weeping in torrents in the silence and darkness of her cell, like rain falling in the night; pouring out in a flood upon that adored hand all that deep dark font of tears which her grief had gathered in her heart, drop by drop, during fifteen long years.
Suddenly she lifted her head, threw back her long gray hair from her face, and without a word began tearing at the bars of her window with the fury of a lioness. But the bars stood firm. She then went and fetched from the back of her cell a large paving-stone, which served her for a pillow, and hurled it against them with such force that one of the bars broke with a shower of sparks, and a second blow completely smashed the old iron cross-bar that barricaded the hole. Then, using her whole force, she succeeded in loosening and wrenching out the rusty stumps. There are moments when a womans hands are possessed of superhuman strength.
As soon as she had her daughter in the cell, she set her gently on the ground; then catching her up in her arms again, as if she were still only the baby Agnes, she carried her to and fro in the narrow cell, intoxicated, beside herself with joy, shouting, singing, kissing her daughter, babbling to her, laughing, melting into tearsall at the same time, all with frenzied vehemence.
My daughter! my daughter! said she. I have my daughter againtis she! God has given her back to me. Hey there! come all of you! Is there anybody to see that Ive got my daughter? Lord Jesus, how beautiful she is! Thou hast made me wait fifteen years, oh, my God, but it was only that thou mightest give her back to me so beautiful. And the gipsy women had not eaten her! Who told me that they had? My little girlmy little onekiss me. Those good gipsies! I love the gipsies. So it is thou indeed? And it was that that made my heart leap every time thou didst pass by. And to think that I took it for hatred! Forgive me, my Agnes, forgive me! Thou thoughtest me very wicked, didst thou not? I love thee. Hast thou then that little mark still on thy neck? Let me see. Yes, she has it still. Oh, how fair thou art! Twas from me you got those big eyes, my lady. Kiss me. I love thee. What is it to me that other women have children? I can laugh at them now! Let them only come and look. Here is mine. Look at her neck, her eyes, her hair, her hand. Find me anything as beautiful as that! Oh, Ill warrant you shell have plenty of lovers, this one! I have wept for fifteen years. All my beauty that I lost has gone to her. Kiss me!
She said a thousand tender and extravagant things to her, the beauty of which lay in their tone, disarranged the poor childs garments till she blushed, smoothed her silken tresses with her hand, kissed her foot, her knee, her forehead, her eyes, went into raptures over everything, the girl letting her do as she would, only repeating at intervals, very low and with ineffable sweetness the word Mother!
Hark thee, my little girl, resumed the recluse, interrupting her words constantly with kisses, hark thee, I shall love thee and take good care of thee. We will go away from here. We are going to be so happy! I have inherited somewhat in Reimsin our country. Thou knowest Reims,thou canst not, thou wert too little. Couldst thou but know how pretty thou wert at four months oldsuch tiny feet that people came all the way from Epernay, five leagues off, to see them. We shall have a field and a house. Thou shalt sleep in my own bed. Oh, my God! who would believe it? I have my daughter again!
Oh, mother! said the girl, finding strength at last to speak in her emotion, the gipsy woman spoke true. There was a good gipsy woman among our people who died last year, and who had always taken care of me like a fostermother. It was she who hung this little bag round my neck. She used always to say to me: Child, guard this trinket well; tis a treasure; it will make thee find thy mother again. Thou wearest thy mother about thy neck! She foretold itthe gipsy woman.
Again the sachette clasped her daughter in her arms. Come, let me kiss thee; thou sayest that so prettily. When we are back in our own home, we will put the little shoes on the feet of an Infant Jesus in a church. We owe so much to the dear Virgin. Lord, what a sweet voice thou hast! When thou wert speaking to me just now it was just like music. Oh, Father in heaven, have I found my child again? Could any one believe such a story? Surely, nothing can kill one, for I have not died of joy. And she began clapping her hands and laughing as she cried: Oh, we are going to be so happy!
At that moment the cell resounded to the clank of arms and the galloping of horses, coming apparently from the Pont Notre Dame and hastening nearer and nearer along the quay. The girl threw herself in anguish into the sachettes arms.
Oh, oh, no! tis a dream thou art telling me. What, I should have lost her for fifteen years, and then should find her, but only for a minute! And they would take her from me nownow that she is so beautiful, that she is a woman grown, that she speaks to me and loves me! And now they would come and devour her under my very eyeswho am her mother! Oh, no, such things are not possible. God would never permit it.
