Charitable Souls

Sixteen years before the events here recorded took place, early on Quasimodo or Low-Sunday morning, a human creature had been deposited after Mass on the plank bed fastened to the pavement on the left of the entrance to Notre-Dame, opposite the “great image” of Saint Christopher, which the kneeling stone figure of Messire Antoine des Essarts, knight, had contemplated since 1413. Upon this bed it was customary to expose foundling children to the charity of the public; any one could take them away who chose. In front of the bed was a copper basin for the reception of alms.

The specimen of humanity lying on this plank on the morning of Quasimodo-Sunday, in the year of our Lord 1467, seemed to invite, in a high degree, the curiosity of the very considerable crowd which had collected round it. This crowd was largely composed of members of the fair sex; in fact, there were hardly any but old women.

In front of the row of spectators, stooping low over the bed, were four of them whom by their gray cagoules—a kind of hooded cassock—one recognised as belonging to some religious order. I see no reason why history should not hand down to posterity the names of these discreet and venerable dames. They were: Agnès la Herme, Jehanne de la Tarme, Henriette la Gaultière, and Gauchère la Violette—all four widows, all four bedes-women of the Chapelle étienne-Haudry, who, with their superior’s permission, and conformably to the rules of Pierre d’Ailly, had come to hear the sermon.

However, if these good sisters were observing for the moment the rules of Pierre d’Ailly, they were certainly violating to their heart’s content those of Michel de Brache and the Cardinal of Pisa, which so inhumanly imposed silence upon them.

“What can that be, sister?” said Agnès la Gauchère as she gazed at the little foundling, screaming and wriggling on its wooden pallet, terrified by all these staring eyes.

“What are we coming to,” said Jehanne, “if this is the kind of children they bring into the world now?”

“I am no great judge of children,” resumed Agnès, “but it must surely be a sin to look at such a one as this.”

“It’s not a child, Agnès.”

“It’s a monkey spoiled,” observed Gauchère.

“It’s a miracle,” said Henriette la Gaultière.

“If so,” remarked Agnès, “it is the third since Lætare Sunday, for it is not a week since we had the miracle of the mocker of pilgrims suffering divine punishment at the hands of Our Lady of Aubervilliers, and that was already the second within the month.”

“But this so-called foundling is a perfect monster of abomination,” said Jehanne.

“He bawls loud enough to deafen a precentor,” continued Gauchère. “Hold your tongue, you little bellower!”

“And to say that the Bishop of Reims sent this monstrosity to the Bishop of Paris!” exclaimed Gaultière, clasping her hands.

“I expect,” said Agnès la Herme, “that it is really a beast of some sort, an animal—the offspring of a Jew and a sow; something, at any rate, that is not Christian, and that ought to be committed to the water or the fire.”

“Surely,” went on La Gaultière, “nobody will have anything to do with it.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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