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.
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 paving-stone.
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.
The room, circular in form, was very spacious; but the tables were so thickly set and the drinkers so numerous, that all that the tavern contained, men, women, benches, beer-jugs, all that were drinking, all that were sleeping, all that were playing, the well, the lame, seemed piled up pell-mell, with as much order and harmony as a heap of oyster shells. There were a few tallow dips lighted on the tables; but the real luminary of this tavern, that which played the part in this dram-shop of the chandelier of an opera house, was the fire. This cellar was so damp that the fire was never allowed to go out, even in midsummer; an immense chimney with a sculptured mantel, all bristling with heavy iron andirons and cooking utensils, with one of those huge fires of mixed wood and peat which at night, in village streets make the reflection of forge windows stand out so red on the opposite walls. A big dog gravely seated in the ashes was turning a spit loaded with meat before the coals.
Great as was the confusion, after the first glance one could distinguish in that multitude, three principal groups which thronged around three personages already known to the reader. One of these personages, fantastically accoutred in many an oriental rag, was Mathias Hungadi Spicali, Duke of Egypt and Bohemia. The knave was seated on a table with his legs crossed, and in a loud voice was bestowing his knowledge of magic, both black and white, on many a gaping face which surrounded him. Another rabble pressed close around our old friend, the valiant King of Thunes, armed to the teeth. Clopin Trouillefou, with a very serious air and in a low voice, was regulating the distribution of an enormous cask of arms, which stood wide open in front of him and from whence poured out in profusion, axes, swords, bassinets, coats of mail, broadswords, lance-heads, arrows, and viretons, like apples and grapes from a horn of plenty. Every one took something from the cask, one a morion, another a long, straight sword, another a dagger with a cross— shaped hilt. The very children were arming themselves, and there were even cripples in bowls who, in armor and cuirass, made their way between the legs of the drinkers, like great beetles.
Finally, a third audience, the most noisy, the most jovial, and the most numerous, encumbered benches and tables, in the midst of which harangued and swore a flute-like voice, which escaped from beneath a heavy armor, complete from casque to spurs. The individual who had thus screwed a whole outfit upon his body, was so hidden by his warlike accoutrements that nothing was to be seen of his person save an impertinent, red, snub nose, a rosy mouth, and bold eyes. His belt was full of daggers and poniards, a huge sword on his hip, a rusted cross-bow at his left, and a vast jug of wine in front of him, without reckoning on his right, a fat wench with her bosom uncovered. All mouths around him were laughing, cursing, and drinking.
Add twenty secondary groups, the waiters, male and female, running with jugs on their heads, gamblers squatting over taws, merelles, dice, vachettes, the ardent game of tringlet, quarrels in one corner, kisses in another, and the reader will have some idea of this whole picture, over which flickered the light of a great, flaming fire, which made a thousand huge and grotesque shadows dance over the walls of the drinking shop.
As for the noise, it was like the inside of a bell at full peal.
The dripping-pan, where crackled a rain of grease, filled with its continual sputtering the intervals of these thousand dialogues, which intermingled from one end of the apartment to the other.
In the midst of this uproar, at the extremity of the tavern, on the bench inside the chimney, sat a philosopher meditating with his feet in the ashes and his eyes on the brands. It was Pierre Gringoire.
“Be quick! make haste, arm yourselves! we set out on the march in an hour!” said Clopin Trouillefou to his thieves.
A wench was humming,—
“Bonsoir mon père et ma mere, Les derniers couvrent lé feu."
Two card players were disputing,—
“Knave!” cried the reddest faced of the two, shaking his fist at the other; “I’ll mark you with the club. You can take the place of Mistigri in the pack of cards of monseigneur the king.”
“Ugh!” roared a Norman, recognizable by his nasal accent; “we are packed in here like the saints of Caillouville!”
“My sons,” the Duke of Egypt was saying to his audience, in a falsetto voice, “sorceresses in France go to the witches’ sabbath without broomsticks, or grease, or steed, merely by means of some magic words. The witches of Italy always have a buck waiting for them at their door. All are bound to go out through the chimney.”
The voice of the young scamp armed from head to foot, dominated the uproar.
