Part 7. Chapter II. A priest and a philosopher are two different things
The priest whom the young girls had observed at the top of the North tower, leaning over the Place and so attentive to the dance of the gypsy, was, in fact, Archdeacon Claude Frollo.
Our readers have not forgotten the mysterious cell which the archdeacon had reserved for himself in that tower. (I do not know, by the way be it said, whether it be not the same, the interior of which can be seen to-day through a little square window, opening to the east at the height of a man above the platform from which the towers spring; a bare and dilapidated den, whose badly plastered walls are ornamented here and there, at the present day, with some wretched yellow engravings representing the façades of cathedrals. I presume that this hole is jointly inhabited by bats and spiders, and that, consequently, it wages a double war of extermination on the flies).
Every day, an hour before sunset, the archdeacon ascended the staircase to the tower, and shut himself up in this cell, where he sometimes passed whole nights. That day, at the moment when, standing before the low door of his retreat, he was fitting into the lock the complicated little key which he always carried about him in the purse suspended to his side, a sound of tambourine and castanets had reached his ear. These sounds came from the Place du Parvis. The cell, as we have already said, had only one window opening upon the rear of the church. Claude Frollo had hastily withdrawn the key, and an instant later, he was on the top of the tower, in the gloomy and pensive attitude in which the maidens had seen him.
There he stood, grave, motionless, absorbed in one look and one thought. All Paris lay at his feet, with the thousand spires of its edifices and its circular horizon of gentle hills—with its river winding under its bridges, and its people moving to and fro through its streets,—with the clouds of its smoke,—with the mountainous chain of its roofs which presses Notre-Dame in its doubled folds; but out of all the city, the archdeacon gazed at one corner only of the pavement, the Place du Parvis; in all that throng at but one figure,—the gypsy.
It would have been difficult to say what was the nature of this look, and whence proceeded the flame that flashed from it. It was a fixed gaze, which was, nevertheless, full of trouble and tumult. And, from the profound immobility of his whole body, barely agitated at intervals by an involuntary shiver, as a tree is moved by the wind; from the stiffness of his elbows, more marble than the balustrade on which they leaned; or the sight of the petrified smile which contracted his face,—one would have said that nothing living was left about Claude Frollo except his eyes.
The gypsy was dancing; she was twirling her tambourine on the tip of her finger, and tossing it into the air as she danced Provençal sarabands; agile, light, joyous, and unconscious of the formidable gaze which descended perpendicularly upon her head.
The crowd was swarming around her; from time to time, a man accoutred in red and yellow made them form into a circle, and then returned, seated himself on a chair a few paces from the dancer, and took the goat’s head on his knees. This man seemed to be the gypsy’s companion. Claude Frollo could not distinguish his features from his elevated post.
From the moment when the archdeacon caught sight of this stranger, his attention seemed divided between him and the dancer, and his face became more and more gloomy. All at once he rose upright, and a quiver ran through his whole body: “Who is that man?” he muttered between his teeth: “I have always seen her alone before!”
Then he plunged down beneath the tortuous vault of the spiral staircase, and once more descended. As he passed the door of the bell chamber, which was ajar, he saw something which struck him; he beheld Quasimodo, who, leaning through an opening of one of those slate penthouses which resemble enormous blinds, appeared also to be gazing at the Place. He was engaged in so profound a contemplation, that he did not notice the passage of his adopted father. His savage eye had a singular expression; it was a charmed, tender look. “This is strange!” murmured Claude. “Is it the gypsy at whom he is thus gazing?” He continued his descent. At the end of a few minutes, the anxious archdeacon entered upon the Place from the door at the base of the tower.
“What has become of the gypsy girl?” he said, mingling with the group of spectators which the sound of the tambourine had collected.
“I know not,” replied one of his neighbors, “I think that she has gone to make some of her fandangoes in the house opposite, whither they have called her.”
