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Chapter 8


May 29, 1841.

A few days ago I was passing along the Rue de
Chartres.* A palisade of boards, which linked two islands
of high six-story houses, attracted my attention. It threw
upon the pavement a shadow which the sunshine, penetrating
between the badly joined boards, striped with beautiful
parallel streaks of gold, such as one sees on the fine black
satins of the Renaissance. I strolled over to it and peered
through the cracks.

* The little Rue de Chartres was situated on the site now occupied
by the Pavilion de Rohan. It extended from the open ground of the
Carrousel to the Place du Palais-Royal. The old Vaudeville Theatre
was situated in it.

This palisade encloses the site on which was built the
Vaudeville Theatre, that was destroyed by fire two years
ago, in June, 1839.

It was two o'clock in the afternoon, the sun shone hotly,
the street was deserted.

A sort of house door, painted grey, still ornamented with
rococo carving and which a hundred years ago probably
was the entrance to the boudoir of some little mistress, had
been adjusted to the palisade. There was only a latch to
raise, and I entered the enclosure.

Nothing could be sadder or more desolate. A chalky
soil. Here and there blocks of stone that the masons had
begun to work upon, but had abandoned, and which were
at once white as the stones of sepulchres and mouldy as
the stones of ruins. No one in the enclosure. On the walls
of the neighbouring houses traces of flame and smoke still

However, since the catastrophe two successive springtides
had softened the ground, and in a corner of the
trapezium, behind an enormous stone that was becoming
tinted with the green of moss, and beneath which were
haunts of woodlice, millepeds, and other insects, a little
patch of grass had grown in the shadow.

I sat on the stone and bent over the grass.

Oh! my goodness! there was the prettiest little Easter
daisy in the world, and flitting about it was a charming
microscopical gnat.

This flower of the fields was growing peaceably and in
accordance with the sweet law of nature, in the open, in the
centre of Paris, between a couple of streets, two paces from
the Palais-Royal, four paces from the Carrousel, amid
passers-by, omnibuses and the King's carriages.

This wild flower, neighbour of the pavement, opened up
a wide field of thought. Who could have foreseen, two
years ago, that a daisy would be growing on this spot! If, as
on the ground adjoining, there had never been anything but
houses, that is to say, proprietors, tenants, and hail porters,
careful residents extinguishing candle and fire at night
before going to sleep, never would there have been a wild
flower here.

How many things, how many plays that failed or were
applauded, how many ruined families, how many incidents,
how many adventures, how many catastrophes were
summed up in this flower! To all those who lived upon the
crowd that was nightly summoned here, what a spectre
this flower would have been had it appeared to them two
years ago! What a labyrinth is destiny and what
mysterious combinations there were that led up to the advent
of this enchanting little yellow sun with its white rays.
It required a theatre and a conflagration, which are the
gaiety and the terror of a city, one of the most joyous
inventions of man and one of the most terrible visitations of
God, bursts of laughter for thirty years and whirlwinds of
flame for thirty horn's to produce this Easter daisy, the de-
light of a gnat.

Victor Hugo