Once upon a time lived a young man with an unchristian name, Gaetar. He came from a poor family that lived in a shabby house at the bottom of the Flon valley close to the boggy river, a miserable neighborhood containing all the city’s filth, slaughterhouses, tanneries, smiths, brothels, beggars and lepers. A place that was not blessed by the sun, as its rays were all intercepted by the tall hills bordering it from its Northern and Southern sides, where the Cathedral and St Francois Church haughtily arose. Gaetar spent the first years of his childhood in destitution and murkiness, sharing a windowless damp room with poultries and fowls who filled the house with their fragrance, and brought him some warmth in the middle of winter when all the wood had already been burnt.
Gaetar lost his parents early – no one could make old bones in these conditions – but he was lucky enough to be engaged as an apprentice builder by a cousin of his father who was not blessed with a progeny. Lausanne was a fast growing town, with the construction of a new City Hall above the murky waters of the Flon, in addition to a vaulted marketplace to welcome the supplies that were brought from the countryside, thus bridging two of its lower neighborhoods. The upper city was not to be outdone, as a new building was seeing the light in La Cité, an Academy where the intellectual elite would be formed in line with the latest doctrines of Calvinism, the first French speaking learning center of Protestantism. Moreover, as the last decades were years of abundance, not few merchants had enriched themselves, and started building their own palaces. Carpenters, stonemasons, and builders were thus highly demanded.
Gaetar quickly showed his talents, as no one could cut and carve the stones as confidently and beautifully as he did. After several years of observation and practice, Gaetar acquired an exceptional vision of buildings’ structures, he could assemble or undress a building in a glance, and he was particularly skilled for drawing. He drew plans with high precision, and he could sketch buildings in a matter of minutes with his black pen, delighting clients, as he proposed several variants showing them how they would really look like. He soon acquired enough authority to lead the stonemasons and carpenters in his plans’ execution. Despite his young age, he was the most accomplished of his master’s apprentices. Maître Toloz appreciated his boldness and honesty and came to consider him as his own son, giving him a room in his house, in the bustling merchant’s neighborhood of St-Laurent.
After the master’s death (his wife didn’t outlive him for long), Gaetar took up his title and responsibility; it was a hard blow for him as he had become his only family. He was a young master builder, passionate by his craft, a dreamer and a hard-worker, promised for the greatest career. His first years, spent in the worst wretchedness, had left him with an open wound, and he aspired to make of his town a fairer place through his art. He thought that architecture was to be used to increase people’s happiness and comfort. Not that of a few selected ones, bishops, bailiffs and earls, but the happiness of people like his neighbors, his poor parents and his uncle, unpretentious persons who despite their generous hearts could not even lead a dignified life. He dreamt of building an ideal city, a town where every family would have his fair amount of space, a place where everyone could be happy. His ideas about this ideal town were still quite vague and abstract, though he felt a small flame inside the backroom of his conscience telling him that he was the chosen one to craft the perfect city, someday.
In the early years of his manhood, Gaetar had already elaborated a dozen buildings that were widely admired. He was never afraid to take risks, and this reflected in his creations that were light, tall, luminous and ventilated. His reputation was spreading, and his skills were increasingly requested by the wealthy merchants, from Lausanne to Morges, and it was expectable that within few years he would be called to Geneva, Bern, Gruyères, Fribourg and Montreux, as this was a time in which people attached great importance for comfort and beauty, and his constructions provided all that, and more.
The course of Gaetar’s existence went out of its riverbed when he fell in love with Elisabeth Du Creusay. It was not a normal attachment, it was the absolute love, with a capital ‘L’, a burning, heartbreaking passion. The kind of passion that prevents you from sleeping, and makes you move mountains or cross lakes swimming to join your loved one. The story says Elisabeth Du Creusay was the most beautiful woman of Morges, born in a gentry family of Savoy descent.
She was not only handsome, but clever, taught, intellectual and artist. She wrote poems and essays, she had interests in sciences, she sang wonderfully. She had lived all her life between the walls of Du Creusay’s palace, facing the lake and the Castle of Morges. Yet, she was a free spirit, similar to the birds that flew over the lake, unstoppable by borders and fortifications, crossing mountains and rivers to reach warmer and merrier lands during the long winter. Elisabeth sat on the stone bench she had covered with pillows close to the large window facing the lake, and she let her gaze fly away from the vineyards to the waves and from the high mountains to the book she always held between her hands. Page after page, her imagination filled in with exotic colors, sounds and scents. She had devoured all the books of her family’s library, scientific and political treaties, history and legends, religious books and novels. Each awakened new feelings and emotions, sometimes riding under the cloudless skies of Hebron or running in the wet cobblestone streets of London, other times strolling in the variegated spices markets of Mongolia, inspired by Marco Polo’s vivid descriptions. You should not get the impression that she sufficed herself with reading and daydreaming. She alternated quiet reading with phases in which she burst with energy that she dissipated in becoming an accomplished horsewoman, or in mixing herself in the townsmen joyful festivities, that were ongoing despite the Bernese pastor’s glares and sermons. When books were not anymore sufficient to occupy her, she started to write down her own ideas and her own stories, in prose and verses.
