CHAPTER 2. CONTINUATION OF THE CROWN WHICH WAS CHANGED INTO A DRY LEAF.
After ascending and descending several steps in the
corridors, which were so dark that they were lighted by lamps
at mid-day, La Esmeralda, still surrounded by her lugubrious
escort, was thrust by the police into a gloomy chamber.
This chamber, circular in form, occupied the ground floor of
one of those great towers, which, even in our own century,
still pierce through the layer of modern edifices with which
modern Paris has covered ancient Paris. There were no
windows to this cellar; no other opening than the entrance,
which was low, and closed by an enormous iron door. Nevertheless,
light was not lacking; a furnace had been constructed
in the thickness of the wall; a large fire was lighted there,
which filled the vault with its crimson reflections and
deprived a miserable candle, which stood in one corner, of
all radiance. The iron grating which served to close the
oven, being raised at that moment, allowed only a view at
the mouth of the flaming vent-hole in the dark wall, the
lower extremity of its bars, like a row of black and pointed
teeth, set flat apart; which made the furnace resemble one of
those mouths of dragons which spout forth flames in ancient
legends. By the light which escaped from it, the prisoner
beheld, all about the room, frightful instruments whose use
she did not understand. In the centre lay a leather mattress,
placed almost flat upon the ground, over which hung a strap
provided with a buckle, attached to a brass ring in the mouth
of a flat-nosed monster carved in the keystone of the vault.
Tongs, pincers, large ploughshares, filled the interior of the
furnace, and glowed in a confused heap on the coals. The
sanguine light of the furnace illuminated in the chamber only
a confused mass of horrible things.
This Tartarus was called simply, The Question Chamber.
On the bed, in a negligent attitude, sat Pierrat Torterue,
the official torturer. His underlings, two gnomes with square
faces, leather aprons, and linen breeches, were moving the
iron instruments on the coals.
In vain did the poor girl summon up her courage; on entering
this chamber she was stricken with horror.
The sergeants of the bailiff of the courts drew up in line on
one side, the priests of the officiality on the other. A clerk,
inkhorn, and a table were in one corner.