Author's Notes: This story was burning in my brain and I just had to get started on it! I don't know why, but the thought of all the different places Quasimodo could've ended up instead of Notre Dame fascinates me. Also, I think Sister Gudule is probably the most underrated character in the entire novel. Her story was so tragic, yet only one movie version even attempted to kind-of include it. I gotta warn you though, this will not be a fluffy fic. I'm going to do my best to keep the tone of the novel and the characters' personalities the same. This story is to explore what would have most likely happened if Gudule had chosen to raise Quasimodo when he was left in her home, and how this would have changed both of their lives and the story. Thank you for checking this fanfic out, especially since this is located in the barely visited "book" section of FF :)
The year was 1466 in the city of Reims, located in France. There was much commotion earlier that day as many townspeople went out to see the gypsies that had come to town in a great caravan the day before. Many of these gullible people went to those claiming to be seers, able to tell the futures of themselves and their children. Of course each story was more outlandish than the last, with some children being declared noblemen and others being declared rich and happy. That alone should've told everyone this was a scam, but as long as their children's glorious future was the truth they didn't care if everyone else was being bamboozled.
Two of the gypsy women behind the scheme had more than one reason to concoct the fraudulent performance. One was that they could play off their perceived exotic nature to make money off the villagers. Sure, these lies kept the Romani women out of normal society, but if they couldn't stop the rumors of witchcraft from spreading then at least they should be able to use it to their advantage. The other reason however was a lot more sinister.
Two days prior the younger woman's sister died, and the dead woman had left behind a child. This was no ordinary child however, but rather one with a frightful appearance that made it all too noticeable wherever the caravan went. The boy's mother had kept the baby even though he had been the product of the poor woman being raped by some English archer that felt himself above the law. The other gypsies had feared having the child with them would incite a riot on the part of the French, but the mother had said she loved her son and that he would make a profitable beggar when he grew up. That had been enough to placate the others in that moment.
Now, however, the woman's younger sister was left alone with the little monster, and she felt it the cruelest irony. She and her husband had been trying to conceive a baby for years, and they finally had a little girl two months ago. The baby however died of the same illness that took the boy's mother, and the young gypsy woman was left without her baby girl and saddled with a misshapen boy that would probably get them all killed. It was enough to make the young woman believe her family was cursed.
This young Romani girl was named Jofranka and her companion was an older woman named Violca. These two women had left their camp after the show and were traveling down the worn down roads of Reims with purpose. They were following one of the French women that had come to them to learn of her baby daughter's future. This woman was a mother of great skill and pride, and her daughter had to be the prettiest little tot in all of France. The Romani women believed the Frenchwoman was someone of means when they saw the beautiful embroidered clothes and shoes adorning the baby girl, and were actually a bit surprised when they saw the modest house the woman lived in, alone.
"She has no husband," Jofranka said sadly.
"Good," Violca replied gruffly, "That means no one to guard the house. All we have to do is wait for our chance to make the switch. These French louts leave their babies unattended all the time. Having homes such as this one makes them feel safe, like no one can touch them."
Jofranka looked down at the hunchbacked child asleep in her arms, and knew that she was disrespecting her sister's memory. She wondered if she was angering the woman's spirit, but to be fair she had no choice. It was the boy or the entire tribe, and Jofranka couldn't risk an angry mob descending on her people. Besides, they had chosen the best mother in France, a woman that had turned her baby into a princess. Surely a woman with such a kind heart would care for her sister's son.
As it turned out the women only had to wait half an hour before their opportunity came. The mother left the house to talk to her neighbors across the street, and she didn't bother to take the baby girl with her. The gypsies left the tree they were hiding behind and quickly made their way through the open door of the house.
The house was small, only two rooms, and surprisingly not well furnished. In fact, it looked even more sparse than most of the tents in their caravan. One thing was definitely colorful about this place though, and that was the baby clothes surrounding the plain straw sleeping mat. They were all silky and covered with embroidery and ribbons. Violca started stuffing the clothes into her satchel, and Jofranka set the boy down on the floor before picking up the baby girl.