“Hurrah! hurrah!” he was shouting. “My first day in armor! Outcast! I am an outcast. Give me something to drink. My friends, my name is Jehan Frollo du Moulin, and I am a gentleman. My opinion is that if God were a gendarme, he would turn robber. Brothers, we are about to set out on a fine expedition. Lay siege to the church, burst in the doors, drag out the beautiful girl, save her from the judges, save her from the priests, dismantle the cloister, burn the bishop in his palace— all this we will do in less time than it takes for a burgomaster to eat a spoonful of soup. Our cause is just, we will plunder Notre-Dame and that will be the end of it. We will hang Quasimodo. Do you know Quasimodo, ladies? Have you seen him make himself breathless on the big bell on a grand Pentecost festival! Corne du Père! ’tis very fine! One would say he was a devil mounted on a man. Listen to me, my friends; I am a vagabond to the bottom of my heart, I am a member of the slang thief gang in my soul, I was born an independent thief. I have been rich, and I have devoured all my property. My mother wanted to make an officer of me; my father, a sub-deacon; my aunt, a councillor of inquests; my grandmother, prothonotary to the king; my great aunt, a treasurer of the short robe,— and I have made myself an outcast. I said this to my father, who spit his curse in my face; to my mother, who set to weeping and chattering, poor old lady, like yonder fagot on the and-irons. Long live mirth! I am a real Bicêtre. Waitress, my dear, more wine. I have still the wherewithal to pay. I want no more Surène wine. It distresses my throat. I’d as lief, corboeuf! gargle my throat with a basket.”
Meanwhile, the rabble applauded with shouts of laughter; and seeing that the tumult was increasing around him, the scholar cried,—.
“Oh! what a fine noise! Populi debacchantis populosa debacchatio!” Then he began to sing, his eye swimming in ecstasy, in the tone of a canon intoning vespers,Quoe cantica! quoe organa! quoe cantilenoe! quoe meloclioe hic sine fine decantantur! Sonant melliflua hymnorum organa, suavissima angelorum melodia, cantica canticorum mira! He broke off: “Tavern-keeper of the devil, give me some supper!”
There was a moment of partial silence, during which the sharp voice of the Duke of Egypt rose, as he gave instructions to his Bohemians.
“The weasel is called Adrune; the fox, Blue-foot, or the Racer of the Woods; the wolf, Gray-foot, or Gold-foot; the bear the Old Man, or Grandfather. The cap of a gnome confers invisibility, and causes one to behold invisible things. Every toad that is baptized must be clad in red or black velvet, a bell on its neck, a bell on its feet. The godfather holds its head, the godmother its hinder parts. ’Tis the demon Sidragasum who hath the power to make wenches dance stark naked.”
“By the mass!” interrupted Jehan, “I should like to be the demon Sidragasum.”
Meanwhile, the vagabonds continued to arm themselves and whisper at the other end of the dram-shop.
“That poor Esmeralda!” said a Bohemian. “She is our sister. She must be taken away from there.”
“Is she still at Notre-Dame?” went on a merchant with the appearance of a Jew.
“Well! comrades!” exclaimed the merchant, “to Notre-Dame! So much the better, since there are in the chapel of Saints Féréol and Ferrution two statues, the one of John the Baptist, the other of Saint-Antoine, of solid gold, weighing together seven marks of gold and fifteen estellins; and the pedestals are of silver-gilt, of seventeen marks, five ounces. I know that; I am a goldsmith.”
Here they served Jehan with his supper. As he threw himself back on the bosom of the wench beside him, he exclaimed,—
“By Saint Voult-de-Lucques, whom people call Saint Goguelu, I am perfectly happy. I have before me a fool who gazes at me with the smooth face of an archduke. Here is one on my left whose teeth are so long that they hide his
chin. And then, I am like the Marshal de Gié at the siege of Pontoise, I have my right resting on a hillock. Ventre-Mahom! Comrade! you have the air of a merchant of tennis-balls; and you come and sit yourself beside me! I am a nobleman, my friend! Trade is incompatible with nobility. Get out of that! Holà hé! You others, don’t fight! What, Baptiste Croque-Oison, you who have such a fine nose are going to risk it against the big fists of that lout! Fool! Non cuiquam datum est habere nasum— not every one is favored with a nose. You are really divine, Jacqueline Ronge-Oreille! ’tis a pity that you have no hair! Holà! my name is Jehan Frollo, and my brother is an archdeacon. May the devil fly off with him! All that I tell you is the truth. In turning vagabond, I have gladly renounced the half of a house situated in paradise, which my brother had promised me. Dimidiam domum in paradiso. I quote the text. I have a fief in the Rue Tirechappe, and all the women are in love with me, as true as Saint Eloy was an excellent goldsmith, and that the five trades of the good city of Paris are the tanners, the tawers, the makers of cross-belts, the purse-makers, and the sweaters, and that Saint Laurent was burnt with eggshells. I swear to you, comrades.
