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"A man should not leave this earth with unfinished business. He should live each day as if it was a pre-flight check. He should ask each morning, am I prepared to lift-off?"
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Day followed day. Calm gradually returned to the soul of la Esmeralda. Excess of grief, like excess of joy is a violent thing which lasts but a short time. The heart of man cannot remain long in one extremity. The gypsy had suffered so much, that nothing was left her but astonishment. With security, hope had returned to her. She was outside the pale of society, outside the pale of life, but she had a vague feeling that it might not be impossible to return to it. She was like a dead person, who should hold in reserve the key to her tomb.
She felt the terrible images which had so long persecuted her, gradually departing. All the hideous phantoms, Pierrat Torterue, Jacques Charmolue, were effaced from her mind, all, even the priest.
And then, Phoebus was alive; she was sure of it, she had seen him. To her the fact of Phoebus being alive was everything. After the series of fatal shocks which had overturned everything within her, she had found but one thing intact in her soul, one sentiment,--her love for the captain. Love is like a tree; it sprouts forth of itself, sends its roots out deeply through our whole being, and often continues to flourish greenly over a heart in ruins.
And the inexplicable point about it is that the more blind is this passion, the more tenacious it is. It is never more solid than when it has no reason in it.
La Esmeralda did not think of the captain without bitterness, no doubt. No doubt it was terrible that he also should have been deceived; that he should have believed that impossible thing, that he could have conceived of a stab dealt by her who would have given a thousand lives for him. But, after all, she must not be too angry with him for it; had she not confessed her crime? had she not yielded, weak woman that she was, to torture? The fault was entirely hers. She should have allowed her finger nails to be torn out rather than such a word to be wrenched from her. In short, if she could but see Phoebus once more, for a single minute, only one word would be required, one look, in order to undeceive him, to bring him back. She did not doubt it. She was astonished also at many singular things, at the accident of Phoebus's presence on the day of the penance, at the young girl with whom he had been. She was his sister, no doubt. An unreasonable explanation, but she contented herself with it, because she needed to believe that Phoebus still loved her, and loved her alone. Had he not sworn it to her? What more was needed, simple and credulous as she was? And then, in this matter, were not appearances much more against her than against him? Accordingly, she waited. She hoped.
Let us add that the church, that vast church, which surrounded her on every side, which guarded her, which saved her, was itself a sovereign tranquillizer. The solemn lines of that architecture, the religious attitude of all the objects which surrounded the young girl, the serene and pious thoughts which emanated, so to speak, from all the pores of that stone, acted upon her without her being aware of it. The edifice had also sounds fraught with such benediction and such majesty, that they soothed this ailing soul. The monotonous chanting of the celebrants, the responses of the people to the priest, sometimes inarticulate, sometimes thunderous, the harmonious trembling of the painted windows, the organ, bursting forth like a hundred trumpets, the three belfries, humming like hives of huge bees, that whole orchestra on which bounded a gigantic scale, ascending, descending incessantly from the voice of a throng to that of one bell, dulled her memory, her imagination, her grief. The bells, in particular, lulled her. It was something like a powerful magnetism which those vast instruments shed over her in great waves.
Thus every sunrise found her more calm, breathing better, less pale. In proportion as her inward wounds closed, her grace and beauty blossomed once more on her countenance, but more thoughtful, more reposeful. Her former character also returned to her, somewhat even of her gayety, her pretty pout, her love for her goat, her love for singing, her modesty. She took care to dress herself in the morning in the corner of her cell for fear some inhabitants of the neighboring attics might see her through the window.
When the thought of Phoebus left her time, the gypsy sometimes thought of Quasimodo. He was the sole bond, the sole connection, the sole communication which remained to her with men, with the living. Unfortunate girl! she was more outside the world than Quasimodo. She understood not in the least the strange friend whom chance had given her. She often reproached herself for not feeling a gratitude which should close her eyes, but decidedly, she could not accustom herself to the poor bellringer. He was too ugly.
She had left the whistle which he had given her lying on the ground. This did not prevent Quasimodo from making his appearance from time to time during the first few days. She did her best not to turn aside with too much repugnance when he came to bring her her basket of provisions or her jug of water, but he always perceived the slightest movement of this sort, and then he withdrew sadly.
Once he came at the moment when she was caressing Djali. He stood pensively for several minutes before this graceful group of the goat and the gypsy; at last he said, shaking his heavy and ill-formed head,--
"My misfortune is that I still resemble a man too much. I should like to be wholly a beast like that goat."
She gazed at him in amazement.
He replied to the glance,--
"Oh! I well know why," and he went away.
