The Key of the Porte Rouge

Meanwhile public talk had acquainted the Archdeacon with the miraculous manner in which the gipsy girl had been saved. He knew not what his feelings were when he learned this. He had reconciled himself to the thought of Esmeralda’s death, and so had regained some peace of mind — he had touched the depths of possible affliction. The human heart (and Dom Claude had meditated upon these matters) cannot hold more than a given quantity of despair. When the sponge is soaked, an ocean may pass over it without its absorbing one drop more.

Now Esmeralda dead, the sponge was full; the last word had been said for Dom Claude on this earth. But to know her living, and Phœbus too, was to take up his martyrdom, his pangs, his schemes and alternatives — in short, his whole life again. And Claude was weary of it all.

When he learned the news, he shut himself up in his cell in the cloister. He did not appear at the conferences of the chapter, nor at any of the services of the church, and closed his door to every one, even the bishop. He kept himself thus immured for several weeks. He was judged to be ill, as indeed he was.

What was he doing while shut up thus? With what thoughts was the unhappy man contending. Was he making a last stand against his fatal passion — combining some final plan of death for her and perdition for himself?

His Jehan, his beloved brother, his spoiled darling, came once to his door and knocked, swore, entreated, told his name a dozen times over. The door remained closed.

He passed whole days with his face pressed against his window, for from thence he could see the cell of Esmeralda, and often the girl herself with her goat, sometimes with Quasimodo. He remarked the deaf hunchback’s assiduities, his obedience, his delicate and submissive ways with the gipsy. He remembered — for he had a long memory, and memory is the scourge of the jealous — the peculiar look the bell–ringer had fixed upon the dancing girl on a certain evening, and he asked himself what motive could have urged Quasimodo to save her. He was witness of a thousand little scenes between the gipsy and the hunchback, the pantomime of which, seen at that distance and commented on by his passion, seemed very tender to him. He mistrusted the capricious fancy of woman. And presently he was vaguely conscious of entertaining a jealousy such as he never could have anticipated — a jealousy that made him redden with shame and indignation.

“The captain,”thought he, “well, that might pass; but this one — !”The idea overwhelmed him.

His nights were dreadful. Since ever he learned that the gipsy girl was alive, the cold images of spectres and the grave which had possessed him for a whole day, vanished, and the flesh returned to torment him. He writhed upon his bed to know the girl so near him.

Each night his delirious imagination called up Esmeralda before him in all the attitudes most calculated to inflame his blood. He saw her swooning over the stabbed officer, her fair, uncovered bosom crimsoned with the young man’s blood — at that moment of poignant delight when the Archdeacon had imprinted on her pallid lips that kiss of which, half dead as she was, the unhappy girl had felt the burning pressure. Again he beheld her disrobed by the rude hands of the torturers, saw them lay bare and thrust into the hideous boot with its iron screws her tiny foot, her round and delicate leg, her white and supple knee. He saw that ivory knee alone left visible outside Torterue’s horrible apparatus. Finally, he pictured to himself the girl in her shift, the rope round her neck, her shoulders and her feet bare, almost naked, as he had seen her that last day, and he clenched his hands in agony, and a long shiver ran through him.

At last one night these images so cruelly inflamed his celibate’s blood that he tore his pillow with his teeth, leaped from his bed, threw a surplice over his night garment, and left his cell, lamp in hand, haggard, half naked, the fire of madness in his eyes.

He knew where to find the key of the Porte Rouge, the communication between the cloister and the church, and, as we know, he always carried with him a key to the tower stair–case.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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