Three Various Hearts of Men

Phœbus, however, was not dead. Men of his sort are not so easily killed. When Maître Philippe Lheulier, the King’s advocate extraordinary, had said to poor Esmeralda: “He is dying,” it was by mistake or jest. When the Archdeacon said to the condemned girl, “He is dead!” the fact is that he knew nothing about it; but he believed it to be true, he counted upon it, and hoped it earnestly. It would have been too much to expect that he should give the woman he loved good tidings of his rival. Any man would have done the same in his place.

Not indeed that Phœbus’s wound had not been serious, but it had been less so than the Archdeacon flattered himself. The leech, to whose house the soldiers of the watch had conveyed him in the first instance, had, for a week, feared for his life, and, indeed, had told him so in Latin. But youth and a vigorous constitution had triumphed, and, as often happens, notwithstanding prognostics and diagnostics, Nature had amused herself by saving the patient in spite of the physician. It was while he was still stretched upon a sick- bed that he underwent the first interrogations at the hands of Philippe Lheulier and the examiners of the Holy Office, which had annoyed him greatly. So, one fine morning, feeling himself recovered, he had left his gold spurs in payment to the man of drugs, and had taken himself off. For the rest, this had in no way impeded the course of justice. The law of that day had but few scruples about the clearness and precision of the proceedings against a criminal. Provided the accused was finally hanged, that was sufficient. As it was, the judges had ample proof against Esmeralda. They held Phœbus to be dead, and that decided the matter.

As to Phœbus, he had fled to no great distance. He had simply rejoined his company, then on garrison duty at Queueen-Brie, in the province of île de France, a few stages from Paris.

After all, he had no great desire to appear in person at the trial. He had a vague impression that he would cut a somewhat ridiculous figure. Frankly, he did not quite know what to make of the whole affair. Irreligious, yet credulous like every soldier who is nothing but a soldier, when he examined the particulars of that adventure, he was not altogether without his suspicions as to the goat, as to the curious circumstances of his first meeting with Esmeralda, as to the means, no less strange, by which she had betrayed the secret of her love, as to her being a gipsy, finally as to the spectre-monk. He discerned in all these incidents far more of magic than of love— probably a witch, most likely the devil; in fine, a drama, or in the language of the day, a mystery— and a very disagreeable one— in which he had an extremely uncomfortable part: that of the person who receives all the kicks and none of the applause. The captain was greatly put out by this; he felt that kind of shame which La Fontaine so admirably defines:

“Ashamed as a fox would be, caught by a hen.”

He hoped, however, that the affair would not be noised abroad, and that, he being absent, his name would hardly be mentioned in connection with it; or, at any rate, would not be heard beyond the court- room of the Tournelle. And in this he judged aright— there was no Criminal Gazette in those days, and as hardly a week passed without some coiner being boiled alive, some witch hanged, or heretic sent to the stake at one or other of the numberless “justices” of Paris, people were so accustomed to see the old feudal Themis at every crossway, her arms bar and sleeves rolled up, busy with her pitchforks, her gibbets, and her pillories, that scarcely any notice was taken of her. The beau monde of that age hardly knew the name of the poor wretch passing at the corner of the street; at most, it was the populace that regaled itself on these gross viands. An execution was one of the ordinary incidents of the public way, like the brasier of the pie-man or the butcher’s slaughter-house. The executioner was but a butcher, only a little more skilled than the other.

Phœbus, therefore, very soon set his mind at rest on the subject of the enchantress Esmeralda, or Similar, as he called her, of the dagger-thrust he had received from the gipsy or the spectre-monk (it mattered little to him which), and the issue of the trial. But no sooner was his heart vacant on that score, than the image of Fleur-de-Lys returned to it— for the heart of Captain Phœbus, like Nature, abhorred a vacuum.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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