Vive La Joie

The reader may perhaps remember that a portion of the Court of Miracles was enclosed by the ancient wall of the city, a good many towers of which were beginning at that time to fall into decay. One of these towers had been converted by the truands into a place of entertainment, with a tavern in the basement, and the rest in the upper storeys. This tower was the most animated, and consequently the most hideous, spot in the whole Vagabond quarter—a monstrous hive, buzzing day and night. At night, when the rest of the rabble were asleep—when not a lighted window was to be seen in the squalid fronts of the houses round the Place, when all sound had ceased in the innumerable tenements with their swarms of thieves, loose women, stolen or bastard children— the joyous tower could always be distinguished by the uproar that issued from it, and by the crimson glow of light streaming out from the loopholes, the windows, the fissures in the gaping walls, escaping, as it were, from every pore.

The tavern, as we have said, was in the basement. The descent to it was through a low door and down a steep, narrow stair. Over the door, by way of sign, hung an extraordinary daub representing new- coined sols and dead fowls, with the punning legend underneath, Aux sonneurs1

pour les trépassés!—The ringers for the dead.

One evening, when the curfew was ringing from all the steeples of Paris, the sergeants of the watch, could they have entered the redoubtable Court of Miracles, might have remarked that a greater hubbub than usual was going on in the tavern of the Vagabonds; that they were drinking deeper and swearing harder. Without, in the Place, were a number of groups conversing in low tones, as when some great plot is brewing, and here and there some fellow crouched down and sharpened a villainous iron blade on a flag-stone.

Meanwhile, in the tavern itself, wine and gambling formed so strong a diversion to the ideas that occupied the Vagabonds, that it would have been difficult to gather from the conversation of the drinkers what the matter was which so engaged them. Only they wore a gayer air than usual, and every one of them had some weapon or other gleaming between his knees—a pruning-hook, an axe, a broadsword, or the crook of some ancient blunderbuss.

The hall, which was circular in form, was very spacious; but the tables were so crowded together and the drinkers so numerous, that the whole contents of the tavern—men, women, benches, tankards, drinkers, sleepers, gamblers, the able-bodied and the crippled—seemed thrown pell-mell together, with about as much order and harmony as a heap of oyster-shells. A few tallow candles guttered on the table; but the real source of light to the tavern, that which sustained in the cabaret the character of the chandelier in an opera-house, was the fire. This cellar was so damp that the fire was never allowed to go out, even in the height of summer; an immense fire-place with a carved chimney-piece, and crowded with heavy andirons and cooking utensils, contained one of those huge fires of wood and turf which in a village street at night cast the deep red glow of the forge windows on the opposite wall. A great dog, gravely seated in the ashes, was turning a spit hung with meat.

In spite of the prevailing confusion, after the first glance three principal groups might be singled out, pressing round the several personages already known to the reader. One of these personages, fantastically bedizened with many an Oriental gaud, was Mathias Hungadi Spicali, Duke of Egypt and Bohemia. The old rogue was seated cross-legged on a table, his finger upraised, exhibiting in a loud voice his skill in white and black magic to many an open-mouthed face that surrounded him.

Another crowd was gathered thick round our old friend the King of Tunis, armed to the teeth. Clopin Trouillefou, with a very serious mien and in a low voice, was superintending the ransacking of an enormous cask full of arms staved open before him and disgorging a profusion of axes, swords, firelocks, coats of mail, lance and pike heads, crossbows and arrows, like apples and grapes from a cornucopia. Each one took something from the heap—one a morion, another a rapier, a third a cross-hilted dagger. The very children were arming, and even the worst cripples, mere torsos of men, all barbed and cuirassed, were crawling about among the legs of the drinkers like so many great beetles.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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