One fine afternoon in April, 1770, there was a good deal of bustle in the neighbourhood of the village of Saint Menehould, in the province of Champagne, in France. The bride of the Dauphin of France,—the lady who was to be queen when the present elderly king should die—was on her journey from Germany, and was to pass through Saint Menehould to Paris, with her splendid train of nobles and gentry; and the whole country was alive with preparations to greet her loyally as she passed. The houses of the village were cleaned and adorned; and gangs of labourers were at work repairing the roads of the district;—not hired labourers, but peasants, who were obliged by law to quit the work of their own fields or kilns, when called upon, to repair the roads, for a certain number of days. These road-menders were not likely to be among the most hearty welcomers of the Dauphiness; for they had been called off, some from their field-work, just at the time when the loss of a few days would probably cause great damage to the crops;—and others from the charcoal works, when their families could ill spare the small wages they gained at the kilns. These forced labourers would willingly have given up their sight of the Dauphiness, if she would have gone to Paris by another route, so that this road-mending might have been left to a more convenient season.
The peasants round Saint Menehould were not all out upon the roads, however. In the midst of a wood, a little to the north of the village, the sound of a mallet might be heard by any traveller in the lane which led to the ponds, outside the estate of the Count de D—.
The workman who was so busy with his mallet was not a charcoal-burner; and the work he was doing was on his own account. It was Charles Bertrand, a young peasant well-known in the village, who had long been the lover of Marie Randolphe, the pretty daughter of a tenant of the Count de D—. When they were first engaged, everybody who knew them was glad, and said they would be a happy couple. But their affairs did not look more cheerful as time went on. Charles toiled with all his might, and tried so earnestly to save money, that he did not allow himself sufficient food and rest, and was now almost as sallow and gaunt-looking as his older neighbours; and yet he could never get nearer to his object of obtaining a cottage and field to which he might take Marie home. Marie grew somewhat paler, and her face less pretty; for, besides her anxiety for her lover, she had hard living at home. Her father and mother had her two young brothers to maintain, as well as themselves; and no toil, no efforts on the part of the family, could keep them above want. Their earnings were very small at the best; and these small gains were so much lessened by the work her father was called out to do upon the roads—and, of the money brought home, so much went to buy the quantity of salt which they were compelled by law to purchase, that too little remained to feed and clothe the family properly.
This story of the salt will scarcely be believed now; but it was found, throughout France, about eighty years ago, to be only too true. An enormous tax was laid upon salt, as one of the articles which people could not live without, and which therefore everybody must buy. To make this tax yield plenty of money to the king, there was a law which fixed the price of salt enormously high, and which compelled every person in France above eight years old to buy a certain quantity of salt, whether it was wanted or not. By the same law, people were forbidden to sell salt to one another, though one poor person might be in want of it, and his next-door neighbour have his full quantity, without any food to eat it with. Even in such a case as this, if a starving man ventured to sell salt for a loaf of bread, he was subject to severe punishment. Now, Marie’s brothers were just ten and nine years old; and the hardships of the family had been increased since these poor boys became the cause of their father having to buy their portion of salt. Just able before to get on, the family were, by this additional tax, brought down to a state of want; and Marie begged her father not to say a word about giving her a single penny, to help her marriage with Charles; for she saw well that he would never be able to do it. Her poor father could not contradict her.
As he could do nothing for her, he did not like to oppose the plan which the young people were found at length to have talked over. Charles knew that, in cases of great poverty, huts had been built in a wood, or caves scooped out in the side of the chalk-hills, where people lived who could not hire, or buy, or build a house. He told Marie that he would build a hut in the wood, and that he would then marry, and live or starve together, since there was no use in waiting longer, seeing, as they did, that their prospect never could improve. The lord of the chateau would not object, he was sure; as the lords always got out of their peasantry much more service than would pay for the stakes and twigs of a hut in the wood. Marie was easily persuaded, though her mother wept at the idea of the cold of winter, and the damps of spring, and the ague of autumn, that she knew caused terrible suffering to the poor, who lived in the woods and caves. The good woman tried to console herself with taking great care of a pair of fowls, which were to be her wedding present to her daughter.
So here was Charles, this day at work in the wood, with Marie’s brothers to help him. One well-wisher had lent him an axe, and another a mallet; and he cut and drove stakes, while Robin and Marc collected twigs from the brushwood, moss from the roots of trees, and rushes from the margin of the ponds. They had chosen such a spot as they thought Marie would like; for she would not be persuaded to come and choose for herself. She only dropped that the hut ought to stand above the fogs of the ponds; and she left the rest to Charles. Charles had found a little green recess among the trees, on a slightly rising ground; Robin and Marc declared for it at once, when he showed them how he could cut away the brushwood, so as to leave a pathway to the pond, and a pretty view of it when it gleamed in the sun, as it did this afternoon. The boys clapped their hands: and Charles, feeling a glow at his heart, as if Marie and he were going to be happy at last, began to sing, as he drove his corner-stakes.
“You will have a pleasant life of it here in the woods,” said Robin, bringing as large a load of rushes as his two arms would hold. “I should like to live here, as you are going to do. You have only to look into that pond for three minutes to see more fine fish than you will want for a month after.”
“The fish will do us no good,” said Charles. “If a fishbone is found within a furlong of where I live (here where nobody else lives), off I am marched straight to jail. And the Count’s bailiff has surprisingly sharp eyes.”
“I would bury the fishbones in the night-time,” observed Marc, coming up with a faggot of twigs; “but I would have the fish, if I wanted them, for all the bailiff.”
“If you go to yonder jail,” said Charles, “and ask the folk how they came there, some of them will tell you it was trying to get fish, when they were hungry, for all the bailiff. Or, if not fish, something else from the woods and warrens—a rabbit, perhaps, or a couple of doves.”
“I hope the bailiff won’t put me into jail for my rabbits,” said Marc, “for I have not eaten them. I have a pretty litter of rabbits for Marie; and you will help me to make a hutch for them, behind the house. I should say hereabouts.”
“Do you know no better than that?” said Charles. “Your father could have told you in a minute, if you had asked him, that it is against the law for anybody to keep rabbits and pigeons except the nobles.”
“Pigeons!” exclaimed Robin. “Why, that is too bad! I have the prettiest pair of doves, from this wood, that ever was seen. I took them from the nest, a month ago; and I tell Marie that their cooing will set all the doves in the wood cooing, so that she will have music all day long while you are away at work.”
