That night, Quasimodo did not sleep. He had just made his last round of the church. He had not noticed, that at the moment when he was closing the doors, the archdeacon had passed close to him and betrayed some displeasure on seeing him bolting and barring with care the enormous iron locks which gave to their large leaves the solidity of a wall. Dom Claude's air was even more preoccupied than usual. Moreover, since the nocturnal adventure in the cell, he had constantly abused Quasimodo, but in vain did he ill treat, and even beat him occasionally, nothing disturbed the submission, patience, the devoted resignation of the faithful bellringer. He endured everything on the part of the archdeacon, insults, threats, blows, without murmuring a complaint. At the most, he gazed uneasily after Dom Claude when the latter ascended the staircase of the tower; but the archdeacon had abstained from presenting himself again before the gypsy's eyes.
On that night, accordingly, Quasimodo, after having cast a glance at his poor bells which he so neglected now, Jacqueline, Marie, and Thibauld, mounted to the summit of the Northern tower, and there setting his dark lanturn, well closed, upon the leads, he began to gaze at Paris. The night, as we have already said, was very dark. Paris which, so to speak was not lighted at that epoch, presented to the eye a confused collection of black masses, cut here and there by the whitish curve of the Seine. Quasimodo no longer saw any light with the exception of one window in a distant edifice, whose vague and sombre profile was outlined well above the roofs, in the direction of the Porte Sainte-Antoine. There also, there was some one awake.
As the only eye of the bellringer peered into that horizon of mist and night, he felt within him an inexpressible uneasiness. For several days he had been upon his guard. He had perceived men of sinister mien, who never took their eyes from the young girl's asylum, prowling constantly about the church. He fancied that some plot might be in process of formation against the unhappy refugee. He imagined that there existed a popular hatred against her, as against himself, and that it was very possible that something might happen soon. Hence he remained upon his tower on the watch, "dreaming in his dream-place," as Rabelais says, with his eye directed alternately on the cell and on Paris, keeping faithful guard, like a good dog, with a thousand suspicions in his mind.
All at once, while he was scrutinizing the great city with that eye which nature, by a sort of compensation, had made so piercing that it could almost supply the other organs which Quasimodo lacked, it seemed to him that there was something singular about the Quay de la Vieille-Pelleterie, that there was a movement at that point, that the line of the parapet, standing out blackly against the whiteness of the water was not straight and tranquil, like that of the other quays, but that it undulated to the eye, like the waves of a river, or like the heads of a crowd in motion.
This struck him as strange. He redoubled his attention. The movement seemed to be advancing towards the City. There was no light. It lasted for some time on the quay; then it gradually ceased, as though that which was passing were entering the interior of the island; then it stopped altogether, and the line of the quay became straight and motionless again.
At the moment when Quasimodo was lost in conjectures, it seemed to him that the movement had re-appeared in the Rue du Parvis, which is prolonged into the city perpendicularly to the façade of Notre-Dame. At length, dense as was the darkness, he beheld the head of a column debouch from that street, and in an instant a crowd--of which nothing could be distinguished in the gloom except that it was a crowd--spread over the Place.
This spectacle had a terror of its own. It is probable that this singular procession, which seemed so desirous of concealing itself under profound darkness, maintained a silence no less profound. Nevertheless, some noise must have escaped it, were it only a trampling. But this noise did not even reach our deaf man, and this great multitude, of which he saw hardly anything, and of which he heard nothing, though it was marching and moving so near him, produced upon him the effect of a rabble of dead men, mute, impalpable, lost in a smoke. It seemed to him, that he beheld advancing towards him a fog of men, and that he saw shadows moving in the shadow.
Then his fears returned to him, the idea of an attempt against the gypsy presented itself once more to his mind. He was conscious, in a confused way, that a violent crisis was approaching. At that critical moment he took counsel with himself, with better and prompter reasoning than one would have expected from so badly organized a brain. Ought he to awaken the gypsy? to make her escape? Whither? The streets were invested, the church backed on the river. No boat, no issue!--There was but one thing to be done; to allow himself to be killed on the threshold of Notre-Dame, to resist at least until succor arrived, if it should arrive, and not to trouble la Esmeralda's sleep. This resolution once taken, he set to examining the enemy with more tranquillity.
