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When Gwynplaine heard the wicket shut, creaking in all its irons, he trembled. It seemed to him that the door, which had just closed, was the communication between light and darkness; opening on one side on the living, human crowd, and on the other on a dead world, and now that everything illumined by the sun was behind him, that he had stepped over the boundary of life and was standing without it, his heart contracted. What were they going to do with him ? What did it all mean? Where was he?
He saw nothing around him; he found himself in perfect darkness. The shutting of the door had momentarily blinded him. The window in the door had been closed as well. No loophole, no lamp. Such was the precaution of old times. It was forbidden to light the entrance to the jails, so that the new comers should take no observations.
Gwynplaine extended his arms, and touched the wall on his right side and on the left. He was in a passage. Little by little a cavernous daylight exuding, no one knows from whence, and which floats into dark places, and to which the dilation of the pupil adjusts itself slowly, enabled him to distinguish a lineament here and there, and the corridor was vaguely sketched out before him.
Gwynplaine, who had never had a glimpse of penal severities, save from the exaggerations of Ursus, felt as though seized by a sort of vague gigantic hand. To be caught in the mysterious toils of the law is frightful. He who is brave in all other dangers, is disconcerted in the presence of justice. Why? It is that the justice of man works in twilight, and the judge gropes his way. Gwynplaine recalled all that Ursus had told him of the necessity for silence. He wished to see Dea again; he felt some discretionary instinct, which urged him not to irritate. Sometimes the wish to be enlightened is to make matters worse ; on the other hand, however, the thought of this adventure was so overwhelming, that he gave way at length and could not restrain a question.
“Gentlemen,” said he, “whither do you conduct me?" They made no answer.
It was the law to take prisoners silently, and the Norman text is formal: A silentiariis ostio, præpositis introducti sunt.
This silence froze Gwynplaine. Up to that moment he had
believed himself to be firm : he was self-sufficing. To be self-sufficing is to be powerful. He had lived isolated from the world, and imagined that being solitary he was unassailable; and now all at once he felt himself under the pressure of this hideous collective force. In what manner could he combat this horrible anonyma, the law? . He felt faint under the perplexity; a fear of an unknown character had found a fissure in his armour ; besides, he had not slept, he had not eaten, he had scarcely moistened his lips with a cup of tea. All the night' had been passed in a kind of delirium, and the fever was still on him. He was thirsty ; perhaps hungry. The craving of the stomach disorders everything. Since the previous evening all kinds of incidents had assailed him. The emotions which had tormented had sustained him. Without a storm a sail would be a rag. But his was the excessive feebleness of the rag, which the wind inflates till it tears it. He felt himself sinking down. Was he about to fall without consciousness on the pavement ? To faint is the resource of a woman, and a humiliation to a man.
He hardened himself, but he trembled. He felt as one losing his footing.
They began to move forward.
There was no preliminary registry, no office with records entered. The prisons in those times were not overburthened with documents. They were content to close round you without knowing why. To be a prison, and to hold prisoners, was sufficient for them.
The procession had been obliged to lengthen itself out, taking the form of the corridor. They walked almost in single file ; first the wapentake, then Gwynplaine, then the justice of the quorum, then the constables, advancing in a solid mass, and blocking up the passage behind Gwynplaine as with a bung. The passage narrowed. Now Gwynplaine touched the walls with both his elbows. The roof, made of flint, dashed by cement, had a succession of granite arches jutting out and still more contracting the passage. It was necessary to stoop to pass under them. No speed was possible in this corridor. Any one trying to escape by flight would have been compelled to move slowly. The passage twisted. All entrails are tortuous; those of a prison as well as those of a man. Here and there, sometimes. to the right and sometimes to the left, spaces in the wall, square:
and closed by large iron gratings, gave glimpses of flights of stairs, some descending and some ascending.
They reached a closed door; it opened. They passed through, and it closed again. Then they came to a second door, which admitted them, then to a third, which also turned on its hinges. These doors seemed to open and shut of themselves. No one was visible. Whilst the corridor contracted, the top grew lower, and at length it was impossible to stand upright. Moisture exuded from the wall. Drops of water fell from the vault. The slabs that paved the corridor were clammy as an intestine. The diffused pallor that served as light, became more and more a pall. Air was deficient, and what was singularly ominous, the passage descended.
It was necessary to observe it closely to perceive that there was such a descent. In darkness a gentle declivity is portentous. Nothing is more to be feared than the vague evils to which we are led by imperceptible degrees.
It is awful to descend into unknown depths.
How long had they walked in this manner? Gwynplaine could not tell.
Moments passed under such crushing agony seem immeasurably prolonged.
Suddenly they halted.
