She had just arrived at the corner of the Rue Saint Mery. Since the recent Rue des Prouvaires conspiracy, there were stationed in this populous quarter of the town a much larger number of police-officers than usual. Now the young sempstress, though bending beneath the weight of her parcel, had quickened her pace almost to a run, when, just as she passed in front of one of the police, two five-franc pieces fell on the ground behind her, thrown there by a stout woman in black, who followed her closely.
Immediately after the stout woman pointed out the two pieces to the policeman, and said something hastily to him with regard to Mother Bunch. Then she withdrew at all speed in the direction of the Rue Brise-Miche.
The policeman, struck with what Mrs. Grivois had said to him ( for it was that person), picked up the money, and, running after the humpback, cried out to her: “Hi, there! young woman, I say—stop! stop!”
On this outcry, several persons turned round suddenly and, as always happens in those quarters of the town, a nucleus of five or six persons soon grew to a considerable crowd.
Not knowing that the policeman was calling to her, Mother Bunch only quickened her speed, wishing to get to the pawnbroker’s as soon as possible, and trying to avoid touching any of the passers-by, so much did she dread the brutal and cruel railleries, to which her infirmity so often exposed her.
Suddenly, she heard many persons running after her, and at the same instant a hand was laid rudely on her shoulder. It was the policeman, followed by another officer, who had been drawn to the spot by the noise. Mother Bunch turned round, struck with as much surprise as fear.
She found herself in the centre of a crowd, composed chiefly of that hideous scum, idle and in rags, insolent and malicious, besotted with ignorance, brutalized by want, and always loafing about the corners. Workmen are scarcely ever met with in these mobs, for they are for the most part engaged in their daily labors.
“Come, can’t you hear? you are deaf as Punch’s dog,” said the policeman, seizing Mother Bunch so rudely by the arm, that she let her parcel fall at her feet.
When the unfortunate girl, looking round in terror, saw herself exposed to all those insolent, mocking, malicious glances, when she beheld the cynical and coarse grimace on so many ignoble and filthy countenances, she trembled in all her limbs, and became fearfully pale. No doubt the policeman had spoken roughly to her; but how could he speak otherwise to a poor deformed girl, pale and trembling, with her features agitated by grief and fear—to a wretched creature, miserably clad, who wore in winter a thin cotton gown, soiled with mud, and wet with melted snow—for the poor sempstress had walked much and far that morning. So the policeman resumed, with great severity, following that supreme law of appearances which makes poverty always suspected: “Stop a bit, young woman! it seems you are in a mighty hurry, to let your money fall without picking it up.”