The throng seemed to increase every moment in the church square. Only, he presumed that it must be making very little noise, since the windows on the Place remained closed. All at once, a flame flashed up, and in an instant seven or eight lighted torches passed over the heads of the crowd, shaking their tufts of flame in the deep shade. Quasimodo then beheld distinctly surging in the Parvis a frightful herd of men and women in rags, armed with scythes, pikes, billhooks and partisans, whose thousand points glittered. Here and there black pitchforks formed horns to the hideous faces. He vaguely recalled this populace, and thought that he recognized all the heads who had saluted him as Pope of the Fools some months previously. One man who held a torch in one hand and a club in the other, mounted a stone post and seemed to be haranguing them. At the same time the strange army executed several evolutions, as though it were taking up its post around the church. Quasimodo picked up his lantern and descended to the platform between the towers, in order to get a nearer view, and to spy out a means of defence.
Clopin Trouillefou, on arriving in front of the lofty portal of Notre-Dame had, in fact, ranged his troops in order of battle. Although he expected no resistance, he wished, like a prudent general, to preserve an order which would permit him to face, at need, a sudden attack of the watch or the police. He had accordingly stationed his brigade in such a manner that, viewed from above and from a distance, one would have pronounced it the Roman triangle of the battle of Ecnomus, the boar's head of Alexander or the famous wedge of Gustavus Adolphus. The base of this triangle rested on the back of the Place in such a manner as to bar the entrance of the Rue du Parvis; one of its sides faced Hôtel-Dieu, the other the Rue Saint-Pierre-aux-Boeufs. Clopin Trouillefou had placed himself at the apex with the Duke of Egypt, our friend Jehan, and the most daring of the scavengers.
An enterprise like that which the vagabonds were now undertaking against Notre-Dame was not a very rare thing in the cities of the Middle Ages. What we now call the "police" did not exist then. In populous cities, especially in capitals, there existed no single, central, regulating power. Feudalism had constructed these great communities in a singular manner. A city was an assembly of a thousand seigneuries, which divided it into compartments of all shapes and sizes. Hence, a thousand conflicting establishments of police; that is to say, no police at all. In Paris, for example, independently of the hundred and forty-one lords who laid claim to a manor, there were five and twenty who laid claim to a manor and to administering justice, from the Bishop of Paris, who had five hundred streets, to the Prior of Notre- Dame des Champs, who had four. All these feudal justices recognized the suzerain authority of the king only in name. All possessed the right of control over the roads. All were at home. Louis XI., that indefatigable worker, who so largely began the demolition of the feudal edifice, continued by Richelieu and Louis XIV. for the profit of royalty, and finished by Mirabeau for the benefit of the people,--Louis XI. had certainly made an effort to break this network of seignories which covered Paris, by throwing violently across them all two or three troops of general police. Thus, in 1465, an order to the inhabitants to light candles in their windows at nightfall, and to shut up their dogs under penalty of death; in the same year, an order to close the streets in the evening with iron chains, and a prohibition to wear daggers or weapons of offence in the streets at night. But in a very short time, all these efforts at communal legislation fell into abeyance. The bourgeois permitted the wind to blow out their candles in the windows, and their dogs to stray; the iron chains were stretched only in a state of siege; the prohibition to wear daggers wrought no other changes than from the name of the Rue Coupe-Gueule to the name of the Rue-Coupe-Gorge* which is an evident progress. The old scaffolding of feudal jurisdictions remained standing; an immense aggregation of bailiwicks and seignories crossing each other all over the city, interfering with each other, entangled in one another, enmeshing each other, trespassing on each other; a useless thicket of watches, sub-watches and counter-watches, over which, with armed force, passed brigandage, rapine, and sedition. Hence, in this disorder, deeds of violence on the part of the populace directed against a palace, a hotel, or house in the most thickly populated quarters, were not unheard-of occurrences. In the majority of such cases, the neighbors did not meddle with the matter unless the pillaging extended to themselves. They stopped up their ears to the musket shots, closed their shutters, barricaded their doors, allowed the matter to be concluded with or without the watch, and the next day it was said in Paris, "Etienne Barbette was broken open last night. The Marshal de Clermont was seized last night, etc." Hence, not only the royal habitations, the Louvre, the Palace, the Bastille, the Tournelles, but simply seignorial residences, the Petit-Bourbon, the Hôtel de Sens, the Hôtel d' Angoulême, etc., had battlements on their walls, and machicolations over their doors. Churches were guarded by their sanctity. Some, among the number Notre-Dame, were fortified. The Abbey of Saint-German-des-Pres was castellated like a baronial mansion, and more brass expended about it in bombards than in bells. Its fortress was still to be seen in 1610. To-day, barely its church remains.