Gaetar came from a very different background, obscure origins drowned in destituteness. Yet, he also was a free spirit and he was as open-minded as his buildings were luminous. His love was ardent and pure, a devouring passion, and he expressed the art present in his soul through architecture. Poetry composed of carved stones, painted wood, stained glass, and beautiful slender buildings. He dreamt to build an ideal city, where beauty would meet justice, harmony and prosperity, where all the citizens would have the right to live in decent conditions. Their dreams rejoined through a bridge of delicate verses and chiseled stones.
The story does not ascertain how they met , some tell that Gaetar was passing by to discuss of an enlargement of Morges’ temple with the pastor, while Elisabeth was mischievously dancing under the chestnut trees on the little esplanade in the midst of countrywomen, a white dress and her auburn hair crowned with wild flowers, celebrating the start of grape harvesting.
Yet all sources concord to assert that his passion for her was reciprocate, and that they started meeting in secret in the small coves in the vicinity of Morges, sitting on grey rocks, between the lake, the mountains and the forest, letting their gaze wander from the darkness of ducks to the whiteness of swans and sails that covered the lake, revealing their most secret thoughts to one another. Their ardent conversations lasted for hours and hours and could only be interrupted by the fall of night and the pleas to go home of Elisabeth’s old governess, who was in the confidence of her passion.
Monsieur Du Creusay got into a terrible fury when he heard Elisabeth’s wish of getting engaged with a lowly born builder – even though he had very good chances to increase his fortune – as they had destined her for a wealthy middle-age lower nobility man originary from neighboring Savoie, a distant cousin. “There is no future for my two daughters in the Vaud country as long as it is controlled by the Bernese and the Calvinists.” said he.
On a night of May, the eve before the day she was to be embarked against her will to get married with her betrothed in the town of Annecy, she left but a letter on her bed explaining that her feelings for Gaetar were very deep – exposing her to the wrath of heavens if she ignored them, as it would break both their hearts – wrapped few clothes and some of her favorite books in a small trunk, and fled to the sandy beach where she met with her lover who had requisitioned a small boat maneuvered by a handful of loud Piedmontese sailors. The lake was perfectly still, the sky cloudless and the air warm and balmy; the fugitives were silently sitting in the backside of the sail, admiring the stars and the rugged silhouette of the mountains and the hills, under a full moon. After a couple of hours of eventless navigation, they came in sight of Ouchy’s Castle and its harbor.
Two mules were quietly waiting for them, attached to an oak tree in front of a tavern on the port, where the sailors ended up their night. The lovers climbed the hills separating them from Lausanne, planning to sleep in the open air as the gates of the town closed after 10. They dismounted from their beasts in a little clearing in sight of the city, where they lit a fire. While they were sharing their first meal together with appetite, soft bread, cold meat, cheese and red wine, they heard the Cathedral’s bells gravely echoing from valley to valley ringing the curfew, summoning townsmen to cover their fires, preventing the city from being engulfed by flames in their sleep, as it had happened several times in the past.
At dawn, they crossed St-Laurent’s gate and joined Gaetar’s house. St-Laurent was a bustling neighborhood. Badly paved alleys encumbered with people, donkeys, horses, carts and dirt. Hurried countrymen fetching their variegated vegetables, pumpkins, carrots, radishes and hay, singing joyful tunes to honor a splendid morning, stonemasons unloading their carts, peddlers rhythmically yelling to sell various items or propose their services. Streets were surrounded by a multitude of stalls and shops; anything could be found, and at an affordable price: bakeries embalming the vicinity, butcheries and cheesemongers, shoemakers and tailors busy with their tools, barbers, ironsmiths, woodworkers and coopers, without forgetting the taverns at every street angle to moisten your throat at any hour of the day and the night.
The lovers made themselves presentable and rushed to the pastor of the namesake parish. He asked for their papers, as this was the new way to contract wedding in Bern: before marrying people, the pastor had to ensure himself of the origins of their families and their respective approval. Gaetar’s pleas didn’t change anything, the pastor was inflexible.
The lovers thought they would be safe from the wrath of Du Creusay’s family in Lausanne, as Monsieur du Creusay had refused to bend his head before the new Swiss rulers, and he was not in the position of undertaking any punch action, as this would have meant the loss of his whole family on a Bernese scaffold (the new authority was waiting for the slightest misdemeanors to punish its opponents). Indeed they seemed to be safe, but they could not marry. They decided to write to her father praying him for his approval, hoping that he would come to reason with time. Their calculations didn’t work out eventually. Monsieur Du Creusay disinherited her, doting all his fortune to his second, more dutiful daughter, saying he didn’t want to ever hear of his “disgraceful daughter” and her treacheries again. He failed to understand “how she could dishonor her family committing adultery with a heretical man from obscure origins.”
