Book Eight: Chapter III. End of the Crown which was Changed into a Dry Leaf
When she re-entered the audience hall, pale and limping, she was received with a general murmur of pleasure. On the part of the audience there was the feeling of impatience gratified which one experiences at the theatre at the end of the last entr'acte of the comedy, when the curtain rises and the conclusion is about to begin. On the part of the judges, it was the hope of getting their suppers sooner.
The little goat also bleated with joy. He tried to run towards his mistress, but they had tied him to the bench.
Night was fully set in. The candles, whose number had not been increased, cast so little light, that the walls of the hall could not be seen. The shadows there enveloped all objects in a sort of mist. A few apathetic faces of judges alone could be dimly discerned. Opposite them, at the extremity of the long hail, they could see a vaguely white point standing out against the sombre background. This was the accused.
She had dragged herself to her place. When Charmolue had installed himself in a magisterial manner in his own, he seated himself, then rose and said, without exhibiting too much self-complacency at his success,--"The accused has confessed all."
"Bohemian girl," the president continued, "have you avowed all your deeds of magic, prostitution, and assassination on Phoebus de Châteaupers."
Her heart contracted. She was heard to sob amid the darkness.
"Anything you like," she replied feebly, "but kill me quickly!"
"Monsieur, procurator of the king in the ecclesiastical courts," said the president, "the chamber is ready to hear you in your charge."
Master Charmolue exhibited an alarming note book, and began to read, with many gestures and the exaggerated accentuation of the pleader, an oration in Latin, wherein all the proofs of the suit were piled up in Ciceronian periphrases, flanked with quotations from Plautus, his favorite comic author. We regret that we are not able to offer to our readers this remarkable piece. The orator pronounced it with marvellous action. Before he had finished the exordium, the perspiration was starting from his brow, and his eyes from his bead.
All at once, in the middle of a fine period, he interrupted himself, and his glance, ordinarily so gentle and even stupid, became menacing.
"Gentlemen," he exclaimed (this time in French, for it was not in his copy book), "Satan is so mixed up in this affair, that here he is present at our debates, and making sport of their majesty. Behold!"
So saying, he pointed to the little goat, who, on seeing Charmolue gesticulating, had, in point of fact, thought it appropriate to do the same, and had seated himself on his haunches, reproducing to the best of his ability, with his forepaws and his bearded head the pathetic pantomine of the king's procurator in the ecclesiastical court. This was, if the reader remembers, one of his prettiest accomplishments. This incident, this last proof, produced a great effect. The goat's hoofs were tied, and the king's procurator resumed the thread of his eloquence.
It was very long, but the peroration was admirable. Here is the concluding phrase; let the reader add the hoarse voice and the breathless gestures of Master Charmolue,
"Ideo, domni, coram stryga demonstrata, crimine patente, intentione criminis existente, in nornine sanctoe ecclesioe Nostroe- Domince Parisiensis quoe est in saisina habendi omnimodam altam et bassam justitiam in illa hac intemerata Civitatis insula, tenore proesentium declaremus nos requirere, primo, aliquamdam pecuniariam indemnitatem; secundo, amendationem honorabilem ante portalium maximum Nostroe-Dominoe, ecclesioe cathedralis; tertio, sententiani in virtute cujus ista styrga cum sua capella, seu in trivio vulgariter dicto la Grève, seu in insula exeunte in fluvio Secanoe, juxta pointam juardini regalis, executatoe sint!"*
* The substance of this exordium is contained in the president's sentence.
He put on his cap again and seated himself.
"Eheu!" sighed the broken-hearted Gringoire, "bassa latinitas--bastard latin!"
Another man in a black gown rose near the accused; he was her lawyer.--The judges, who were fasting, began to grumble.
"Advocate, be brief," said the president.
"Monsieur the President," replied the advocate, "since the defendant has confessed the crime, I have only one word to say to these gentlemen. Here is a text from the Salic law;
'If a witch hath eaten a man, and if she be convicted of it, she shall pay a fine of eight thousand deniers, which amount to two hundred sous of gold.' May it please the chamber to condemn my client to the fine?"
"An abrogated text," said the advocate extraordinary of the king.
"Nego, I deny it," replied the advocate.
"Put it to the vote!" said one of the councillors; "the crime is manifest, and it is late."
They proceeded to take a vote without leaving the room. The judges signified their assent without giving their reasons, they were in a hurry. Their capped heads were seen uncovering one after the other, in the gloom, at the lugubrious question addressed to them by the president in a low voice. The poor accused had the appearance of looking at them, but her troubled eye no longer saw.
Then the clerk began to write; then he handed a long parch- ment to the president.
Then the unhappy girl heard the people moving, the pikes clashing, and a freezing voice saying to her,--"Bohemian wench, on the day when it shall seem good to our lord the king, at the hour of noon, you will be taken in a tumbrel, in your shift, with bare feet, and a rope about your neck, before the grand portal of Notre-Dame, and you will there make an apology with a wax torch of the weight of two pounds in your hand, and thence you will be conducted to the Place de Grève, where you will be hanged and strangled on the town gibbet; and likewise your goat; and you will pay to the official three lions of gold, in reparation of the crimes by you committed and by you confessed, of sorcery and magic, debauchery and murder, upon the person of the Sieur Phoebus de Châteaupers. May God have mercy on your soul!"
"Oh! 'tis a dream!" she murmured; and she felt rough hands bearing her away.Next