An Awkward Friend

Quasimodo on that night was not asleep. He had just gone his last round through the church. He had failed to remark that at the moment when he was closing the doors the Archdeacon had passed near him and evinced some annoyance at seeing him bolt and padlock with care the enormous iron bars which gave the wide doors the solidity of a wall. Dom Claude seemed even more preoccupied than usual. Moreover, since the nocturnal adventure in the cell, he treated Quasimodo with constant unkindness; but in vain he used him harshly, sometimes even striking him—nothing could shake the submissive patience, the devoted resignation of the faithful bell-ringer. From the Archdeacon he would endure anything—abuse, threats, blows—without a murmur of reproach, without even a sigh of complaint. The utmost that he did was to follow Dom Claude with an anxious eye if he mounted the stair of the tower; but the Archdeacon had of himself abstained from appearing again before the gipsy girl.

That night, then, Quasimodo, after a glance at his poor forsaken bells, Jacqueline, Marie, Thibauld, had ascended to the top of the northern tower, and there, after setting down his dark-lantern on the leads, he fell to contemplating Paris. The night, as we have said, was very dark. Paris, which, speaking broadly, was not lighted at all at that period, presented to the eye a confused mass of black blots, cut here and there by the pale windings of the river. Quasimodo saw not a light except in the window of a distant edifice, whose vague and sombre outline was distinguishable high above the roofs in the direction of the Porte Saint-Antoine. Here, too, some one kept vigil.

While his eye thus lingered over the dark and misty scene, the bell-ringer felt an indescribable sense of anxiety rising within him. For several days he had been on the watch. He had constantly noticed men of sinister aspect loitering round the church and never taking their eyes off the gipsy girl’s hiding-place. He feared lest some plot should be hatching against the unfortunate refugee. He conceived her to be an object of popular hatred, as he was himself, and that something might very well be going to happen in the immediate future. Thus he remained on his tower on the lookout—“Revant dans son revoir” —Musing in his musery— as Rabelais says, his eye by turns on the cell and on Paris, keeping safe watch, like a trusty dog, with a thousand suspicions in his mind.

All at once, while he was reconnoitring the great city with that solitary eye which nature, as if by way of compensation, had made so piercing that it almost supplied the deficiency of other organs in Quasimodo, it struck him that there was something unusual in the appearance of the outline of the quay of the Veille Pelleterie, that there was some movement at this point, that the line of the parapet which stood out black against the whiteness of the water was not straight and still like that of the other quays, but that it appeared to undulate like the waves of a river or the heads of a crowd in motion.

He thought this very peculiar. He redoubled his attention. The movement appeared to be coming towards the city —not a light, however. It lasted some time on the quay, and then flowed away by degrees, as if whatever was passing along was entering the interior of the island; then it ceased altogether, and the line of the quay returned to its wonted straightness and immobility.

Just as Quasimodo was exhausting himself in conjectures, it seemed to him that the movement was reappearing in the Rue du Parvis, which runs into the city in a straight line with the front of Notre-Dame. At last, despite the great darkness, he could descry the head of a column issuing from that street, and the next instant a crowd spreading out into the square, of which he could distinguish nothing further than that it was a crowd.

It was a fear-compelling spectacle. No doubt this strange procession, which seemed so anxious to cloak itself under the profound darkness, preserved a silence no less profound. Still, some sound must have escaped from it, were it only the tramp of feet. But even this sound did not reach the deaf hunchback, and the great multitude, which he could only dimly see, but which he heard not at all, moving so near him, seemed to him like an assemblage of the dead—mute, ghostly shapes, hovering in a mist—shadows in a shade.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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