“Que je ne beuvrai de piment, Devant un an, si je cy ment.
“’Tis moonlight, my charmer; see yonder through the window how the wind is tearing the clouds to tatters! Even thus will I do to your gorget.— Wenches, wipe the children’s noses and snuff the candles.— Christ and Mahom! What am I eating here, Jupiter? Ohé! innkeeper! the hair which is not on the heads of your hussies one finds in your omelettes. Old woman! I like bald omelettes. May the devil confound you!— A fine hostelry of Beelzebub, where the hussies comb their heads with the forks!
“Et je n’ai moi, Par la sang-Dieu! Ni foi, ni loi, Ni feu, ni lieu, Ni roi, Ni Dieu."
In the meantime, Clopin Trouillefou had finished the distribution of arms. He approached Gringoire, who appeared to be plunged in a profound revery, with his feet on an andiron.
“Friend Pierre,” said the King of Thunes, “what the devil are you thinking about?”
Gringoire turned to him with a melancholy smile.
“I love the fire, my dear lord. Not for the trivial reason that fire warms the feet or cooks our soup, but because it has sparks. Sometimes I pass whole hours in watching the sparks. I discover a thousand things in those stars which are sprinkled over the black background of the hearth. Those stars are also worlds.”
“Thunder, if I understand you!” said the outcast. “Do you know what o’clock it is?”
“I do not know,” replied Gringoire.
Clopin approached the Duke of Egypt.
“Comrade Mathias, the time we have chosen is not a good one. King Louis XI. is said to be in Paris.”
“Another reason for snatching our sister from his claws,” replied the old Bohemian.
“You speak like a man, Mathias,” said the King of Thunes. “Moreover, we will act promptly. No resistance is to be feared in the church. The canons are hares, and we are in force. The people of the parliament will be well balked to-morrow when they come to seek her! Guts of the pope I don’t want them to hang the pretty girl!”
Chopin quitted the dram-shop.
Meanwhile, Jehan was shouting in a hoarse voice:
“I eat, I drink, I am drunk, I am Jupiter! Eh! Pierre, the Slaughterer, if you look at me like that again, I’ll fillip the dust off your nose for you.”
Gringoire, torn from his meditations, began to watch the wild and noisy scene which surrounded him, muttering between his teeth: “Luxuriosa res vinum et tumultuosa ebrietas. Alas! what good reason I have not to drink, and how excellently spoke Saint-Benoit: ‘Vinum apostatare facit etiam sapientes!’”
At that moment, Clopin returned and shouted in a voice of thunder: “Midnight!”
At this word, which produced the effect of the call to boot and saddle on a regiment at a halt, all the outcasts, men, women, children, rushed in a mass from the tavern, with great noise of arms and old iron implements.
The moon was obscured.
The Cour des Miracles was entirely dark. There was not a single light. One could make out there a throng of men and women conversing in low tones. They could be heard buzzing, and a gleam of all sorts of weapons was visible in the darkness. Clopin mounted a large stone.
“To your ranks, Argot!" he cried. “Fall into line, Egypt! Form ranks, Galilee!”
A movement began in the darkness. The immense multitude appeared to form in a column. After a few minutes, the King of Thunes raised his voice once more,—
“Now, silence to march through Paris! The password is, ‘Little sword in pocket!’ The torches will not be lighted till we reach Notre-Dame! Forward, march!”
Ten minutes later, the cavaliers of the watch fled in terror before a long procession of black and silent men which was descending towards the Pont an Change, through the tortuous streets which pierce the close-built neighborhood of the markets in every direction.