Gaetar had many relations in town, and proposed to falsify her papers. However, Elisabeth thought that their mutual love was more than enough to make them wife and husband in the eyes of God, and that they didn’t need the human’s justice to sanctify them.
They led a happy unmarried life for several years, loving each others with that burning passion unalterable by time and constant togetherness, filling the remaining of their free days with endless philosophical and social discussions; in the morning she read out loud or sang while he drew plans on their little balcony, or on the outskirts of the town in a small meadow between a wood and the Flon river where they were sure to be undisturbed, while in the evening she exposed her revolutionary ideas and theories, and he described how he visualized his ideal city in the dim light of candles or strolling up and down on the cobbled slopes of Lausanne; their hooked atoms that made them so dissimilar to their contemporary clamped to perfection; they felt their bodies and souls were the continuation of one another.
Gaetar was doing very fast progress in learning latin, the language in which most books were written at the time, and Elisabeth accompanied him on the building sites to watch how he rose stones to life; she liked to observe the world as it was in all its crudity, swearing masons, hooting fruit sellers. Despite her former lonely errands, she had grown in a cocoon, sheltered by the marble splendors and the stained glass of the Du Creusay’s palace, eating meat five time a week, while she always felt she was born for a uncommon life filled with adventures and strong emotions.
Gaetar’s affairs were constantly improving; clients were ready to pay more and his services were increasingly requested. He had bought two horses on which they could wander through the beautiful country of Vaud, a place where the landscape always reserved surprises, breathtaking perspectives on the lake, hidden rivers in the palm of valleys, colorful terraced vineyards surrounding fortified villages, the finest country on earth admitted foreigners admiringly.
The last couple of years of their happy existence was marked by crawling problems. Extremely harsh winters were followed by rainy and damp summers, ending up in meagre harvests.
It was the second consecutive year people were hungry, having exhausted their grain provisions by February, bread’s prices started climbing vertiginously, worsened by the speculation of powerful people, who had bought all the remaining stocks, reselling it much more expensively. By March, people were completely starved, some survived by eating pieces of roots. It had been four month that the soil was frozen, it was the coldest winter that old people could remember ever living. A plague invited itself, slyly starting to add its own victims to the dead of starvation. Gaetar and Elisabeth were affected by the crisis, as constructions almost came to a halt, but their situation was still enviable respect to common people.
The plague started to spread faster by June. Tens of people were carried away by the wings of shadows every week. Corpses were tossed across the streets, piling up against the walls of buildings, and around fountains. The doors of houses with a disease outbreak were walled, condemning its inhabitants to stay inside. Corpses were burnt in the valley outside the walls at the North of the city, below the Castle, other were thrown in the Flon river. The town’s officials were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the plague.
Instead of comforting their flocks, preachers flarily harangued the throng: “Lots of sinners are hiding amongst you. Look at each others in the eyes and notice the heretical life you have been leading. I can read it in your eyes. You have been perfectly following the learnings of the Devil in your debauchery, celebrating carnivals and black masses all year long, committing adultery as often as you open your mouth to blaspheme. You sinners have captured the wrath of heaven over this henceforth damned town. First the cold and the famine, then the plague, and finally the fire and the downpour. Only the fire can purify this filthy cursed place. It is time to punish these sinners before it is too late!”
The mood of the city changed swiftly these days, shaken by fear and despair, hatred and fury, bigotry and superstitions. People lost the little rationality they had, they stopped recognizing their own brothers and sisters. They had reached a point in which their thirst for culprits became unbearable. Citizens accused of being witches or infectors were arrested after perfunctory trials, and sometimes executed, as often as the sun rose behind the blue washed mountains, above the crystalline lake that seemed blissfully ignorant of the ongoing tragedy. How could the truth be so ugly in front of such a marvelous nature, townsmen wondered.
As the situation was worsening, Gaetar’s inclination to leave the town was strengthening, as reports claimed that the countryside was less badly affected. They could even sleep under a tent in their meadow as nights were getting warmer. However Elisabeth thought it would be a betrayal to escape. She also wished to be a spectator of the human tragedy till the end, founding remarkably interesting how people showed their true nature only in the midst of difficulties. Gaetar was in a quandary, as he didn’t want to abandon his brothers in arms, but at the same time his little voice of wisdom told him they ought to leave before it was too late. What if one of them caught the plague? The poor idealists had not considered the situation in all its gravity.
Ultimately, it is Lausanne that betrayed the lovers.