* Cut-throat. Coupe-gueule being the vulgar word for cut-weazand.
Let us return to Notre-Dame.
When the first arrangements were completed, and we must say, to the honor of vagabond discipline, that Clopin's orders were executed in silence, and with admirable precision, the worthy chief of the band, mounted on the parapet of the church square, and raised his hoarse and surly voice, turning towards Notre-Dame, and brandishing his torch whose light, tossed by the wind, and veiled every moment by its own smoke, made the reddish façade of the church appear and disappear before the eye.
"To you, Louis de Beaumont, bishop of Paris, counsellor in the Court of Parliament, I, Clopin Trouillefou, king of Thunes, grand Coësre, prince of Argot, bishop of fools, I say: Our sister, falsely condemned for magic, hath taken refuge in your church, you owe her asylum and safety. Now the Court of Parliament wishes to seize her once more there, and you consent to it; so that she would be hanged to-morrow in the Grève, if God and the outcasts were not here. If your church is sacred, so is our sister; if our sister is not sacred, neither is your church. That is why we call upon you to return the girl if you wish to save your church, or we will take possession of the girl again and pillage the church, which will be a good thing. In token of which I here plant my banner, and may God preserve you, bishop of Paris,"
Quasimodo could not, unfortunately, hear these words uttered with a sort of sombre and savage majesty. A vagabond presented his banner to Clopin, who planted it solemnly between two paving-stones. It was a pitchfork from whose points hung a bleeding quarter of carrion meat.
That done, the King of Thunes turned round and cast his eyes over his army, a fierce multitude whose glances flashed almost equally with their pikes. After a momentary pause,--"Forward, my Sons!" he cried; "to work, locksmiths!"
Thirty bold men, square shouldered, and with pick-lock faces, stepped from the ranks, with hammers, pincers, and bars of iron on their shoulders. They betook themselves to the principal door of the church, ascended the steps, and were soon to be seen squatting under the arch, working at the door with pincers and levers; a throng of vagabonds followed them to help or look on. The eleven steps before the portal were covered with them.
But the door stood firm. "The devil! 'tis hard and obstinate!" said one. "It is old, and its gristles have become bony," said another. "Courage, comrades!" resumed Clopin. "I wager my head against a dipper that you will have opened the door, rescued the girl, and despoiled the chief altar before a single beadle is awake. Stay! I think I hear the lock breaking up."
Clopin was interrupted by a frightful uproar which re- sounded behind him at that moment. He wheeled round. An enormous beam had just fallen from above; it had crushed a dozen vagabonds on the pavement with the sound of a cannon, breaking in addition, legs here and there in the crowd of beggars, who sprang aside with cries of terror. In a twinkling, the narrow precincts of the church parvis were cleared. The locksmiths, although protected by the deep vaults of the portal, abandoned the door and Clopin himself retired to a respectful distance from the church.
"I had a narrow escape!" cried Jehan. "I felt the wind, of it, tête-de-boeuf! but Pierre the Slaughterer is slaughtered!"
It is impossible to describe the astonishment mingled with fright which fell upon the ruffians in company with this beam.
They remained for several minutes with their eyes in the air, more dismayed by that piece of wood than by the king's twenty thousand archers.
"Satan!" muttered the Duke of Egypt, "this smacks of magic!"
"'Tis the moon which threw this log at us," said Andry the Red.
"Call the moon the friend of the Virgin, after that!" went on Francois Chanteprune.
"A thousand popes!" exclaimed Clopin, "you are all fools!" But he did not know how to explain the fall of the beam.
Meanwhile, nothing could be distinguished on the façade, to whose summit the light of the torches did not reach. The heavy beam lay in the middle of the enclosure, and groans were heard from the poor wretches who had received its first shock, and who had been almost cut in twain, on the angle of the stone steps.
The King of Thunes, his first amazement passed, finally found an explanation which appeared plausible to his companions.
"Throat of God! are the canons defending themselves? To the sack, then! to the sack!"
"To the sack!" repeated the rabble, with a furious hurrah. A discharge of crossbows and hackbuts against the front of the church followed.
At this detonation, the peaceable inhabitants of the surrounding houses woke up; many windows were seen to open, and nightcaps and hands holding candles appeared at the casements.
