Some sort of curved, glittering steel thing (not a sword; I know not what it was), before worn in his belt, was now flourished overhead by my guide, menacing the creatures to forbear offering the stranger violence.

As we drove, slow and wedge-like, into the gloomy vault, the howls of the mass reverberated. I seemed seething in the Pit with the Lost. On and on, through the dark and the damp, and then up a stone stairway to a wide portal; when, diffusing, the pestiferous mob poured in bright day between painted walls and beneath a painted dome. I thought of the anarchic sack of Versailles.

A few moments more and I stood bewildered among the beggars in the famous Guildhall.

Where I stood—where the thronged rabble stood—less than twelve hours before sat His Imperial Majesty, Alexander of Russia; His Royal Majesty, Frederick William, King of Prussia; His Royal Highness, George, Prince Regent of England; His world-renowned Grace, the Duke of Wellington; with a mob of magnificoes, made up of conquering field marshals, earls, counts, and innumerable other nobles of mark.

The walls swept to and fro, like the foliage of a forest, with blazonings of conquerors’ flags. Naught outside the hall was visible. No windows were within four-and-twenty feet of the floor. Cut off from all other sights, I was hemmed in by one splendid spectacle—splendid, I mean, everywhere but as the eye fell towards the floor. That was foul as a hovel’s—as a kennel’s—the naked boards being strewed with the smaller and more wasteful fragments of the feast, while the two long parallel lines, up and down the hall, of now unrobed, shabby, dirty pine tables were piled with less trampled wrecks. The dyed banners were in keeping with the last night’s kings; the floor suited the beggars of today. The banners looked down upon the floor as from his balcony Dives upon Lazarus. A line of liveried men kept back with their staves the impatient jam of the mob, who, otherwise, might have instantaneously converted the charity into a pillage. Another body of gowned and gilded officials distributed the broken meats—the cold victuals and crumbs of kings. One after another the beggars held up their dirty blue tickets and were served with the plundered wreck of a pheasant or the rim of a pasty—like the detached crown of an old hat—the solids and meats stolen out.

‘What a noble charity!’ whispered my guide. ‘See that pasty now, snatched by that pale girl; I dare say the Emperor of Russia ate of that last night.’

‘Very probably,’ murmured I; ‘it looks as though some omnivorous emperor or other had had a finger in that pie.’

‘And see yon pheasant, too—there—that one—the boy in the torn shirt has it now—look! The Prince Regent might have dined off that.’ The two breasts were gouged ruthlessly out, exposing the bare bones, embellished with the untouched pinions and legs. ‘Yes, who knows!’ said my guide, ‘his Royal Highness the Prince Regent might have eaten of that identical pheasant.’

‘I don’t doubt it,’ murmured I, ‘he is said to be uncommonly fond of the breast. But where is Napoleon’s head in a charger? I should fancy that ought to have been the principal dish.’

‘You are merry. Sir, even Cossacks are charitable here in Guildhall. Look! the famous Platoff, the Hetman himself—he was here last night with the rest—no doubt he thrust a lance into yon fat pork-pie there. Look! the old shirtless man has it now. How he licks his chops over it, little thinking of or thanking the good, kind Cossack that left it him! Ah! another—a stouter—has grabbed it. It falls; bless my soul!—the dish is quite empty—only a bit of the hacked crust.

‘The Cossacks, my friend, are said to be immoderately fond of fat,’ observed I. ‘The Hetman was hardly so charitable as you thought.’

‘A noble charity, upon the whole, for all that. See, even Gog and Magog yonder, at the other end of the hall, fairly laugh out their delight at the scene.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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