The Convenience of Windows Overlooking the River

Claude Frollo— for we presume the reader, more intelligent than Phœbus, has seen throughout this adventure no other spectre-monk than the Archdeacon— Claude Frollo groped about him for some moments in the darksome hole into which the captain had thrust him. It was one of those corners which builders sometimes reserve in the angle between the roof and the supporting wall. The vertical section of this den, as Phœbus had very aptly termed it, would have exhibited a triangle. It had no window of any description, and the slope of the roof prevented one standing upright in it. Claude, therefore, was forced to crouch in the dust and the plaster that cracked under him. His head was burning. Groping about him on the floor, he found a piece of broken glass which he pressed to his forehead, and so found some slight relief from its coldness.

What was passing at that moment in the dark soul of the Archdeacon? God and himself alone knew.

According to what fatal order was he disposing in his thoughts La Esmeralda, Phœbus, Jacques Charmolue, his fondly loved young brother, abandoned by him in the gutter, his cloth, his reputation perhaps, dragged thus into the house of the notorious old procuress— all these images— these wild doings? I cannot say; but it is very certain that they formed a horrible group in his mind’s eye.

He had been waiting a quarter of an hour, and he felt that he had aged a century in that time. Suddenly he heard the wooden ladder creak. Some one was ascending it. The trap-door opened again, and once more the light made its appearance. In the worm-eaten door of his retreat there was a crack; to this he pressed his face and could thus see all that went on in the adjoining space. The old cat-faced hag came first through the trap-door, lamp in hand; then followed Phœbus, twirling his mustaches; and lastly a third person, a beautiful and graceful figure— La Esmeralda. To the priest she issued from below like a dazzling apparition. Claude shook, a mist spread before his eyes, his pulses throbbed violently, everything turned round him, there was a roaring in his ears; he saw and heard no more.

When he came to himself again, Phœbus and Esmeralda were alone, seated upon the wooden chest beside the lamp, the light of which revealed to the Archdeacon the two youthful figures and a miserable pallet at the back of the attic.

Close to the couch was a window, the casement of which, cracked and bulging like a spider’s web in the rain, showed through its broken strands a small patch of sky, and far down it the moon reclining on a pillow of soft clouds.

The girl was blushing, panting, confused. Her long, drooping lashes shaded her glowing cheeks. The officer, to whom she dared not lift her eyes, was radiant. Mechanically, and with a ravishing coy air, she was tracing incoherent lines on the bench with the tip of her finger, her eyes following the movement. Her foot was hidden, for the little goat was lying on it.

The captain was arrayed for conquest, with ruffles of gold lace at his throat and wrists— the extreme of elegance in those days.

It was not without difficulty that Dom Claude could hear their conversation, so loudly did the blood beat in his ears.

A dull affair enough, the conversation of a pair of lovers — one never-ending “I love you”; a musical phrase, but terribly monotonous and insipid to the indifferent listener. But Claude was no indifferent listener.

“Oh,” said the girl, without lifting her eyes, “do not despise me, Monseigneur Phœbus. I feel that I am doing very wrong!”

“Despise you, pretty one!” returned the officer with an air of superior and princely gallantry, “despise you, Tête-Dieu, and what for?”

“For having followed you.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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