"Fire at the windows," shouted Clopin. The windows were immediately closed, and the poor bourgeois, who had hardly had time to cast a frightened glance on this scene of gleams and tumult, returned, perspiring with fear to their wives, asking themselves whether the witches' sabbath was now being held in the parvis of Notre-Dame, or whether there was an assault of Burgundians, as in '64. Then the husbands thought of theft; the wives, of rape; and all trembled.
"To the sack!" repeated the thieves' crew; but they dared not approach. They stared at the beam, they stared at the church. The beam did not stir, the edifice preserved its calm and deserted air; but something chilled the outcasts.
"To work, locksmiths!" shouted Trouillefou. "Let the door be forced!"
No one took a step.
"Beard and belly!" said Clopin, "here be men afraid of a beam."
An old locksmith addressed him--
"Captain, 'tis not the beam which bothers us, 'tis the door, which is all covered with iron bars. Our pincers are powerless against it."
"What more do you want to break it in?" demanded Clopin.
"Ah! we ought to have a battering ram."
The King of Thunes ran boldly to the formidable beam, and placed his foot upon it: "Here is one!" he exclaimed; "'tis the canons who send it to you." And, making a mocking salute in the direction of the church, "Thanks, canons!"
This piece of bravado produced its effects,--the spell of the beam was broken. The vagabonds recovered their courage; soon the heavy joist, raised like a feather by two hundred vigorous arms, was flung with fury against the great door which they had tried to batter down. At the sight of that long beam, in the half-light which the infrequent torches of the brigands spread over the Place, thus borne by that crowd of men who dashed it at a run against the church, one would have thought that he beheld a monstrous beast with a thousand feet attacking with lowered head the giant of stone.
At the shock of the beam, the half metallic door sounded like an immense drum; it was not burst in, but the whole cathedral trembled, and the deepest cavities of the edifice were heard to echo.
At the same moment, a shower of large stones began to fall from the top of the façade on the assailants.
"The devil!" cried Jehan, "are the towers shaking their balustrades down on our heads?"
But the impulse had been given, the King of Thunes had set the example. Evidently, the bishop was defending himself, and they only battered the door with the more rage, in spite of the stones which cracked skulls right and left.
It was remarkable that all these stones fell one by one; but they followed each other closely. The thieves always felt two at a time, one on their legs and one on their heads. There were few which did not deal their blow, and a large layer of dead and wounded lay bleeding and panting beneath the feet of the assailants who, now grown furious, replaced each other without intermission. The long beam continued to belabor the door, at regular intervals, like the clapper of a bell, the stones to rain down, the door to groan.
The reader has no doubt divined that this unexpected resistance which had exasperated the outcasts came from Quasimodo.
Chance had, unfortunately, favored the brave deaf man.
When he had descended to the platform between the towers, his ideas were all in confusion. He had run up and down along the gallery for several minutes like a madman, surveying from above, the compact mass of vagabonds ready to hurl itself on the church, demanding the safety of the gypsy from the devil or from God. The thought had occurred to him of ascending to the southern belfry and sounding the alarm, but before he could have set the bell in motion, before Marie's voice could have uttered a single clamor, was there not time to burst in the door of the church ten times over? It was precisely the moment when the locksmiths were advancing upon it with their tools. What was to be done?
All at once, he remembered that some masons had been at work all day repairing the wall, the timber-work, and the roof of the south tower. This was a flash of light. The wall was of stone, the roof of lead, the timber-work of wood. (That prodigious timber-work, so dense that it was called "the forest.")
Quasimodo hastened to that tower. The lower chambers were, in fact, full of materials. There were piles of rough blocks of stone, sheets of lead in rolls, bundles of laths, heavy beams already notched with the saw, heaps of plaster.
Time was pressing, The pikes and hammers were at work below. With a strength which the sense of danger increased tenfold, he seized one of the beams--the longest and heaviest; he pushed it out through a loophole, then, grasping it again outside of the tower, he made it slide along the angle of the balustrade which surrounds the platform, and let it fly into the abyss. The enormous timber, during that fall of a hundred and sixty feet, scraping the wall, breaking the carvings, turned many times on its centre, like the arm of a windmill flying off alone through space. At last it reached the ground, the horrible cry arose, and the black beam, as it rebounded from the pavement, resembled a serpent leaping.
Quasimodo beheld the outcasts scatter at the fall of the beam, like ashes at the breath of a child. He took advantage of their fright, and while they were fixing a superstitious glance on the club which had fallen from heaven, and while they were putting out the eyes of the stone saints on the front with a discharge of arrows and buckshot, Quasimodo was silently piling up plaster, stones, and rough blocks of stone, even the sacks of tools belonging to the masons, on the edge of the balustrade from which the beam had already been hurled.
