The Suicide Club and Other Stories
A Lodging For The Night - A Story Of Francis Villon
It was late in November 1456. The snow fell over Paris with rigorous, relentless
persistence; sometimes the wind made a sally and scattered it in flying vortices;
sometimes there was a lull, and flake after flake descended out of the black night air,
silent, circuitous, interminable. To poor people, looking up under moist eyebrows, it
seemed a wonder where it all came from. Master Francis Villon had propounded an
alternative that afternoon, at a tavern window: was it only Pagan Jupiter plucking geese
upon Olympus? or were the holy angels moulting? He was only a poor Master of Arts, he
went on; and as the question somewhat touched upon divinity, he durst not venture to
conclude. A silly old priest from Montargis, who was among the company, treated the
young rascal to a bottle of wine in honour of the jest and the grimaces with which it was
accompanied, and swore on his own white beard that he had been just such another
irreverent dog when he was Villon's age.
The air was raw and pointed, but not far below freezing; and the flakes were large, damp,
and adhesive. The whole city was sheeted up. An army might have marched from end to
end and not a footfall given the alarm. If there were any belated birds in heaven, they saw
the island like a large white patch, and the bridges like slim white spars, on the black
ground of the river. High up overhead the snow settled among the tracery of the cathedral
towers. Many a niche was drifted full; many a statue wore a long white bonnet on its
grotesque or sainted head. The gargoyles had been transformed into great false noses,
drooping towards the point. The crockets were like upright pillows swollen on one side.
In the intervals of the wind, there was a dull sound of dripping about the precincts of the
The cemetery of St. John had taken its own share of the snow. All the graves were
decently covered; tall white housetops stood around in grave array; worthy burghers were
long ago in bed, benightcapped like their domiciles; there was no light in all the
neighbourhood but a little peep from a lamp that hung swinging in the church choir, and
tossed the shadows to and fro in time to its oscillations. The clock was hard on ten when
the patrol went by with halberds and a lantern, beating their hands; and they saw nothing
suspicious about the cemetery of St. John.
Yet there was a small house, backed up against the cemetery wall, which was still awake,
and awake to evil purpose, in that snoring district. There was not much to betray it from
without; only a stream of warm vapour from the chimney-top, a patch where the snow
melted on the roof, and a few half-obliterated footprints at the door. But within, behind
the shuttered windows, Master Francis Villon the poet, and some of the thievish crew
with whom he consorted, were keeping the night alive and passing round the bottle.
A great pile of living embers diffused a strong and ruddy glow from the arched chimney.
Before this straddled Dom Nicolas, the Picardy monk, with his skirts picked up and his
fat legs bared to the comfortable warmth. His dilated shadow cut the room in half; and
the firelight only escaped on either side of his broad person, and in a little pool between