“No matter for all that,” said Charles. “It would be a pretty treat for Marie; and it is a pretty thought of yours: but Marie must be content to hear the Count’s pigeons coo; for the first day the bailiff finds any tame ones, he will wring their necks, and make her or you suffer for having them. I can’t allow a rabbit or a pigeon here, boys, say what you will. They will be my ruin. Ah! I see you are vexed with me: but I did not make the law, and have no more liking to it than you: but I can tell you, quick as the bailiff’s eyes are upon everybody, they are most so upon people who live, as I am going to do, with fish, and pigeons, and rabbits all close round about them, and oftentimes wanting a meal, as I fear Marie and I shall do.”
The boys declared that if Charles would not take home their presents, they would keep them, and bear the risk themselves. They might thus let Marie have a rabbit or a bird to eat, now and then, if she could not keep them in their live state, as a pleasure.
As the floor of the hut could not be too much trodden, in the absence of planks and bricks, Charles and the boys gave it a first treading now, as soon as the six biggest stakes were driven in. Like all their peasant neighbours who were not barefoot, they wore wooden clogs; and with these all three stamped and tramped with might and main.
They were so busy at this work, that they did not perceive that any one was approaching, till Robin, happening to turn round, exclaimed—
“Why, here is Marie!”
Charles bounded out of the enclosure, threw his arms round Marie, and covered her cheek with kisses; so delighted was he with her for coming, as he thought, to see how the work went on, without even waiting till he went for her.
“Stay, stay, Charles!” exclaimed she, as soon as he would let her speak. “Hear what I came for,” she added, mournfully, and almost impatiently. “You must give over this work for to-day; and perhaps for many days more. You must go away somewhere out of sight, till all the strangers have left the place; or there is no saying what may happen. Father says so; and it was my mother that bade me come. She could not come herself, and so leave me among the soldiers.”
“Soldiers! What soldiers?” asked all at once.
“The soldiers are come that we were warned would come whenever the Count should bring his family home, and the Dauphiness pass through: and there are so many that there is not a house within two miles of the village that has not some quartered in it. We have three at home; and what we are to do for them we don’t know, nor how long they will stay. The first thing, however, Charles, is for you to keep out of sight. Father says if you don’t, the Count’s people will certainly be laying hold of you for military service.”
Charles struck his mallet against a tree, as if he wished to knock its head off. Between fear, anger, and disappointment, he was quite in a passion. He could not reasonably deny that all his and Marie’s hopes might depend on his hiding himself till the bustle was past; but it made him wretched to think of skulking in idleness, when his protection and assistance would be most wanted by Marie and her family.
“Now, don’t do that, love,” said Marie, gently holding his hand, as the dull shock of his blows echoed through the wood. “That noise will bring somebody. The Count himself, and his family, are not far off; and his people are all about. Do be quiet, Charles.”
“Quiet, indeed! And what are you to do with three soldiers, when you have not enough for yourselves?”
“I don’t know, indeed,” said Marie, tearfully, as she remembered that her mother’s cherished pair of fowls were doomed already for supper. She did not mention this; but said that the soldiers were calling for fuel, as they liked a good fire in spring evenings; and that her brothers must make haste home, each with a faggot, which would serve as an excuse for having been so long in the wood, if the Count’s people should have their eyes upon them. She herself must make haste back, Marie said, as the soldiers wanted their linen washed by the next morning. Her mother was trying to borrow some wood-ashes, as they had scarcely any soap; and it was time now that they were at the wash-tub. She must be gone.
The boys were more eager than Marie to be home. They were in fear for their rabbits and doves. They were heaping up their faggots with all speed, when they heard noises from the lane which made them pause. There was the sound of wheels, and the tramp of many horses, and the voices of a large company.
“It is the Count and his family,” said Marie, “coming to the chateau by the shortest road. No—do not go, boys,” she entreated, as they left their faggots, and began forcing their way through the brushwood towards the pond, that they might see the sight in the lane. “Robin, dear Robin!—Marc,—come back! Do come back, now! You will see them much better to-morrow. They will make a much grander show to-morrow. Charles, do make them stay here!”
Charles did not attempt this. He was thinking of something else; for he had observed Marie’s colour change when the cavalcade was first heard in the lane. He fixed his eyes upon her as he said—
“Had you seen the Count and his train when you found us here?”
“Yes,” she replied, looking in his face; “I had crossed the corner of neighbour Thibaut’s field, and was upon the stile when the party turned into the cross-road; and I had to wait till they were all past.”
“How many were there?”
“Oh, more than I can tell. There was a coach full of ladies, and six horses to it. And some more ladies on horseback, and some gentlemen, and many servants.”
“Did any of them speak to you?”
“They gave me good-day. But, Charles, I could hardly return it dutifully to them.” She hid her face on her lover’s shoulder as she whispered, “It made my heart sink to nothing, and does now, to think that I cannot be married without his consent,—that great Count’s! When I saw his grandeur, I thought it never could be.”
“Never fear,” said Charles, relieved from some feeling of dread which he hardly understood, but still with a heavy heart. “If his grandeur be all you are afraid of, never fear. He will be too busy to attend to such an affair, and will send us word through the bailiff, or the cure, if we can get him to speak for us. Or we can wait a few days, till they are fairly gone with the Dauphiness, and then marry; and the thing done, he will not take it amiss that we did not trouble him for his consent, at such a busy time.”
“See, what are the boys doing?” exclaimed Marie, who saw through the trees that her brothers were making the humblest of their rustic bows repeatedly, and with extraordinary earnestness. “Come further back into the wood,” she whispered. “Here, behind this thicket;—here no one can see us from the lane. Hark! Can you hear what those voices are saying.”
No words could be distinguished; but the boys soon came running back, and, to Marie’s great relief, followed by no one.
Her brothers were full of what they had seen. The cavalcade was very grand. The great coach looked quite full of ladies with their large white hats, covered with feathers, and flowers, and ribbons. Some more ladies in light blue riding-habits rode the most beautiful sleek horses; and so did the gentlemen. One of the young gentlemen stopped, or tried to stop; but his horse would not stand, but kept wheeling round and round the whole time he was speaking to them. He asked them whether they did not live in this wood; and when they said, “No,” he asked whether somebody did not live in it. Upon their saying that they knew of no inhabitant, he further inquired whether, if he came bird-nesting, or with his fishing-rod, they did not think he should find some sort of habitation among the trees. And then he asked whether they were not the Count’s peasantry; and what their names were, and how many there were in the family; and whether the bailiff was kind to them. By that time, the gentleman’s horse began to bolt across the lane, and all the party but one groom were almost out of sight; so the gentleman took off his hat, and bowed down to his saddle, looking very funny,—not mocking, but in play, and galloped off; and the groom laughed and nodded, and galloped after his master.
