Notre-Dame de Paris

By Victor Hugo ; Alban Krailsheimer | Go to book overview

II
THE GOLD ÉCU TURNED INTO A DRY LEAF
(CONTINUED)

AFTER going up and down steps in corridors so gloomy that they were lit by lamps even in daytime, la Esmeralda, still surrounded by her mournful procession, was pushed by the palace sergeants into a sinister chamber. This chamber, circular in shape, occupied the ground floor of one of those massive towers which still in our own day break through the layer of modern buildings with which new Paris has covered the old. This cellar had no windows, no other opening than the entrance, low and closed by an enormous iron door. There was, however, no shortage of light. A furnace was set into the thickness of the wall. A massive fire burned within it, the reflection of its red glare filling the cellar and depriving a wretched candle standing in a corner of any radiance. The iron portcullis used to close the furnace was raised for the moment, and revealed only, at the mouth of the hole flaming out from the dark wall, the lower end of its bars, like a row of sharp, black teeth, with spaces in between, making the furnace look like one of those dragons' mouths which belch out flame in legend. By its light the prisoner could see all around the room dreadful instruments of which she did not understand the use. In the middle a leather mattress lay almost touching the ground, and hanging above it was a strap with a buckle, fastened to a brass ring held in the jaws of a flat-nosed monster carved on the keystone of the vault. There was a clutter of tongs, pincers, great ploughshares inside the furnace, all reddening together on the coals. All that the blood-red glow from the furnace lit up throughout the room was a jumble of horrible things.

This Tartarus was simply called 'the question-chamber'.

On the bed Pierrat Torterue, the sworn torturer, sat nonchalantly. His assistants, two square-faced gnomes, in

-333-

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