Thus, as soon as they began to batter the grand door, the shower of rough blocks of stone began to fall, and it seemed to them that the church itself was being demolished over their heads.
Any one who could have beheld Quasimodo at that moment would have been frightened. Independently of the projectiles which he had piled upon the balustrade, he had collected a heap of stones on the platform itself. As fast as the blocks on the exterior edge were exhausted, he drew on the heap. Then he stooped and rose, stooped and rose again with incredible activity. His huge gnome's head bent over the balustrade, then an enormous stone fell, then another, then another. From time to time, he followed a fine stone with his eye, and when it did good execution, he said, "Hum!"
Meanwhile, the beggars did not grow discouraged. The thick door on which they were venting their fury had already trembled more than twenty times beneath the weight of their oaken battering-ram, multiplied by the strength of a hundred men. The panels cracked, the carved work flew into splinters, the hinges, at every blow, leaped from their pins, the planks yawned, the wood crumbled to powder, ground between the iron sheathing. Fortunately for Quasimodo, there was more iron than wood.
Nevertheless, he felt that the great door was yielding. Although he did not hear it, every blow of the ram reverberated simultaneously in the vaults of the church and within it. From above he beheld the vagabonds, filled with triumph and rage, shaking their fists at the gloomy façade; and both on the gypsy's account and his own he envied the wings of the owls which flitted away above his head in flocks.
His shower of stone blocks was not sufficient to repel the assailants.
At this moment of anguish, he noticed, a little lower down than the balustrade whence he was crushing the thieves, two long stone gutters which discharged immediately over the great door; the internal orifice of these gutters terminated on the pavement of the platform. An idea occurred to him; he ran in search of a fagot in his bellringer's den, placed on this fagot a great many bundles of laths, and many rolls of lead, munitions which he had not employed so far, and having arranged this pile in front of the hole to the two gutters, he set it on fire with his lantern.
During this time, since the stones no longer fell, the outcasts ceased to gaze into the air. The bandits, panting like a pack of hounds who are forcing a boar into his lair, pressed tumultuously round the great door, all disfigured by the battering ram, but still standing. They were waiting with a quiver for the great blow which should split it open. They vied with each other in pressing as close as possible, in order to dash among the first, when it should open, into that opulent cathedral, a vast reservoir where the wealth of three centuries had been piled up. They reminded each other with roars of exultation and greedy lust, of the beautiful silver crosses, the fine copes of brocade, the beautiful tombs of silver gilt, the great magnificences of the choir, the dazzling festivals, the Christmasses sparkling with torches, the Easters sparkling with sunshine,--all those splendid solemneties wherein chandeliers, ciboriums, tabernacles, and reliquaries, studded the altars with a crust of gold and diamonds. Certainly, at that fine moment, thieves and pseudo sufferers, doctors in stealing, and vagabonds, were thinking much less of delivering the gypsy than of pillaging Notre-Dame. We could even easily believe that for a goodly number among them la Esmeralda was only a pretext, if thieves needed pretexts.
All at once, at the moment when they were grouping themselves round the ram for a last effort, each one holding his breath and stiffening his muscles in order to communicate all his force to the decisive blow, a howl more frightful still than that which had burst forth and expired beneath the beam, rose among them. Those who did not cry out, those who were still alive, looked. Two streams of melted lead were falling from the summit of the edifice into the thickest of the rabble. That sea of men had just sunk down beneath the boiling metal, which had made, at the two points where it fell, two black and smoking holes in the crowd, such as hot water would make in snow. Dying men, half consumed and groaning with anguish, could be seen writhing there. Around these two principal streams there were drops of that horrible rain, which scattered over the assailants and entered their skulls like gimlets of fire. It was a heavy fire which overwhelmed these wretches with a thousand hailstones.
The outcry was heartrending. They fled pell-mell, hurling the beam upon the bodies, the boldest as well as the most timid, and the parvis was cleared a second time.
All eyes were raised to the top of the church. They beheld there an extraordinary sight. On the crest of the highest gallery, higher than the central rose window, there was a great flame rising between the two towers with whirlwinds of sparks, a vast, disordered, and furious flame, a tongue of which was borne into the smoke by the wind, from time to time. Below that fire, below the gloomy balustrade with its trefoils showing darkly against its glare, two spouts with monster throats were vomiting forth unceasingly that burning rain, whose silvery stream stood out against the shadows of the lower façade. As they approached the earth, these two jets of liquid lead spread out in sheaves, like water springing from the thousand holes of a watering-pot. Above the flame, the enormous towers, two sides of each of which were visible in sharp outline, the one wholly black, the other wholly red, seemed still more vast with all the immensity of the shadow which they cast even to the sky.
