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spirit of the defunct Eustache Moubon, who, to outwit the devil, had, in dying, maliciously hidden his soul in his mattress.
After running for some time as fast as his legs would carry him, without knowing whither, plunging headlong around many a street corner, striding over many a gutter, traversing many a lane and blind alley, seeking to find escape and passage through all the windings of the old streets about the markets, exploring in his panic fear what the elegant Latin of the charters calls tota via, cheminum et viaria, our poet came to a sudden stop, partly from lack of breath, and partly because he was collared as it were by a dilemma which had just dawned upon his mind. “It strikes me, Pierre Gringoire,” said he to himself, laying his finger to his forehead,“ that you are running as if you had lost your wits. Those little scamps were quite as much afraid of you as you were of them. It strikes me, I tell you, that you heard the clatter of their wooden shoes as they fled to the south, while you took refuge to the north. Now, one of two things : either they ran away, and then the mattress, which they must have forgotten in their fright, is just the hospitable bed which you have been running after since morning, and which Our Lady miraculously sends you to reward you for writing a morality in her honor, accompanied by triumphal processions and mummeries ; or else the boys did not run away, and in that case they have set fire to the mattress; and there you have just exactly the good fire that you need to cheer, warm, and dry you. In either case, whether as a good fire or a good bed, the mattress is a gift from Heaven. The Blessed Virgin Mary, at the corner of the Rue Mauconseil, may have killed Eustache Moubon for this very purpose; and it is sheer madness in you to betake yourself to such frantic flight, like a Picard running before a Frenchman, leaving behind what you are seeking before you; and you are a fool!”
Then he retraced his steps, and fumbling and ferreting his way, snuffing the breeze, and his ear on the alert, he strove to find the blessed mattress once more, but in vain. He saw nothing but intersecting houses, blind alleys, and crossings, in the midst of which he doubted and hesitated continually, more hindered and more closely entangled in this confusion of dark lanes than he would have been in the very labyrinth of the Hôtel des Tournelles. At last he lost patience, and exclaimed solemnly: “ Curse all these crossings! The der il himself must have made them in the likeness of his pitchfork.”
This outburst comforted him somewhat, and a sort of reddish reflection which he observed at this instant at the end of a long, narrow lane, quite restored his wonted spirits. “Heaven be praised !” said he; “yonder it is! There's my mattress burning briskly!” And comparing himself to the boatman foundering by night, he added piously : “ Salve, salve, maris stella!”
Did he address this fragment of a litany to the Holy Virgin, or to the mattress? That we are wholly unable to say.
He had taken but a few steps down the long lane, which was steep, unpaved, and more and more muddy and sloping, when he remarked a very strange fact. It was not empty : here and there, along its length, crawled certain vague and shapeless masses, all proceeding towards the light which flickered at the end of the street, like those clumsy insects which creep at night from one blade of grass to another towards a shepherd's fire.
Nothing makes a man bolder than the sense of an empty pocket. Gringoire continued to advance, and had soon orertaken that larva which dragged itself most lazily along behind the others. As he approached, he saw that it was nothing but a miserable cripple without any legs, strapped into a bowl, and hopping along as best he might on his hands, like a wounded spider which has but two legs left. Just as he passed this kind of human insect, it uttered a piteous appeal to him : “ La buona mancia, signor ! la buona mancia !”
“Devil fly away with you,” said Gringoire, “and with me too, if I know what you 're talking about!”
And he passed on.
He came up with another of these perambulating masses, and examined it. It was another cripple, both lame and onearmed, and so lame and so armless that the complicated system of crutches and wooden limbs which supported him made him look like a mason's scaffolding walking off by itself. Gringoire, who loved stately and classic similes, compared the fellow, in fancy, to Vulcan's living tripod.
The living tripod greeted him as he passed, by holding his hat at the level of Gringoire's chin, as if it had been a barber's basin, an i shouting in his ears : “ Señor caballero, para comprar un pedaso de pan!”
“ It seeris,” said Gringoire,“ that he talks too; but it's an ugly language, and he is better off than I am if he understands
Then, clapping his hand to his head with a sudden change of idea : “ By the way, what the devil did they mean this morning by their · Esmeralda'?”
He tried to quicken his pace; but for the third time something blocked the way. This something, or rather this some one, was a blind man, a little blind man, with a bearded Jewish face, who, feeling about him with a stick, and towed by a big dog, snuffled out to him with a Hungarian accent : “ Facitote caritatem !”
“ That's right!” said Pierre Gringoire; “here's one at last who speaks a Christian tongue. I must have a very charitable air to make all these creatures come to me for alms when my purse is so lean. My friend [and he turned to the blind man), I sold my last shirt last week ; that is to say, since you understand the language of Cicero, - Vendidi hebdomade nuper transita mean ultimam chemisam !'”