Charles now turned away, and with desperate tugs pulled up the stakes he had driven with so much satisfaction, and threw them into the thicket. He filled the holes, scratched up with brambles the ground he and the boys had trodden, and strewed it over with green twigs, so that no token of his late labour was left to attract the eye of the passer-by. The boys looked ruefully on his proceedings; and Marie appeared to forget that her mother wanted her, as she gazed. She soon, however, observed that the lane was empty now, and they must be gone. Sending her brothers on before, she stayed one moment to entreat Charles to be patient under the separation and delay of a few days, and proposed to him that he should be found, that day week, at a certain cave in the chalk-hill, two miles off, where she would send to let him know when the danger was over, and he might appear again.
Charles made no promises,—spoke no word of any kind. He kissed her fervently, and would scarcely let her go: and when she looked back from the verge of the wood, she saw him leaning his forehead against a tree. She feared he was weeping very bitterly.
Marie’s mother received her with a look almost of reproach; so overpowered was the poor woman with the business of providing lodging, food, fire, and washing for three strangers, when she had no money, and few other means of making them comfortable. The men seemed to behave well. One of them was absent, helping his host to bring in his share of the forage, to be provided by the village, for the cavalry now awaiting the arrival of the Dauphiness. The other two guests were sitting before the door, one smoking, and the other every now and then looking in, and addressing some civil word to the hostess, who was plucking her fowls with a heavy heart.
“I thought you were lost,” said she to her children as they entered. “Robin, fill the boiler; and Marc, blow the fire under it. Your sister and I shall have to be at the wash-tub and ironing-board all night.”
The soldiers were very sorry this trouble should be caused by them. Was there no one in the village who could relieve them of this part of their work? That the linen should be ready by the morning was indeed indispensable, as the Dauphiness might arrive at any hour of the next day: but to stand at the wash-tub at midnight!—it was terrible to think of. However terrible, there was no help for it. Every housewife in Saint Menehould had soldiers quartered upon her house, and her hands therefore full, instead of being able to wash for another. Besides this, the Randolphes could not pay for such service. Moreover, the family had to give up their beds (which were but poor cribs in the wall) to the strangers; and as they had to be up, they had better be employed than idle.
As soon as Robin and Marc had done all they could for their sister in the washing-shed, they hastened to the soldiers, and made the acquaintance which boys like to make with strangers who have travelled and seen wonderful things. First they found out that one soldier was called Jérome, and that the other, who never ceased smoking, pretended to have so many names, that they saw he either meant to make a joke of them, or did not choose to say what his real name was. Then the boys told their own names and ages, and those of all the family: but they did not mention Charles, having learned that much prudence from the distress they saw in the faces of their sister and mother. Then it appeared that the soldiers could tell a great deal about the Dauphiness.
“Will she be here to-morrow?” asked Marc.
“That depends upon where she is to-night,” replied Jérome. “The last I heard of her was at Strasburg. You know she is a German, and comes from Germany.”
The boys had never heard of Germany, near as they were to it, and did not know where Strasburg was. So they asked about something that they could understand; what the great lady’s name was, and how old she looked.
“Her name is Marie-Antoinette-Joseph-Jeanne de Lorraine: and her age is— Let us see. Comrade, how old is she, exactly? I heard tell, I think, that she is fifteen.”
“Oh, that can’t be!” exclaimed the boys. “Married at fifteen! And our Marie is—”
Here Robin remembered that he must not allude to Charles, and stopped.
“She was born on the day of the great earthquake at Lisbon—”
“Is that where she lives?”
“No, I think not. Whether Lisbon is in Germany, I am not certain; but I don’t think she and her mother were in the earthquake; but I know that it happened the day she was born, and that it hurts her spirits to think of it. She takes it for a sign that she will live unhappy, or die in some dreadful way.”
“You have not served out of France,” observed Randolphe, as he came up, with the third soldier, and seated himself on the bench. “You have not seen either Lisbon or Germany, I suppose; for I can tell you that Lisbon is a good way off from any place where this princess has been. Well, I am sorry to hear anything hurts her spirits; but, to be sure, the great earthquake was an awful thing.”
“I am thinking,” said Jérome, “that a good many thousand people must have been born that same day; I hope they are not all troubled with bad spirits. It would be a curious sight to see so many people of fifteen all low about the manner of their lives and deaths.”
“She is very low sometimes, however,” observed his comrade. “When she was leaving the city she lived in, she wept so that nothing was ever seen like it. She covered her eyes sometimes with her handkerchief, and sometimes with her hands; and looked out many times from the coach-window, to see her mother’s palace once more.”
Everyone thought there was no great wonder in this. A young girl leaving her own country for ever, to be the wife of a foreign prince whom she had never seen, and could not tell whether she should like, might well be in tears, Randolphe said. Had she cheered up yet?
“Yes, indeed,” said Jérome, “that she has. When she saw the fine pavilion on the frontier, she was pleased enough.”
The boys wanted to hear about the pavilion.
“It was there,” said Jérome, “that she was to be made a French princess of. It was a very grand sort of tent, that cost more money than I can reckon.”
“There were three rooms,” continued Jérome; “a large one in the middle, and a smaller one at each end. In one of these smaller rooms she left everything she had worn, even to her very stockings, and all her German attendants; and then she went through to the other, where she found her French attendants, and her fine French wardrobe.”
“And shall we see her in some of her new clothes?” asked Marc.
“Certainly.” And Jérome went on describing the princess’s dress, and told all he had heard of her jewels, and furs, and laces, till the soldiers observed that their host had sighed very often. One of the soldiers then said that it was enough to make poor men like themselves sad to hear of such luxury, when they were hungry in the long summer days, and cold all the long winter nights.
“What need you care?” said the host, somewhat bitterly. “You are provided for by law, when we country people are ground down by it. You come upon us, and must be served with the best, when we have not enough for ourselves.”
The third soldier declared that he thought this a very uncivil speech. Jérome said that he, for his part, could dispense with civility in such a case, when he happened to know where the truth lay. He assured Randolphe that soldiers like himself were as little pleased with the state of things as any countryman. They themselves were the sons of peasants; and many had led a cottage life, and knew how to pity it. But he must say, a soldier’s life was very little better. The army could not get its pay. Glad enough would soldiers be to save trouble to their hosts, if they had a little money in their pockets; but pay was not to be got, in these days, by soldiers, any more than if none was due to them.
His smoking comrade thought there must be an earthquake somewhere in France, swallowing up all the money: for nobody could tell where it all went to.
“How can you say that,” said Randolphe, “when you think of the numbers of idle people that are feeding upon those who work?—I hear you, wife,” he said, in answer to a warning cough from his wife within. “It is no treason to say that in this land there are swarms of idle folk, living upon the toil of us who work.”