"She's beautiful," Jofranka sighed lovingly, "She looks so much like my poor Isabella. She is only a few months older than Isabella would be now."
"Don't dawdle," Violca warned, "We have to get back to camp and prepare to leave this place. There's no way we'll be able to stay after this."
Just then, the little boy awoke and looked around at the strange new place. He looked up at the two women, his aunt and his godmother, and tilted his head curiously.
"Where we?" He asked, his grasp on language not great despite his advanced age of 4 years.
"Stay here," Jofranka ordered him without explaining.
"But where?" He asked again, beginning to get an odd feeling about this.
The boy looked at the two women and saw that his aunt was holding a baby. That was weird. She didn't have a baby anymore. Why did his Aunt Jofranka look so upset? He thought she liked babies. Was it because this place looked weird? Had they been arrested? Was he in jail?
The two women went to leave, but before they did Jofranka stopped. She knew stealing this child made her a horrible person, and that this Frenchwoman had done nothing to her. She needed this baby though, and her heart couldn't leave this little love behind. She looked down at the little embroidered shoes, and plucked one of them off the baby's tiny foot before setting it on the sleeping mat. If she left something behind, then the girl could one day find her real mother. If the girl was pure of heart and remained a virgin, she would be able to find her true family again. At least, that was what was told to her tribe for as long as anyone could remember.
"Auntie?" The boy called again.
"Don't leave this room," Jofranka said curtly before dashing away with Violca and the baby.
As the two women left Violca said to Jofranka "You know they'll probably burn him, right?"
"Maybe not," Jofranka tried to convince herself, "Even if they do, at least they won't find us. Some lame beggars and blind men elicit sympathy, but that boy would only grow up to be hanged. He has one eye instead of none, and he has crooked legs instead of useless legs. He would only cause us problems. This baby however, she will be very good for our people. Look at these little feet. How they will dance when she is older! Look at those eyes. How many coins they will bring! She is perfect. No one would want to harm this gentle creature."
The little boy meanwhile was left all alone in the strange room. He crawled around for a bit, since walking was very difficult with his bandy legs. There wasn't much in this house. There was a hearthstone, and there was a straw mattress. There was a gold cross hanging from a chain on the wall. This place belonged to the bad people that lived in the town. The boy knew of them well, and knew that if they weren't happy that they killed people like him.
Despite only being 4 years old, he knew he was different. He knew his people liked to travel, while townies did not. Worse than that though, he knew he was very ugly and that townies killed ugly children like him. His hunched back, his tiny legs, and his missing eye with the large wart over it marked him as evil in their eyes. His mother had been clear that he should never leave the camp lest he be taken by these bad people. Now he was alone in one of their houses, and his auntie was nowhere in sight. He pulled at his red hair nervously, and licked his teeth with his tongue. He was sure he was trapped.
The boy heard someone come into the house and enter another room. Oh good, that must be Auntie and Madam Violca, he thought. He supposed they probably had to tend the baby before they came back for him, and now he would go home safe and sound. He didn't know what he had been worried about.
When the woman entered the room however, it wasn't his Auntie Jofranka. It was a pale woman with silky brown hair and a beautiful embroidered dress. He looked up at her blankly, and the woman let out a blood curdling scream!
The boy covered his ears, and then asked her where Jofranka was. She just stared at him with wild crazed eyes, bloodshot eyes that had clearly been crying moments before. She screamed something at him that he didn't understand. The boy only spoke Romani, and this woman was speaking French. He could tell from the way she gestured and screamed however that he was in trouble. She was going to hurt him. She might even kill him.
The boy tried to get up to walk away, but his poor weak legs gave out on him. It was clear then that there was no way out. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen. He started to cry out of his one good eye then. The townies had caught him, and he was going to be hurt.