Someone spread the news that the builder was living in a union with a woman, without the divine blessing; this woman was not from Lausanne, she came from a Catholic family, and even worse she wrote poems and essays about sophisticated ideas of hers, going as far as claiming that women were equal of men. It was the shopkeeper from whom they had been buying their paper and ink that revealed the latter information, as the lovers had become good friends with him, and they sometimes discussed their ideas together. People were starting to remember and interpret the most innocuous details and acts in their terror, seeing evilness everywhere, except in themselves, of course.
They were henceforth arrested by a band of city guards, armed with swords and muskets. They started their ascension toward La Cité, the place of judgement, which decided of the destiny of poor mortals. The city was wrapped in a ghostly silence, most of shops and stalls were closed because of the plague, and the streets were encumbered with filth and corpses. They crossed the little stone bridge over la Louve, passed by the vaulted passageway under the City Hall and reached Place de la Palud, where they made a halt. The guards wanted to make sure to give enough time for inhabitants to see the captives. Survivors rushed to their windows and balconies, gesticulating and screaming with hatred, breaking the surreal quietness. They started throwing their filth as the lovers slowly passed under their buildings
Perched above the basins of her fountain and variegated with her most beautiful ornaments, Lady Justice was staring at them with utter indifference, before losing their sight. When they were worried, honest people comforted by seeing Lady Justice standing above the head of kings, popes, sultans and emperors.
She too had betrayed them.
They pursued their ascension passing through St Etienne Gate, separating the lower city from the upper Cité, and by the Archbishopric and the Cathedral, from where the lovers thought that they may well get their last view on the town, the lake and the mountains. They clenched their hands till pain, shivering despite the warm and balmy afternoon. The sky was cloudless and birds were merrily singing but the mountains were shrouded by an opaque haze, appearing distant and out of reach. The little troop was then engulfed by the narrow alleys of La Cité, and the new Academy appeared almost completed on their left. The lover’s journey was reaching a dead end, literally and figuratively, as they set their feet on a square, separated by deep moats from the Castle, and enclosed from all sides by high ramparts except for a small gate under St Maire Tower. They crossed a drawbridge, at the right of a painted clock with a needle which shade embraced the fourth hour after noon. They eventually penetrated the shadows enclosed by the powerful walls of the Castle.
They waited an incalculable amount of hours, the worst of their life, sitting on the floor of a deep windowless vaulted room receiving all its light from a narrow arrowslit.
“We were too happy… too happy for it to last,” murmured Elisabeth in a sob, “I was always… terrified by happiness and blissfulness.”
“I am so, so, sorry, my love,” replied Gaetar with a choked voice. “I am already burning from inside for having brought this end upon you. I am unpardonable. If only I had…”
“No, No! I pray you not to add anything. No, I do not regret anything, anything. If we could go back in time, I would always do the same choices, over and over, over and over. I beg you not to ever think of that again. Meeting you was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“Promise that we will stay together till the end, united in life, united and death,” she later said. “I know you well, and I know that you will try to sacrifice yourself to save me, though I don’t think that this possibility even exist.”
For a few minutes, he stayed still and silent, staring at her, until his eyes filled with tears.
“Oh Gaetar, promise it, please do. Living without you would not have any sense.”
He reluctantly nodded, hugging her between his arms. They stayed in this spelling position for a time that appeared endless, before their near end.
Few days later – they had completely lost the notion of time in their confinement – they were brought to the Parson and the Bailiff for a hasty judgement in a large room furnished with massive carved wood, rich persian carpets, painted walls and ceilings with heraldries and biblical scenes.
They were completely dazzled by the amount of sunlight that penetrated through a large window with a view on the Cité and the towers of the Cathedral. Indeed, the paths of condemnation and forgiveness were blurred, under the sway of the wind that agitated the throng combined with the whims of the powerful. The court had already satisfied its appetite in blood in the last week, considering that the plague had quieted down in the last days. They nevertheless made use of all their skills to bring the accused to a confession.
The lovers showed a rare quietness before their approaching death. They desperately clung together, but their faces were cold and determined, and they replied bluntly to the interrogatory. Indeed they loved each others without being married, separated by their origins and by their religion, but they had not done any other harm. Their only wish was to be burnt in each other arms Elisabeth had exclaimed, if that was the will of the court, their indistinguishable ashes brought by the wind to the river, and from the river to the lake, ending up in the silt of its bottomlands where they would have later become a hard indissoluble rock, unified till ends of time, at the feet of the city that brought them to the two extreme of the scale of feelings, from utmost happiness to ruthless misery.
It was a too tempting occasion for judges not to pronounce the capital sentence, as the culprits seemed to fear separation more than death.
Thereby, they declared the woman a witch, and decided she was to be imprisoned in the souterrain under the crypt of the Cathedral. The builder was to be confined for few years in the jail of the Castle. This way the witch would be put out of state to harm, with tons of sacred stones above her devilish soul; and far from her, the builder would have the freedom of mind to redeem.
