Notre-Dame de Paris

By Victor Hugo ; Alban Krailsheimer | Go to book overview

III
THE BELLS

SINCE the morning in the pillory, it had seemed to the people living near Notre-Dame that they could detect a considerable cooling-off in Quasimodo's ardour for ringing the bells. Previously they had rung out for any and every occasion, long aubades lasting from Prime to Compline, peals from the belfry for a High Mass, rich scales up and down the smaller bells for a wedding or a christening, mingling in the air like an embroidery of all kinds of delightful sounds. The old church, all vibrating and resonant, lived in a perpetual rejoicing of bells. One felt there the abiding presence of a spirit of noise and caprice singing out through all those bronze mouths. Now that spirit seemed to have disappeared; the cathedral seemed dreary and only too glad to be silent. The bells rang for festivals and funerals, starkly and without frills, what the ritual demanded and no more. Of the twin sounds that a church makes, the organ within, the bells without, only the organ was left. Yet Quasimodo was still there. What then had come over him? Was it that the shame and despair of the pillory still lingered in the depths of his heart, that the lash of the torturer's whip still endlessly reverberated in his soul, that his misery at such treatment had extinguished every spark within him, even his passion for the bells? Or was it that Marie had a rival in the heart of the bell-ringer of Notre-Dame, and that the great bell and her fourteen sisters were being neglected for something more beautiful and worthy of love?

It happened that in that year of grace 1482 the Annunciation fell on a Tuesday, 25 March. On that day the air was so pure and light that Quasimodo felt some renewal of his affection for his bells. So he climbed up inside the north tower, while down below the beadle was opening wide the church doors, which at that time were huge panels of stout

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