Part 8. Chapter I. The crown changed into a dry leaf
Gringoire and the entire Court of Miracles were suffering mortal anxiety. For a whole month they had not known what had become of la Esmeralda, which greatly pained the Duke of Egypt and his friends the vagabonds, nor what had become of the goat, which redoubled Gringoire’s grief. One evening the gypsy had disappeared, and since that time had given no signs of life. All search had proved fruitless. Some tormenting bootblacks had told Gringoire about meeting her that same evening near the Pont Saint-Michel, going off with an officer; but this husband, after the fashion of Bohemia, was an incredulous philosopher, and besides, he, better than any one else, knew to what a point his wife was virginal. He had been able to form a judgment as to the unconquerable modesty resulting from the combined virtues of the amulet and the gypsy, and he had mathematically calculated the resistance of that chastity to the second power. Accordingly, he was at ease on that score.
Still he could not understand this disappearance. It was a profound sorrow. He would have grown thin over it, had that been possible. He had forgotten everything, even his literary tastes, even his great work, De figuris regularibus et irregularibus, which it was his intention to have printed with the first money which he should procure (for he had raved over printing, ever since he had seen the “Didascalon” of Hugues de Saint Victor, printed with the celebrated characters of Vindelin de Spire).
One day, as he was passing sadly before the criminal Tournelle, he perceived a considerable crowd at one of the gates of the Palais de Justice.
“What is this?” he inquired of a young man who was coming out.
“I know not, sir,” replied the young man. “’Tis said that they are trying a woman who hath assassinated a gendarme. It appears that there is sorcery at the bottom of it, the archbishop and the official have intervened in the case, and my brother, who is the archdeacon of Josas, can think of nothing else. Now, I wished to speak with him, but I have not been able to reach him because of the throng, which vexes me greatly, as I stand in need of money.”
“Alas! sir,” said Gringoire, “I would that I could lend you some, but, my breeches are worn to holes, and ’tis not crowns which have done it.”
He dared not tell the young man that he was acquainted with his brother the archdeacon, to whom he had not returned after the scene in the church; a negligence which embarrassed him.
The scholar went his way, and Gringoire set out to follow the crowd which was mounting the staircase of the great chamber. In his opinion, there was nothing like the spectacle of a criminal process for dissipating melancholy, so exhilaratingly stupid are judges as a rule. The populace which he had joined walked and elbowed in silence. After a slow and tiresome march through a long, gloomy corridor, which wound through the court-house like the intestinal canal of the ancient edifice, he arrived near a low door, opening upon a hall which his lofty stature permitted him to survey with a glance over the waving heads of the rabble.
The hall was vast and gloomy, which latter fact made it appear still more spacious. The day was declining; the long, pointed windows permitted only a pale ray of light to enter, which was extinguished before it reached the vaulted ceiling, an enormous trellis-work of sculptured beams, whose thousand figures seemed to move confusedly in the shadows, many candles were already lighted here and there on tables, and beaming on the heads of clerks buried in masses of documents. The anterior portion of the hall was occupied by the crowd; on the right and left were magistrates and tables; at the end, upon a platform, a number of judges, whose rear rank sank into the shadows, sinister and motionless faces. The walls were sown with innumerable fleurs-de-lis. A large figure of Christ might be vaguely descried above the judges, and everywhere there were pikes and halberds, upon whose points the reflection of the candles placed tips of fire.
“Monsieur,” Gringoire inquired of one of his neighbors, “who are all those persons ranged yonder, like prelates in council?”
“Monsieur,” replied the neighbor, “those on the right are the counsellors of the grand chamber; those on the left, the councillors of inquiry; the masters in black gowns, the messires in red.”
“Who is that big red fellow, yonder above them, who is sweating?” pursued Gringoire.
“It is monsieur the president.”
“And those sheep behind him?” continued Gringoire, who as we have seen, did not love the magistracy, which arose, possibly, from the grudge which he cherished against the Palais de Justice since his dramatic misadventure.
“They are messieurs the masters of requests of the king’s household.”
“And that boar in front of him?”
“He is monsieur the clerk of the Court of Parliament.”
“And that crocodile on the right?”
“Master Philippe Lheulier, advocate extraordinary of the king.”
