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[-406-]

CHAPTER CXXXIV.

THE PALACE IN THE HOLY LAND.

    THE wanderer amidst the crowded thoroughfares of the multitudinous metropolis cannot be unacquainted with that assemblage of densely populated streets and lanes which is situate between High Street (St. Giles's) and Great Russell Street (Bloomsbury).
    The district alluded to is called the Holy Land.
    There poverty hides its head through shame, and crime lurks concealed through fear;  there every [-407-] thing that is squalid, hideous, debauched, and immoral, makes its dwelling  there woman is as far removed from the angel as Satan is from the Godhead, and man is as closely allied to the brute as the idiot is to the baboon;  there days are spent in idleness, and nights in dissipation;  there no refinement of habit or of speech is known, but male and female alike wallow in obscene debauchery and filthy ideas;  there garments are patched with pieces of various dyes, and language is disfigured with words of a revolting slang;  there the natural ruffianism and brutal instincts of the human heart are unrepressed by social ties or conventional decencies;  there infamy is no disgrace, crime no reproach, vice no stain.
    Such is the Holy Land.
    In a dark and gloomy alley, connecting two of the longer streets in this districts stood a large house four storeys high, and with windows of such narrow dimensions that they seemed intended to admit the light of day only by small instalments.
    Four steep stone steps, each only about six inches broad, led to the front door, which always stood open during the day-time.
    This front-door gave admittance into a small square compartment, which was denominated "the lobby," and from which a second door opened into the house.
    The inner door just alluded to was kept constantly shut, save when admittance was demanded by any one who had the right of entry into the habitation.. But even that admittance was never granted without precaution. In the ceiling of the little hall or lobby described, there was a small trap-door, let into the floor of the room above; and by these means the sentinel on duty up-stairs was enabled to reconnoitre every one who knocked at the inner door.
    The interior of the house resembled a small barrack. The apartments on the ground floor were used as day-rooms or refectories, and were fitted up with long table and forms. The floors were strewed with sand; and the appearance of the place was more cleanly and comfortable than might have been expected in such a neighbourhood. The lower panes of the windows were smeared with a whitewash, which prevented passers-by from peering from the street into the apartments.
    The upper storeys were all used as dormitories, some being allotted to the male and others to the female inmates of the house. These rooms were furnished with mattresses, blankets, and coverlids; but there were no bedsteads. The aspect of the dormitories was as cleanly as that of the day-rooms.
    To the ceiling over the landing-place of the second floor was hung a large bell, to the wheel of which were attached numerous ropes, which branched off, through holes in the walls and floors, in all directions, so that an alarm could be rung from every room in that spacious tenement.
    Behind the house there was a large yard, surrounded by the dead walls which formed the sides of other buildings; thus, in no way, was the dwelling which we have described, overlooked by the neighbours. At the bottom of the yard was a door opening into a court which communicated with another street; and thus a convenient mode of egress was secured to any one who might find it prudent to beat a precipitate retreat from the house.
    We have now endeavoured to furnish the reader with an idea of King Zingary's Palace in the Holy Land.
    In order to complete the description, it only remains for us to state that the various precautions to which we have alluded, in corinexion with the Palace, were adopted for the protection and safety of those inmates who, either in the course of their avocations or otherwise, might happen to render themselves obnoxious to the myrmidons of the law. Not that the pursuits of the subjects of King Zingary necessarily comprised practices which rendered their headquarters liable to constant visits from the police: but persons accustomed to a vagabond kind of existence, could not be otherwise than often tempted into lawless courses; and his Majesty did not dare disown or discard a dependent who thus became involved in danger. Moreover, the protection of the gipsies was frequently accorded to persons who rendered them a service, or who could pay for such succour, as in the respective cases of Skilligalee and the Rattlesnake: or it was not unusually granted upon motives of humanity, as in reference to the man called the Traveller. This intercourse with characters of all descriptions was another reason for the adoption of precautionary measures at the Palace; but seldom  very seldom was it that the necessity of those measures was justified by events, the police being well aware that no good ever resulted from a visit to the royal mansion in the Holy Land.
    It was ten o'clock at night; and the king of the glpsies was presiding at the banqueting-table in his palace.
    Upwards of sixty gipsies, male and female, were assembled round the board. These consisted of the chiefs of the different districts into which the gipsy kingdom was divided, with their wives and daughters.
    Skilligalee, the Rattlesnake, and the Traveller were also seated at the table, and were honoured as the king's guests.
    The meal was over; and the board was covered with bottles containing various descriptions of liquor, drinking mugs, pipes, and tobacco.
    With all the solemn gravity of a chairman at a public dinner, Zingary rapped his knuckles upon the table, and commanded those present to fill their glasses.
    The order was obeyed by both men and women; end the king then spoke as follows:  
    "Most loyal and dutiful friends, this is the hundred and thirty-first anniversary of the institution of that custom in virtue of which the provincial rulers of the united races of Egyptians and Bohemians in England assemble together once every year at the Palace. A hundred and thirty-one years ago, this house warn purchased by my grandfather King Sisman, and bequeathed to his descendants to serve as the head-quarters and central point of our administration. There is scarcely an individual of the united races who has not experienced the hospitality of this Palace. Every worthy Zingaree who visits the metropolis enjoys his bed and his board without fee and without price for seven days in our mansion, the superintendence of which is so ably conducted, while we are absent, by our brother on my right." Here the king glanced towards a venerable-looking gipsy who sate next to him. "In his hands our treasures are safe; and to-morrow he will place before you an account of the remittances he has received from the provincial districts, and the expenditures he has made in the maintenance of this establishment. You will find, I have reason to believe, a considerable balance in our favour. Let us then celebrate with a bumper the hundred and thirty-first anniversary of the opening of our royal palace!"
    This toast was drunk without noise  without hur-[-408-]rahs  without clamour,  but not the less sincerely on that account.
    "My pretty Eva," said the king, after a pause, "will now oblige us with a song?"
    Zingary's daughter-in-law did not require to be pressed to exhibit her vocal powers; but in a sweet voice she sang the following air
    
