Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame,
by William Hazlitt
Death of Esmerelda:
The hangman and the sergeants entered the cell. The
mother made no resistance: she merely crawled toward her daughter,
and threw herself headlong upon her. The Egyptian saw the soldiers
approaching. The horror of death roused her. "Mother," cried she, in
a tone of inexpressible anguish, mother they are coming; defend me!"
"Yes, my love, I will defend thee," replied the
mother in a faint voice; and, clasping her closely in her arms, she
covered her with kisses. Mother and daughter, as they thus lay on
the ground, presented a sight that was truly pitiable.
Henriet Cousin laid hold of the girl round the body.
When she felt the touch of his hand she shuddered, "Heugh!" and
fainted. The hangman, from whose eyes big tears fell drop by drop
upon her, attempted to lift her, but was prevented by the mother,
who had entwined her arms round her daughter’s waist, and clung so
firmly to her child, that it was impossible to part them. Henriet
Cousin, therefore, dragged the girl out of the cell, and the mother
after her — the latter, too, with her eyes shut, and apparently
Then the sun was just rising, and a considerable
number of people collected thus early in the Place were striving to
make out what it was that the hangman was thus dragging along the
pavement toward the gibbet; for it was Tristan’s way to prevent the
near approach of spectators at executions.
There was not a creature at the windows. There were
only to be seen on the top of that tower of Notre Dame which
overlooks the Greve, two men standing out in dark relief from the
clear morning sky, who appeared to be looking on.
Henriet Cousin stopped with what he was dragging at
the foot of the fatal ladder, and scarcely breathing, so deeply was
he affected, he slipped the cord about the lovely neck of the girl.
The unfortunate creature felt the horrid touch of the rope. She
opened her eyes, and beheld the hideous arm of the stone gibbet
extended over her head. Rousing herself she cried in a loud and
heart-rending voice, "No! no, I will not." The mother, whose face
was buried in her daughter’s garments, uttered not a word; her whole
body was seen to tremble, and she was heard to kiss her child with
redoubled fervency. The hangman took advantage of this moment to
wrench asunder her arms with which she had clung to the condemned
girl. Either from exhaustion, or despair, she made no resistance. He
then lifted the damsel on his shoulder, from which the charming
creature hung gracefully on either side, and began to ascend the
At that moment, the mother, crouched on the
pavement. Opened her eyes. Without uttering any cry, she sprang up
with a terrific look; then, like a beast of prey, she seized the
hand of the hangman and bit him. It was like lightening.
The executioner roared with pain. Some of the
sergeants ran to him. With difficulty they extricated his bleeding
hand from the teeth of the mother. She maintained profound silence.
They thrust her back in a brutal manner, and it was remarked that
her head fell heavily upon the pavement. They lifted her up, but
again she sank to the ground. She was dead.
The hangman, who had not set down the girl,
continued to mount the ladder.
He now perceived what the priest was looking at. The
ladder was set up against the permanent gibbet. There were a few
people in the Place and a great number of soldiers. A man was
dragging along the pavement something white to which something black
was clinging. This man stopped at the foot of the gibbet. What then
took place he could not clearly discern: not that the sight of his
only eye was at all impaired, but a party of soldiers prevented his
distinguishing what was going forward. Besides, at that moment the
sun burst forth and poured such a flood of light above the horizon,
that every point of Paris, steeples, chimneys, gables, seemed to be
set on fire at one and the same moment.
Meanwhile the man began to mount the ladder.
Quasimodo now saw distinctly again. He carried across his shoulder a
female dressed in white; this young female had a rope about her
neck. Quasimodo knew her. It was the Egyptian!
The man reached the top of the ladder. There he
arranged the rope. The priest, in order to see the better, now knelt
down upon the balustrade.
The man suddenly kicked away the ladder, and
Quasimodo, who had not breathed for some moments, saw the
unfortunate girl, with the man crouched upon her shoulders, dangling
at the end of the rope within two or three yards of the pavement.
The rope made several revolutions, and Quasimodo saw the body of the
victim writhe in frightful convulsions. The priest, on his part,
with out stretched neck and eyes staring from his head, contemplated
the terrific group of the man and the young girls, the spider and
Death of Dom Claude:
At this most awful moment, a demon laugh, a laugh
such as one only who has ceased to be human is capable of, burst
forth upon the livid face of the priest. Quasimodo heard not this
laugh, but he saw it. The bell-ringer recoiled a few steps from the
archdeacon, then suddenly rushing furiously upon him, thrust him
with his two huge hands into the abyss, over which Dom Claude was
leaning. "Damnation!" cried the priest as he fell.