Elisabeth’s worst nightmare was happening. She faltered in Gaetar’s arms. He had the time to say, “I will not rest before we embrace again, I will find you wherever Fate takes you,” before the guards snatched the lovers to confine them in their respective dungeons.
She was thrown in a huge and wet vaulted room, from which a strong stench emanated, already enclosing tens of other women accused of witchery. He was placed in a tiny cell barred by a heavy wooden door and a thick metal grid. The Castle and the Cathedral silently confronted each other, gloriously standing at both extremities of La Cité, seemingly pleased with their holy action. The lovers were henceforth separated by a series of unshakably heavy gates and a long cobbled alley, condemned not to ever see each other again, left to their dreadful destiny in the likelihood not to survive more than few months in such horrid conditions, at a time in which the life expectation of respectable people living in the bright sunlight could be limited to a couple of days.
Nevertheless, Gaetar the Builder was not a man who admitted easily defeat. Retrieving his spirits after a long night of sleep, he started thinking how he could twist again his destiny. He inspected his cell with attention. 8 foot in length by 5 foot in width, one of its short walls was part of a vault, probably belonging to the original structure of the underground floor of the Castle; the cell was enclosed by two other walls, which probably separated it from other similar cells, and the last side was barred by the gate. The soil was made of clay. The furniture was composed of a straw mattress, a wool blanket and a piece of trunk usable as a pillow. There was a small hole against the curved wall that served the purpose of latrines. The only light entering his cell percolated through the wooden door that had a small louver. He explored the pockets of his coat and he gladly inventoried a pocketnife, a tinder lighter, a small inkpot, a pen and a notebook on which he drew his plans and wrote down his ideas. He also had around fifty pennies left.
The gaoler, a forty-year old man, opened the wooden door to give him his daily meal through the metallic grid. Gaetar tried to obtain an interview with the Bailiff who seemed more rational than the Parson, arguing that he needed to liquidate his house and affairs. After taking a bribe, the gaoler accepted to mention his request. A couple of days passed, and he found out that it was out of the question.
“Don’t worry, the State will take good care of all your possessions,” the gaoler said with a wink, “in plain words, don’t expect to find anything waiting for you, if someday they decide to release you.”
Gaetar dominated himself not to insult the man. He needed to keep quiet and think of something else, for Elisabeth’s sake. He was perfectly conscious that he couldn’t count on any outside relation. These were troubled times and people could only think of saving their own skin.
He was nervously pacing through his tiny cell, unable to take any rest, a lump in his throat while imagining what poor Elisabeth was going through, when he was struck by a thought, a crazy idea. He impatiently waited till the gaoler brought him his daily ration. Despite his cynicism, the gaoler rather seemed to be a good chap, eager to enjoy the pleasures of life. That was a very good point in his favor, at a time in which the naturally jolly and mischievous character of Vaudois was oppressed by the Swiss severity and austerity.
“I have a market to propose you, and I am sure that you will be pleased to hear more about it. I feel terribly bored and lonely here, and I need to occupy my hands not to become completely crazy,” said Gaetar.
“Come to the point young man!” replied the seasoned gaoler.
“I am a stone carver, the best one in town if you want to hear the truth. If I had some raw stones and tools to work them, I would carve blasons and animals that could be sold on the market at five or ten pennies the piece. I now can give you twenty pennies to supply me with all what I need, and then we will share in half the profits of my productions. I can carve one stone per week.”
A light passed furtively through the man’s eyes. Five pennies a week were more than enough for a hearty meal washed down with good wine followed by a merry night at the tavern. Appetite comes with eating, and he tried to negotiate. After a long discussion (Gaetar did not want to give way too easily not to awaken the man’s suspicions), it was agreed that the gaoler would keep the profit of three carved stones over five, and that Gaetar would give him 10 more pennies for his efforts to get him all what he needed.
While waiting for the material, that he received wrapped up in a cloth few days later, Gaetar started thinking of how to proceed with his idea. He fortunately had a detailed map of Lausanne, divided by neighborhoods, on his notebook. He opened the map of La Cité, and engraved it with his knife on the plaster covering one of the walls enlarging its dimensions. He also reconstituted the plan of the Castle, and the position of his cell inside. If he was not erring, his cell was on the Southern wall of the Castle, close to the South-Eastern turret. He had often heard that there was an underground passage from the aforementioned turret to the old Bishopric, passing by the crypt of the Cathedral. The time had come to test if it was the truth. His sharp vision of buildings’ structures and dimensions was of great help to decide how he was going to dig a tunnel between his cell and the passage.
