Part 2. Chapter V. Result of the dangers
Gringoire, thoroughly stunned by his fall, remained on the pavement in front of the Holy Virgin at the street corner. Little by little, he regained his senses; at first, for several minutes, he was floating in a sort of half-somnolent revery, which was not without its charm, in which æriel figures of the gypsy and her goat were coupled with Quasimodo’s heavy fist. This state lasted but a short time. A decidedly vivid sensation of cold in the part of his body which was in contact with the pavement, suddenly aroused him and caused his spirit to return to the surface.
“Whence comes this chill?” he said abruptly, to himself. He then perceived that he was lying half in the middle of the gutter.
“That devil of a hunchbacked cyclops!” he muttered between his teeth; and he tried to rise. But he was too much dazed and bruised; he was forced to remain where he was. Moreover, his hand was tolerably free; he stopped up his nose and resigned himself.
“The mud of Paris,” he said to himself—for decidedly he thought that he was sure that the gutter would prove his refuge for the night; and what can one do in a refuge, except dream?—“the mud of Paris is particularly stinking; it must contain a great deal of volatile and nitric salts. That, moreover, is the opinion of Master Nicholas Flamel, and of the alchemists—”
The word alchemists suddenly suggested to his mind the idea of Archdeacon Claude Frollo. He recalled the violent scene which he had just witnessed in part; that the gypsy was struggling with two men, that Quasimodo had a companion; and the morose and haughty face of the archdeacon passed confusedly through his memory. “That would be strange!” he said to himself. And on that fact and that basis he began to construct a fantastic edifice of hypothesis, that card-castle of philosophers; then, suddenly returning once more to reality, “Come! I’m freezing!” he ejaculated.
The place was, in fact, becoming less and less tenable. Each molecule of the gutter bore away a molecule of heat radiating from Gringoire’s loins, and the equilibrium between the temperature of his body and the temperature of the brook, began to be established in rough fashion.
Quite a different annoyance suddenly assailed him. A group of children, those little bare-footed savages who have always roamed the pavements of Paris under the eternal name of gamins, and who, when we were also children ourselves, threw stones at all of us in the afternoon, when we came out of school, because our trousers were not torn—a swarm of these young scamps rushed towards the square where Gringoire lay, with shouts and laughter which seemed to pay but little heed to the sleep of the neighbors. They were dragging after them some sort of hideous sack; and the noise of their wooden shoes alone would have roused the dead. Gringoire who was not quite dead yet, half raised himself.
“Ohé, Hennequin Dandèche! Ohé, Jehan Pincebourde!” they shouted in deafening tones, “old Eustache Moubon, the merchant at the corner, has just died. We’ve got his straw pallet, we’re going to have a bonfire out of it. It’s the turn of the Flemish to-day!”
And behold, they flung the pallet directly upon Gringoire, beside whom they had arrived, without espying him. At the same time, one of them took a handful of straw and set off to light it at the wick of the good Virgin.
“S’death!” growled Gringoire, “am I going to be too warm now?”
It was a critical moment. He was caught between fire and water; he made a superhuman effort, the effort of a counterfeiter of money who is on the point of being boiled, and who seeks to escape. He rose to his feet, flung aside the straw pallet upon the street urchins, and fled.
“Holy Virgin!” shrieked the children; “’tis the merchant’s ghost!”
And they fled in their turn.
The straw mattress remained master of the field. Belleforêt, Father Le Juge, and Corrozet affirm that it was picked up on the morrow, with great pomp, by the clergy of the quarter, and borne to the treasury of the church of Saint Opportune, where the sacristan, even as late as 1789, earned a tolerably handsome revenue out of the great miracle of the Statue of the Virgin at the corner of the Rue Mauconseil, which had, by its mere presence, on the memorable night between the sixth and seventh of January, 1482, exorcised the defunct Eustache Moubon, who, in order to play a trick on the devil, had at his death maliciously concealed his soul in his straw pallet.