The guests declared that they were men of honour, who would be ashamed to repay hospitality by reporting the conversation of their host. Besides, nobody in France could question the feet. To say nothing of the old king, languishing in the midst of costly pleasures, so vicious that by every indulgence he purchased the curses of virtuous families, and the hatred of the poor,—besides all the extravagances in that quarter, there were the nobility, sitting heavy upon the people throughout the land, like the nightmare upon the sleep of a wearied man. These nobles must all be rich,—must all be pampered in luxury, though not one of them would work with his head or hands. If a nobleman had five sons, they must all be pampered alike; and the sons of five hundred peasants must be oppressed, to supply the means.
Randolphe said he had little thought to see the day when he should hear soldiers say these things openly at his own door. His face brightened as he declared this, though his wife again coughed more than once.
Jérome replied that it was a common thing now to hear these things told; for the oppressed do get to speak out, sooner or later. The story of the king’s meeting a coffin was in everybody’s mouth. No one here had heard it: so Jérome told that the king was fond of asking questions of strangers, and particularly about disease, death, and churchyards; because he thought his gay attendants did not like to hear of such things. One day, he was hunting in the forest of Sénard, when he met a man on horseback, carrying a coffin.
“Where are you carrying that coffin?” asked the king.
“To the village yonder.”
“Is it for a man or a woman?”
“For a man.”
“What did he die of?”
The king clapped spurs to his horse, and rode away.
“He might find the same thing happening in many other villages,” said Randolphe, stroking the thin cheeks of his boy Robin. “Look here!” showing the boy’s arm. “Is this an arm that can work or fight as a Frenchman’s should do, when my boy is a man?”
“Things may be different when that boy is a man,” said the smoker, between two whiffs of his pipe.
“How? Where? When? Why? Is anything going to be done for the poor?” asked Randolphe and his family, within and without doors.
“I don’t know when and how: but I think you need not ask why, if you live some days of the week upon boiled nettles, as many of your neighbours do. Those that have looked into the matter say that the country people (they who really do the work of the land) possess only one-third of the country, and yet pay three-fourths of the taxes. One does not see why this should go on, when once they choose that it shall not: and many think that they won’t choose it much longer.”
“And then something will be done for the poor?” said the hostess, coming to the door.
“Certainly; unless the rich do something for the poor first; which would be their wisest way.”
“But if the rich should not choose to do anything for us?” said Robin.
“Then they must look to themselves.”
“And what will happen to them? What will happen to the Dauphiness?”
“Oh, poor lady! There is no saying that. She knows little of what the French people are suffering, and nothing of what they are thinking. How should she? What notion should she have of poverty and the poor, when she is now buying, out of her allowance, a pair of ear-rings that cost 360,000 francs?”
(Note: This is fact; but it happened a little later in her history, immediately after she became queen: 360,000 francs are about 15,000 pounds.)
“You are joking, comrade.”
“No, it is true. She thinks there is no harm in it, because she will pay the whole out of her own allowance, year by year; and the diamonds are so rare and wonderful that she thinks she has a good bargain. What should she know of poverty and the poor?”
“God bless her!” said the hostess, “and may she never know what it is to eat boiled nettles, for want of anything better!”
“I wish she would have done with throwing away our money in diamonds at that rate,” said Randolphe, gloomily. “The people will not love her if she does. We all know it is what we pay for this cursed salt, and our poll-tax, and all our grinding taxes, that go to pay for such freaks as these.”
“Well, love,” said his wife, “she is young, and may learn. Don’t let us be grudging to her as a stranger.”
“Not I, love; I would grudge her nothing, if only I could give my family food that would make them plump and rosy, as I hope to see this lady to-morrow, and if I could but apprentice my boys to some trade that would give them a chance of a better living than their father had before them, and take them a little from under the Count’s hand, for that is very heavy upon us. If my boys have nothing better before them than to divide my poor field, and live as peasants under the Count, I don’t know that I should cry to lay them in their graves before I lie down myself.”
“And cannot you apprentice one of them, at least?” inquired Jérome.
“How can I? Besides the transaction between the artisan and me, there is a great sum to be paid to the king upon the indenture, and another and a larger before the lad begins his trade. What can a poor peasant do with his boys but make them poorer peasants than himself, if that is possible? But it is not possible. Is there coarser woollen than this that I wear? Is there a tougher leather than my belt is made of? And is there anything for the feet poorer than our wooden clogs? And as for food, we are as far from health and strength on the one hand, as we are from the grave on the other—just half-way. So my boys will be poor peasants, like their father, if they can make his field yield double; and if not, they will be in their graves.”
The boys trembled, and would have cried if they dared. Their mother wept outright: and the good-natured Jérome could only shake his head and sigh, and mutter that he feared that was the plight of millions more in France. His smoking comrade again gave out, between two puffs, that before these boys were men, everything might be changed, and the nobles might chance to find their mouths stuffed with boiled nettles, for once, just to show what they were like. This speech made the boys laugh. Their mother wiped her eyes, and gave notice that supper, such as it was, was ready. She knew there was nothing that could satisfy three men, if they happened to be very hungry; she could only say that here was all she had.
Her guests answered her with a civil nod, and sat down at her board with alacrity, saying that the fowls looked savoury, and the bowl of milk good for a thirsty man after a march. Some of their comrades in the village had wine, they knew: but nothing was said about it; for the soldiers’ pockets were empty, like those of their host.
It was growing dark. Randolphe made what blaze he could by throwing light wood upon the fire. By law, he was bound to furnish candles to his guests; and some soldiers whom he had entertained had required this of him; but his present guests felt no disposition to do so, after what they had heard. They cut up their fowls by firelight: then, before beginning to eat, they exchanged glances, the consequence of which was that the boys were called, made to sit down, each between two soldiers, and treated with some mouthfuls of savoury fowl. Can it be wondered at that they forgot, till afterwards, that they were eating poor Marie’s fowls, which they had hoped to see pecking about in the wood?
The lively talk that was going on round the table was soon interrupted by a loud rap upon the door, made by a heavy staff, such as the Count’s followers usually carried when they went on messages. Randolphe was not fond of receiving visits from the Count’s people, and he now desired Robin to go to the door, and see what was wanted. The message was heard by those within, for the bearer shouted it aloud from door to door of all the peasantry of the Count’s estate. Randolphe and another were wanted to-night, to flog the ponds.
“I will go myself, because I must,” observed Randolphe: “but how to find another I don’t know, so I shall just let that alone.”
“They won’t forgive you for not taking a second,” remarked his wife. “You will have to pay dear, one way or another: and yet I can’t ask you to take one of the boys.—It is bad enough for you, a poor rest between two days’ labour, to stand flogging the ponds till field time in the morning.”
“Have you often to do this night-work, neighbour?” asked Jérome.
“Only when the family are at the chateau. They are so used to live in Paris, away from country noises, that they cannot sleep in the country for the noise of the frogs, unless the ponds are flogged; so, when they come, we have that work to do.”