Their innumerable sculptures of demons and dragons assumed a lugubrious aspect. The restless light of the flame made them move to the eye. There were griffins which had the air of laughing, gargoyles which one fancied one heard yelping, salamanders which puffed at the fire, tarasques* which sneezed in the smoke. And among the monsters thus roused from their sleep of stone by this flame, by this noise, there was one who walked about, and who was seen, from time to time, to pass across the glowing face of the pile, like a bat in front of a candle.
* The representation of a monstrous animal solemnly drawn about in Tarascon and other French towns.
Without doubt, this strange beacon light would awaken far away, the woodcutter of the hills of Bicêtre, terrified to behold the gigantic shadow of the towers of Notre-Dame quivering over his heaths.
A terrified silence ensued among the outcasts, during which nothing was heard, but the cries of alarm of the canons shut up in their cloister, and more uneasy than horses in a burning stable, the furtive sound of windows hastily opened and still more hastily closed, the internal hurly-burly of the houses and of the Hôtel-Dieu, the wind in the flame, the last death-rattle of the dying, and the continued crackling of the rain of lead upon the pavement.
In the meanwhile, the principal vagabonds had retired beneath the porch of the Gondelaurier mansion, and were holding a council of war.
The Duke of Egypt, seated on a stone post, contemplated the phantasmagorical bonfire, glowing at a height of two hundred feet in the air, with religious terror. Clopin Trouillefou bit his huge fists with rage.
"Impossible to get in!" he muttered between his teeth.
"An old, enchanted church!" grumbled the aged Bohemian, Mathias Hungadi Spicali.
"By the Pope's whiskers!" went on a sham soldier, who had once been in service, "here are church gutters spitting melted lead at you better than the machicolations of Lectoure."
"Do you see that demon passing and repassing in front of the fire?" exclaimed the Duke of Egypt.
"Pardieu, 'tis that damned bellringer, 'tis Quasimodo," said Clopin.
The Bohemian tossed his head. "I tell you, that 'tis the spirit Sabnac, the grand marquis, the demon of fortifications. He has the form of an armed soldier, the head of a lion. Sometimes he rides a hideous horse. He changes men into stones, of which he builds towers. He commands fifty legions 'Tis he indeed; I recognize him. Sometimes he is clad in a handsome golden robe, figured after the Turkish fashion."
"Where is Bellevigne de l'Etoile?" demanded Clopin.
"He is dead."
Andry the Red laughed in an idiotic way: "Notre-Dame is making work for the hospital," said he.
"Is there, then, no way of forcing this door," exclaimed the King of Thunes, stamping his foot.
The Duke of Egypt pointed sadly to the two streams of boiling lead which did not cease to streak the black facade, like two long distaffs of phosphorus.
"Churches have been known to defend themselves thus all by themselves," he remarked with a sigh. "Saint-Sophia at Constantinople, forty years ago, hurled to the earth three times in succession, the crescent of Mahom, by shaking her domes, which are her heads. Guillaume de Paris, who built this one was a magician."
"Must we then retreat in pitiful fashion, like highwaymen?" said Clopin. "Must we leave our sister here, whom those hooded wolves will hang to-morrow."
"And the sacristy, where there are wagon-loads of gold!" added a vagabond, whose name, we regret to say, we do not know.
"Beard of Mahom!" cried Trouillefou.
"Let us make another trial," resumed the vagabond.
Mathias Hungadi shook his head.
"We shall never get in by the door. We must find the defect in the armor of the old fairy; a hole, a false postern, some joint or other."
"Who will go with me?" said Clopin. "I shall go at it again. By the way, where is the little scholar Jehan, who is so encased in iron?"
"He is dead, no doubt," some one replied; "we no longer hear his laugh."
The King of Thunes frowned: "So much the worse. There was a brave heart under that ironmongery. And Master Pierre Gringoire?"
"Captain Clopin," said Andry the Red, "he slipped away before we reached the Pont-aux-Changeurs,"
Clopin stamped his foot. "Gueule-Dieu! 'twas he who pushed us on hither, and he has deserted us in the very middle of the job! Cowardly chatterer, with a slipper for a helmet!"
