(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

On a bitterly cold winter’s night in 1456, Francis Villon, the greatest poet of medieval France, is huddled in a small house by the cemetery of St. John, trying to write “The Ballade of Roast Fish” while Guy Tabary slobbers over his shoulder, Regnier de Montigny and Thevenin Pensete play a game of chance, and the renegade monk Dom Nicolas watches. All of them are thieves, among whom there is no honor. Hearing the wind rattling the rafters, Villon reminds the others of hanged men dangling on the gibbet at nearby Montfaucon. Despite this memento mori, Montigny leaps up and stabs Thevenin to death after losing to him. The thieves divide the dead man’s money, but then the others steal Villon’s purse before they all flee into the night.

The snow has ceased, and Villon fears that his footprints will lead the authorities to him. Trying to elude a patrol, he takes refuge on the porch of a ruined house, where he finds the body of a woman frozen to death and steals two small coins from her stocking. Then, discovering his purse to be missing, he wanders in search of it, to no avail. Fearing that he, too, will freeze before morning, he seeks shelter from his adopted father, the chaplain of St. Benoit, but is turned away. Wandering once more, he recalls that wolves devoured a woman and child nearby. When he begs shelter from former friends whom he has lampooned, they drench him with a slop bucket, and his legs begin to freeze.

In desperation, he...

(The entire section is 435 words.)