He amorously caressed the stone scalpel, eager to start with his plan, having decide that he would first dig the clay layer on the floor under his mattress. However, Gaetar started showing the symptoms of the plague. He spent the day lying down on his mattress, his throat on fire, desperately thirsty and shivering like a sheet in the Northern wind. He fell in unconsciousness, and stayed in a state between death and life for many days, sometimes shaken with hallucinations, calling Elisabeth’s name with piercing cries that shook the whole basement.
At a certain point during his illness, he heard the bell of convicts resonating in a roar that echoed from the abyss of earth. Later it continued to resonate in his ears, endlessly, sending shivers through all his bones. He felt that his mind was about to burst and disintegrate. In a lightning of consciousness, he thought that the time to part from the world had come. But no, no, he could not egoistically leave it. He had a promise to keep, he had to save the woman he loved.
Gaetar desperately gripped to life. The miracle happened and he started recovering, helped by his robust constitution. Luckily, his gaoler had not been afraid to continue bringing a jug of water every day, as he had himself contracted the plague and escaped from death.
After several weeks of inactivity, Gaetar resumed stone carving, a craft he had learnt to master during his teenhood. He made sure to have a production of one stone per week, starting by chiseling lion heads and busts, an animal that was on the new coat of arms of Lausanne, and which would meet the favor of wealthy townsmen. A lion head needed around half a day of work, but he only worked on it when he heard the clicking of locks, announcing the visit of the gaoler. The remaining of the time, he was digging his hole. He rapidly came to an end of the clay, and started attacking the molasse, a grey sandstone, the most used building material in Lausanne, which crumbled quite easily under his knowing assaults.
He soon had to cope with two problems. It was quite hard to work without light, and he was extracting a large volume of rocks and sand, which he need to put somewhere. He proposed a new deal for his gaoler: if the latter could fetch him an oil lamp (at Gaetar’s expenses, of course), he could increase his weekly production to two carved stones. As these were selling quite well (most probably the gaoler was selling them at more than 10 pennies and keeping the margin), he eagerly agreed. As for the rocks he excavated, Gaetar piled them against the most obscure lateral wall.
After few weeks of vertical digging, he started to incline southward the gallery he was cutting down in the gentle molasse.
Etienne, the gaoler, with whom he was starting to get along quite well after the success of their little businesses, had told him that after a new outburst of the plague it now seemed to be dying away. Life was shyly resuming its course despite the direness that reigned in the country of Vaud, ravaged by famine and plague.
Gaetar had bribed him to try to give a letter to Elisabeth. However, Etienne knew that it could bring him troubles to come in contact with a witch, and he simply threw the letter in the fireplace, while ensuring the prisoner that he had accomplished his mission, saying he had entrusted one of his relations at the Cathedral with the letter. He didn’t hesitate to complete the lie saying that Elisabeth had received the letter, but that it would have been impossible to reply. What harm could they be in protecting his interests, while soothing the prisoner?
It had been three months Gaetar was in his cell when the gallery was deep enough to make it feasible to reach the underground passage, if there was any, and if he was lucky enough to find it. He counted days by engraving small sticks on the plaster of the wall that had become his council of war, between his drawings and the map of La Cité.
It took him three more months to reach the passage. He was on the verge to lose hope, slimmed and weakened. With his emaciated face and feverish eyes, he looked more like a ghost. It is only his passion for Elisabeth that kept him ongoing, obsessed with the thought of completing his mission. His imagination was haunted by images of his loved one sharing a space with vulgar women and brutal men, sad and despaired, her green eyes left expressionless, having cried all her tears, maybe cursing the day on which they had met. He couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t take any rest. All his being strived toward a single goal, finding the blessed passage.
He eventually found it. That day, he crawled on the ramp he had dug, and after few hours of work, a thin wall collapsed, and he ended up in a wide gallery. He refrained not to shout for joy, and started exploring it. It was closed by a heavy door from the side of the turret, and as he counted 200 foot, it was enclosed by another heavy door. He had to pierce the wall to come to its end. Behind it, he discovered a flight of stairs that he climbed, bringing him nearer to the surface of the street leading from the Castle from the Cathedral. But he was not yet out of the maze.
After many hardships, he broke in the caves of the house that you can see at the corner of this street, in front ot the Academy that serves now the purpose of a high school. The Bookseller pointed his finger at the window. These caves were the middle point between the Castle and the Cathedral, and they were closed by four gates. One that he had broken after one week of work, another one that probably guarded the passage leading to the Cathedral, but he didn’t know where the other two could bring. This was not time for curiosity, and he attacked with fury one of the last rempart that divided him from Elisabeth. The caves contained huge quantities of supplies, that could nourish an entire regiment for several months: jute bags of flour and barley, barrels with dried meat, wine and salt.
However, as he was back in his cell, docilely carving his stone and waiting for his meal, the grid opened, and the gaoler pushed what looked like a new prisoner, his new cellmate. He was an old man with depleted hair, a white beard and dreamy blue eyes, his face imprinted with a grave expression.
