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The Hunchback of Notre Dame

4. The Inconveniences Of Following A Pretty Woman Through
The Streets In The Evening
Gringoire set out to follow the gypsy at all hazards. He had seen her,
accompanied by her goat, take to the Rue de la Coutellerie; he took the Rue de
la Coutellerie.
"Why not?" he said to himself.
Gringoire, a practical philosopher of the streets of Paris, had noticed that nothing
is more propitious to revery than following a pretty woman without knowing
whither she is going. There was in this voluntary abdication of his freewill, in this
fancy submitting itself to another fancy, which suspects it not, a mixture of
fantastic independence and blind obedience, something indescribable,
intermediate between slavery and liberty, which pleased Gringoire,--a spirit
essentially compound, undecided, and complex, holding the extremities of all
extremes, incessantly suspended between all human propensities, and
neutralizing one by the other. He was fond of comparing himself to Mahomet's
coffin, attracted in two different directions by two loadstones, and hesitating
eternally between the heights and the depths, between the vault and the
pavement, between fall and ascent, between zenith and nadir.
If Gringoire had lived in our day, what a fine middle course he would hold
between classicism and romanticism!
But he was not sufficiently primitive to live three hundred years, and 'tis a pity.
His absence is a void which is but too sensibly felt to-day.
Moreover, for the purpose of thus following passers-by (and especially female
passers-by) in the streets, which Gringoire was fond of doing, there is no better
disposition than ignorance of where one is going to sleep.
So he walked along, very thoughtfully, behind the young girl, who hastened her
pace and made her goat trot as she saw the bourgeois returning home and the
taverns--the only shops which had been open that day--closing.
"After all," he half thought to himself, "she must lodge somewhere; gypsies have
kindly hearts. Who knows?--"
And in the points of suspense which he placed after this reticence in his mind,
there lay I know not what flattering ideas.
Meanwhile, from time to time, as he passed the last groups of bourgeois closing
their doors, he caught some scraps of their conversation, which broke the thread
of his pleasant hypotheses.
Now it was two old men accosting each other.
"Do you know that it is cold, Master Thibaut Fernicle?" (Gringoire had been
aware of this since the beginning of the winter.)
"Yes, indeed, Master Boniface Disome! Are we going to have a winter such as
we had three years ago, in '80, when wood cost eight sous the measure?"
"Bah! that's nothing, Master Thibaut, compared with the winter of 1407, when it
froze from St. Martin's Day until Candlemas! and so cold that the pen of the
registrar of the parliament froze every three words, in the Grand Chamber! which
interrupted the registration of justice."
 
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