The cavalcade now apparently made a halt, and a distant voice could be heard saying: This way, Messire Tristan! The priest told us we should find her at the Rat-Hole. The tramp of horses commenced again.
Stay where you are, she said in a quick, terrified whisper, convulsively pressing the hand of the girl, who was already more dead than alive. Keep still, do not breathe, there are soldiers everywhere. Thou canst not go out. It is too late.
She carried her daughter to a corner of the cell which could not be seen from outside; made her crouch down; disposed her carefully so that neither foot nor hand came beyond the shadow; spread her long black hair round her to cover the white robe, and set up the pitcher and flag-stone, the only furniture she had, in front of her, trusting that they would conceal her. This done, finding herself calmer, she knelt down and prayed. The day, which was only just dawning, left abundant darkness still in the Rat-Hole.
She had scarcely spoken before a tumultuous crowd of men and horses stopped in front of the cell. The mother rose hastily and posted herself at the loophole to cover the aperture. She beheld a strong body of armed men, horse and foot, drawn up in the Grève. Their commander dismounted and came towards her.
The commander pulled a disappointed face. Let me have no lies, old spectre! he said. My name is Tristan lHermite, and I am the Kings Gossip. Tristan lHermite, dost thou hear? and he added, casting his eyes round the Place de Grève, tis a name that has echoes here.
Mon Dieu! she exclaimed, reduced to the last extremity, and bursting into tears in spite of herself; I swear to you, my lord, that it was a cart that broke those bars: you hear that man say he saw it. Besides, what has that to do with your gipsy?
Monseigneur! she cried, still filling the window, and trembling lest suspicion should prompt them to put their heads through and look into the cell; monseigneur, I swear to you that it was a cart that broke this grating. I swear it by all the holy angels in paradise. If it was not a cart, may I go to everlasting perdition and deny my God!
Here another soldier came up, crying: Monseigneur, the old wife lies. The witch cannot have got away by the Rue du Mouton, for the chain was across the street all night, and the watchman saw no one pass.
Tête-Dieu! old woman, thou liest, thou liest! cried Tristan angrily. Ive a good mind to leave the witch and take thee instead. A little quarter of an hours question would soon drag the truth out of thy old throat. Come. Thou shalt go along with us!
A grizzled old sergeant of the watch now stepped out of the ranks and addressed the provost. Crazy indeed, monseigneur! If she let the gipsy go, tis not her fault, for she has no love for gipsy women. For fifteen years Ive held the watch here, and every night I hear her calling down curses without end on these Bohemian women. If the one were looking for is, as I believe, the little dancer with the goat, she hated her beyond all the rest.
The unanimous testimony of the men of the watch confirmed what the old sergeant had said. Tristan lHermite, despairing of getting anything out of the recluse, turned his back on her, and, with irrepressible anxiety, she saw him slowly return to his horse.
Nevertheless, he lingered a moment before mounting. Gudule hung between life and death as she saw him scanning the Place with the restless look of the hound that instinctively feels himself near the lair of his quarry, and is reluctant to go away. At last he shook his head, and sprang into the saddle.
All this time the poor child had remained in her corner, without breathing, without moving a muscle, death staring her in the face. She had lost no word of the scene between Gudule and Tristan, and each pang of her mothers had echoed in her own heart. She had heard each successive crack of the thread that held her suspended over the abyss, and twenty times she thought to see it snap. Only now did she begin to take breath and feel the ground steady under her feet.
At this moment she heard a voice call to the provost: Corbuf! Monsieur the Provost, its none of my business as a man-at-arms to hang witches. The rabble populace is put down; I leave you to do your own work alone. You will permit me to return to my company, who are meanwhile without a captain.
The voice was that of Phbus de Châteaupers. What passed in her breast is impossible to describe. He was there, her friend, her protector, her safeguard, her refugeher Phbus! She started to her feet, and before her mother could prevent her had sprung to the loophole, crying:
The recluse rushed at her daughter with a snarl of rage and dragged her violently back, her nails entering the flesh of the girls neck. But the mother turned tigress has no thought of careful handling. Too late. Tristan had seen it all.
A man, having neither the dress nor the appearance of a soldier, stepped out from their ranks. He wore a suit half gray, half brown, with leather sleeves, and carried a coil of rope in his great hand. This man was in constant attendance on Tristan, who was in constant attendance on Louis XI.
Since the moment when Tristan had seen her daughter, and all hope was lost, the recluse had not uttered a word. She had thrown the poor girl, half dead, into a corner of the cell and resumed her post at the window, her two hands spread on the stone sill like two talons. In this attitude she faced the soldiers unflinchingly with a gaze that was once more savage and distraught. As Henriet Cousin approached the cell, she fixed him with such a wild beast glare that he shrank back.