In the place of the gypsy, on the carpet, whose arabesques had seemed to vanish but a moment previously by the capricious figures of her dance, the archdeacon no longer beheld any one but the red and yellow man, who, in order to earn a few testers in his turn, was walking round the circle, with his elbows on his hips, his head thrown back, his face red, his neck outstretched, with a chair between his teeth. To the chair he had fastened a cat, which a neighbor had lent, and which was spitting in great affright.
“Notre-Dame!” exclaimed the archdeacon, at the moment when the juggler, perspiring heavily, passed in front of him with his pyramid of chair and his cat, “What is Master Pierre Gringoire doing here?”
The harsh voice of the archdeacon threw the poor fellow into such a commotion that he lost his equilibrium, together with his whole edifice, and the chair and the cat tumbled pell-mell upon the heads of the spectators, in the midst of inextinguishable hootings.
It is probable that Master Pierre Gringoire (for it was indeed he) would have had a sorry account to settle with the neighbor who owned the cat, and all the bruised and scratched faces which surrounded him, if he had not hastened to profit by the tumult to take refuge in the church, whither Claude Frollo had made him a sign to follow him.
The cathedral was already dark and deserted; the side-aisles were full of shadows, and the lamps of the chapels began to shine out like stars, so black had the vaulted ceiling become. Only the great rose window of the façade, whose thousand colors were steeped in a ray of horizontal sunlight, glittered in the gloom like a mass of diamonds, and threw its dazzling reflection to the other end of the nave.
When they had advanced a few paces, Dom Claude placed his back against a pillar, and gazed intently at Gringoire. The gaze was not the one which Gringoire feared, ashamed as he was of having been caught by a grave and learned person in the costume of a buffoon. There was nothing mocking or ironical in the priest’s glance, it was serious, tranquil, piercing. The archdeacon was the first to break the silence.
“Come now, Master Pierre. You are to explain many things to me. And first of all, how comes it that you have not been seen for two months, and that now one finds you in the public squares, in a fine equipment in truth! Motley red and yellow, like a Caudebec apple?”
“Messire,” said Gringoire, piteously, “it is, in fact, an amazing accoutrement. You see me no more comfortable in it than a cat coiffed with a calabash. ’Tis very ill done, I am conscious, to expose messieurs the sergeants of the watch to the liability of cudgelling beneath this cassock the humerus of a Pythagorean philosopher. But what would you have, my reverend master? ’tis the fault of my ancient jerkin, which abandoned me in cowardly wise, at the beginning of the winter, under the pretext that it was falling into tatters, and that it required repose in the basket of a rag-picker. What is one to do? Civilization has not yet arrived at the point where one can go stark naked, as ancient Diogenes wished. Add that a very cold wind was blowing, and ’tis not in the month of January that one can successfully attempt to make humanity take this new step. This garment presented itself, I took it, and I left my ancient black smock, which, for a hermetic like myself, was far from being hermetically closed. Behold me then, in the garments of a stage-player, like Saint Genest. What would you have? ’tis an eclipse. Apollo himself tended the flocks of Admetus.”
“’Tis a fine profession that you are engaged in!” replied the archdeacon.
“I agree, my master, that ’tis better to philosophize and poetize, to blow the flame in the furnace, or to receive it from carry cats on a shield. So, when you addressed me, I was as foolish as an ass before a turnspit. But what would you have, messire? One must eat every day, and the finest Alexandrine verses are not worth a bit of Brie cheese. Now, I made for Madame Marguerite of Flanders, that famous epithalamium, as you know, and the city will not pay me, under the pretext that it was not excellent; as though one could give a tragedy of Sophocles for four crowns! Hence, I was on the point of dying with hunger. Happily, I found that I was rather strong in the jaw; so I said to this jaw,—perform some feats of strength and of equilibrium: nourish thyself. Ale te ipsam. A pack of beggars who have become my good friends, have taught me twenty sorts of herculean feats, and now I give to my teeth every evening the bread which they have earned during the day by the sweat of my brow. After all, concedo, I grant that it is a sad employment for my intellectual faculties, and that man is not made to pass his life in beating the tambourine and biting chairs. But, reverend master, it is not sufficient to pass one’s life, one must earn the means for life.”
