The Broken Pitcher

After running for some time as fast as his legs could carry him without knowing whither, rushing head foremost into many a street corner, leaping gutters, traversing numberless alleys, courts, and streets, seeking flight and passage among the endless meanderings of the old street round the Halles, exploring in his blind panic what the elegant Latin of the Charters describes as “tota via, cheminum et viaria,” our poet suddenly drew up short, first because he was out of breath, and secondly because an unexpected idea gripped his mind.

“It appears to me, Maître Pierre Gringoire,” he apostrophized himself, tapping his forehead, “that you must be demented to run thus. Those little ragamuffins were just as frightened of you as you of them. If I mistake not, you heard the clatter of their sabots making off southward, while you were fleeing to the north. Now of two things one: either they ran away, and the mattress, forgotten in their flight, is precisely the hospitable bed you have been searching for since the morning, and which Our Lady conveys to you miraculously as a reward for having composed in her honour a Morality accompanied by triumphs and mummeries; or, on the other hand, the boys have not run away, and, in that case, they have set fire to the mattress, which will be exactly the fire you are in need of to cheer, warm, and dry you. In either case—good fire or good bed—the mattress is a gift from Heaven. The thrice-blessed Virgin Mary at the corner of the Rue Mauconseil has maybe caused Eustache Moubon to die for that identical purpose, and it is pure folly on your part to rush off headlong, like a Picard running from a Frenchman, leaving behind what you are seeking in front —decidedly you are an idiot!”

Accordingly, he began to retrace his steps, and with much seeking, ferreting about, nose on the scent, and ears pricked, he endeavoured to find his way back to that blessed mattress —but in vain. It was one maze of intersecting houses, blind alleys, and winding streets, among which he hesitated and wavered continually, more bewildered and entangled in this network of dark alleys than he would have been in the real labyrinth of the Hotel des Tournelles. Finally he lost patience and swore aloud: “A malediction upon these alleys! The devil himself must have made them after the pattern of his pitchfork!”

Somewhat relieved by this outburst, next moment his nerve was completely restored by catching sight of a red glow at the end of a long, narrow street.

“Heaven be praised!” said he, “there it is—that must be the blaze of my mattress,” and likening himself to a pilot in danger of foundering in the night, “Salve,” he added piously, “Salve maris stella!” but whether this fragment of litany was addressed to the Virgin or to the mattress, we really are unable to say.

He had advanced but a few steps down the narrow street, which was on an incline, unpaved, and more and more miry as it neared the bottom, when he became aware of a curious fact. The street was not deserted. Here and there he caught sight of vague and indeterminate shapes, all crawling in the direction of the light that flickered at the end of the street, like those lumbering insects which creep at night from one blade of grass to another towards a shepherd’s fire.

Nothing makes one more boldly venturesome than the consciousness of an empty pocket. Gringoire, therefore, continued his way and soon came up with the last of these weird objects dragging itself clumsily after the rest. On closer inspection he perceived that it was nothing but a miserable fragment, a stump of a man hobbling along painfully on his two hands like a mutilated grasshopper with only its front legs left. As he passed this kind of human spider it addressed him in a lamentable whine: “La buona mancia, signor! la buona mancia!1

“The devil fly away with thee!” said Gringoire, “and me too, if I know what that means.” And he passed on.

He reached another of those ambulatory bundles and examined it. It was a cripple with only one leg and one arm, but so legless and so armless that the complicated system of crutches and wooden legs on which he was supported gave him all the appearance of a scaffolding in motion. Gringoire, who dearly loved noble and classical similes, compared him in his own mind to the living tripod of Vulcan.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.