“And that big, black tom-cat on the left?”
“Master Jacques Charmolue, procurator of the king in the Ecclesiastical Court, with the gentlemen of the officialty.”
“Come now, monsieur,” said Gringoire, “pray what are all those fine fellows doing yonder?”
“They are judging.”
“Judging whom? I do not see the accused.”
“’Tis a woman, sir. You cannot see her. She has her back turned to us, and she is hidden from us by the crowd. Stay, yonder she is, where you see a group of partisans.”
“Who is the woman?” asked Gringoire. “Do you know her name?”
“No, monsieur, I have but just arrived. I merely assume that there is some sorcery about it, since the official is present at the trial.”
“Come!” said our philosopher, “we are going to see all these magistrates devour human flesh. ’Tis as good a spectacle as any other.”
“Monsieur,” remarked his neighbor, “think you not, that Master Jacques Charmolue has a very sweet air?”
“Hum!” replied Gringoire. “I distrust a sweetness which hath pinched nostrils and thin lips.”
Here the bystanders imposed silence upon the two chatterers. They were listening to an important deposition.
“Messeigneurs,” said an old woman in the middle of the hall, whose form was so concealed beneath her garments that one would have pronounced her a walking heap of rags; “Messeigneurs, the thing is as true as that I am la Falourdel, established these forty years at the Pont Saint Michel, and paying regularly my rents, lord’s dues, and quit rents; at the gate opposite the house of Tassin-Caillart, the dyer, which is on the side up the river—a poor old woman now, but a pretty maid in former days, my lords. Some one said to me lately, ‘La Falourdel, don’t use your spinning-wheel too much in the evening; the devil is fond of combing the distaffs of old women with his horns. ’Tis certain that the surly monk who was round about the temple last year, now prowls in the City. Take care, La Falourdel, that he doth not knock at your door.’ One evening I was spinning on my wheel, there comes a knock at my door; I ask who it is. They swear. I open. Two men enter. A man in black and a handsome officer. Of the black man nothing could be seen but his eyes, two coals of fire. All the rest was hat and cloak. They say to me,—‘The Sainte-Marthe chamber.’—’Tis my upper chamber, my lords, my cleanest. They give me a crown. I put the crown in my drawer, and I say: ‘This shall go to buy tripe at the slaughter-house of la Gloriette to-morrow.’ We go up stairs. On arriving at the upper chamber, and while my back is turned, the black man disappears. That dazed me a bit. The officer, who was as handsome as a great lord, goes down stairs again with me. He goes out. In about the time it takes to spin a quarter of a handful of flax, he returns with a beautiful young girl, a doll who would have shone like the sun had she been coiffed. She had with her a goat; a big billy-goat, whether black or white, I no longer remember. That set me to thinking. The girl does not concern me, but the goat! I love not those beasts, they have a beard and horns. They are so like a man. And then, they smack of the witches, sabbath. However, I say nothing. I had the crown. That is right, is it not, Monsieur Judge? I show the captain and the wench to the upper chamber, and I leave them alone; that is to say, with the goat. I go down and set to spinning again—I must inform you that my house has a ground floor and story above. I know not why I fell to thinking of the surly monk whom the goat had put into my head again, and then the beautiful girl was rather strangely decked out. All at once, I hear a cry upstairs, and something falls on the floor and the window opens. I run to mine which is beneath it, and I behold a black mass pass before my eyes and fall into the water. It was a phantom clad like a priest. It was a moonlight night. I saw him quite plainly. He was swimming in the direction of the city. Then, all of a tremble, I call the watch. The gentlemen of the police enter, and not knowing just at the first moment what the matter was, and being merry, they beat me. I explain to them. We go up stairs, and what do we find? my poor chamber all blood, the captain stretched out at full length with a dagger in his neck, the girl pretending to be dead, and the goat all in a fright. ‘Pretty work!’ I say, ‘I shall have to wash that floor for more than a fortnight. It will have to be scraped; it will be a terrible job.’ They carried off the officer, poor young man, and the wench with her bosom all bare. But wait, the worst is that on the next day, when I wanted to take the crown to buy tripe, I found a dead leaf in its place.”
The old woman ceased. A murmur of horror ran through the audience.
“That phantom, that goat,—all smacks of magic,” said one of Gringoire’s neighbors.