“Cannot you poison the frogs?” asked Jérome.
“O, yes, father!” cried Marc. “You poison rats: cannot you poison the frogs, and have done with them?”
The smoker here muttered something which made his comrade jog his elbow, and the host say, “Hush! Hush!” What he was muttering was, that if they wanted to get rid of a nuisance, the aristocrats were fewer than the frogs.
Randolphe was evidently anxious to be gone after he had heard this speech. He would not say another word on his own grievances, or those of his neighbours. He fetched his woollen cap, and stood only undecided as to what he should do about furnishing a second, to work with him that night. He glanced from one boy to the other: but both looked too pale to stand in the damps through an April night. He repeated that he would take no second: but while he said so, there were images in his mind of fine or compensation, bringing increased hardships on the morrow. At this moment a voice from the darkness without called his name, and said he need not look any further for a comrade.
All the family knew that this was Charles’s voice; but even the little boys had learned so much caution from hardship, that they did not speak, but only looked at each other. Jérome observed that it told well for his host that he had a neighbour ready, without asking, to help him in so irksome a service.
The soldiers contrived to make room for the boys to sleep, thinking it quite enough that the law obliged Randolphe to flog the ponds, and his wife and daughter to toil in the shed all night, without the addition of the two half-fed lads having to lie down on the clay floor, or not at all. So each boy had a share of the crib, and a corner of the rug.
The boys were wakened in the morning by a rap on the door, like that of the preceding evening. When they had rubbed their eyes and got up, they found that their mother was speaking with no less a person than the bailiff from the chateau. It took little time to slip on the only day garment each had: and then, as their mother stood in the doorway, one looked out under each of her arms, to see what was going on.
“Ah! You little fellows,” said the bailiff, “I have some business with you. What have you to do with pigeons, when you know ’tis against the law for you to keep them? Come, no excuses; I saw a brood of pigeons on the ridge of the roof, as I came.”
“How are we to help the Count’s pigeons lighting on our ridge, if they choose, please sir!” said Marc.
“Nay, Marc, no tricks!” said his mother. “The pigeons are theirs, sir; got from the wood, and a present for their sister: but you see, sir, how trickery and falsehood come. If there were no reasons why my boys should not do such an innocent thing as bring up a brood of pigeons, the thought of an untruth would not enter their heads; but you see what you tempt them to, by driving them so very hard about almost the only pleasure they have.”
“It is not I, good woman,” said the bailiff. “Do not say I drive them hard—I did not make the laws; but it is my business to see that the laws are regarded between the Count and his people, that is all. Come! While your daughter puts on her gayest ribbon, I will go round, and see about these pigeons.”
Marie had no gay ribbon to put on, though she must go immediately with her father before the Count. It was the bailiffs errand to say this. While she made herself as neat as she could, and her father was called in from the field (to which he had gone straight from the ponds, because he knew there was no meal ready for him at home), the bailiff examined the premises, followed at a distance by the boys, in terror for their rabbit-hutch. Of course, the rabbits were found; and of course, they were carried off. Robin rolled upon the ground in his grief, and Marc looked as if his heart was bursting. The bailiff was so sorry for what he felt it his duty to do, that against all rule he offered the boys one young rabbit and one young pigeon to keep. At first, these were accepted; but Robin was sure that Marc’s rabbit would pine alone; and Marc was certain Robin’s pigeon could never live solitary; and they gave up these last remains of their treasures. To do it with a good grace was more than they were equal to; and when Marie and her father set off for the chateau, they left the boys crying bitterly.
It did not make Marie the more easy to see her lover skulking at a distance, all the way they went. The bailiff was close at hand; and she believed that his quick eyes would note all Charles’s doings. Every time he spoke, which he did frequently and civilly, she dreaded his asking what business that man had, watching them from under the shade of the wood; but each time she was relieved by hearing some question or remark about the reception of the Dauphiness in the village. She had to say all that must be said to the bailiff; for her father was busy thinking. He was glad when they were left alone, so that he could tell Marie what was in his mind. There was time enough to do this. When the great iron gates of the avenue closed behind them, the bailiff told them to go straight on by the broad road. He was going by a side path, but would meet them farther on, and take them to the Count.
This was the opportunity Randolphe wanted, to tell his daughter that he thought it best now to ask the Count’s consent to her marriage with Charles, formally and properly. Marie trembled, and grew sick at heart as she heard this, and implored her father not to mention Charles,—so sure was she that her marriage would be prevented if Charles were spoken of. Her father declared, however, that he knew the Count and his ways, and was certain that, his notice being attracted, nothing could now prevent his becoming acquainted with the minutest of their family circumstances; and that the most politic course would be to appear to desire his consent, and only to have waited his arrival at the chateau to request it. Randolphe had decided upon his plan, and Marie had only to submit.
The bailiff met them at the head of the avenue, and led them to the morning apartment of the Count, which he entered first, after being announced, leaving his companions in the hall. The door was presently opened, and he beckoned them in.
The Count was sitting in his morning gown beside a table, on which stood a small silver tray, with his coffee-cup upon it. His valet was dressing his hair. Two of his sons were in the room; one playing with his dogs in a recess of the window, and the other reading the newspaper.
“Come closer,” said the Count, in answer to Randolphe’s bow. “Nearer—come close up to the table.”
The truth was, he could not otherwise see them well while his hair was in the hands of his valet.
“Is it possible?” he said, as if to himself, while he looked at the peasant and his daughter. “Are you Randolphe? I had heard your name for so long and so often, among my people, that I had imagined you one of the principal of them. But you appear wretchedly poor, eh?” he continued, looking into the sallow, unshaven face before him. “I am afraid you are very poor, eh?”
“Well-nigh heart-broken with poverty, my lord.”
“There is some mistake,” resumed the Count. “How is this?” said he, looking towards the bailiff; and then, calling to his son in the window, “Casimir, how is this?”
The bailiff answered first:—
“Randolphe is wretchedly poor, my lord, as you say; but there is no one of your people hereabouts who is less so.”
The youth’s reply was, that in the question of arrangements for receiving the Dauphiness, he supposed the principal peasants belonging to the chateau would be spoken to; and he had mentioned Randolphe, understanding him to be one of them.
Marie saw that this youth was the one who had stared her out of countenance at the stile, the afternoon before: the same who had talked with her brothers on the verge of the wood.
The Count was for dismissing his visitors at once, saying that they would not answer his purpose for the arrangements of which he had meant to speak with them. They were not, however, let off so easily as they had now begun to hope. The young man asked some questions from the window, which put it into the Count’s head to ask more, till Randolphe thought it prudent not to keep back his story, but to request the Count’s consent to Marie’s marriage, as if that had been his own part of his errand this morning.
