In a twinkling burghers, students, and Basochians had set to work, and all was ready to carry out Coppenole’s suggestion. The little chapel facing the marble table was chosen as the mise en scéne of the grimaces. A pane of glass was broken out of the charming rose-window above the door, leaving an empty ring of stone, through which the competitors were to thrust their heads, while two barrels, procured from goodness knows where, and balanced precariously on the top of one another, enabled them to mount up to it. It was then agreed that, in order that the impression of the grimace might reach the beholder in full unbroken purity, each candidate, whether male or female (for there could be a female pope), was to cover his face and remain concealed in the chapel till the moment of his appearance.

In an instant the chapel was filled with competitors, and the doors closed upon them.

From his place on the platform Coppenole ordered everything, directed everything, arranged everything. During the hubbub, and pretexting vespers and other affairs of importance, the Cardinal, no less disconcerted than Gringoire, retired with his whole suite, and the crowd, which had evinced so lively an interest in his arrival, was wholly unmoved by his departure. Guillaume Rym alone noticed the rout of his Eminence.

Popular attention, like the sun, pursued its even course. Starting at one end of the Hall, it remained stationary for a time in the middle, and was now at the other end. The marble table, the brocade-covered platform, had had their day; now it was the turn of the Chapel of Louis XI. The field was clear for every sort of folly; the Flemings and the rabble were masters of the situation.

The pulling of faces began. The first to appear in the opening—eye-lids turned inside out, the gaping mouth of a ravening beast, the brow creased and wrinkled like the hussar boots of the Empire period—was greeted with such a roar of inextinguishable laughter that Homer would have taken all these ragamuffins for gods.

Nevertheless, the great Hall was anything rather than Olympus, as Gringoire’s poor Jupiter knew to his cost. A second, a third distortion followed, to be succeeded by another and another; and with each one the laughter redoubled, and the crowd stamped and roared its delight. There was in the whole scene a peculiar frenzy, a certain indescribable sense of intoxication and fascination almost impossible to convey to the reader of our times and social habits.

Picture to yourself a series of faces representing successively every geometrical form, from the triangle to the trapezium, from the cone to the polyhedron; every human expression, from rage to lewdness; every stage of life, from the creases of the newly born to the wrinkles of hoary age; every phantasm of mythology and religion, from Faunus to Beelzebub; every animal head, from the buffalo to the eagle, from the shark to the bulldog. Conceive all the grotesques of the Pont-Neuf, those nightmares turned to stone under the hand of Germain Pilon, inspired with the breath of life, and rising up one by one to stare you in the face with gleaming eyes; all the masks of the Carnival of Venice passing in procession before you—in a word, a human kaleidoscope.

The orgy became more and more Flemish. Tenniers himself could have given but a feeble idea of it; a Salvator Rosa battle-piece treated as a bacchic feast would be nearer the mark. There were no longer scholars, ambassadors, burghers, men or women; neither Clopin Trouillefou nor Gilles Lecornu nor Marie Quatrelivres nor Robin Pousse-pain. The individual was swallowed up in the universal license. The great Hall was simply one vast furnace of effrontery and unbridled mirth, in which every mouth was a yell, every countenance a grimace, every individual a posture. The whole mass shrieked and bellowed. Every new visage that came grinning and gnashing to the window was fresh fuel to the furnace. And from this seething multitude, like steam from a caldron, there rose a hum—shrill, piercing, sibilant, as from a vast swarm of gnats.

“Oh! oh! malediction!”

“Oh, look at that face!”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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