The corridor widened. Gwynplaine heard close to him a noise of which only a Chinese gong could give an idea ; something like a blow struck the diaphragm of the abyss. It was the wapentake who had struck his wand against a sheet of iron.
This sheet of iron was a door.
Not a door which turned, but a door which was raised and let down.
Something like a hearse.
There was the sound of creaking of a groove, and Gwynplaine had suddenly before his eyes a bit of square light. It was the sheet of metal, which was raised into a slit in the vault, just as the door of a mouse-trap is lifted.
An opening had been made.
The light was not daylight, but glimmer ; but, on the dilated eyeballs of Gwynplaine this pale and sudden ray struck like a flash of lightning
It was some time before he could see anything. To see with dazzled eyes, is as difficult as to see in darkness.
At length, by degrees, as the pupil of his eye became proportioned
to the light, as it had been proportioned to the darkness, he was able to distinguish objects. The light, which at first had seemed too bright, settled into its proper place and became livid.
He cast a glance into the yawning space before him, and perceived that which was terrible.
At his feet were about twenty stairs, steep, narrow, defaced, almost perpendicular, without balustrade on either side, a sort of stone ridge cut out from the flat side of a wall into stairs, entering and losing itself in a very narrow cavern. They went to the bottom.
This cell was round, having an ogee vault with a low arch, from the want of level in the top stone of the freize, a displacement common to cells on which heavy edifices are built.
The kind of cutting serving as a door, which the sheet of iron had just revealed, and on which the stairs abutted, was notched in the vault, so that at this height the eye looked down as into a well.
The cell was vast, and if it were the bottom of a well, it must have been one that was cyclopean. The idea that the old word dungeon awakens in the mind could only be taken in this case as representing a lair for wild beasts.
The cell was neither flagged nor paved. The bottom was of that cold, moist earth peculiar to deep places.
In the midst of the cell, four low and disproportioned columns sustained a porch heavily ogival, of which the four mouldings united in the interior of the porch, something like the inside of a mitre. This porch, similar to the pinnacles under which formerly they placed sarcophagi, rose nearly to the top of the vault, and made in the cavern a sort of central chamber, if that could be called a chamber which had pillars only in place of walls.
At the key of the arch, over the door, hung a brass lantern, round and barred like the window of a prison. This lamp threw around it
-on the pillars, on the vault, on the circular wall seen dimly behind the pillars—a wan light, cut by bars of shadow.
This was the light which had at first dazzled Gwynplaine ; now it only seemed a confused redness.
There was no other light in this cave-neither window, nor door, nor loop-hole.
Between the four pillars, precisely below the lantern, in the spot where there was most light, was placed flat on the earth a pale and terrible outline.
It was lying on its back; a head could be seen, of which the eyes were shut; a body, of which the chest disappeared in an undistinguishable heap; four limbs belonging to the body, in the position
of the cross of Saint Andrew, and drawn towards the four pillars by four chains fastened to the feet and the hands.
These chains were fastened to an iron ring at the base of each column. This form was held immoveable, in the atrocious position of being quartered ; and had the icy look of a livid corpse.
It was naked. It was a man.
Gwynplaine, petrified, stood at the top of the stairs, looking down. All at once he heard a rattle in the throat.
The corpse was alive.
Close to this spectre, in one of the ogives of the door, on either side of a great seat, whose arms were formed by large, flat stones, stood two men swathed in long black cloaks; and on the seat an old man was sitting, dressed in a red robe-wan, motionless, and ominous, a bunch of roses in his hand.
This bunch of roses would have enlightened any one less ignorant than Gwynplaine. The right of judging with a nosegay in his hand implied the holder to be a magistrate, at once royal and municipal. The Lord Mayor of London still keeps up the custom. To assist the deliberations of the judges was the function of the earliest roses of the season.
The old man seated on the bench was the sheriff of the county of Surrey.
His was the majestic rigidity of a Roman dignitary.
By the side of it there was a table covered with papers and books, and on which rested the long, white wand of the sheriff. The men standing upright by the side of the sheriff were two doctors, one of medicine, and one of law; this last was recognisable by his sergeant's coif over his wig. Both had black robes-one of the shape worn by judges, the other by doctors. Men of these two sorts wear mourning for the deaths they occasion.
Behind the sheriff, on the outside of the boundary made by the flat stone, was crouched—with a writing-table near to him, on the flagstones; a bundle of papers on his knees, and a sheet of parchment on the bundle—a secretary, in a round wig, with a pen in his hand, in the attitude of a man ready to write.
This secretary was of the class called keeper of the bag, as was indicated by a bag before his feet. These bags, in former times employed in law processes, were termed bags of justice.
With crossed arms, leaning against a pillar, was a man entirely dressed in leather, the hangman's assistant.
These men seemed as if they had been fixed by enchantment