A Tear for a Drop of Water

The concluding words of the foregoing chapter may be described as the point of junction of two scenes which, till that moment, had been running parallel, each on its own particular stage; the one—which we have just been following—at the Rat-Hole; the other—now to be described—on the pillory. The former had been witnessed only by the three women with whom the reader has just been made acquainted; the latter had for audience the whole crowd which we saw gathering in the Place de Grève round the pillory and the gibbet.

This crowd, in whom the sight of the four sergeants stationed since nine in the morning at the four corners of the pillory had roused the pleasing expectation of a penal exhibition of some sort—not, perhaps, a hanging, but a flogging, a cutting off of ears or the like—this crowd had increased so rapidly that the four mounted men, finding themselves too closely pressed, had more than once been under the necessity of “tightening” it, as they called it then, by great lashes of their whips and their horses’ heels.

The populace, well accustomed to waiting for public executions, manifested but little impatience. They amused themselves by looking at the pillory, a very simple structure, consisting of a hollow cube of masonry some ten feet in height. A steep flight of steps of unhewn stone—called par excellence the ladder—led to the top platform, on which lay horizontally a wheel of stout oak. To this wheel the victim was bound kneeling and with his hands pinioned behind him; a shaft of timber, set in motion by a windlass concealed in the interior of the structure, caused the wheel to rotate horizontally, thus presenting the face of the culprit to every point of the Place in succession. This was called “turning” the criminal.

It will be seen from the description that the pillory of the Grève was far from possessing the many attractions of that at the Halles. Here was nothing architectural, nothing monumental—no roof embellished with an iron cross, no octagon lantern tower, no slender pilasters blossoming out against the edge of the roof into acanthus-leafed and flowery capitals, no fantastic, dragon-headed gargoyles, no carved wood-work, no delicate sculpture cut deeply into the stone.

One had to be content with the four rough-hewn sides of stone and an ugly stone gibbet, mean and bare, at the side of it. The show would have been a poor one to the amateur of Gothic architecture, but truly nobody could be more indifferent in the matter of architecture than the good burghers of the Middle Ages; they cared not a jot for the beauty of a pillory.

At last the culprit arrived, tied to a cart’s tail, and as soon as he was hoisted on to the platform and, bound with cords and straps to the wheel, was plainly visible from every point of the Place, a prodigious hooting mingled with laughter and acclamations burst from the assembled crowd. They had recognised Quasimodo.

It was indeed he. Strange turn of fortune’s wheel!—to be pilloried on the same spot on which, but the day before, he had been saluted, acclaimed Pope and Prince of Fools, and counted in his train the Duke of Egypt, the King of Tunis, and the Emperor of Galilee. One thing, however, is certain, there was no mind in that crowd, not even his own, though in turn the victor and the vanquished, that thought of drawing this parallel. Gringoire and his philosophy were lacking at this spectacle.

Presently Michel Noiret, appointed trumpeter to our lord the King, after imposing silence on the people, made proclamation of the sentence, pursuant to the ordinance and command of the Lord Provost. He then fell back behind the cart with his men.

Quasimodo, quite impassive, never stirred a muscle. All resistance was impossible to him by reason of what, in the parlance of the old criminal law, was described as “the strength and firmness of the bonds”—in other words, the cords and chains probably cut into his flesh. This tradition of the dungeon and the galleys has been handed down to us and carefully preserved among us civilized, tender-hearted, humane people in the shape of the manacles—not forgetting the bagnio and the guillotine, of course.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.