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I do not know what has come over you this some time. Instead of playing or going to beg with the rest of us, you are weeping and praying in every hole and corner, or talking to me of a whole heap of things of which I can make neither head nor tail.”
Oh, sister,” said Alice, “ if you but knew how wretched we are, we gipsy children !"
Sarah went off into a fit of laughter, which Alice endeavoured to suppress by putting her hand on the mouth of her companion.
“ I think you might find a fitter place to laugh in than a church, you pair of little beggars,” cried an old woman who was also waiting in the porch, and whose costume marked her out as a housekeeper in some family of distinction.
“Indeed, madame, if we thought it was any offence to God to laugh, we would not do it,” said Sarah, assuming at once the whining tone of the mendicant.
“You are a young hypocrite," said the housekeeper, as she adjusted her spectacles on her nose.
* You are not doing right now, Sarah; you know you are not,” whispered Alice. “ If you had been at the sermon, you would have heard the preacher say
Really, Alice, if you go on this way, no one will believe that you are a gipsy no more than that I am a princess; but perhaps I know more about
think. But be this as it may, to look at you and your ways, would be enough to convince me you were not a gipsy."
“How so?” said Alice. 6 Would that you were right; but what makes you think so ?”.
Everything," answered Sarah. " True, you are dressed like the rest of us; but your petticoats, though not always whole, are never dirty. Your hair is more tidily arranged than ours, and I verily believe that you comb it out every three or four days." “Every day, Sarah," interrupted Alice.
Well, you see it is even oftener than I thought,” replied Sarah: “then you actually wash your face and hands, I do not know how many times in the day?"
“ Only twice, I assure you,” said Alice in a deprecating tone.
“ Is that all indeed ?” retorted Sarah. “And pray how much oftener would you wish to do it? I doubt if her majesty the queen pretends to do more than that! No, no; any one in her senses would know you cannot be a gipsy child !”
“ Would to God I were not !” said poor Alice sadly.
“ But, I tell you,” said Sarah, we had better get back as quick as we can to the Court of Miracles. If the old mother knew that I was all this time in a church, she would say you have been spoiling me; and indeed, Alice, do you know that I
have been good for nothing ever since you began to preach to me, and that you have been crying and breaking your heart all day long, and all night too, when we are lying together on the straw. I have got so much in my head, all your talk about the good God, that I am afraid of everything now.".
" Oh, Sarah! thinking of Him makes me afraid of nothing but doing wrong; and I know He is so good, that I tell Him when any evil grieves or terrifies me, and it gives me such courage! I am a poor ignorant girl: I cannot read myself; but the first day I heard the preacher read the words of love from the Book of God, I felt as if my heart told me I could never be happy in the ways of sin, and that is now more than a year ago
"You have told me often enough about it, Alice,” said Sarah. “Come, come, it is getting late; I tell you we are in for a beating. Come along."
In quitting the church, they passed close by the old lady, who had just been searching her pockets several times, and was now exclaiming, “ Where is my pocket-handkerchief? I lay anything these little rogues have carried it off!"
“ You are mistaken, madame; you dropped it, and here it is," said Alice, picking up a bright red handkerchief, and presenting it to the woman.
“Well, what luck I am in! They did not take it. Thank you, little girl ;,' and the old lady left the church.
“What a fool you are, Alice !" whispered Sarah. “Why did you give it to her ?"
Simply because it belonged to her, and did not belong to me," answered Alice.
Hastening as rapidly as possible through several streets, the young girls soon entered a very large court, known from time immemorial by the name of the Court of Miracles. It was a long, muddy, filthy, unpaved, blind alley, at each side of which were a range of wretched dark hovels built of earth and mud. The two young girls, who seemed perfectly well acquainted with the locale, made their way directly to one of these hovels, hardly distinguishable from the ground, and entered without any apparent fear for their heads, upon which, nevertheless, it seemed threatening to fall.
On the instant that the two young girls crossed the threshold of this uninviting abode, they were greeted by a vast number of maimed, blind, and lame; of persons who, after having feigned all kinds of diseases and infirmities, were now busied in getting rid of all their paraphernalia of falsehood. Some were throwing up in the air the crutches, without which it was before supposed to be impossible they could walk; some were opening eyes which
they had protested were for ever shut to the light of day; others were getting rid of their hunch, or rubbing off their skin the livid dye which gave their faces a corpse-like hue, that extracted from the beholder alms as for the dying. Others, again, were once more resuming an upright position, and suddenly recovering the use of their limbs, so that any one who, standing at the entrance of the court, had seen pass that legion of lame, blind, paralytic, and aged, and afterwards looked into their place of assemblage, and beheld, instead of all that mass of decrepitude, a set of strong, healthy young people, must certainly have great temptation to believe that the courtwell deserved its name, and was indeed a Court of Miracles. The two young girls, however, seemed not at all astonished at the transformations, and making a sign to those nearest the door not to notice their arrival, they glided timidly into the farthest corner of the room.
That room, into which the light of day was admitted only through the door opening into the court, was at that moment illuminated by a large turf-fire, upon which figured an immense caldron, in which were boiling and hissing whole quarters of beef and a quantity of cabbage, which an old woman kept stirring with a huge pot-ladle, grumbling as she did so. In the middle of the room were ranged here and there tables of black wood, the legs of which did not seem much more firmly attached to them, though somewhat more needed, than the wooden legs of some of those who were crowding round them.
“Mother Fragard, are not the girls come home?” cried the cook to another old woman who was cutting up large slices of bread into porringers of green earthenware.