Paquette La Chantefleurie was beside herself as she held the little shoe left behind by her child's kidnappers. The gypsies had vanished into a puff of smoke, into thin air! The rains that had come only an hour before had washed away their cart tracks. Her child was gone, eaten up by those gypsy heathens! Her poor dear little Agnes had been taken, and left in her place was a tiny misshapen monster!
It was nighttime now, and Paquette's heart had finally stopped beating wildly in her chest. Oh, if only it could stop beating altogether. Her neighbor had gone to the local abbey, and a bishop from Notre Dame in Paris happened to be visiting. The bishop would be there soon to help her take away the demon child, but then she would be left all alone; her Agnes likely cooked on some pagan's pyre for their witches' sabbath. Paquette's friends had come to console her, but most didn't stay when they saw the monster crawling on the floor. She couldn't blame them. It truly was a frightful thing to look at.
Paquette felt a tug at the hem of her dress, and instinctively she believed it to be her little Agnes returned to her once more. She smiled and started to pick up the baby, only to see it was the demon beckoning her attention.
"Ah! Oh, why must you torment me, vile devil?" Paquette screeched at the little monster, and the boy shrunk back in fear of her.
Paquette sighed, at a loss for what to do. At first she had feared Agnes had been magically transformed into this deformed creature. She had actually had to check to see if the monster was indeed a girl, and upon seeing it was not Paquette actually sighed in relief; knowing this was in fact not Agnes. That relief had turned to grief again when she realized that Agnes had probably been slaughtered by the gypsies. Why, oh why, did she ever go anywhere near that gypsy camp?
The boy said something unintelligible to Paquette, and despite not wanting to she looked at it. The child's protruding lip was quivering and he was holding his stomach. He was clearly hungry.
"What do you want from me, monster?" Paquette hissed bitterly, "First you take my child and now you would take my bread?"
Her anger couldn't last however under the assault of such a tiny pleading thing. Paquette was still a mother after all, even if she had lost the only child in the world that mattered to her. The boy might be a demon, but it was certainly convincing at acting like a child.
Paquette went to the cupboard in the other room and came back with a slice of stale bread. It was all she had left, but she didn't exactly feel like eating anymore anyway. She handed the bread to the boy, and he greedily ate it without looking at her. Just as well, as she didn't want that grimace staring at her anyway.
"They'll probably burn you," Paquette said to the child even though he couldn't understand her, "Serves you right, and serves your mother right too. If my Agnes is to be burned for their witches' sabbath then it's only fair you should burn too. An eye for an eye, after all."
The boy then looked up at her, realizing he was being addressed. He tilted his head, not knowing what she was saying but doing his best to devine what she wanted to tell him.
"How could God do this to me?" Paquette asked morosely, "I know I haven't exactly been a good person. I've given my body over for both love and money. I know that. I know I'm a hard person to love. My parents were all I had, and when they died I turned to men. No matter how I devoted myself however none of them ever loved me. Most of the people in this town jeer at me. I've been publicly shamed more than once for my unsavory profession. I thought I would die alone in this world, but then I was blessed with a child, with my precious beautiful Agnes. She's my everything, and now, she's gone. Gone!"
Paquette then started crying uncontrollably into her hands. She had nothing left, no one loved her. All that she had ever cared about in this world had been taken from her. She could pray for the soul of her lost baby girl, but other than that she had nothing left in this world she could do, no purpose left. She had nothing. She was nothing. Nothing but a harlot that no one wanted anymore.
Suddenly she felt something on her calf, and saw that the demon child was hugging her leg and looking up at her sadly. At least, she thought that look was sadness. It was hard to tell on such a disfigured face.
"Why must you haunt me, creature?" Paquette asked, but with a lighter tone than she had used before, "Feeling better since you ate, boy? My goodness, what rags those gypsies put you in! You look like a monkey escaping a burlap sack, you know that? Those awful people, can't even try to make their dark minions look appealing."