    THE GIPSY'S HOME.
    
    Oh! who is so blythe, and happy, and free
    As the ever-wandering Zingaree?
    'Tis his a his own wild will to roam;
    And in each fair scene does he find a home,  
    Does he find a home!
    
    The sunny slope, or the shady grove,
    Where nightingales sing and lovers rove;
    The fields where the golden harvests wave,
    And the verdant bank which the streamlets lave,
    Are by turns his home.
    
    The busy town with its selfish crowd.
    The city where dwell the great and proud,
    The haunts of the mighty multitude,
    Where the strong are raised and the weak subdued,
    Are to him no home.
    
    Oh! ever happy  and ever free,
    Who is so blest as the Zingaree?  
    Where nature puts on her gayest vest,
    Where flowers are sweetest and fruits are best,
    Oh! there is his home.
    
    "Thank you, sweet Eva," said the king, when the gipsy woman had concluded her song, in the chorus of which the other females had joined in a low and subdued tone. "Ours is indeed a happy life," continued Zingary. "When roving over the broad country, we enjoy a freedom unknown to the rest of the world. No impost or taxes have we then to pay: we drink of the stream at pleasure, and never feel alarmed lest our water should be cut off. We can choose pleasant paths, and yet pay no paving-rate. The sun lights us by day, and the stars by night; and no one comes to remind us that we owe two quarters' gas. We pitch our tents where we will, but are not afraid of a ground-landlord. We do not look forward with fear and trembling to Lady-day or Michaelmas, for the broker cannot distress us. We move where we like, without dreading an accusation of shooting the moon. In fine, we are as free and independent as the inhabitants of the desert. A health, then, to the united races of Zingarees!"
    This toast was drunk in silence, like the former; and the king then called upon the pretty dark-eyed daughter of one of the chiefs to favour the company with a song.
    The request was complied with in the following manner:  
    
    "COME HITHER, FAIR MAIDEN."
    
    Come hither, fair maiden! and listen to me,
    I've a store of good tidings to tell unto thee  
    Bright hopes to call smiles to those sweet lips of thine,
    And visions of bliss little short of divine.
    
    Come hither, fair maiden! the poor Zingaree
    Hath promise of love and of fortune for thee:
    Away from the future the dark cloud shall fly,
    And years yet unborn be revealed to thine eye.
    
    Come hither, fair maiden! no more shalt thou be
    Alarmed lest the fates act unkindly to thee;  
    The planet that governed the hour of thy birth
    Shall guide thee to all the fair spots of the earth!
    
    Come hither, fair maiden! futurity's sea
    Shall roll on no longer unfathomed by thee;
    With me canst thou plunge in its dark depths, and know
    How rich are the pearls that Hope treasures below
    
    In this manner did the gipsies pass the evening, until the clock struck eleven, when they separated to their dormitories.
    The Rattlesnake was astonished to observe the order and regularity which prevailed with the strange association amongst which accident had thrown her. The festival had passed without noise and without intemperance; the presence of the king and queen seemed alone sufficient to maintain tranquillity and prevent enjoyment from passing the barriers of propriety.
    We need not, however, linger upon this portion of our tale. Suffice it to say that a fortnight glided away, during which the king of the gipsies was detained in the metropolis by the business which he had to transact with his chiefs. The Rattlesnake did not venture out of the house; and Skilligalee was her constant companion.
    The Traveller meantime disguised himself in a manner which would have defied the penetrating eyes of even a parent, had he met his own mother; and from morning until evening did he prowl about London, in search of the one individual against whom he nourished the most terrible hatred. But, every evening, when he returned home to the Gipsy Palace, his countenance was more gloomy and his brow more lowering; and, if questioned relative to the causes of his rage or grief, he replied in a savage tone, "Another day is gone  and he still lives: but I will never rest until I trace him out."
    And then he would grind his teeth like a hyena.

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