POST CORDA LAPIDES
After having sketched its moral face, it will not prove unprofitable
to point out, in a few words, its material configuration.
The reader already has some idea of it.
The convent of the Petit-Picpus-Sainte-Antoine filled almost the
whole of the vast trapezium which resulted from the intersection
of the Rue Polonceau, the Rue Droit-Mur, the Rue Petit-Picpus,
and the unused lane, called Rue Aumarais on old plans.
These four streets surrounded this trapezium like a moat.
The convent was composed of several buildings and a garden.
The principal building, taken in its entirety, was a juxtaposition
of hybrid constructions which, viewed from a bird's-eye view, outlined,
with considerable exactness, a gibbet laid flat on the ground.
The main arm of the gibbet occupied the whole of the fragment
of the Rue Droit-Mur comprised between the Rue Petit-Picpus and
the Rue Polonceau; the lesser arm was a lofty, gray, severe grated
facade which faced the Rue Petit-Picpus; the carriage entrance No. 62
marked its extremity. Towards the centre of this facade was a low,
arched door, whitened with dust and ashes, where the spiders wove
their webs, and which was open only for an hour or two on Sundays,
and on rare occasions, when the coffin of a nun left the convent.
This was the public entrance of the church. The elbow of the gibbet
was a square hall which was used as the servants' hall, and which
the nuns called the buttery. In the main arm were the cells
of the mothers, the sisters, and the novices. In the lesser arm
lay the kitchens, the refectory, backed up by the cloisters and
the church. Between the door No. 62 and the corner of the closed
lane Aumarais, was the school, which was not visible from without.
The remainder of the trapezium formed the garden, which was much
lower than the level of the Rue Polonceau, which caused the walls
to be very much higher on the inside than on the outside.
The garden, which was slightly arched, had in its centre, on the
summit of a hillock, a fine pointed and conical fir-tree, whence ran,
as from the peaked boss of a shield, four grand alleys, and,
ranged by twos in between the branchings of these, eight small ones,
so that, if the enclosure had been circular, the geometrical plan
of the alleys would have resembled a cross superposed on a wheel.
As the alleys all ended in the very irregular walls of the garden,
they were of unequal length. They were bordered with currant bushes.
At the bottom, an alley of tall poplars ran from the ruins of the
old convent, which was at the angle of the Rue Droit-Mur to the house
of the Little Convent, which was at the angle of the Aumarais lane.
In front of the Little Convent was what was called the little garden.
To this whole, let the reader add a courtyard, all sorts of varied
angles formed by the interior buildings, prison walls, the long
black line of roofs which bordered the other side of the Rue
Polonceau for its sole perspective and neighborhood, and he will
be able to form for himself a complete image of what the house
of the Bernardines of the Petit-Picpus was forty years ago.
This holy house had been built on the precise site of a famous
tennis-ground of the fourteenth to the sixteenth century, which was
called the "tennis-ground of the eleven thousand devils."
All these streets, moreover, were more ancient than Paris. These names,
Droit-Mur and Aumarais, are very ancient; the streets which bear
them are very much more ancient still. Aumarais Lane was called
Maugout Lane; the Rue Droit-Mur was called the Rue des Eglantiers,
for God opened flowers before man cut stones.