"Captain Clopin," said Andry the Red, who was gazing down Rue du Parvis, "yonder is the little scholar."
"Praised be Pluto!" said Clopin. "But what the devil is he dragging after him?"
It was, in fact, Jehan, who was running as fast as his heavy outfit of a Paladin, and a long ladder which trailed on the pavement, would permit, more breathless than an ant harnessed to a blade of grass twenty times longer than itself.
"Victory! Te Deum!" cried the scholar. "Here is the ladder of the longshoremen of Port Saint-Landry."
Clopin approached him.
"Child, what do you mean to do, corne-dieu! with this ladder?"
"I have it," replied Jehan, panting. "I knew where it was under the shed of the lieutenant's house. There's a wench there whom I know, who thinks me as handsome as Cupido. I made use of her to get the ladder, and I have the ladder, Pasque-Mahom! The poor girl came to open the door to me in her shift."
"Yes," said Clopin, "but what are you going to do with that ladder?"
Jehan gazed at him with a malicious, knowing look, and cracked his fingers like castanets. At that moment he was sublime. On his head he wore one of those overloaded helmets of the fifteenth century, which frightened the enemy with their fanciful crests. His bristled with ten iron beaks, so that Jehan could have disputed with Nestor's Homeric vessel the redoubtable title of dexeubolos.
"What do I mean to do with it, august king of Thunes? Do you see that row of statues which have such idiotic expressions, yonder, above the three portals?"
"'Tis the gallery of the kings of France."
"What is that to me?" said Clopin.
"Wait! At the end of that gallery there is a door which is never fastened otherwise than with a latch, and with this ladder I ascend, and I am in the church."
"Child let me be the first to ascend."
"No, comrade, the ladder is mine. Come, you shall be the second."
"May Beelzebub strangle you!" said surly Clopin, "I won't be second to anybody."
"Then find a ladder, Clopin!"
Jehan set out on a run across the Place, dragging his ladder and shouting: "Follow me, lads!"
In an instant the ladder was raised, and propped against the balustrade of the lower gallery, above one of the lateral doors. The throng of vagabonds, uttering loud acclamations, crowded to its foot to ascend. But Jehan maintained his right, and was the first to set foot on the rungs. The passage was tolerably long. The gallery of the kings of France is to-day about sixty feet above the pavement. The eleven steps of the flight before the door, made it still higher. Jehan mounted slowly, a good deal incommoded by his heavy armor, holding his crossbow in one hand, and clinging to a rung with the other. When he reached the middle of the ladder, he cast a melancholy glance at the poor dead outcasts, with which the steps were strewn. "Alas!" said he, "here is a heap of bodies worthy of the fifth book of the Iliad!" Then he continued his ascent. The vagabonds followed him. There was one on every rung. At the sight of this line of cuirassed backs, undulating as they rose through the gloom, one would have pronounced it a serpent with steel scales, which was raising itself erect in front of the church. Jehan who formed the head, and who was whistling, completed the illusion.
The scholar finally reached the balcony of the gallery, and climbed over it nimbly, to the applause of the whole vagabond tribe. Thus master of the citadel, he uttered a shout of joy, and suddenly halted, petrified. He had just caught sight of Quasimodo concealed in the dark, with flashing eye, behind one of the statues of the kings.
Before a second assailant could gain a foothold on the gallery, the formidable hunchback leaped to the head of the ladder, without uttering a word, seized the ends of the two uprights with his powerful hands, raised them, pushed them out from the wall, balanced the long and pliant ladder, loaded with vagabonds from top to bottom for a moment, in the midst of shrieks of anguish, then suddenly, with superhuman force, hurled this cluster of men backward into the Place. There was a moment when even the most resolute trembled. The ladder, launched backwards, remained erect and standing for an instant, and seemed to hesitate, then wavered, then suddenly, describing a frightful arc of a circle eighty feet in radius, crashed upon the pavement with its load of ruffians, more rapidly than a drawbridge when its chains break. There arose an immense imprecation, then all was still, and a few mutilated wretches were seen, crawling over the heap of dead.
A sound of wrath and grief followed the first cries of triumph among the besiegers. Quasimodo, impassive, with both elbows propped on the balustrade, looked on. He had the air of an old, bushy-headed king at his window.
