Book Seventh: Chapter VIII. The Utility of Windows which Open on the River
Claude Frollo (for we presume that the reader, more intelligent than Phoebus, has seen in this whole adventure no other surly monk than the archdeacon), Claude Frollo groped about for several moments in the dark lair into which the captain had bolted him. It was one of those nooks which architects sometimes reserve at the point of junction between the roof and the supporting wall. A vertical section of this kennel, as Phoebus had so justly styled it, would have made a triangle. Moreover, there was neither window nor air-hole, and the slope of the roof prevented one from standing upright. Accordingly, Claude crouched down in the dust, and the plaster which cracked beneath him; his head was on fire; rummaging around him with his hands, be found on the floor a bit of broken glass, which he pressed to his brow, and whose cool- ness afforded him some relief.
What was taking place at that moment in the gloomy soul of the archdeacon? God and himself could alone know.
In what order was he arranging in his mind la Esmeralda, Phoebus, Jacques Charmolue, his young brother so beloved, yet abandoned by him in the mire, his archdeacon's cassock, his reputation perhaps dragged to la Falourdel's, all these adventures, all these images? I cannot say. But it is certain that these ideas formed in his mind a horrible group.
He had been waiting a quarter of an hour; it seemed to him that he had grown a century older. All at once be heard the creaking of the boards of the stairway; some one was ascending. The trapdoor opened once more; a light reappeared. There was a tolerably large crack in the worm-eaten door of his den; he put his face to it. In this manner he could see all that went on in the adjoining room. The cat-faced old crone was the first to emerge from the trap-door, lamp in hand; then Phoebus, twirling his moustache, then a third person, that beautiful and graceful figure, la Esmeralda. The priest beheld her rise from below like a dazzling apparition. Claude trembled, a cloud spread over his eyes, his pulses beat violently, everything rustled and whirled around him; he no longer saw nor heard anything.
When he recovered himself, Phoebus and Esmeralda were alone seated on the wooden coffer beside the lamp which made these two youthful figures and a miserable pallet at the end of the attic stand out plainly before the archdeacon's eyes.
Beside the pallet was a window, whose panes broken like a spider's web upon which rain has fallen, allowed a view, through its rent meshes, of a corner of the sky, and the moon lying far away on an eiderdown bed of soft clouds.
The young girl was blushing, confused, palpitating. Her long, drooping lashes shaded her crimson cheeks. The officer, to whom she dared not lift her eyes, was radiant. Mechanically, and with a charmingly unconscious gesture, she traced with the tip of her finger incoherent lines on the bench, and watched her finger. Her foot was not visible. The little goat was nestling upon it.
The captain was very gallantly clad; he had tufts of embroidery at his neck and wrists; a great elegance at that day.
It was not without difficulty that Dom Claude managed to hear what they were saying, through the humming of the blood, which was boiling in his temples.
(A conversation between lovers is a very commonplace affair. It is a perpetual "I love you." A musical phrase which is very insipid and very bald for indifferent listeners, when it is not ornamented with some fioriture; but Claude was not an indifferent listener.)
"Oh!" said the young girl, without raising her eyes, "do not despise me, monseigneur Phoebus. I feel that what I am doing is not right."
"Despise you, my pretty child!" replied the officer with an air of superior and distinguished gallantry, "despise you,
tête-Dieu! and why?"
"For having followed you!"
"On that point, my beauty, we don't agree. I ought not to despise you, but to hate you."
The young girl looked at him in affright: "Hate me! what have I done?"
"For having required so much urging."
"Alas!" said she, "'tis because I am breaking a vow. I shall not find my parents! The amulet will lose its virtue. But what matters it? What need have I of father or mother now?"
So saying, she fixed upon the captain her great black eyes, moist with joy and tenderness.
"Devil take me if I understand you!" exclaimed Phoebus. La Esmeralda remained silent for a moment, then a tear dropped from her eyes, a sigh from her lips, and she said,-- "Oh! monseigneur, I love you."
Such a perfume of chastity, such a charm of virtue surrounded the young girl, that Phoebus did not feel completely at his ease beside her. But this remark emboldened him: "You love me!" he said with rapture, and he threw his arm round the gypsy's waist. He had only been waiting for this opportunity.
The priest saw it, and tested with the tip of his finger the point of a poniard which he wore concealed in his breast.
"Phoebus," continued the Bohemian, gently releasing her waist from the captain's tenacious hands, "You are good, you are generous, you are handsome; you saved me, me who am only a poor child lost in Bohemia. I had long been dreaming of an officer who should save my life. 'Twas of you that I was dreaming, before I knew you, my Phoebus; the officer of my dream had a beautiful uniform like yours, a grand look, a sword; your name is Phoebus; 'tis a beautiful name. I love your name; I love your sword. Draw your sword, Phoebus, that I may see it."
"Child!" said the captain, and he unsheathed his sword with a smile.