On another occasion he presented himself at the door of the cell (which he never entered) at the moment when la Esmeralda was singing an old Spanish ballad, the words of which she did not understand, but which had lingered in her ear because the gypsy women had lulled her to sleep with it when she was a little child. At the sight of that villanous form which made its appearance so abruptly in the middle of her song, the young girl paused with an involuntary gesture of alarm. The unhappy bellringer fell upon his knees on the threshold, and clasped his large, misshapen hands with a suppliant air. "Oh!" he said, sorrowfully, "continue, I implore you, and do not drive me away." She did not wish to pain him, and resumed her lay, trembling all over. By degrees, however, her terror disappeared, and she yielded herself wholly to the slow and melancholy air which she was singing. He remained on his knees with hands clasped, as in prayer, attentive, hardly breathing, his gaze riveted upon the gypsy's brilliant eyes.
On another occasion, he came to her with an awkward and timid air. "Listen," he said, with an effort; "I have something to say to you." She made him a sign that she was listening. Then he began to sigh, half opened his lips, appeared for a moment to be on the point of speaking, then he looked at her again, shook his head, and withdrew slowly, with his brow in his hand, leaving the gypsy stupefied. Among the grotesque personages sculptured on the wall, there was one to whom he was particularly attached, and with which he often seemed to exchange fraternal glances. Once the gypsy heard him saying to it,--
"Oh! why am not I of stone, like you!"
At last, one morning, la Esmeralda had advanced to the edge of the roof, and was looking into the Place over the pointed roof of Saint-Jean le Rond. Quasimodo was standing behind her. He had placed himself in that position in order to spare the young girl, as far as possible, the displeasure of seeing him. All at once the gypsy started, a tear and a flash of joy gleamed simultaneously in her eyes, she knelt on the brink of the roof and extended her arms towards the Place with anguish, exclaiming: "Phoebus! come! come! a word, a single word in the name of heaven! Phoebus! Phoebus!" Her voice, her face, her gesture, her whole person bore the heartrending expression of a shipwrecked man who is making a signal of distress to the joyous vessel which is passing afar off in a ray of sunlight on the horizon.
Quasimodo leaned over the Place, and saw that the object of this tender and agonizing prayer was a young man, a captain, a handsome cavalier all glittering with arms and decorations, prancing across the end of the Place, and saluting with his plume a beautiful lady who was smiling at him from her balcony. However, the officer did not hear the unhappy girl calling him; he was too far away.
But the poor deaf man heard. A profound sigh heaved his breast; he turned round; his heart was swollen with all the tears which he was swallowing; his convulsively-clenched fists struck against his head, and when he withdrew them there was a bunch of red hair in each hand.
The gypsy paid no heed to him. He said in a low voice as he gnashed his teeth,--
"Damnation! That is what one should be like! 'Tis only necessary to be handsome on the outside!"
Meanwhile, she remained kneeling, and cried with extraor- dinary agitation,-- "Oh! there he is alighting from his horse! He is about to enter that house!--Phoebus!--He does not hear me! Phoebus!--How wicked that woman is to speak to him at the same time with me! Phoebus! Phoebus!"
The deaf man gazed at her. He understood this pantomime. The poor bellringer's eye filled with tears, but he let none fall. All at once he pulled her gently by the border of her sleeve. She turned round. He had assumed a tranquil air; he said to her,--
"Would you like to have me bring him to you?"
She uttered a cry of joy.
"Oh! go! hasten! run! quick! that captain! that captain! bring him to me! I will love you for it!"
She clasped his knees. He could not refrain from shaking his head sadly.
"I will bring him to you," he said, in a weak voice. Then he turned his head and plunged down the staircase with great strides, stifling with sobs.
When he reached the Place, he no longer saw anything except the handsome horse hitched at the door of the Gondelaurier house; the captain had just entered there.
He raised his eyes to the roof of the church. La Esmeralda was there in the same spot, in the same attitude. He made her a sad sign with his head; then he planted his back against one of the stone posts of the Gondelaurier porch, determined to wait until the captain should come forth.
In the Gondelaurier house it was one of those gala days which precede a wedding. Quasimodo beheld many people enter, but no one come out. He cast a glance towards the roof from time to time; the gypsy did not stir any more than himself. A groom came and unhitched the horse and led it to the stable of the house.
The entire day passed thus, Quasimodo at his post, la Esmeralda on the roof, Phoebus, no doubt, at the feet of Fleur-de-Lys.
At length night came, a moonless night, a dark night. Quasimodo fixed his gaze in vain upon la Esmeralda; soon she was no more than a whiteness amid the twilight; then nothing. All was effaced, all was black.
Quasimodo beheld the front windows from top to bottom of the Gondelaurier mansion illuminated; he saw the other casements in the Place lighted one by one, he also saw them extinguished to the very last, for he remained the whole evening at his post. The officer did not come forth. When the last passers-by had returned home, when the windows of all the other houses were extinguished, Quasimodo was left entirely alone, entirely in the dark. There were at that time no lamps in the square before Notre-Dame.
