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But the other never stirred. When he beheld his adversary on guard and ready to parry,--
"Captain Phoebus," he said, and his tone vibrated with bitterness, "you forget your appointment."
The rages of men like Phoebus are milk-soups, whose ebullition is calmed by a drop of cold water. This simple remark caused the sword which glittered in the captain's hand to be lowered.
"Captain," pursued the man, "to-morrow, the day after to-morrow, a month hence, ten years hence, you will find me ready to cut your throat; but go first to your rendezvous."
"In sooth," said Phoebus, as though seeking to capitulate with himself, "these are two charming things to be encountered in a rendezvous,--a sword and a wench; but I do not see why I should miss the one for the sake of the other, when I can have both."
He replaced his sword in its scabbard.
"Go to your rendezvous," said the man.
"Monsieur," replied Phoebus with some embarrassment, "many thanks for your courtesy. In fact, there will be ample time to-morrow for us to chop up father Adam's doublet into slashes and buttonholes. I am obliged to you for allowing me to pass one more agreeable quarter of an hour. I certainly did hope to put you in the gutter, and still arrive in time for the fair one, especially as it has a better appearance to make the women wait a little in such cases. But you strike me as having the air of a gallant man, and it is safer to defer our affair until to-morrow. So I will betake myself to my rendezvous; it is for seven o'clock, as you know." Here Phoebus scratched his ear. "Ah. Corne Dieu! I had forgotten! I haven't a sou to discharge the price of the garret, and the old crone will insist on being paid in advance. She distrusts me."
"Here is the wherewithal to pay."
Phoebus felt the stranger's cold hand slip into his a large piece of money. He could not refrain from taking the money and pressing the hand.
"Vrai Dieu!" he exclaimed, "you are a good fellow!"
"One condition," said the man. "Prove to me that I have been wrong and that you were speaking the truth. Hide me in some corner whence I can see whether this woman is really the one whose name you uttered."
"Oh!" replied Phoebus, "'tis all one to me. We will take, the Sainte-Marthe chamber; you can look at your ease from the kennel hard by."
"Come then," said the shadow.
"At your service," said the captain, "I know not whether you are Messer Diavolus in person; but let us be good friends for this evening; to-morrow I will repay you all my debts, both of purse and sword."
They set out again at a rapid pace. At the expiration of a few minutes, the sound of the river announced to them that they were on the Pont Saint-Michel, then loaded with houses.
"I will first show you the way," said Phoebus to his companion, "I will then go in search of the fair one who is awaiting me near the Petit-Châtelet."
His companion made no reply; he had not uttered a word since they had been walking side by side. Phoebus halted before a low door, and knocked roughly; a light made its appearance through the cracks of the door.
"Who is there?" cried a toothless voice.
"Corps-Dieu! Tête-Dieu! Ventre-Dieu!" replied the captain.
The door opened instantly, and allowed the new-corners to see an old woman and an old lamp, both of which trembled. The old woman was bent double, clad in tatters, with a shaking head, pierced with two small eyes, and coiffed with a dish clout; wrinkled everywhere, on hands and face and neck; her lips retreated under her gums, and about her mouth she had tufts of white hairs which gave her the whiskered look of a cat.
The interior of the den was no less dilapitated than she; there were chalk walls, blackened beams in the ceiling, a dismantled chimney-piece, spiders' webs in all the corners, in the middle a staggering herd of tables and lame stools, a dirty child among the ashes, and at the back a staircase, or rather, a wooden ladder, which ended in a trap door in the ceiling.
On entering this lair, Phoebus's mysterious companion raised his mantle to his very eyes. Meanwhile, the captain, swearing like a Saracen, hastened to "make the sun shine in a crown" as saith our admirable Régnier.
"The Sainte-Marthe chamber," said he.
The old woman addressed him as monseigneur, and shut up the crown in a drawer. It was the coin which the man in the black mantle had given to Phoebus. While her back was turned, the bushy-headed and ragged little boy who was playing in the ashes, adroitly approached the drawer, abstracted the crown, and put in its place a dry leaf which he had plucked from a fagot.
The old crone made a sign to the two gentlemen, as she called them, to follow her, and mounted the ladder in advance of them. On arriving at the upper story, she set her lamp on a coffer, and, Phoebus, like a frequent visitor of the house, opened a door which opened on a dark hole. "Enter here, my dear fellow," he said to his companion. The man in the mantle obeyed without a word in reply, the door closed upon him; he heard Phoebus bolt it, and a moment later descend the stairs again with the aged hag. The light had disappeared.
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The Hunchback of Notre Dame -by- Victor Hugo