As for Jehan Frollo, he was in a critical position. He found himself in the gallery with the formidable bellringer, alone, separated from his companions by a vertical wall eighty feet high. While Quasimodo was dealing with the ladder, the scholar had run to the postern which he believed to be open. It was not. The deaf man had closed it behind him when he entered the gallery. Jehan had then concealed himself behind a stone king, not daring to breathe, and fixing upon the monstrous hunchback a frightened gaze, like the man, who, when courting the wife of the guardian of a menagerie, went one evening to a love rendezvous, mistook the wall which he was to climb, and suddenly found himself face to face with a white bear.
For the first few moments, the deaf man paid no heed to him; but at last he turned his head, and suddenly straightened up. He had just caught sight of the scholar.
Jehan prepared himself for a rough shock, but the deaf man remained motionless; only he had turned towards the scholar and was looking at him.
"Ho ho!" said Jehan, "what do you mean by staring at me with that solitary and melancholy eye?"
As he spoke thus, the young scamp stealthily adjusted his crossbow.
"Quasimodo!" he cried, "I am going to change your surname: you shall be called the blind man."
The shot sped. The feathered vireton* whizzed and entered the hunchback's left arm. Quasimodo appeared no more moved by it than by a scratch to King Pharamond. He laid his hand on the arrow, tore it from his arm, and tranquilly broke it across his big knee; then he let the two pieces drop on the floor, rather than threw them down. But Jehan had no opportunity to fire a second time. The arrow broken, Quasimodo breathing heavily, bounded like a grasshopper, and he fell upon the scholar, whose armor was flattened against the wall by the blow.
* An arrow with a pyramidal head of iron and copper spiral wings by which a rotatory motion was communicated,
Then in that gloom, wherein wavered the light of the torches, a terrible thing was seen.
Quasimodo had grasped with his left hand the two arms of Jehan, who did not offer any resistance, so thoroughly did he feel that he was lost. With his right hand, the deaf man detached one by one, in silence, with sinister slowness, all the pieces of his armor, the sword, the daggers, the helmet, the cuirass, the leg pieces. One would have said that it was a monkey taking the shell from a nut. Quasimodo flung the scholar's iron shell at his feet, piece by piece. When the scholar beheld himself disarmed, stripped, weak, and naked in those terrible hands, he made no attempt to speak to the deaf man, but began to laugh audaciously in his face, and to sing with his intrepid heedlessness of a child of sixteen, the then popular ditty:-
"Elle est bien habillée, La ville de Cambrai; Marafin l'a pillée..."*
* The city of Cambrai is well dressed. Marafin plundered it.
He did not finish. Quasimodo was seen on the parapet of the gallery, holding the scholar by the feet with one hand and whirling him over the abyss like a sling; then a sound like that of a bony structure in contact with a wall was heard, and something was seen to fall which halted a third of the way down in its fall, on a projection in the architecture. It was a dead body which remained hanging there, bent double, its loins broken, its skull empty.
A cry of horror rose among the vagabonds.
"Vengeance!" shouted Clopin. "To the sack!" replied the multitude. "Assault! assault!"
There came a tremendous howl, in which were mingled all tongues, all dialects, all accents. The death of the poor scholar imparted a furious ardor to that crowd. It was seized with shame, and the wrath of having been held so long in check before a church by a hunchback. Rage found ladders, multiplied the torches, and, at the expiration of a few minutes, Quasimodo, in despair, beheld that terrible ant heap mount on all sides to the assault of Notre-Dame. Those who had no ladders had knotted ropes; those who had no ropes climbed by the projections of the carvings. They hung from each other's rags. There were no means of resisting that rising tide of frightful faces; rage made these fierce countenances ruddy; their clayey brows were dripping with sweat; their eyes darted lightnings; all these grimaces, all these horrors laid siege to Quasimodo. One would have said that some other church had despatched to the assault of Notre-Dame its gorgons, its dogs, its drées, its demons, its most fantastic sculptures. It was like a layer of living monsters on the stone monsters of the façade.
Meanwhile, the Place was studded with a thousand torches. This scene of confusion, till now hid in darkness, was suddenly flooded with light. The parvis was resplendent, and cast a radiance on the sky; the bonfire lighted on the lofty platform was still burning, and illuminated the city far away. The enormous silhouette of the two towers, projected afar on the roofs of Paris, and formed a large notch of black in this light. The city seemed to be aroused. Alarm bells wailed in the distance. The vagabonds howled, panted, swore, climbed; and Quasimodo, powerless against so many enemies, shuddering for the gypsy, beholding the furious faces approaching ever nearer and nearer to his gallery, entreated heaven for a miracle, and wrung his arms in despair.
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