Montfaucon, to use the words of Sauval, was the most ancient and the most superb gibbet in the kingdom. Between the faubourgs of the Temple and Saint-Martin, about a hundred and sixty toises from the wall of Paris and a few bow-shots from La Courtille, there stood on the highest point of a very slight eminence, but high enough to be visible for several leagues round, an edifice of peculiar form, much resembling a Celtic cromlech, and claiming like the cromlech its human sacrifices.
Let the reader imagine a huge oblong mass of masonry fifteen feet high, thirty feet wide, and forty feet long, on a plaster base, with a door, an external railing, and a platform; on this platform sixteen enormous pillars of rough hewn stone, thirty feet high, ranged as a colonnade round three of the four sides of the immense block supporting them, and connected at the top by heavy beams, from which hung chains at regular intervals; at each of these chains, skeletons; close by, in the plain, a stone cross and two secondary gibbets, rising like shoots of the great central tree; in the sky, hovering over the whole, a perpetual crowd of carrion crows.
By the end of the fifteenth century, this formidable gibbet, which had stood since 1328, had fallen upon evil days. The beams were worm-eaten, the chains corroded with rust, the pillars green with mould, the blocks of hewn stone gaped away from one another, and grass was growing on the platform on which no human foot ever trod now. The structure showed a ghastly silhouette against the skyespecially at night, when the moonlight gleamed on whitened skulls, and the evening breeze, sweeping through the chains and skeletons, set them rattling in the gloom. The presence of this gibbet sufficed to cast a blight over every spot within the range of its accursed view.
The mass of masonry that formed the base of the repulsive edifice was hollow, and an immense cavern had been constructed in it, closed by an old battered iron grating, into which were thrown not only the human relics that fell from the chains of Montfaucon itself, but also the bodies of the victims of all the other permanent gibbets of Paris. To that deep charnel-house, where so many human remains and the memory of so many crimes have rotted and mingled together, many a great one of the earth, and many an innocent victim have contributed their bones, from Enguerrand de Martigny, who inaugurated Montfaucon, and was one of the just, down to Admiral de Colignylikewise one of the justwho closed it. As for Quasimodos mysterious disappearance, all that we have been able to ascertain on the subject is this:
About a year and a half or two years after the concluding events of this story, when search was being made in the pit of Montfaucon for the body of Olivier le Daim, who had been hanged two days before, and to whom Charles VIII granted the favour of being interred at Saint-Laurent in better company, there were found among these hideous carcases two skeletons, the one clasped in the arms of the other. One of these skeletons, which was that of a woman, had still about it some tattered remnants of a garment that had once been white, and about its neck was a string of beads together with a small silken bag ornamented with green glass, but open and empty. These objects had been of so little value that the executioner, doubtless, had scorned to take them. The other skeleton, which held this one in so close a clasp, was that of a man. It was observed that the spine was crooked, the skull compressed between the shoulder-blades, and that one leg was shorter than the other. There was no rupture of the vertebræ at the nape of the neck, from which it was evident that the man had not been hanged. He must, therefore, have come of himself and died there.