The Count evidently cared nothing about the matter, and would have given his consent as a matter of course, if his son Casimir had been anywhere but in the room. As it was, there were so many questions, the inquiries about Charles were so minute, that Marie grew vexed and angry, and by a look invited her father to say something about the Count’s time and be gone. The youth who was reading certainly pitied her, for he said, without raising his eyes from his newspaper,—
“Be quiet, Casimir. Casimir, how can you? Do leave these poor people to make themselves happy their own way. It is no concern of yours.”
“It is my father’s concern that his people should not live on his land when they cannot do service for it. Why, it appears they have not anything like a cottage to go to. My father cannot look to them for anything. You see, sir, you can depend upon them for nothing, in their present circumstances: and I do not see how you can consent to their marrying yet. If this fellow Charles, now, would do his duty, and serve for three years, there would be some chance for their settling comfortably afterwards. They would lose nothing by waiting, if they settled comfortably at last.”
“Please your lordship,” said Randolphe, in a hoarse voice, “they have waited so very long already, and there is no prospect—”
He glanced at Marie to see how she bore this. She seemed to be just falling; and he drew her arm within his, to keep her up.
“We will take care that there is a prospect,” said Casimir. “We do not intend to lose sight of you. We may do some kind things for Marie.”
Marie tried to speak; but before she could utter a sentence, the Count discovered that the valet had arrived at the last bow of the pig-tail, and that he must make a decision, and conclude this interview. He therefore pronounced that Charles should be sent on military service for three years, and gave orders to the bailiff to see that the young man was brought in for the purpose, in the course of the morning. He then bade good-day to his peasant dependent, and hoped he would see better times, and do the best he could for the young people before their wedding-day, as he would now have a considerable interval in which to meditate his duty as a parent to so pretty a daughter.
While the Count was saying this, Casimir slipped round towards the door, and, as Marie passed near him, thrust a piece of gold into her hand. Marie had never had a piece of gold in her hand before, and she did not like it now. She looked at Casimir with such a look as he had never before met from human eyes, and threw his gift between his two dogs in the window.
The Count did not see nor heed this. Randolphe thought his graver son did; for there was a sudden crackle of the newspaper, and the reader’s face was crimson to the temples.
“We have one friend there, I fancy,” muttered the unhappy father, as he went out. “But for that, I think you and I had better drown ourselves in the ponds between this and home.”
“Charles!” gasped Marie in his ear. “Send Charles away! I can get home alone.”
Her father took the hint. They parted in the shade of the avenue, as soon as they could suppose themselves unwatched from the chateau. Randolphe cut across into the wood where he had seen Charles half an hour before, while Marie went homewards with tottering steps, looking away from the ponds, from a feeling that her state of mind was too desperate for her to trust herself on the brink of deep waters.
It was a comfort to Marie, on reaching home, to find that no soldiers were there. The guests of the preceding night had been summoned to their duty, as the royal train might be certainly expected in the course of the morning. The good-natured Jérome’s heart had been touched by the lamentations of the boys for their lost favourites; and he had told them that, if they would leave off crying, so as to make their faces fit to be seen by the train of nobles, they might look out for him on the roadside, and he would try to place them where they might see the Dauphiness. They had made every effort to look cheerful, and were thinking more about the Princess than of pigeons and rabbits when their sister returned; but when they witnessed her burst of weeping on her mother’s bosom—when they heard that Charles was to be carried off for a soldier for three years, and that there was to be no hut in the wood, and no new brother-in-law for them, they cried more bitterly than ever.
In the midst of this scene, Jérome came by on horseback. He could not stop; but he called out that the band had been heard already, and pointed to the place where the boys should go and take their stand. They did not now care anything about the procession, or the coach with six horses, or the handsome ladies, or the noble gentlemen that Jérome had promised they should see. Their mother wished that they should not miss such a sight: but they did not move as she said so. When, however, Marie turned her face towards them, and said, “Go, dears: pray do,” they took their caps, and walked away; they thought it so kind of Marie to care for their pleasure at such a time.
Jérome passed again, after they had gone a few yards, and nodded and beckoned. They ran and kept up with his horse, till he stopped opposite the post-house. He told them hastily that he was to be stationed here; and he was glad of it, as it was expected that the party would halt at the post-house. He desired the boys to keep close behind, at his horse’s tail, where nobody would meddle with them. They must not notice him till spoken to, and must take care of his horse’s tread: all the rest they might leave to him. There was presently an opportunity for him to speak a few words more to them; and he could not help saying how sorry he was to see how they had been crying since he had left their cottage. Of course, this brought out the story of Charles, and the new misfortune threatened to the family. Jérome was not the only one who heard the tale. His smoking comrade was by his side: and it was exactly the kind of story to which his ears were most open. The two soldiers conversed together in a low voice for a minute or two, and then sat bolt upright and silent, as if they had been made of stone, and had not each carried a pitying heart under his stiff uniform and steady countenance. When the military music was heard coming nearer and nearer, and distant cheers were borne on the breeze, the commanding officer rode by, and saw nothing in the demeanour of these two soldiers to distinguish them from all the rest of the line, who were thinking only of themselves or the Dauphiness.
She came, preceded by so many attendants on horseback, and inferior carriages, which passed without taking any notice of the post-house, that Robin and Marc heard the people about them lamenting that there would be no halt, and that they should barely see the Princess after all. They were mistaken, however. It was one of the plans of the journey that the royal carriage should stop for a few moments at every post-house, whether fresh horses were wanted or not, in order that the loyal feeling of the people should be cherished by a sight of her who was to be their queen, and whose appearance was indeed likely to captivate all eyes and hearts.
The six bay horses were checked precisely at the right spot: and all which preceded the royal carriage halted at the same moment. The air was rent by a cheer, such a cheer as convinced the Count and his family how faint in comparison their welcome had been, when they had appeared from the by-road to the chateau half an hour before. When his train had taken their station at the entrance of Saint Menehould, there had been a few cries of “Long live the Count our lord!” but they were a mere whisper compared with the acclamation which greeted the Dauphiness.
The royal carriage was open almost all round, so that the Princess was conspicuously visible. She was full as beautiful as any of the gazers had expected. Her complexion was fresh and fair, her countenance smiling, and her blue eyes full of spirit and feeling; and though she looked no more than fifteen (her actual age), all thought, as she moved her stately head in answer to their greeting, that they had never seen so dignified a lady.
In about two minutes from the halting of her carriage, Jérome turned his head round with a hasty smile to the boys; and before they knew what it meant, his and his comrade’s horses began scrambling and sliding. Jérome’s opened a way for the boys to escape into the road from the danger of a kick; and as soon as they were safe there, the horses began to prance, and make yet more confusion. The Dauphiness looked that way, as Jérome intended that she should; and when her attention was fairly fixed, he called to the boys to come back to their places.