The boy smiled obliviously up at her, showing off a few baby teeth that were already yellow and grey with rot. He didn't know what she was saying to him, but he heard that her tone wasn't as sad or as harsh as before, so he assumed she was happy now.
The front door opened then, and the bishop of Paris arrived with two of his monks. Paquette felt stingy for only having a single candle on in the room. She could barely see anything of the monks with their hoods up, making the scene look like something gloomy and foreboding. The boy whimpered and tried to hide under her skirt, which made Paquette wince at having that horrible creature so close to her clawing at her bare legs.
"You are the woman known as Paquette La Chantefleurie?" The bishop asked in a kindly voice.
"Yes, father," Paquette answered nervously, "Has there been any word on the gypsies that took my child? Please sir, anything at all?"
"I'm sorry, but no," The bishop regretfully replied, "They are likely keeping to the backroads. The local archers are still searching for them, but at this point it looks unlikely that the caravan will be found."
"Oh!" Paquette moaned as she sunk to her knees, "My child! My baby! How could I have left her alone?!"
Paquette then screamed and began to beat the ground with her fists. The boy, who had backed away from the distraught woman, looked up at the clergymen in fear. He knew what this likely meant. They would blame him for upsetting the woman. They would hurt him. Torture him. Lock him away in a room until it was time to set him on fire. The boy was too young to completely understand death, but he was at the perfect age to understand that intense pain was something to avoid at all costs.
"We should take the child away," The bishop said to his assistants, "The poor woman has suffered so much. Having this reminder around will only serve to drive her mad."
Paquette was so lost in her grief that she didn't even notice the men walk past her. She stared down at the ground and at the little shoe she had dropped. It was all that was left of her daughter. She would never again feel those tiny feet between her fingers. She would never again hear that bubbly laugh, see those pretty brown eyes, or pinch those rosey cheeks. Her baby was gone, and that singular thought refused to loosen its grip on her mind.
Her grim reverie was broken however when she heard a piercing scream coming from behind her. She turned around where she was kneeling and saw the hunchbacked child trying to break free of the grasp of the bishop. It was almost comical to see such a dignified looking man flounder around with the slippery form of a disheveled demon child. The monks helped to hold the child back, and he cried for all he was worth as his arms reached out for Paquette La Chantefleurie.
"Zounds! This thing is pretty strong for a crippled child!" One monk exclaimed.
"Maybe it really is a demon," The other one commented.
"Hurry! We must get him to the carriage," The bishop ordered as he continued to hold firm to the struggling toddler.
"Wait!" Paquette shouted before she could stop herself.
Everyone stopped and looked at her. She didn't know why she had stopped them. She wanted the demon gone. She wanted to be left alone to mourn for her lost little lamb. That was what she wanted, but another thought had crossed her grief-stricken mind. Perhaps if she cared for the monster, perhaps if she proved herself worthy, then God might give her back her sweet little Agnes. It was the only chance she had left.
"Yes, La Chantefleurie?" The bishop asked patiently.
"I'll...I'll take him," Paquette forced herself to say, "I-I'll...adopt...this child."
"Are you certain, mademoiselle?" The bishop asked in mild surprise.
"Yes, father," Paquette nodded quickly, though her mind was screaming 'NO!'
The bishop was skeptical, but he knew placing the child on the foundling table at Notre Dame probably wouldn't yield any better results. More than likely it would end with no one taking the child and a mob of yokels lynching the poor unfortunate boy. He didn't personally know Paquette La Chantefleurie, but he had heard from others in Reims what a good mother she was and how kind she was to others. If her heart was big enough to raise the child of those that had done her wrong, then clearly she was the perfect choice.
The bishop handed the child back to Paquette La Chantefleurie, and the boy instantly clung to her neck for all he was worth and hid his face from the monks. Paquette felt a little sick at actually holding the little misshapen ape, but nonetheless she patted the boy's back to comfort him; an instinctive move on her part.
As the clergymen left and she was once again alone with the boy one thought kept running through her mind: What have I done?