The mother, still on guard at the opening to her den, watched them intently. She had ceased to hope, ceased to wish for anything. All she knew was that she would not have them take her daughter from her.
Henriet Cousin went and fetched the box of executioners tools from the shed of the Maison-aux-Piliers; also, from the same place, the double ladder, which he immediately set up against the gibbet. Five or six of the provosts men provided themselves with crowbars and pickaxes, and Tristan accompanied them to the window of the cell.
To do this it was only necessary to loosen a course of stone underneath the loophole. When the mother heard the picks and lever sapping her fortress, she uttered a blood-curdling cry, and then started running round and round her cell with startling quicknessa wild-beast habit she had learned from her long years of confinement in that cage. She said no word, but her eyes blazed. The soldiers felt their blood run cold.
Suddenly she snatched up her stone in both hands, laughed, and hurled it at the workmen. The stone, ill-thrown, for her hands were trembling, touched no one, but fell harmless at the feet of Tristans horse. She gnashed her teeth.
Meanwhile, though the sun had not yet risen, it was broad daylight, and the old, moss-grown chimneys of the Maisonaux-Piliers flushed rosy red. It was the hour when the windows of the earliest risers in the great city were thrown cheerfully open. A countryman or so, a few fruit-sellers, going to the markets on their asses, were beginning to cross the Grève, and halted for a moment to gaze with astonishment at the group of soldiers gathered about the Rat-Hole, then passed on their way.
The recluse had seated herself on the ground close beside her daughter, covering her with her body, her eyes fixed, listening to the poor child, who, as she lay motionless, kept murmuring the one word, Phbus! Phbus!
As the work of demolition seemed to advance, so the mother drew mechanically farther back, pressing the girl closer and closer against the wall. All at once she saw the stone, from which she had never taken her eyes, begin to give way, and heard the voice of Tristan urging on the men. At this she awoke from the kind of stupor into which she had fallen for a few moments, and cried aloud; and her voice as she spoke now lacerated the ear like the rasp of a saw, now faltered and choked as if every kind of execration crowded to her lips to burst forth at once. Ho, ho, ho! but tis horrible! Robbers! brigands! Are ye truly coming to take my daughter from me? I tell you, tis my own child! Oh, cowards! oh, hangmans slaves! miserable hired cut throats and assassins! Help! help! Fire! And can they have the heart to take my child from me thus? Who is it then they call the good God in heaven?
Then, addressing herself to Tristan, foaming, glaring, bristling, on all-fours like a panther: Now come and dare to take my daughter from me. Dost thou not understand when this woman tells thee tis her daughter? Dost thou know what it is to have a child, eh, thou wolf? Hast thou never lain with thy mate? Hast never had a cub by her? And if thou hast little ones, when they howl, is there never an answering stir within thee?
The crowbars heaved the heavy block. It was the mothers last bulwark. She threw herself upon it, trying to hold it in its place; she furrowed the stone with her nailsin vain; the great mass, displaced by half a dozen men, escaped her grasp and slid slowly to the ground along the iron levers.
The mother, seeing the breach effected, then cast herself across the opening, barring it with her body, writhing, striking her head against the floor, and shrieking in a voice so hoarse with anguish and fatigue that the words were hardly articulate:
Forward! repeated the provost. The gap is large enough. Enter three abreast, as at the breach of Pontoise. Lets make an end of it, death of Mahomet! The first man that draws back, I cleave him in two!
When the recluse saw this, she swept back her long hair from her eyes, struggled to her knees, and dropped her bleeding and emaciated hands upon them. Great tears welled up one by one to her eyes and rolled down a long furrow in her cheeks, like a torrent down the bed it has hollowed out. And then she began to speak, but in a voice so suppliant, so gentle, so submissive and heart-breaking that more than one hardened old fire-eater in Tristans company furtively wiped his eyes.