As Jérome had hoped, their doleful faces, all swollen with crying, attracted the notice of the Princess, who had hitherto met only smiling countenances wherever she turned, since she had entered her new country. These traces of tears carried back her thoughts to her own weeping, some days before, on leaving Vienna; and she suddenly beckoned to the children. In a moment a hundred voices bade them go forward to the carriage; a hundred hands pointed and pushed, so that they were presently within hearing of the kind questions of the young Princess.
She asked what made them so unhappy on this day, when every one else looked pleased and joyful. They could scarcely help crying again at the question; but they were old enough to know that everything might depend on their behaviour at this moment; and they strove to speak, and to speak plainly. Had they been ill? The Princess asked, observing to her ladies that they looked sadly thin. No, they had not been ill, they replied; they were only very unhappy to-day.
The bailiff, who was in attendance on the Count’s family, now put himself forward to explain, not to the Dauphiness herself (that would have been too bold), but to one of her ladies, on the other side of the carriage, about his having taken away the boys’ rabbits and pigeons according to law.
“’Tis not that,” cried Marc, indignantly, as he heard this. “We left off crying about the rabbits and pigeons long ago: did not we, Robin? It is about Charles and Marie.”
“Tell me about Charles and Marie,” said the Princess, in broken French, “and then all about your pigeons.”
“Charles and our sister were just going to be married, and we had begun a house in the wood for them; and we have had to pull it to pieces again; and this morning the Count says Charles must go for a soldier for three years; and Marie is crying at home so—”
Marc could not go on for his own tears.
The Count’s sons had, by this time, made their way through the closing crowd, to hear what was going on.
“Casimir,” said his brother, “your bad work of this morning must be undone, you see. Do your part with a good grace. Bring my father to receive the commands of the Dauphiness.”
Casimir yielded. While he was gone, his brother explained to the Princess the rights which the Count had over this family, as over the other peasants of the neighbourhood. He ventured to answer for his father, that he would see the hardship of this particular case, and would permit some arrangement to be made, by which Charles might be spared the threatened misfortune, and restored to his hopes of a speedy marriage.
“Where is this Charles?” asked the Princess. “I will not ask to see the tearful Marie before so many eyes.”
Robin had seen Charles, just before, near the spot; for Charles was desperate, and would neither hide nor attempt to escape. He roamed about, half-mad with the suffering of his mind, among the holiday groups of Saint Menehould; and when called, was not long in presenting himself.
“Alas! Is this the bridegroom?” asked the Princess, shrugging her shoulders, with an expression of pity.
“He looks better than that sometimes, when he plays with us,” said Marc, zealous for his friend Charles.
“But his dress!” said a lady, who had seldom before seen a peasant, and was not familiarised with the coarse woollen garment and leathern belt, so common among the country people.
“It is just what father wears, and everybody,” maintained Marc.
By this time the Count was waiting the pleasure of the Princess, ready to assure her of his patronage of any persons she might please to favour. The Dauphiness asked whether such poverty as she witnessed was not a thing hitherto unheard of,—whether such misery could be common in the country she had just entered? The bridling of some of her ladies, and the annoyance in the faces of some gentlemen of her suite, showed her that she had asked an imprudent question. Yet she was only fifteen, and was to be hereafter the queen of this country; and if she had never done worse things than asking such questions, she might have lived beloved, and died lamented, in a good old age.
She saw another thing in the countenances of her attendants,—that it was time to be gone. She therefore requested of the Count, as a favour to herself, that he would settle Charles advantageously on his lands; and smiling at the young man, she declared that she would answer for Charles’s fidelity to his lord. Charles was on his knees at the word, too much overpowered to speak, but promising all by his clasped hands and heaving breast. The Count declared he should have a cottage and a field that very day, and his hearty consent to take Marie home as soon as the priest could marry them.
The Dauphiness asked one of her attendant gentlemen for her purse, and gave the boys gold for Marie. They were to tell her to make her cottage comfortable with it.
“As for yourselves,” said she, “what did I hear just now that you wanted? Canary-birds, was it?”
“Pigeons,”—“rabbits,” said the boys; “but never mind them now.”
“O, but I do mind; you shall have some money for that too.”
The bailiff explained that it was not poverty, but the law which interfered with the boys’ pleasures. Pigeons abounded in the wood, and could feed themselves; but it was against the law for any under the rank of a noble to keep them. The Dauphiness supposed this was all as it should be; for she was apt, through life, to believe that the nobles were by nature entitled to all things, and might give only such leavings as they did not wish for, to inferior people: yet she was pleased, and repaid the bailiff with a gracious smile, when he said that all laws melted away before the wishes of a royal bride, and that these peasant boys should have their rabbit-hutch and dove-cot henceforth, by special permission.
None waved their caps more vehemently, none shouted “Long live the Dauphiness!” more vigorously, as the cavalcade set forth again, than Robin and Marc. When the last horseman vanished in the dust of the road, the attention of the crowd turned upon the favoured family of Randolphe. The poor man himself had retired overpowered, and no one could tell where he was. Charles was with Marie already. But the boys remained in the road; they were hoisted on the shoulders of their neighbours, having first delivered the precious gold pieces into the hands of the curd, lest they should lose Marie’s treasure in the bustle. Robin would not be carried a step towards home till he had been allowed to speak to Jérome. He threw his arms round the neck of the good-natured soldier, and said that it was he who had made Marie’s fortune. Then Jérome had to shake hands with every person in the crowd; and every man who had a house or cottage begged Jérome to be his guest. Jérome laughed, and said, that among so many he should not have known what to reply, and how to choose his host; but that he and his comrades were at Saint Menehould only for the occasion which was now passed, and before night they would be twenty miles off.
Before sunset, accordingly, Jérome and the smoker were riding side by side on the road to fresh quarters, each with a fine bouquet of spring flowers at his breast, sent by Marie. They were talking of the events of the morning, of the sudden rescue of a worthy family from the depths of misery. The smoker could not be cheered even by what he had witnessed; and he spoke as gloomily and sententiously as if the pipe were now between his lips, and his words coming forth in a cloud of smoke. Jérome could not but own, however, that there was much truth in what he said, when he declared, “It is all very well, and I am glad this one family is saved. But it is only one of many hundred thousand miserable families. What is to become of all the rest, who may not have the luck to see a royal bride pass their way? It is not a few royal smiles and gold pieces, here and there, that will save the royal, or the noble, or the poor, while the law and the customs of the great oppress and destroy a hundred to pamper one. If this young Dauphiness were to do this deed over again every hour of the year, she could not do more than put off for a little while the storm that will burst upon her and all of us, when the poor can endure no more.”