“How do I know, Mother Verduchene?" answered Mother Fragard.
“They have been here these two hours, good girls as they always are,” cried an ex-paralytic, pointing to the children, who by their silence lent themselves to this falsehood.
Why do they not come, then, and show themselves, and tell what they have been doing to earn their dinner ?” cried the two old hags at once.
The young girls came forward, evidently in great trepidation.
“Nothing in your hands-nothing in your pockets ? " said the old women, as each seized upon a girl and searched and shook her roughly.
"Nothing, indeed,” said they both with tears in their eyes.
"So much saved, then, of to-day's dinner," replied the two furies; “no work, no bread."
And as several of the pauper band were beginning to intercede for the children, to the great displeasure of the two old women, there suddenly arose above all the din of voices—some intreating, and some threatening—a “Hush !" so authoritatively uttered, that it instantly produced, as if by magic, a profound silence of the whole assembly.
III. The personage who, by the single word “hush !” had so instantaneously imposed silence on the riotous conclave, appeared at first sight to be a fine old man, to whom long white hair gave a most venerable appearance; one of his coat sleeves was unfilled by the arm, which hung uselessly by his side, and one of his legs, bent at the knee, was fastened to a wooden supporter. But after uttering the word that had such magic power over all who heard it, the seeming old man threw his wooden leg to one side, and his white wig to the other, and quickly releasing his arm from the confinement in which it had been for the day, sat down at a table, and with a blow of his fist that made all that was on it rattle, he cried—“Hush! Bring me my dinner, and listen to me. We are ruined; all is over with us !»
This preamble was not very encouraging, and every one lent an anxious ear.
“Oh, it is soon told,” resumed he. “ You may bring dinner; before it has had time to cool, I shall have said my say. This very day, the 5th of May, in the year 1635, my lord the king, Louis XIII., has sent letters patent to parliament to this effect : 'We hereby command that all vagabonds, all who cannot give a good account of themselves, such as gipsies, sturdy beggars, deserters from the army, shall be taken up, and sent, without any form of trial, to the galleys.' Now, boys, there is little doubt that in this precious document our lord the king has had an eye to our worthy selves."
“And there can be no doubt that the best thing we can do is to pack up, bag and baggage, and be off with ourselves as soon as we can, cried several of his auditors, rising and looking for their sticks, to go that very moment. “Stay a little," resumed he who seemed to be the head of the
“ There is no such violent hurry, so eat your dinners quietly. You know well, comrades, that so long as we are in our own quarters here, we have nothing to fear. No commissary, no officer of justice, no policeman, dare show his face in this court, either night or day, unless he has a fancy for being torn to pieces; and I have my doubts whether any of these gentlemen would like that the least degree more than we should like being hanged. However, as we cannot stay here for ever without going out, for the simple reason that the court affords none of the necessaries of life, there is no help for it—we must leave Paris; but let us leave it like true gipsies, and do as much good for ourselves, and as much harm to those who are hunting us out of it, as we can. For example, there exists at the Hotel des Porcherons a certain individual of the name of Barbier. This Barbier is the keeper of the royal treasures, commonly called Comptroller of Finance to his majesty King Louis XIII. Now,
my boys, I have got an idea in my head, and not a bad one either, you will say. It is only to get a loan from our beloved monarch, through the hands of his treasurer; in short, just to take with us some of the money-bags when we are going."
“An admirable idea, my son!” cried Mother Verduchene.
“ Yes, indeed ; Jean Verduchene's idea is a capital one," said several voices.
“But how is it to be carried out how is it to be done?" asked a little old man with a monkey face, who, as member of the band, had usually the part allotted to him of amusing the crowd, while his comrades were picking pockets, and lightening them of everything superfluous.
“I have thought of that too,” said Jean Verduchene, after a moment's reflection. The Hotel des Porcherons is situated, you know, in one of the most retired, lonely parts of Paris. One of us must gain admission, disguised either as a mendicant, as a pilgrim, or as a monk, whichever his rogue's phiz will suit best. He need only ask hospitality: it is never refused. He will be let into some part or other of the hotel; and once in, he must be a bungler indeed if he cannot find some way of opening the door in the middle of the night for a band of his friends. Well, I do not think I have planned it badly; I hope not, at least.”
“It is planned well enough—no fault in that,” was echoed on all sides.“ “But which of us is to play the pilgrim ?”
“Let me see,” said Jean Verduchene, as he examined, one after another, the faces around him. “I must own, here is a difficulty; you are all more like devils than pilgrims. I want a youthful, mild, hypocritical face—a voice with tones to reach the very heart; in short, I must have an honest face, and I do not see a single one here."
“Nor do I,” said Mother Fragard, "unless, indeed, that of Alice would answer."
“Yes; Alice, Alice, Alice !” was enthusiastically shouted by all present.
Very well then, let it be Alice," said the stentorian voice of the captain; and pale and agitated, the poor child came forward from the corner, in which she had been lying upon some straw.
After surveying her for some moments with a complaçent air, Jean Verduchene said, “ Yes, she is the very thing i air of decency, poor, but honest, and genteel-looking enough to pass for a decayed duchess. Then, too, a soft, timid voice, and tears coming to her eyes just at the right time. Her age, too; who could suspect a girl of twelve? It is all settled : Alice will play the part of beggar to perfection!"
“What part?" asked the young girl, raising to the speaker two large black eyes, hitherto veiled by their long lashes.
" The child is becoming every day a greater fool," said Mother Verduchene, shrugging her shoulders in great illhumour.