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Three women walk along the shore of the river from the Châtelet toward the Place de Grève. Two of them are dressed like wives of respectable citizens of Paris. The third woman, who looks like a country peasant, is holding a boy by one hand and carrying a cake in the other. Her name is Mahiette. Her companions, Gervaise and Oudarde, are talking about recent events at the pillory and about the visit of the Flemish ambassador.
As the three women reach the foot of the bridge, they see a large crowd gathered. Gervaise announces that the crowd is watching the antics of La Esmeralda and her goat. When Mahiette hears the announcement, she runs away so quickly that she causes the small boy by her side to trip and fall. When her friends catch up with her, she tells them she is running because La Esmeralda will steal her child. She then explains what has happened to Pacquette la Chantefleurie.
Pacquette was a beautiful young girl who lived in Rheims. Her father died when she was an infant, and she and her mother were left to live in poverty. In spite of her plight, Pacquette was so lively and lovely that everyone called her La Chantefleurie. Because of her beauty, many men were attracted to her, but they always deserted her. When her mother died, Pacquette was totally alone. She became pregnant, and, after great difficulty, gave birth to a child. She named her baby Agnes and poured all her affection and devotion into the girl. One day, a troupe of Egyptian vagabonds and beggars came to Rheims and amused the people with their tricks. In the evening, they stole Agnes from her crib and replaced her with a monstrous looking baby. Pacquette lost her mind and disappeared from Rheims. The monstrous baby in her crib was sent to Paris as a foundling and was eventually adopted by a priest. The infant was obviously Quasimodo.
As Mahiette finishes her story about Pacquette, the women reach Rolande’s Tower. Sister Gudule, whom they have come to see, is praying. The three women watch her sadly, remarking on her sad state. When Sister Gudule sees the child with the women, she warns them to keep a close watch over their children. When Gudule refuses their gifts, Mahiette whispers her real name, "Pacquette." Sister Gudule jumps up and curses them for recognizing her and calling her by name.
This chapter is somewhat of a digression from the main plot of the novel and serves as a sub-plot about Pacquette. Her sad story revolves around the tale that her child Agnes was stolen from her crib and replaced with a horribly deformed infant. Although Hugo does not state that the baby was Quasimodo, from the description, it is obvious.
When Mahiette tells the story of Pacquette, she does not indicate what has happened to the young mother after she loses her baby and goes crazy. It is not until the end of the chapter that the reader realizes that Sister Gudule, whom the women have come to visit in Rolande’s Tower, is really Pacquette; however, when Mahiette calls her by her real name, Sister Gudule grows very agitated and curses the women, who have tried to befriend her and bring her a cake.