The gypsy looked at the hilt, the blade; examined the cipher on the guard with adorable curiosity, and kissed the sword, saying,--
You are the sword of a brave man. I love my captain." Phoebus again profited by the opportunity to impress upon her beautiful bent neck a kiss which made the young girl straighten herself up as scarlet as a poppy. The priest gnashed his teeth over it in the dark.
"Phoebus," resumed the gypsy, "let me talk to you. Pray walk a little, that I may see you at full height, and that I may hear your spurs jingle. How handsome you are!"
The captain rose to please her, chiding her with a smile of satisfaction,--
"What a child you are! By the way, my charmer, have you seen me in my archer's ceremonial doublet?"
"Alas! no," she replied.
"It is very handsome!"
Phoebus returned and seated himself beside her, but much closer than before.
"Listen, my dear--"
The gypsy gave him several little taps with her pretty hand on his mouth, with a childish mirth and grace and gayety.
"No, no, I will not listen to you. Do you love me? I want you to tell me whether you love me."
"Do I love thee, angel of my life!" exclaimed the captain, half kneeling. "My body, my blood, my soul, all are thine; all are for thee. I love thee, and I have never loved any one but thee."
The captain had repeated this phrase so many times, in many similar conjunctures, that he delivered it all in one breath, without committing a single mistake. At this passionate declaration, the gypsy raised to the dirty ceiling which served for the skies a glance full of angelic happiness.
"Oh!" she murmured, "this is the moment when one should die!"
Phoebus found "the moment" favorable for robbing her of another kiss, which went to torture the unhappy archdeacon in his nook. "Die!" exclaimed the amorous captain, "What are you saying, my lovely angel? 'Tis a time for living, or Jupiter is only a scamp! Die at the beginning of so sweet a thing! Corne-de-boeuf, what a jest! It is not that. Listen, my dear Similar, Esmenarda--Pardon! you have so prodigiously Saracen a name that I never can get it straight. 'Tis a thicket which stops me short."
"Good heavens!" said the poor girl, "and I thought my name pretty because of its singularity! But since it displeases you, I would that I were called Goton."
"Ah! do not weep for such a trifle, my graceful maid!
'tis a name to which one must get accustomed, that is all. When I once know it by heart, all will go smoothly. Listen then, my dear Similar; I adore you passionately. I love you so that 'tis simply miraculous. I know a girl who is bursting with rage over it--"
The jealous girl interrupted him: "Who?"
"What matters that to us?" said Phoebus; "do you love me?"
"Well! that is all. You shall see how I love you also. May the great devil Neptunus spear me if I do not make you the happiest woman in the world. We will have a pretty little house somewhere. I will make my archers parade before your windows. They are all mounted, and set at defiance those of Captain Mignon. There are voulgiers, cranequiniers and hand couleveiniers*. I will take you to the great sights of the Parisians at the storehouse of Rully. Eighty thousand armed men, thirty thousand white harnesses, short coats or coats of mail; the sixty-seven banners of the trades; the standards of the parliaments, of the chamber of accounts, of the treasury of the generals, of the aides of the mint; a devilish fine array, in short! I will conduct you to see the lions of the Hôtel du Roi, which are wild beasts. All women love that."
* Varieties of the crossbow.
For several moments the young girl, absorbed in her charming thoughts, was dreaming to the sound of his voice, without listening to the sense of his words.
"Oh! how happy you will be!" continued the captain, and at the same time he gently unbuckled the gypsy's girdle.
"What are you doing?" she said quickly. This "act of violence" had roused her from her revery.
"Nothing," replied Phoebus, "I was only saying that you must abandon all this garb of folly, and the street corner when you are with me."
"When I am with you, Phoebus!" said the young girl tenderly.
She became pensive and silent once more.
The captain, emboldened by her gentleness, clasped her waist without resistance; then began softly to unlace the poor child's corsage, and disarranged her tucker to such an extent that the panting priest beheld the gypsy's beautiful shoulder emerge from the gauze, as round and brown as the moon rising through the mists of the horizon.
The young girl allowed Phoebus to have his way. She did not appear to perceive it. The eye of the bold captain flashed.
Suddenly she turned towards him,--
"Phoebus," she said, with an expression of infinite love, "instruct me in thy religion."
"My religion!" exclaimed the captain, bursting with laughter, "I instruct you in my religion! Corne et tonnerre! What do you want with my religion?"
"In order that we may be married," she replied.
The captain's face assumed an expression of mingled surprise and disdain, of carelessness and libertine passion.
"Ah, bah!" said he, "do people marry?"
The Bohemian turned pale, and her head drooped sadly on her breast.
"My beautiful love," resumed Phoebus, tenderly, "what nonsense is this? A great thing is marriage, truly! one is none the less loving for not having spit Latin into a priest's shop!"