“And that dry leaf!” added another.
“No doubt about it,” joined in a third, “she is a witch who has dealings with the surly monk, for the purpose of plundering officers.”
Gringoire himself was not disinclined to regard this as altogether alarming and probable.
“Goody Falourdel,” said the president majestically, “have you nothing more to communicate to the court?”
“No, monseigneur,” replied the crone, “except that the report has described my house as a hovel and stinking; which is an outrageous fashion of speaking. The houses on the bridge are not imposing, because there are such multitudes of people; but, nevertheless, the butchers continue to dwell there, who are wealthy folk, and married to very proper and handsome women.”
The magistrate who had reminded Gringoire of a crocodile rose,—
“Silence!” said he. “I pray the gentlemen not to lose sight of the fact that a dagger was found on the person of the accused. Goody Falourdel, have you brought that leaf into which the crown which the demon gave you was transformed?
“Yes, monseigneur,” she replied; “I found it again. Here it is.”
A bailiff handed the dead leaf to the crocodile, who made a doleful shake of the head, and passed it on to the president, who gave it to the procurator of the king in the ecclesiastical court, and thus it made the circuit of the hall.
“It is a birch leaf,” said Master Jacques Charmolue. “A fresh proof of magic.”
A counsellor took up the word.
“Witness, two men went upstairs together in your house: the black man, whom you first saw disappear and afterwards swimming in the Seine, with his priestly garments, and the officer. Which of the two handed you the crown?” The old woman pondered for a moment and then said,—
A murmur ran through the crowd.
“Ah!” thought Gringoire, “this makes some doubt in my mind.”
But Master Philippe Lheulier, advocate extraordinary to the king, interposed once more.
“I will recall to these gentlemen, that in the deposition taken at his bedside, the assassinated officer, while declaring that he had a vague idea when the black man accosted him that the latter might be the surly monk, added that the phantom had pressed him eagerly to go and make acquaintance with the accused; and upon his, the captain’s, remarking that he had no money, he had given him the crown which the said officer paid to la Falourdel. Hence, that crown is the money of hell.”
This conclusive observation appeared to dissipate all the doubts of Gringoire and the other sceptics in the audience.
“You have the documents, gentlemen,” added the king’s advocate, as he took his seat; “you can consult the testimony of Phœbus de Châteaupers.”
At that name, the accused sprang up, her head rose above the throng. Gringoire with horror recognized la Esmeralda.
She was pale; her tresses, formerly so gracefully braided and spangled with sequins, hung in disorder; her lips were blue, her hollow eyes were terrible. Alas!
“Phœbus!” she said, in bewilderment; “where is he? O messeigneurs! before you kill me, tell me, for pity sake, whether he still lives?”
“Hold your tongue, woman,” replied the president, “that is no affair of ours.”
“Oh! for mercy’s sake, tell me if he is alive!” she repeated, clasping her beautiful emaciated hands; and the sound of her chains in contact with her dress, was heard.
“Well!” said the king’s advocate roughly, “he is dying. Are you satisfied?”
The unhappy girl fell back on her criminal’s seat, speechless, tearless, white as a wax figure.
The president bent down to a man at his feet, who wore a gold cap and a black gown, a chain on his neck and a wand in his hand.
“Bailiff, bring in the second accused.”
All eyes turned towards a small door, which opened, and, to the great agitation of Gringoire, gave passage to a pretty goat with horns and hoofs of gold. The elegant beast halted for a moment on the threshold, stretching out its neck as though, perched on the summit of a rock, it had before its eyes an immense horizon. Suddenly it caught sight of the gypsy girl, and leaping over the table and the head of a clerk, in two bounds it was at her knees; then it rolled gracefully on its mistress’s feet, soliciting a word or a caress; but the accused remained motionless, and poor Djali himself obtained not a glance.
“Eh, why—’tis my villanous beast,” said old Falourdel, “I recognize the two perfectly!”
Jacques Charmolue interfered.
