15. The Oubliettes

If sulphurous light had shone from this vile well
One might have said it was a mouth of hell,
So large the trap that by some sudden blow
A man might backward fall and sink below.
Who looked could see a harrow's threatening teeth,
But lost in night was everything beneath.
Partitions blood-stained have a reddened smear,
And Terror unrelieved is master here.
One feels the place has secret histories
Replete with dreadful murderous mysteries,
And that this sepulchre, forgot to-day,
Is home of trailing ghosts that grope their way
Along the walls where spectre reptiles crawl.
“Our fathers fashioned for us after all
Some useful things,” said Joss; then Zeno spoke:
“I know what Corbus hides beneath its cloak,
I and the osprey know its ancient walls
And how was justice done within its halls.”
“And are you sure that Mahaud will not wake?”
“Her eyes are closed as now my fist I make;
She is in mystic and unearthly sleep;
The potion still its power o'er her must keep.”
“But she will surely wake at break of day?”
“In darkness.”
“What will all the courtiers say
When in the place of her they find two men?”
“To them we will declare ourselves—and then
They at our feet will fall.”
“Where leads this hole?”
“To where the crow makes feast and torrents roll,
To desolation. Let us end it now.”

These young and handsome men had seemed to grow
Deformed and hideous—so doth foul black heart
Disfigure man, till beauty all depart.
So to the hell within the human face
Transparent is. They nearer move apace;
And Mahaud soundly sleeps as in a bed.
“To work.”
Joss seizes her and holds her head
Supporting her beneath her arms, in his;
And then he dared to plant a monstrous kiss
Upon her rosy lips,—while Zeno bent
Before the massive chair, and with intent
Her robe disordered as he raised her feet;
Her dainty ankles thus their gaze to meet.
And while the mystic sleep was all profound,
The pit gaped wide like grave in burial ground.Victor Hugo
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