Meanwhile, the windows of the Gondelaurier mansion remained lighted, even after midnight. Quasimodo, motionless and attentive, beheld a throng of lively, dancing shadows pass athwart the many-colored painted panes. Had he not been deaf, he would have heard more and more distinctly, in proportion as the noise of sleeping Paris died away, a sound of feasting, laughter, and music in the Gondelaurier mansion.
Towards one o'clock in the morning, the guests began to take their leave. Quasimodo, shrouded in darkness watched them all pass out through the porch illuminated with torches. None of them was the captain.
He was filled with sad thoughts; at times he looked upwards into the air, like a person who is weary of waiting. Great black clouds, heavy, torn, split, hung like crape hammocks beneath the starry dome of night. One would have pronounced them spiders' webs of the vault of heaven.
In one of these moments he suddenly beheld the long window on the balcony, whose stone balustrade projected above his head, open mysteriously. The frail glass door gave passage to two persons, and closed noiselessly behind them; it was a man and a woman.
It was not without difficulty that Quasimodo succeeded in recognizing in the man the handsome captain, in the woman the young lady whom he had seen welcome the officer in the morning from that very balcony. The place was perfectly dark, and a double crimson curtain which had fallen across the door the very moment it closed again, allowed no light to reach the balcony from the apartment.
The young man and the young girl, so far as our deaf man could judge, without hearing a single one of their words, appeared to abandon themselves to a very tender tête-a-tête. The young girl seemed to have allowed the officer to make a girdle for her of his arm, and gently repulsed a kiss.
Quasimodo looked on from below at this scene which was all the more pleasing to witness because it was not meant to be seen. He contemplated with bitterness that beauty, that happiness. After all, nature was not dumb in the poor fellow, and his human sensibility, all maliciously contorted as it was, quivered no less than any other. He thought of the miserable portion which Providence had allotted to him; that woman and the pleasure of love, would pass forever before his eyes, and that he should never do anything but behold the felicity of others. But that which rent his heart most in this sight, that which mingled indignation with his anger, was the thought of what the gypsy would suffer could she behold it. It is true that the night was very dark, that la Esmeralda, if she had remained at her post (and he had no doubt of this), was very far away, and that it was all that he himself could do to distinguish the lovers on the balcony. This consoled him.
Meanwhile, their conversation grew more and more animated. The young lady appeared to be entreating the officer to ask nothing more of her. Of all this Quasimodo could distinguish only the beautiful clasped hands, the smiles mingled with tears, the young girl's glances directed to the stars, the eyes of the captain lowered ardently upon her.
Fortunately, for the young girl was beginning to resist but feebly, the door of the balcony suddenly opened once more and an old dame appeared; the beauty seemed confused, the officer assumed an air of displeasure, and all three withdrew.
A moment later, a horse was champing his bit under the porch, and the brilliant officer, enveloped in his night cloak, passed rapidly before Quasimodo.
The bellringer allowed him to turn the corner of the street, then he ran after him with his ape-like agility, shouting: "Hey there! captain!"
The captain halted.
"What wants this knave with me?" he said, catching sight through the gloom of that hipshot form which ran limping after him.
Meanwhile, Quasimodo had caught up with him, and had boldly grasped his horse's bridle: "Follow me, captain; there is one here who desires to speak with you!
"Cornemahom!" grumbled Phoebus, "here's a villanous; ruffled bird which I fancy I have seen somewhere. Holà master, will you let my horse's bridle alone?"
"Captain," replied the deaf man, "do you not ask me who it is?"
"I tell you to release my horse," retorted Phoebus, impatiently. "What means the knave by clinging to the bridle of my steed? Do you take my horse for a gallows?"
Quasimodo, far from releasing the bridle, prepared to force him to retrace his steps. Unable to comprehend the captain's resistance, he hastened to say to him,--
"Come, captain, 'tis a woman who is waiting for you." He added with an effort: "A woman who loves you."
"A rare rascal!" said the captain, "who thinks me obliged to go to all the women who love me! or who say they do. And what if, by chance, she should resemble you, you face of a screech-owl? Tell the woman who has sent you that I am about to marry, and that she may go to the devil!"
"Listen," exclaimed Quasimodo, thinking to overcome his hesitation with a word, "come, monseigneur! 'tis the gypsy whom you know!"
This word did, indeed, produce a great effect on Phoebus, but not of the kind which the deaf man expected. It will be remembered that our gallant officer had retired with Fleur- de-Lys several moments before Quasimodo had rescued the condemned girl from the hands of Charmolue. Afterwards, in all his visits to the Gondelaurier mansion he had taken care not to mention that woman, the memory of whom was, after all, painful to him; and on her side, Fleur-de-Lys had not deemed it politic to tell him that the gypsy was alive. Hence Phoebus believed poor "Similar" to be dead, and that a month or two had elapsed since her death. Let us add that for the last few moments the captain had been reflecting on the profound darkness of the night, the supernatural ugliness, the sepulchral voice of the strange messenger; that it was past midnight; that the street was deserted, as on the evening when the surly monk had accosted him; and that his horse snorted as it looked at Quasimodo.