“If the gentlemen please, we will proceed to the examination of the goat.” He was, in fact, the second criminal. Nothing more simple in those days than a suit of sorcery instituted against an animal. We find, among others in the accounts of the provost’s office for 1466, a curious detail concerning the expenses of the trial of Gillet-Soulart and his sow, “executed for their demerits,” at Corbeil. Everything is there, the cost of the pens in which to place the sow, the five hundred bundles of brushwood purchased at the port of Morsant, the three pints of wine and the bread, the last repast of the victim fraternally shared by the executioner, down to the eleven days of guard and food for the sow, at eight deniers parisis each. Sometimes, they went even further than animals. The capitularies of Charlemagne and of Louis le Débonnaire impose severe penalties on fiery phantoms which presume to appear in the air.
Meanwhile the procurator had exclaimed: “If the demon which possesses this goat, and which has resisted all exorcisms, persists in its deeds of witchcraft, if it alarms the court with them, we warn it that we shall be forced to put in requisition against it the gallows or the stake. Gringoire broke out into a cold perspiration. Charmolue took from the table the gypsy’s tambourine, and presenting it to the goat, in a certain manner, asked the latter,—
“What o’clock is it?”
The goat looked at it with an intelligent eye, raised its gilded hoof, and struck seven blows.
It was, in fact, seven o’clock. A movement of terror ran through the crowd.
Gringoire could not endure it.
“He is destroying himself!” he cried aloud; “You see well that he does not know what he is doing.”
“Silence among the louts at the end of the hall!” said the bailiff sharply.
Jacques Charmolue, by the aid of the same manœuvres of the tambourine, made the goat perform many other tricks connected with the date of the day, the month of the year, etc., which the reader has already witnessed. And, by virtue of an optical illusion peculiar to judicial proceedings, these same spectators who had, probably, more than once applauded in the public square Djali’s innocent magic were terrified by it beneath the roof of the Palais de Justice. The goat was undoubtedly the devil.
It was far worse when the procurator of the king, having emptied upon a floor a certain bag filled with movable letters, which Djali wore round his neck, they beheld the goat extract with his hoof from the scattered alphabet the fatal name of Phœbus. The witchcraft of which the captain had been the victim appeared irresistibly demonstrated, and in the eyes of all, the gypsy, that ravishing dancer, who had so often dazzled the passers-by with her grace, was no longer anything but a frightful vampire.
However, she betrayed no sign of life; neither Djali’s graceful evolutions, nor the menaces of the court, nor the suppressed imprecations of the spectators any longer reached her mind.
In order to arouse her, a police officer was obliged to shake her unmercifully, and the president had to raise his voice,—
“Girl, you are of the Bohemian race, addicted to deeds of witchcraft. You, in complicity with the bewitched goat implicated in this suit, during the night of the twenty-ninth of March last, murdered and stabbed, in concert with the powers of darkness, by the aid of charms and underhand practices, a captain of the king’s arches of the watch, Phœbus de Châteaupers. Do you persist in denying it?”
“Horror!” exclaimed the young girl, hiding her face in her hands. “My Phœbus! Oh, this is hell!”
“Do you persist in your denial?” demanded the president coldly.
“Do I deny it?” she said with terrible accents; and she rose with flashing eyes.
The president continued squarely,—
“Then how do you explain the facts laid to your charge?”
She replied in a broken voice,—
“I have already told you. I do not know. ’Twas a priest, a priest whom I do not know; an infernal priest who pursues me!”
“That is it,” retorted the judge; “the surly monk.”
“Oh, gentlemen! have mercy! I am but a poor girl—”
“Of Egypt,” said the judge.
Master Jacques Charmolue interposed sweetly,—
“In view of the sad obstinacy of the accused, I demand the application of the torture.”
“Granted,” said the president.
The unhappy girl quivered in every limb. But she rose at the command of the men with partisans, and walked with a tolerably firm step, preceded by Charmolue and the priests of the officiality, between two rows of halberds, towards a medium-sized door which suddenly opened and closed again behind her, and which produced upon the grief-stricken Gringoire the effect of a horrible mouth which had just devoured her.
When she disappeared, they heard a plaintive bleating; it was the little goat mourning.
The sitting of the court was suspended. A counsellor having remarked that the gentlemen were fatigued, and that it would be a long time to wait until the torture was at an end, the president replied that a magistrate must know how to sacrifice himself to his duty.
“What an annoying and vexatious hussy,” said an aged judge, “to get herself put to the question when one has not supped!”