La Creatura Bella Bianco Vestita.-Dante

When Quasimodo saw that the cell was empty, that the gipsy girl was gone, that while he was defending her she had been carried off, he clutched his hair with both hands and stamped with surprise and grief; and then set off running, searching the Cathedral from top to bottom for his gipsy, uttering strange unearthly cries, strewing the pavement with his red hair. It was the very moment at which the King’s archers forced their victorious way into Notre-Dame, likewise on the hunt for the gipsy. Poor deaf Quasimodo, never suspecting their sinister intentions (he took the truands to be the enemies of the gipsy girl), did his utmost to assist them. It was he who led Tristan l’Hermite into every possible nook and cranny, opened secret doors, double bottoms of altars, hidden sacristies. Had the unhappy girl still been there, it would have been Quasimodo himself who betrayed her into the hands of the soldiers.

When Tristan, who was not easily discouraged, gave up the search as hopeless, Quasimodo continued it alone. Twenty times, a hundred times over, did he go through the church, from end to end, from top to bottom; ascending, descending, running here, calling there, peering, searching, thrusting his head into every hole, holding up a torch under every vault, desperate, frenzied, moaning like a beast that has lost his mate.

At length, when he had made himself sure—quite, quite sure—that she was gone, that it had come to the worst, that they had stolen her from him, he slowly reascended the lower stairs—those stairs which he had mounted so nimbly and triumphantly on the day he had saved her. He now went over the same ground with dejectedly drooping head, voiceless, tearless, with bated breath. The church was once more solitary and silent. The archers had quitted it to pursue their search for the sorceress in the city. Quasimodo, left alone now in the vast Cathedral, so thronged and tumultuous but a moment before, made his way to the cell where the gipsy girl had slept for so many weeks under his watchful protection.

As he drew near it he tried to delude himself that he might find her there after all. When, on reaching the bend of the gallery that looks down on the roof of the side aisle, he could see the narrow cell with its little window and its little door, lying close under one of the great buttresses, like a bird’s nest under a bough, the poor creature’s heart failed him, and he had to lean against the pillar to save himself from falling. He pictured to himself that perchance she had returned; that some good genius had brought her back; that this little nest was too quiet, too safe, to cosy for her not to be there; and he dared not venture a step nearer for fear of dispelling his illusion. “Yes,” he said to himself, “may-be she sleeps, or she is at her prayers. I will not disturb her.”

At last he summoned up courage, advanced on tip-toe, looked in, entered. Empty! The cell was still empty. Slowly the unhappy man made the tour of the little place, lifted up her pallet and looked beneath it, as if she could be hiding between it and the stone floor, shook his head, and stood staring stupidly. Suddenly he furiously stamped out his torch, and without uttering a word or breathing a sigh, he hurled himself with all his strength head-foremost against the wall and fell senseless to the ground.

When he came to himself, he flung himself on the bed, rolling on it and pressing frenzied kisses on the pillow, which still bore the imprint of her head. Here he lay for some minutes, motionless as the dead, then rose, panting, crazed, and fell to beating his head against the wall with the appalling regularity of the stroke of a clock and the resolution of a man determined to break his skull. At length he dropped down exhausted, then crawled outside the cell, and remained crouching, motionless, opposite to the door for a full hour, his eyes fixed on the deserted cell, sunk in a gloomier, more mournful reverie than a mother seated between an empty eradle and a tenanted coffin. He spoke no word; only at intervals a deep sob convulsed his whole frame, but a sob that brought no tears, like the silent flashes of summer lightning.

It was then that, striving amid his despairing memories to divine who could possibly have been the unforeseen ravisher of the gipsy girl, the thought of the Archdeacon flashed into his mind. He remembered that Dom Claude alone possessed a key of the stair-case leading to the cell; he recalled his nocturnal attempts upon Esmeralda, the first of which he, Quasimodo, had assisted, the second prevented. He called to mind a thousand various details, and soon was convinced that it was the Archdeacon who had taken

  By PanEris using Melati.

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