While speaking thus in his softest voice, he approached extremely near the gypsy; his caressing hands resumed their place around her supple and delicate waist, his eye flashed more and more, and everything announced that Monsieur Phoebus was on the verge of one of those moments when Jupiter himself commits so many follies that Homer is obliged to summon a cloud to his rescue.
But Dom Claude saw everything. The door was made of thoroughly rotten cask staves, which left large apertures for the passage of his hawklike gaze. This brown-skinned, broad- shouldered priest, hitherto condemned to the austere virginity of the cloister, was quivering and boiling in the presence of this night scene of love and voluptuousness. This young and beautiful girl given over in disarray to the ardent young man, made melted lead flow in his-veins; his eyes darted with sensual jealousy beneath all those loosened pins. Any one who could, at that moment, have seen the face of the unhappy man glued to the wormeaten bars, would have thought that he beheld the face of a tiger glaring from the depths of a cage at some jackal devouring a gazelle. His eye shone like a candle through the cracks of the door.
All at once, Phoebus, with a rapid gesture, removed the gypsy's gorgerette. The poor child, who had remained pale and dreamy, awoke with a start; she recoiled hastily from the enterprising officer, and, casting a glance at her bare neck and shoulders, red, confused, mute with shame, she crossed her two beautiful arms on her breast to conceal it. Had it not been for the flame which burned in her cheeks, at the sight of her so silent and motionless, one would have. declared her a statue of Modesty. Her eyes were lowered.
But the captain's gesture had revealed the mysterious amulet which she wore about her neck.
"What is that?" he said, seizing this pretext to approach once more the beautiful creature whom he had just alarmed.
"Don't touch it!" she replied, quickly, "'tis my guardian. It will make me find my family again, if I remain worthy to do so. Oh, leave me, monsieur le capitaine! My mother! My poor mother! My mother! Where art thou? Come to my rescue! Have pity, Monsieur Phoebus, give me back my gorgerette!"
Phoebus retreated amid said in a cold tone,--
"Oh, mademoiselle! I see plainly that you do not love me!"
"I do not love him!" exclaimed the unhappy child, and at the same time she clung to the captain, whom she drew to a seat beside her. "I do not love thee, my Phoebus? What art thou saying, wicked man, to break my heart? Oh, take me! take all! do what you will with me, I am thine. What matters to me the amulet! What matters to me my mother!
'Tis thou who art my mother since I love thee! Phoebus, my beloved Phoebus, dost thou see me? 'Tis I. Look at me;
'tis the little one whom thou wilt surely not repulse, who comes, who comes herself to seek thee. My soul, my life, my body, my person, all is one thing--which is thine, my captain. Well, no! We will not marry, since that displeases thee; and then, what am I? a miserable girl of the gutters; whilst thou, my Phoebus, art a gentleman. A fine thing, truly! A dancer wed an officer! I was mad. No, Phoebus, no; I will be thy mistress, thy amusement, thy pleasure, when thou wilt; a girl who shall belong to thee. I was only made for that, soiled, despised, dishonored, but what matters it?--beloved. I shall be the proudest and the most joyous of women. And when I grow old or ugly, Phoebus, when I am no longer good to love you, you will suffer me to serve you still. Others will embroider scarfs for you; 'tis I, the servant, who will care for them. You will let me polish your spurs, brush your doublet, dust your riding-boots. You will have that pity, will you not, Phoebus? Meanwhile, take me! here, Phoebus, all this belongs to thee, only love me! We gypsies need only air and love."
So saying, she threw her arms round the officer's neck; she looked up at him, supplicatingly, with a beautiful smile, and all in tears. Her delicate neck rubbed against his cloth doublet with its rough embroideries. She writhed on her knees, her beautiful body half naked. The intoxicated captain pressed his ardent lips to those lovely African shoulders. The young girl, her eyes bent on the ceiling, as she leaned backwards, quivered, all palpitating, beneath this kiss.
All at once, above Phoebus's head she beheld another head; a green, livid, convulsed face, with the look of a lost soul; near this face was a hand grasping a poniard.--It was the face and hand of the priest; he had broken the door and he was there. Phoebus could not see him. The young girl remained motionless, frozen with terror, dumb, beneath that terrible apparition, like a dove which should raise its head at the moment when the hawk is gazing into her nest with its round eyes.
She could not even utter a cry. She saw the poniard descend upon Phoebus, and rise again, reeking.
"Maledictions!" said the captain, and fell.
At the moment when her eyes closed, when all feeling vanished in her, she thought that she felt a touch of fire imprinted upon her lips, a kiss more burning than the red-hot iron of the executioner.
When she recovered her senses, she was surrounded by soldiers of the watch they were carrying away the captain, bathed in his blood the priest had disappeared; the window at the back of the room which opened on the river was wide open; they picked up a cloak which they supposed to belong to the officer and she heard them saying around her,
"'Tis a sorceress who has stabbed a captain."Next