Good sirs, said she, messieurs the sergeants, one word. There is a thing I must tell you. This is my daughter, look youmy dear little child who was lost to me! Listen, tis quite a story. It may surprise you, but I know messieurs the sergeants well. They were always good to me in the days when the little urchins threw stones at me because I was a wanton. Look you; you will leave me my child when you know all! I was a poor wanton. The gipsies stole her from meby the same token I have kept her shoe these fifteen years. Look, here it is. She had a foot like that. At Reims. La Chantefleurie! Rue Folle-Peine! Perhaps you knew of this? It was I. In your young days; then it was a merry time, and there were merry doings! You will have pity on me, wont you, good sirs? The gipsies stole her, and hid her from me for fifteen years. I thought her dead. Picture to yourself, my good friends, that I thought her dead. I have passed fifteen years here, in this stone, cave, without any fire in winter. That is hard. The poor, sweet little shoe! I cried so long to God that he heard me. This night he gave me back my child. She was not dead. You will not take her from me, I am sure. Even if twere me you wanted, I would not mind; but a child of sixteen! Leave her a little while longer to live in the sunshine! What has she done to you? nothing at all. Nor I either. If you only knewI have no one but her. I am oldthis is a blessing sent me from the Holy Virgin! And then, you are all so good! you did not know that it was my daughter; but now you know. Oh, I love her! Monsieur the Chief Provost, I would rather have a stab in my body than a scratch on her little finger! You have the air of a kind gentleman! What I tell you now explains the whole matter, surely? Oh! if you have a mother, siryou are the captain, leave me my child! See how I entreat you on my knees, as we pray to Jesus Christ! I ask not alms of any one. Sirs, I come from Reims; I have a little field from my uncle Mahiet Pradon. I am not a beggar. I want nothingnothing but my child! Oh, I want to keep my child! The good God, who is master over all, has not given her back to me for nothing. The King!you say the King! It cannot give him much pleasure that they should kill my daughter! Besides, the King is good! She is my daughter; mine, not the Kings! She does not belong to him! I will go away! we will both go. After all, just two women passing along the roada mother and her daughter; you let them go their way in peace! Let us go; we come from Reims. Oh, you are kind, messieurs the sergeants. I have nothing to say against you. You will not take my darling; it is not possible! Say it is not possible! My child! My child!
We shall not attempt to convey any idea of her gestures, her accent, the tears that trickled over her lips as she spoke, her clasping, writhing hands, the heart-breaking smiles, the agonized looks, the sighs, the moans, the miserable and soul-stirring sobs she mingled with these frenzied, incoherent words. When she ceased, Tristan lHermite knit his brows, but it was to hide a tear that glistened in his tigers eye. He conquered this weakness, however, and said brusquely: It is the Kings will.
Yes, yes, dear love, I am defending thee! answered the mother in expiring tones; and clasping her frantically in her arms, she covered her face with kisses. To see them together on the ground, the mother thus protecting her child, was a sight to wring the stoniest heart.
Henriet Cousin took hold of the gipsy girl under her beautiful shoulders. At the touch of that hand she gave a little shuddering cry and swooned. The executioner, from whose eyes big tears were dropping, would have carried her away and sought to unclasp the mothers arms, which were tightly coiled about her daughters waist, but she held on to her child with such an iron grasp that he found it utterly impossible to separate them. He therefore had to drag the girl out of the cell, and the mother along with her. The mothers eyes, too, were closed.
The sun rose at this moment, and already there was a considerable crowd of people in the Place looking from a distance at what was being dragged over the ground to the gibbet. For this was Tristans way at executions. His one idea was to prevent the curious from coming too near.
There was nobody at the windows. Only, in the far distance, on the summit of that tower of Notre Dame which looks toward the Grève, two men, their dark figures standing out black against the clear morning sky, appeared to be watching the scene.
Henriet Cousin stopped with his burden at the foot of the fatal ladder, and with faltering breath, such a pity did he think it, he passed the rope round the girls exquisite neck. At the horrible contact of the hempen rope, the poor child opened her eyes and beheld the skeleton arm of the gibbet extended over her head. She struggled to free herself, and cried out in an agonized voice: No! no! I will not! I will not! The mother, whose head was buried in her daughters robe, said no word, but a long shudder ran through her whole frame, and they could hear the frenzied kisses she bestowed upon her child. The hangman seized this moment to wrench asunder the arms clasped round the doomed girl, and whether from exhaustion or despair, they yielded. He then lifted the girl to his shoulder, where the slender creature hung limp and helpless against his uncouth head, and set foot upon the ladder to ascend.
At this moment the mother, who had sunk in a heap on the ground, opened her eyes wide. A blood-curdling look came over her face; without a word she started to her feet, and in a lightning flash flung herself, like a wild beast on its prey, on the hangmans hand, biting it to the bone. The man howled with pain; the others ran to his assistance, and with difficulty released his bleeding hand from the mothers teeth. Still she uttered no sound. They thrust her back with brutal roughness, and she fell, her head striking heavily on the stones. They raised her up; she fell back again. She was dead.