The Hunchback of Notre Dame HTML version

2. The Rat-Hole
The reader must permit us to take him back to the Place de Grève, which we
quitted yesterday with Gringoire, in order to follow la Esmeralda.
It is ten o'clock in the morning; everything is indicative of the day after a festival.
The pavement is covered with rubbish; ribbons, rags, feathers from tufts of
plumes, drops of wax from the torches, crumbs of the public feast. A goodly
number of bourgeois are "sauntering," as we say, here and there, turning over
with their feet the extinct brands of the bonfire, going into raptures in front of the
Pillar House, over the memory of the fine hangings of the day before, and to-day
staring at the nails that secured them a last pleasure. The venders of cider and
beer are rolling their barrels among the groups. Some busy passers-by come and
go. The merchants converse and call to each other from the thresholds of their
shops. The festival, the ambassadors, Coppenole, the Pope of the Fools, are in
all mouths; they vie with each other, each trying to criticise it best and laugh the
most. And, meanwhile, four mounted sergeants, who have just posted
themselves at the four sides of the pillory, have already concentrated around
themselves a goodly proportion of the populace scattered on the Place, who
condemn themselves to immobility and fatigue in the hope of a small execution.
If the reader, after having contemplated this lively and noisy scene which is being
enacted in all parts of the Place, will now transfer his gaze towards that ancient
demi-Gothic, demi-Romanesque house of the Tour-Roland, which forms the
corner on the quay to the west, he will observe, at the angle of the façade, a
large public breviary, with rich illuminations, protected from the rain by a little
penthouse, and from thieves by a small grating, which, however, permits of the
leaves being turned. Beside this breviary is a narrow, arched window, closed by
two iron bars in the form of a cross, and looking on the square; the only opening
which admits a small quantity of light and air to a little cell without a door,
constructed on the ground-floor, in the thickness of the walls of the old house,
and filled with a peace all the more profound, with a silence all the more gloomy,
because a public place, the most populous and most noisy in Paris swarms and
shrieks around it.
This little cell had been celebrated in Paris for nearly three centuries, ever since
Madame Rolande de la Tour-Roland, in mourning for her father who died in the
Crusades, had caused it to be hollowed out in the wall of her own house, in order
to immure herself there forever, keeping of all her palace only this lodging whose
door was walled up, and whose window stood open, winter and summer, giving
all the rest to the poor and to God. The afflicted damsel had, in fact, waited
twenty years for death in this premature tomb, praying night and day for the soul
of her father, sleeping in ashes, without even a stone for a pillow, clothed in a
black sack, and subsisting on the bread and water which the compassion of the
passers-by led them to deposit on the ledge of her window, thus receiving charity
after having bestowed it. At her death, at the moment when she was passing to
the other sepulchre, she had bequeathed this one in perpetuity to afflicted
women, mothers, widows, or maidens, who should wish to pray much for others