The gutter beneath caught him and broke the fall. He
clung to it with eager hands, and was just opening his mouth to give
a second cry, when he beheld the formidable and avenging face of
Quasimodo protruded over the balustrade above his head. He was then
The abyss was beneath him — a fall of more than two
hundred feet and the pavement! In this terrible situation, the
archdeacon uttered neither word nor groan. Suspended from the
gutter, he wriggled, and made incredible efforts to raise himself
upon it, but his hands had no hold of the granite, and his toes
merely streaked the blackened wall without finding the least
support. All who have ever been up the towers of Notre Dame know
that the stone bellies immediately under the balustrade. It was
against the retreating slope that the wretched archdeacon exhausted
himself in fruitless efforts. He had not to do with a perpendicular
wall, but a wall that receded from him.
Quasimodo might have withdrawn him from the gulf by
merely reaching him his hand; but he did not so much as look at him.
He looked at the Greve. He looked at the Egyptian. He looked at the
gibbet. The hunchback was leaning upon the balustrade which the
archdeacon had just before occupied; and there never turning his
eyes from the only object which existed for him at that moment, he
was motionless and mute as one thunderstruck; while a stream flowed
in silence from that eye, which till then had not shed a single
The archdeacon meanwhile began to pant. The
perspiration trickled from his bald brow, the blood oozed from his
fingers’ ends; the skin was rubbed from his knees against the wall.
He heard his cassock, which hung by the gutter, crack and rip with
every movement that he made. To crown his misery, that gutter
terminated in a leaden pipe which bent with his weight. The
archdeacon felt it slowly giving way. The wretched man said to
himself, that when his cassock should rent, when the leaden pipe
should yield, he must fall, and horror thrilled his entrails. At
times he wildly eyed a sort of narrow ledge, formed about ten feet
below him by the architectural embellishments of the church, and in
his distress he prayed to Heaven, in the recesses of his soul, to
permit him to end his life on this space of two square feet were it
even to last a hundred years.
Once he glanced at the abyss beneath him; when he
raised his head his eyes were closed and his hair standing erect.
There was something frightful in the silence of
those two persons. While the archdeacon, at the distance of a few
feet, was experiencing the most horrible agonies, Quasimodo kept his
eye on the Greve and wept.
The archdeacon, perceiving that all his exertion
served but to shake the only frail support that was left, determined
to stir no more. There he was clasping the gutter, scarcely
breathing, absolutely motionless save the mechanical convulsion of
the abdomen which supervenes in sleep, when you dream you are
falling. His fixed eyes glared in a wild and ghastly manner.
Meanwhile he began to lose his hold; his fingers slipped down the
gutter; he felt his arms becoming weaker and weaker, his body
heavier and heavier. The leaden pipe which supported him bent more
and more every moment toward the abyss. Beneath him he beheld —
horrid sight! — the roof of St Jean-le-Rond, diminutive as a card
bent in two.
He eyed one after another the passionless sculptures
of the tower, suspended like himself over the abyss, but without
fear for themselves or pity for him. All about him was stone; before
his eyes gaping monsters; under him, at the bottom of the gulf, the
pavement; over his head Quasimodo weeping.
In the Parvis several groups of curious spectators
were calmly puzzling their brains to divine who could be the maniac
that was amusing himself in this strange manner. The priest heard
them say, for their voices reached his, clear and sharp, "By’r Lady,
he must break his neck!"
At length the archdeacon, foaming with rage and
terror, became sensible that all was useless. He nevertheless
mustered all his remaining strength for a last effort. Setting both
his knees against the wall, he hooked his hands into a cleft in the
stones, and succeeded in raising himself about a foot; but this
struggle caused the leaden beak which supported him to give way
suddenly. His cassock was ripped up from the same cause. Feeling
himself sinking, having only his stiffened and crippled hand to hold
by, the wretched man closed his eyes, and presently his fingers
relaxed their grasp. Down he fell!
Quasimodo watched him falling.
A fall from such a height is rarely perpendicular.
The archdeacon, launched into the abyss, fell at first head downward
and with outstretched arms, and then whirled several times over and
over; dropping upon the roof of a house, and breaking some of his
bones, He was not dead when he reached it, for the bell-ringer saw
him strive to grapple the ridge with his fingers; but the steeple
was too steep, and his strength utterly failed him. Sliding rapidly
down the roof, like a tile that has got loose, down he went, and
rebounded on the pavement. He never stirred more.
Quasimodo then raised his eye to the Egyptian, dangling from the
gallows, At that distance he could see her quiver beneath her white
robe in the last, convulsive agonies of death; he then looked down
at the archdeacon, stretched at the foot of the tower, with scarcely
a vestige of the human form about him, and, heaving a deep sigh he
cried, "There is all I ever loved!"