CHAPTER 1. THE LITTLE SHOE.
La Esmeralda was sleeping at the moment when the outcasts
assailed the church.
Soon the ever-increasing uproar around the edifice, and
the uneasy bleating of her goat which had been awakened,
had roused her from her slumbers. She had sat up, she had
listened, she had looked; then, terrified by the light and
noise, she had rushed from her cell to see. The aspect of the
Place, the vision which was moving in it, the disorder of that
nocturnal assault, that hideous crowd, leaping like a cloud of
frogs, half seen in the gloom, the croaking of that hoarse
multitude, those few red torches running and crossing each
other in the darkness like the meteors which streak the
misty surfaces of marshes, this whole scene produced upon
her the effect of a mysterious battle between the phantoms
of the witches' sabbath and the stone monsters of the church.
Imbued from her very infancy with the superstitions of the
Bohemian tribe, her first thought was that she had caught
the strange beings peculiar to the night, in their deeds of
witchcraft. Then she ran in terror to cower in her cell, asking
of her pallet some less terrible nightmare.
But little by little the first vapors of terror had been
dissipated; from the constantly increasing noise, and from
many other signs of reality, she felt herself besieged not
by spectres, but by human beings. Then her fear, though it
did not increase, changed its character. She had dreamed of
the possibility of a popular mutiny to tear her from her asylum.
The idea of once more recovering life, hope, Phoebus, who was
ever present in her future, the extreme helplessness of her
condition, flight cut off, no support, her abandonment, her
isolation,--these thoughts and a thousand others overwhelmed
her. She fell upon her knees, with her head on her bed, her
hands clasped over her head, full of anxiety and tremors,
and, although a gypsy, an idolater, and a pagan, she began
to entreat with sobs, mercy from the good Christian God, and
to pray to our Lady, her hostess. For even if one believes
in nothing, there are moments in life when one is always of
the religion of the temple which is nearest at hand.
She remained thus prostrate for a very long time, trembling
in truth, more than praying, chilled by the ever-closer breath
of that furious multitude, understanding nothing of this
outburst, ignorant of what was being plotted, what was being
done, what they wanted, but foreseeing a terrible issue.