So saying, he turned his back on the blind man and went his way. But the blind man began to mend his steps at the same time with him; and lo and behold! the cripple and the man bound into the bowl hurried along after them with a great clatter of bowl and crutches over the pavement. Then all three, tumbling over each other in their haste at the heels of poor Gringoire, began to sing their several songs :
“ Caritatem !” sang the blind man. “ La buona mancia !” sang the man in the bowl. And the lame man took up the phrase with, “ Un pedaso de
Gringoire stopped his ears, exclaiming, “Oh, tower of Babel!”
He began to run. The blind man ran. The lame man ran. The man in the bowl ran.
And then, the farther he went down the street, the more thickly did cripples, blind men, and legless men swarm around bim, with armless men, one-eyed men, and lepers with their sores, some coming out of houses, some from adjacent streets, some from cellar-holes, howling, yelling, bellowing, all hobbling and limping, rushing towards the light, and wallowing in the mire like slugs after a shower.
Gringoire, still followed by his three persecutors, and not knowing what would happen next, walked timidly through the rest, going around the lame, striding over the cripples, his feet entangled in this ant-bill of deformity and disease, like that English captain caught fast by an army of land-crabs.
He thought of retracing his steps; but it was too late. The entire legion had closed up behind him, and his three beggars pressed him close. He therefore went on, driven alike by this irresistible stream, by fear, and by a dizzy feeling which made all this seem a horrible dream.
At last he reached the end of the street. It opened into a vast square, where a myriad scattered lights twinkled through the dim fog of night. Gringoire hurried forward, hoping by the swiftness of his legs to escape the three infirm spectres who had fastened themselves upon him.
“ Onde vas hombre ?” cried the lame man, throwing away his crutches, and running after him with the best pair of legs that ever measured a geometric pace upon the pavements of Paris.
Then the man in the bowl, erect upon his feet, clapped his heavy iron-bound bowl upon Gringoire's head, and the blind man glared at him with flaming eyes.
“Where am I ?” asked the terrified poet.
“ In the Court of Miracles,” replied a fourth spectre, who had just accosted them.
“By my soul!” replied Gringoire ;“ I do indeed behold blind men seeing and lame men running; but where is the Saviour ?"
They answered with an evil burst of laughter.
The poor poet glanced around him. He was indeed in that fearful Court of Miracles, which no honest man had ever entered at such an hour; the magic circle within whose lines the officers of the Châtelet, and the provost's men who ventured to penetrate it, disappeared in morsels; a city of thieves, a hideous wart upon the face of Paris; the sewer whence escaped each morning, returning to stagnate at night, that rivulet of vice, mendicity, and vagrancy, perpetually overflowing the streets of every great capital; a monstrous hive, receiving nightly all the drones of the social order with their booty; the lying hospital, where the gypsy, the unfrocked monk, the ruined scholar, the scapegrace of every nation, Spanish, Italian, and German, and of every creed, Jew, Christian, Mahometan, and idolater, covered with painted sores, beggars by day, were transformed into robbers by night, — in short, a huge cloak-room, used at this period for the dressing and undressing of all the actors in the everlasting comedy enacted in the streets of Paris by theft, prostitution, and murder.
It was a vast square, irregular and ill-paved, like every other square in Paris at that time. Fires, around which swarmed
strange groups, gleamed here and there. People came and went, and shouted and screamed. There was a sound of shrill lauglıter, of the wailing of children, and the voices of women. The hands, the heads of this multitude, black against the luminous background, made a thousand uncouth gestures. At times, a dog which looked like a man, or a man who looked like a dog, passed over the space of ground lit up by the flames, blended with huge and shapeless shadows. The limits of race and species seemed to fade away in this city as in some pandemonium. Men, women, beasts, age, sex, health, disease, all seemed to be in common among these people; all was blended, mingled, confounded, superimposed; each partook of all.
The feeble fiickering light of the fires enabled Gringoire to distinguish, in spite of his alarm, all around the vast square a hideous framing of ancient houses whose worm-eaten, worn, misshapen fronts, each pierced by one or two lighted garret windows, looked to him in the darkness like the huge heads of old women ranged in a circle, monstrous and malign, watching and winking at the infernal revels.
It was like a new world, unknown, unheard of, deformed, creeping, swarming, fantastic.
Gringoire, more and more affrighted, caught by the three beggars, as if by three pairs of pincers, confused by the mass of other faces which snarled and grimaced about him, — the wretched Gringoire tried to recover sufficient presence of mind to recall whether it was Saturday or not. But his efforts were in vain; the thread of his memory and his thoughts was broken; and doubting everything, hesitating between what he saw and what he felt, he asked himself the unanswerable questions: “If I be I, are these things really so? If these things be so, am I really I?”
At this instant a distinct cry rose from the buzzing mub which surrounded him: “ Take him to the king ! take him to the king!”
“ Holy Virgin !” muttered Gringoire, “ the king of this region should be a goat.”
“ To the king ! to the king !” repeated every voice.
He was dragged away. Each one vied with the other in fastening his claws upon him. But the three beggars never loosed their hold, and tore him from the others, howling, “Ho is ours !”
The poet's feeble doublet breathed its last in the struggle.