Gaetar felt his chest was about to burst, he was so close from his objective. He kept still on his straw mattress, mechanically occupying his hands with the carving, wondering how to avoid revealing the wide opening that was hidden by the blanket, silently cursing his ill luck. The new prisoner sat down on the floor, engrossed in his thoughts, and observing him from time to time.
At this point, for a split second Gaetar thought of killing the old man. It would have been easy to hit him with a stone. But he dismissed that thought with horror: even though he was a sacrificial victim of injustice, nothing gave him the right to himself commit such an offense. He imagined Elisabeth’s reproachful gaze after realizing what level of despair he had reached.
To repair his mental crime, he started conversing with the old man. André Tolochenay, that was his name, had been jailed because he owed money to an unscrupulous usurer. It had been a dark year for him, as he had lost his wife, two sons and a daughter, from the plague. He had himself caught it, but he had the misfortune to survive.
“The worst thing that can happen to a man is to bury his wife and his own children. The worst thing,” said Tolochenay, his eyes full of tears. He was now left alone in this cold world, solitary with his old bones, with no other objectives than slowly descending the path to the grave. He also inhabited St Laurent neighborhood. Despite his modest origins, he seemed to be well-educated. He revealed that he was a story teller. He used to tell legends and stories of battles, and tens of people came to listen to him, hanging on his lips every night, at the inn during winter and under the starry sky during summer.
Gaetar felt a strong sympathy for this man. Pushed by an unknown force, he started telling his own story in every detail. His narration lasted for tens of hours. It had been so much time he didn’t speak for long. He was not anymore used to hear the sound of his own voice. As he went through his story, meeting the lucid and sympathetic gaze of Tolochenay, he felt his heart lighter. He eventually told him about all his plan to deliver Elisabeth.
While his new cellmate was resting on the mattress, Gaetar went down to pursue his underground quest. After ten days of work, he accessed to the last portion of the underground gallery, that was now steeply descending. He reached a door that probably gave on the crypts under Cathedral, passing under the cloister that leaned on its Northern facade. It was a cold night of December.
Tolochenay advised him to wait few more days, till Christmas eve, as all the guards would be busy, and it could be the right occasion to break the last barrier separating him from Elisabeth.
On the night of the 24th of December, he embraced Tolochenay, bidding him farewell, and rushed in the gallery. He overcame what he thought to be the last door standing before his lover in the space of two hours, went through a corridor, and discovered himself in the crypt under the Cathedral, a huge, dimly litten room, with crossed arches and thick pillars.
He furiously looked for stairs, as Elisabeth was held prisoner under the crypts, from what he remembered. He found them and rushed down. He knocked down a last door and made a sensational entry in what looked like caves, welcomed by the screams of fright of some women, and the same stench he had become used to in these seven months.
“Elisabeth! Elisabeth! Where are you?” said Gaetar running in all directions. It was a succession of vaulted caves, separated by narrow archways and a few stairs. “Please tell me where is Elisabeth! You are all free to go. But before tell me where is Elisabeth!”
“Are you Gaetar?” asked a young woman after a long hesitation.
“Yes. How did you know?” She lowered her eyes, unable to speak. “How did you know? Where is Elisabeth?”
“Elisabeth… is gone. I am so sorry…”
“Where is she gone?”
“She was condemned… to the stake… six months ago.”
And then, the bells of death resonated again in Gaetar’s ears. He remembered in a flash his long sickness, and that terrifying sound that echoed over and over. He visualized Elisabeth, blindfolded, thrust on a stage, and the ululations of the throng, and Elisabeth snatching the blindfold to see the world for a last time with all its colors. A cloudless sky, the mountains, the lake, the red and brownish roofs, the thin threads of smoke rising from chimneys, the powerful fortifications that had become their prison, trees covered by flowers, agitated by a soft cool wind and rocked by birdsinging. After looking for the last time at the landscape, she would have considered the throng, her favorite topic of reflexion, the human folly, surrounded by a sea of friendly bloodthirsty people. And then, a last thought for her lover, before entering the flames…
“It happened during the last surge of the plague. They condemned most women accused of witchery…I was her friend, and when… her time came, she told me to show you this.” She pointed at a message engraved on the wall. “She knew that you would come…”
For my loved Gaetar
You are everything for me
I loved you, I love you and I will love you
My only regret is to part without saluting you
But circumstances have decided otherwise
And it is harder for you than for me.
When you will read my last words
I will be in a nice and comfortable place
A place with no worries where rivers are filled with gentleness,
Surrounded by all the books I have ever dreamt to read
Thinking of you, praying for you
In this unfair world filled with hardships and misery
I pray and beg you not to give up life
And to realize your dream, our dream,
And to make me proud from above.