Dom Claude listened in silence. All at once his deep-set eye assumed so sagacious and penetrating an expression, that Gringoire felt himself, so to speak, searched to the bottom of the soul by that glance.
“Very good, Master Pierre; but how comes it that you are now in company with that gypsy dancer?”
“In faith!” said Gringoire, “’tis because she is my wife and I am her husband.”
The priest’s gloomy eyes flashed into flame.
“Have you done that, you wretch!” he cried, seizing Gringoire’s arm with fury; “have you been so abandoned by God as to raise your hand against that girl?”
“On my chance of paradise, monseigneur,” replied Gringoire, trembling in every limb, “I swear to you that I have never touched her, if that is what disturbs you.”
“Then why do you talk of husband and wife?” said the priest. Gringoire made haste to relate to him as succinctly as possible, all that the reader already knows, his adventure in the Court of Miracles and the broken-crock marriage. It appeared, moreover, that this marriage had led to no results whatever, and that each evening the gypsy girl cheated him of his nuptial right as on the first day. “’Tis a mortification,” he said in conclusion, “but that is because I have had the misfortune to wed a virgin.”
“What do you mean?” demanded the archdeacon, who had been gradually appeased by this recital.
“’Tis very difficult to explain,” replied the poet. “It is a superstition. My wife is, according to what an old thief, who is called among us the Duke of Egypt, has told me, a foundling or a lost child, which is the same thing. She wears on her neck an amulet which, it is affirmed, will cause her to meet her parents some day, but which will lose its virtue if the young girl loses hers. Hence it follows that both of us remain very virtuous.”
“So,” resumed Claude, whose brow cleared more and more, “you believe, Master Pierre, that this creature has not been approached by any man?”
“What would you have a man do, Dom Claude, as against a superstition? She has got that in her head. I assuredly esteem as a rarity this nunlike prudery which is preserved untamed amid those Bohemian girls who are so easily brought into subjection. But she has three things to protect her: the Duke of Egypt, who has taken her under his safeguard, reckoning, perchance, on selling her to some gay abbé; all his tribe, who hold her in singular veneration, like a Notre-Dame; and a certain tiny poignard, which the buxom dame always wears about her, in some nook, in spite of the ordinances of the provost, and which one causes to fly out into her hands by squeezing her waist. ’Tis a proud wasp, I can tell you!”
The archdeacon pressed Gringoire with questions.
La Esmeralda, in the judgment of Gringoire, was an inoffensive and charming creature, pretty, with the exception of a pout which was peculiar to her; a naïve and passionate damsel, ignorant of everything and enthusiastic about everything; not yet aware of the difference between a man and a woman, even in her dreams; made like that; wild especially over dancing, noise, the open air; a sort of woman bee, with invisible wings on her feet, and living in a whirlwind. She owed this nature to the wandering life which she had always led. Gringoire had succeeded in learning that, while a mere child, she had traversed Spain and Catalonia, even to Sicily; he believed that she had even been taken by the caravan of Zingari, of which she formed a part, to the kingdom of Algiers, a country situated in Achaia, which country adjoins, on one side Albania and Greece; on the other, the Sicilian Sea, which is the road to Constantinople. The Bohemians, said Gringoire, were vassals of the King of Algiers, in his quality of chief of the White Moors. One thing is certain, that la Esmeralda had come to France while still very young, by way of Hungary. From all these countries the young girl had brought back fragments of queer jargons, songs, and strange ideas, which made her language as motley as her costume, half Parisian, half African. However, the people of the quarters which she frequented loved her for her gayety, her daintiness, her lively manners, her dances, and her songs. She believed herself to be hated, in all the city, by but two persons, of whom she often spoke in terror: the sacked nun of the Tour-Roland, a villanous recluse who cherished some secret grudge against these gypsies, and who cursed the poor dancer every time that the latter passed before her window; and a priest, who never met her without casting at her looks and words which frightened her.