"The gypsy!" he exclaimed, almost frightened. "Look here, do you come from the other world?"
And he laid his hand on the hilt of his dagger.
"Quick, quick," said the deaf man, endeavoring to drag the horse along; "this way!"
Phoebus dealt him a vigorous kick in the breast.
Quasimodo's eye flashed. He made a motion to fling himself on the captain. Then he drew himself up stiffly and said,--
"Oh! how happy you are to have some one who loves you!"
He emphasized the words "some one," and loosing the horse's bridle,--
Phoebus spurred on in all haste, swearing. Quasimodo watched him disappear in the shades of the street.
"Oh!" said the poor deaf man, in a very low voice; "to refuse that!"
He re-entered Notre-Dame, lighted his lamp and climbed to the tower again. The gypsy was still in the same place, as he had supposed.
She flew to meet him as far off as she could see him. "Alone!" she cried, clasping her beautiful hands sorrowfully.
"I could not find him," said Quasimodo coldly.
"You should have waited all night," she said angrily.
He saw her gesture of wrath, and understood the reproach.
"I will lie in wait for him better another time," he said, dropping his head.
"Begone!" she said to him.
He left her. She was displeased with him. He preferred to have her abuse him rather than to have afflicted her. He had kept all the pain to himself.
From that day forth, the gypsy no longer saw him. He ceased to come to her cell. At the most she occasionally caught a glimpse at the summit of the towers, of the bellringer's face turned sadly to her. But as soon as she perceived him, he disappeared.
We must admit that she was not much grieved by this voluntary absence on the part of the poor hunchback. At the bottom of her heart she was grateful to him for it. Moreover, Quasimodo did not deceive himself on this point.
She no longer saw him, but she felt the presence of a good genius about her. Her provisions were replenished by an invisible hand during her slumbers. One morning she found a cage of birds on her window. There was a piece of sculpture above her window which frightened her. She had shown this more than once in Quasimodo's presence. One morning, for all these things happened at night, she no longer saw it, it had been broken. The person who had climbed up to that carving must have risked his life.
Sometimes, in the evening, she heard a voice, concealed beneath the wind screen of the bell tower, singing a sad, strange song, as though to lull her to sleep. The lines were unrhymed, such as a deaf person can make.
Ne regarde pas la figure, Jeune fille, regarde le coeur. Le coeur d'un beau jeune homme est souvent difforme. Il y a des coeurs ou l'amour ne se conserve pas. Jeune fille, le sapin n'est pas beau, N'est pas beau comme le peuplier, Mais il garde son feuillage l'hiver. Hélas! a quoi bon dire cela? Ce qui n'est pas beau a tort d'être; La beauté n'aime que la beauté, Avril tourne le dos a Janvier. La beauté est parfaite, La beauté peut tout, La beauté est la seule chose qui n'existe pàs a demi. Le corbeau ne vole que le jour, Le hibou ne vole que la nuit, Le cygne vole la nuit et le jour.*
* Look not at the face, young girl, look at the heart. The heart of a handsome young man is often deformed. There are hearts in which love does not keep. Young girl, the pine is not beautiful; it is not beautiful like the poplar, but it keeps its foliage in winter. Alas! What is the use of saying that? That which is not beautiful has no right to exist; beauty loves only beauty; April turns her back on January. Beauty is perfect, beauty can do all things, beauty is the only thing which does not exist by halves. The raven flies only by day, the owl flies only by night, the swan flies by day and by night.
One morning, on awaking, she saw on her window two vases filled with flowers. One was a very beautiful and very brilliant but cracked vase of glass. It had allowed the water with which it had been filled to escape, and the flowers which it contained were withered. The other was an earthenware pot, coarse and common, but which had preserved all its water, and its flowers remained fresh and crimson.
I know not whether it was done intentionally, but La Esmeralda took the faded nosegay and wore it all day long upon her breast.
That day she did not hear the voice singing in the tower.
She troubled herself very little about it. She passed her days in caressing Djali, in watching the door of the Gondelaurier house, in talking to herself about Phoebus, and in crumbling up her bread for the swallows.
She had entirely ceased to see or hear Quasimodo. The poor bellringer seemed to have disappeared from the church. One night, nevertheless, when she was not asleep, but was thinking of her handsome captain, she heard something breathing near her cell. She rose in alarm, and saw by the light of the moon, a shapeless mass lying across her door on the outside. It was Quasimodo asleep there upon the stones.
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