-Elisabeth Du Creusay
Gaetar staggered in front of the wall, reading over and over her last words. He came closer and started sobbing, kissing word by word. He collapsed on his knees. The whole world had turned dark for him.
After a time long like an eternity, Gaetar stood up and started running toward the underground passage from where he had come.
“You have not died! You have not died!” He madly shouted. “I know you will come back! I will be waiting for you night and day…”
And he disappeared, swallowed by a maze of galleries, taking refuge in the tender brittleness of the molasse, in the darkness of the underground world.
This is where the lovers’ story ends, and where their legend starts.
It is old Tolochenay that made their story famous. He spent the last winters of his life by his fireside, never losing the ability to tell marvelous tales, with his deep and expressive voice and his lively hands.
The legend says that Gaetar became insane, and that he lived seventy or eighty more years in the underground maze of galleries under Lausanne, tormented by his passion till the very end.
Gaetar believed that he would retrieve Elisabeth once he had entirely built his ideal city. But it was to be an underground city, hidden from the lunacy of throng and tyrants, sheltered from the cruelty of gods. With the only strength of his hands, he extended the underground galleries to the four extremities of the town, from St Maire Castle to the Cathedral, reaching Saint-Francois and the Ale tower and the meanders of La Barre’s hill. Some go as far as saying that he had dug a passageway between the town and the port of Ouchy.
He then started recruiting other people: lepers and prostitutes, poors and orphans, prisoners and madmen, philosophers and poets. He taught them how to use the masonry tools, and they started building together the most beautiful city that the Sun would have ever seen, if He could just catch but a glimpse of its marvels.
A version of the legend tells that Gaetar also took revenge of the people who had caused his misfortune, the Bailiff, the Parson, the gaoler. He was the utmost master of the underground city, the King of all the rocks on which people walked. He drilled galleries wherever he liked, whenever he wished, and he could have a surprise access to any building in Lausanne, by day and by night, never hesitating to supply himself with all what he needed. The heartbroken bat, or rat (depending of point of views), haunting the underground world was one of the many names he became known by.
It was a city where everyone was equal, men and women, poor and rich, literate and ignorant. It was a city of art and poetry, a place that was not governed by money, but by passion and craft. It was a city where rocks shone more than all the gold and the silver of the world.
The first utopia was born in the bosom of Lausanne’s molasse, under the boots of its dignified townsmen and parsons.
During its golden times, the legend claims that more than one thousand inhabitants lived in the underground city christened with the name of la Cité Enfouie. Like a fireplace in the shadows attracts flying moths, it guided the people who had felt on their own skin that the upperground world was governed by unfairness and cruelty.
Every citizen of la Cité Enfouie left free reign to his cravings and imagination to build his own abode shaping the city in the most fanciful ways. The only rule was to build everything of rock. Everyone also participated in a joint work to build its monuments, under the knowing guidance of Gaetar. But do not think that those monuments were arrogant cathedrals drowning poor mortals with holy water or mastodon castles depriving people from their freedom or palaces sowing envy in their hearts. These monuments were light and airy and sensitive. It seemed that the slightest breeze would give them life. There were trees and forests delicately sculpted in stones, where meandered a glacial stream of underground water, there were bridges in the shape of vessels, there were faces and animals and angels and demons. There were entire scenes of life made of stone. Each person was entirely free to contribute the way she wanted to the public space of the city.
Monuments were not gathered in one place, but all the city was monumental, the facade of houses, their gardens. Sometimes people chose to tell the story of the misfortunes that overwhelmed their upperlife in stone engravings. Others who did not want to recall these painful memories engraved some scenes of the life they would have dreamt to lead. Some simply left free course to their galloping imagination, resulting in the most improbable spectacles of stones.
Few of them knew how to read, yet they wrote the largest book that has ever seen the light, in the tender molasse, a book containing their own feelings and aspirations, made with their own sweat and blood.
The Cité Enfouie became an extraordinary place, full of bittersweet wisdom. A place that unleashed, at the same time, sorrow for all these wasted lives, and hope for what they could accomplish together.
“There are three conditions for redemption in your broken existence, brother. Feeling sympathy for others and never judging on appearances, not worrying about what to eat on the morrow, and occupying your arms with a vain but creative work letting your mind sail freely above the remparts that smothered us in the upperworld. Follow these rules and the Cité Enfouie will provide for everything else,” was announced to newcomers.
Ancient Greeks used theater as a catharsis, to purge the negative emotions of the crowd. The inhabitants of the Cité Enfouie healed their wounds through storytelling, silent storytelling, in a slow struggle with the rock, tiring their arms until oblivion.
At the end, despite the builder’s presumed madness, Elisabeth could not have been prouder of her Gaetar, the architect of the Cité Enfouie, a place that reflected the existence of its inhabitants and founders, with its lot of joy, misery and hope.