From Scylla to Charybdis

Night falls early in January. It was already dark in the streets when Gringoire quitted the Palais, which quite suited his taste, for he was impatient to reach some obscure and deserted alley where he might meditate in peace, and where the philosopher might apply the first salve to the wounds of the poet. Philosophy was his last refuge, seeing that he did not know where to turn for a night’s lodging. After the signal miscarriage of his first effort, he had not the courage to return to his lodging in the Rue Grenier- sur-l’Eau, opposite the hay-wharf, having counted on receiving from Monsieur the Provost for his epithalamium the wherewithal to pay Maître Guillaume Doulx-Sire, farmer of the cattle taxes in Paris, the six months’ rent he owed him; that is to say, twelve sols parisis, or twelve times the value of all he possessed in the world, including his breeches, his shirt, and his beaver.

Resting for a moment under the shelter of the little gateway of the prison belonging to the treasurer of the Sainte-Chapelle, he considered what lodging he should choose for the night, having all the pavements of Paris at his disposal. Suddenly he remembered having noticed in the preceding week, at the door of one of the parliamentary counsellors in the Rue de la Savaterie, a stone step, used for mounting on mule-back, and having remarked to himself that that stone might serve excellently well as a pillow to a beggar or a poet. He thanked Providence for having sent him this happy thought, and was just preparing to cross the Place du Palais and enter the tortuous labyrinth of the city, where those ancient sisters, the streets of la Baillerie, la Vielle-Draperie, la Savaterie, la Juiverie, etc., pursue their mazy windings, and are still standing to this day with their nine-storied houses, when he caught sight of the procession of the Pope of Fools, as it issued from the Palais and poured across his path with a great uproar, accompanied by shouts and glare of torches and Gringoire’s own band of music.

The sight touched his smarting vanity, and he fled. In the bitterness of his dramatic failure everything that reminded him of the unlucky festival exasperated him and made his wounds bleed afresh.

He would have crossed the Pont Saint-Michel, but children were running up and down with squibs and rockets.

“A murrain on the fire-works!” exclaimed Gringoire, turning back to the Pont-au-Change. In front of the houses at the entrance to the bridge they had attached three banners of cloth, representing the King, the Dauphin, and Marguerite of Flanders, and also six smaller banners or draplets on which were “pourtraicts” of the Duke of Austria, the Cardinal de Bourbon, M. de Beaujeu, Mme. Jeanne de France, and Monsieur the Bastard of Bourbon, and some one else, the whole lighted up by flaming cressets. The crowd was lost in admiration.

“Lucky painter, Jehan Fourbault,” said Gringoire with a heavy sigh, and turned his back upon the banners and the bannerets. A street opened before him so dark and deserted that it offered him every prospect of escape from all the sounds and the illuminations of the festival. He plunged into it. A few moments afterward his foot struck against an obstacle, he tripped and fell. It was the great bunch of may which the clerks of the Basoche had laid that morning at the door of one of the presidents of the parliament, in honour of the day.

Gringoire bore this fresh mishap with heroism; he picked himself up and made for the water-side. Leaving behind him the Tournelle Civile and the Tour Criminelle, and skirting the high walls of the royal gardens, ankle-deep in mud, he reached the western end of the city, and stopped for some time in contemplation of the islet of the Passeur-aux-vaches or ferry-man of the cattle, since buried under the bronze horse of the Pont-Neuf. In the gloom the islet looked to him like a black blot across the narrow, gray-white stream that separated him from it. One could just make out by a faint glimmer of light proceeding from it, the hive-shaped hut in which the ferry-man sheltered for the night.

“Happy ferry-man,” thought Gringoire, “thou aspirest not to fame; thou composest no epithalamiums. What carest thou for royal marriages or for Duchesses of Burgundy? Thou reckest of no Marguerites but those with which April pies the meadows for thy cows to crop. And I, a poet, am hooted at, and I

  By PanEris using Melati.

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