The mention of this last circumstance disturbed the archdeacon greatly, though Gringoire paid no attention to his perturbation; to such an extent had two months sufficed to cause the heedless poet to forget the singular details of the evening on which he had met the gypsy, and the presence of the archdeacon in it all. Otherwise, the little dancer feared nothing; she did not tell fortunes, which protected her against those trials for magic which were so frequently instituted against gypsy women. And then, Gringoire held the position of her brother, if not of her husband. After all, the philosopher endured this sort of platonic marriage very patiently. It meant a shelter and bread at least. Every morning, he set out from the lair of the thieves, generally with the gypsy; he helped her make her collections of targes and little blanks in the squares; each evening he returned to the same roof with her, allowed her to bolt herself into her little chamber, and slept the sleep of the just. A very sweet existence, taking it all in all, he said, and well adapted to revery. And then, on his soul and conscience, the philosopher was not very sure that he was madly in love with the gypsy. He loved her goat almost as dearly. It was a charming animal, gentle, intelligent, clever; a learned goat. Nothing was more common in the Middle Ages than these learned animals, which amazed people greatly, and often led their instructors to the stake. But the witchcraft of the goat with the golden hoofs was a very innocent species of magic. Gringoire explained them to the archdeacon, whom these details seemed to interest deeply. In the majority of cases, it was sufficient to present the tambourine to the goat in such or such a manner, in order to obtain from him the trick desired. He had been trained to this by the gypsy, who possessed, in these delicate arts, so rare a talent that two months had sufficed to teach the goat to write, with movable letters, the word “Phœbus.”
“‘Phœbus!’” said the priest; “why ‘Phœbus’?”
“I know not,” replied Gringoire. “Perhaps it is a word which she believes to be endowed with some magic and secret virtue. She often repeats it in a low tone when she thinks that she is alone.”
“Are you sure,” persisted Claude, with his penetrating glance, “that it is only a word and not a name?”
“The name of whom?” said the poet.
“How should I know?” said the priest.
“This is what I imagine, messire. These Bohemians are something like Guebrs, and adore the sun. Hence, Phœbus.”
“That does not seem so clear to me as to you, Master Pierre.”
“After all, that does not concern me. Let her mumble her Phœbus at her pleasure. One thing is certain, that Djali loves me almost as much as he does her.”
“Who is Djali?”
The archdeacon dropped his chin into his hand, and appeared to reflect for a moment. All at once he turned abruptly to Gringoire once more.
“And do you swear to me that you have not touched her?”
“Whom?” said Gringoire; “the goat?”
“No, that woman.”
“My wife? I swear to you that I have not.”
“You are often alone with her?”
“A good hour every evening.”
Dom Claude frowned.
“Oh! oh! Solus cum sola non cogitabuntur orare Pater Noster.”
“Upon my soul, I could say the Pater, and the Ave Maria, and the Credo in Deum patrem omnipotentem without her paying any more attention to me than a chicken to a church.”
“Swear to me, by the body of your mother,” repeated the archdeacon violently, “that you have not touched that creature with even the tip of your finger.”
“I will also swear it by the head of my father, for the two things have more affinity between them. But, my reverend master, permit me a question in my turn.”
“What concern is it of yours?”
The archdeacon’s pale face became as crimson as the cheek of a young girl. He remained for a moment without answering; then, with visible embarrassment,—
“Listen, Master Pierre Gringoire. You are not yet damned, so far as I know. I take an interest in you, and wish you well. Now the least contact with that Egyptian of the demon would make you the vassal of Satan. You know that ’tis always the body which ruins the soul. Woe to you if you approach that woman! That is all.”
“I tried once,” said Gringoire, scratching his ear; “it was the first day: but I got stung.”
“You were so audacious, Master Pierre?” and the priest’s brow clouded over again.
“On another occasion,” continued the poet, with a smile, “I peeped through the keyhole, before going to bed, and I beheld the most delicious dame in her shift that ever made a bed creak under her bare foot.”
“Go to the devil!” cried the priest, with a terrible look; and, giving the amazed Gringoire a push on the shoulders, he plunged, with long strides, under the gloomiest arcades of the cathedral.