CHAPTER 3. LONG LIVE MIRTH.
The reader has probably not forgotten that a part of the
Cour de Miracles was enclosed by the ancient wall which
surrounded the city, a goodly number of whose towers had begun,
even at that epoch, to fall to ruin. One of these towers had
been converted into a pleasure resort by the vagabonds. There
was a drain-shop in the underground story, and the rest in the
upper stories. This was the most lively, and consequently
the most hideous, point of the whole outcast den. It was a
sort of monstrous hive, which buzzed there night and day.
At night, when the remainder of the beggar horde slept, when
there was no longer a window lighted in the dingy façades of
the Place, when not a cry was any longer to be heard proceeding
from those innumerable families, those ant-hills of thieves,
of wenches, and stolen or bastard children, the merry tower
was still recognizable by the noise which it made, by the scarlet
light which, flashing simultaneously from the air-holes, the
windows, the fissures in the cracked walls, escaped, so to
speak, from its every pore.
The cellar then, was the dram-shop. The descent to it was
through a low door and by a staircase as steep as a classic
Alexandrine. Over the door, by way of a sign there hung a
marvellous daub, representing new sons and dead chickens,*
with this, pun below: Aux sonneurs pour les trépassés,--The
wringers for the dead.
* Sols neufs: poulets tués.
One evening when the curfew was sounding from all the
belfries in Paris, the sergeants of the watch might have
observed, had it been granted to them to enter the formidable
Court of Miracles, that more tumult than usual was in progress
in the vagabonds' tavern, that more drinking was being
done, and louder swearing. Outside in the Place, there,
were many groups conversing in low tones, as when some great
plan is being framed, and here and there a knave crouching
down engaged in sharpening a villanous iron blade on a
Meanwhile, in the tavern itself, wine and gaming offered
such a powerful diversion to the ideas which occupied the
vagabonds' lair that evening, that it would have been difficult
to divine from the remarks of the drinkers, what was the
matter in hand. They merely wore a gayer air than was their
wont, and some weapon could be seen glittering between the
legs of each of them,--a sickle, an axe, a big two-edged sword
or the hook of an old hackbut.