It is a common belief, among those who have not learned to be wiser, that to be a king, or one of the king’s family, is the same thing as to be perfectly happy. It is probable that all persons living in a country where there is a royal family have thought so at some time of their lives. The poor man who lives under the harsh orders of some superior, fancies the king with his crown on his head, ordering all things as he likes. Hard-working servant-girls think of the queen as driving about in her carriage all the morning, and going to the play every evening. Children, when tired of their lessons, or sent from some favourite book on an errand to the cellar, or a walk in the cold, imagine the royal princes and princesses doing what they like, and putting upon others whatever is disagreeable. Unless some circumstance should bring home to their minds the truth that royalty does not exempt from sickness and death, and from the troubles of the heart and mind, such persons may go on for the greater part of their lives envying royal personages who, perhaps, would gladly be peasants, or in any rank but the highest, the evils of which many a sovereign has found to be more than could be borne.
The poor people of France, at the time of the story you have just read, were as ignorant as I have described about royalty and its privileges. There was also something worse than ignorance in their minds about the inhabitants of the splendid royal palaces of Paris and Versailles. It has been shown how poor and how oppressed some of the country people were; this poverty and oppression, accompanied with ignorance, caused, in some parts of the kingdom, and especially in Paris, passions of fear and hatred which were then terrible to witness, and are now, after seventy years, dreadful to think of. One anecdote will show the mind and temper of some of the people of Paris about the time when the Dauphiness entered France.
The old king, Louis the Fifteenth, had ruined his health, as well as made himself detested, by his vices. At one time, when he was very ill, Paris was crowded with hungry wretches who had come up from the country, in hopes of finding a living in the capital. The police had orders to clear the city, every now and then, of these beggars, and send them back to their native places. On one occasion the police carried off some children of respectable persons, in hopes of getting large sums of money for ransom. The mothers of these children, seeking them in the streets and squares, and weeping as they went, attracted crowds; and a report was spread, and believed at once, that the physicians of the king had ordered for his cure baths of children’s blood! Those who believed this nonsense rose in a riot, before it was found that the missing children were alive and safe; and several of the poor misled rioters were hanged.
This story proves more than the ignorance of the suffering people. It shows how the royal family and their attendants were regarded,—how tyrannical and cruel, how selfish and how powerful, they were thought. The royal family was from this time forward greatly wronged by the people; but it was because the people had already been much more wronged by the rich and powerful. They had been so ground down into poverty and wretchedness, that they felt the fiercest envy, the most brutal rage, towards all the wealthy and noble, believing them born to be unboundedly happy, and to make everybody below them as miserable as they pleased. Never, perhaps, were the absurd notions of the privileges of royalty held in such exaggeration as by the common people of France at this time; and never, perhaps, was a more intense hatred shown among men than by those who abolished this royalty. The story of the young king Louis the Seventeenth, which is now to be told, is a standing lesson to all who may imagine that to be a prince is to be happier than other people.
Louis the Seventeenth was born in 1785. He was the second son of the princess who passed through Saint Menehould from Vienna, after her marriage. From being Dauphiness she had since become queen, and her eldest boy was now the Dauphin. This second son, whose history we are to follow, was called the Duke of Normandy; and as he was never likely to be anything more, there was less pomp and fuss about him than was made about his brother, the heir to the throne. Yet, from the day of his birth, he had an establishment of his own; and while a little unconscious baby, not knowing one person from another, and wanting nothing but to eat and sleep, he was called the master of several ladies, waiting-women, gentlemen, and footmen, who were appointed to attend upon him.
We happen to have full accounts of the way of living of this royal family in the days of their prosperity, as well as of their adventures when adversity overtook them. Up to the time when the Duke of Normandy was four years old, life in the palace was as follows.
The oldest members of the royal family were the king’s aunts,—the great aunts of the Duke of Normandy. There were four sisters, all unmarried. One of them had gone into a convent, and found herself very happy there. After the dulness of her life at home, she quite enjoyed taking her turn with the other nuns in helping to cook in the kitchen, and in looking after the linen in the wash-house. Her three sisters led dreadfully dull lives. They had each spacious apartments, with ladies and gentlemen ushers to wait on them,—a reader to read aloud so many hours a day, and money to buy whatever they liked. But they had nothing to do,—and nobody to love very dearly. They were without husbands and children, and even intimate friends; for all about them of their own age and way of thinking were of a rank too far below their own to be made intimate friends of. These ladies duly attended divine service in the royal chapel; and they did a great deal of embroidery and tapestry-work. When the proper hour came for paying their respects to their niece the queen, they tied on their large hooped petticoats, and other articles of court-dress, had their trains borne by their pages, and went to the queen’s apartment to make their courtesies, and sit down for a little while, chiefly to show that they had a right to sit down unasked in the royal presence. In a few minutes they went back to their apartments, slipped off their hooped petticoats and long trains, and sat down to their work again. They would have liked to take walks about Paris and into the country, as they saw from their windows that other ladies did; but it was not to be thought of,—it would have been too undignified: so they were obliged to be contented with a formal, slow, daily drive, each in her own carriage, each attended by her lady-in-waiting, and with her footmen mounted behind. They were fond of plants, and longed above everything to be allowed to rear flowers with their own hands, in a garden: but this too was thought out of the question: and they were obliged to be content with such flowers as would grow in boxes on their window-sills in the palace. Madame Louise, the one who became a nun, employed a young lady to read to her while she yet lived in the palace. Sometimes the poor girl read aloud for five hours together; and when her failing voice showed that she was quite exhausted, Madame Louise prepared a glass of eau sucrée (sugared water) and placed it beside her, saying that she was sorry to cause so much fatigue; but that she was anxious to finish a course of reading which she had laid out. It does not seem to have occurred to Madame Louise to take the book herself, or ask some one else to relieve her tired reader.
The king, Louis the Sixteenth, would probably have been a dull man in any situation in life. His mind was dull. But his tastes showed that he might have been better and happier in many places than in his own palace. Till he fell into misfortune, and showed a somewhat patient and forgiving temper, he seems not to have attached anybody to him. He was very silent, though now and then giving way to strange bursts of rudeness, which made his children and servants afraid of him. For many years after he married, his wife was not sure whether he cared at all about her. There must always be some doubt of this, for a time, in the case of royal marriages which take place, as his did, without the parties having ever met, or being able to tell whether they shall like one another. The king’s manners were such that it was difficult to say whether he cared about anybody,—except, indeed, one person; and that person was not the queen, nor his aunts, nor his children, but—a locksmith of the name of Gamin.
There were three employments that the king was so fond of, that he seemed to have no interest left for anything else: first, of lock-making; secondly, of hunting; thirdly, of studying geography. As long as he could spend his hours with his huntsmen, with Gamin, or marking his copper globe, or colouring maps, he seemed to care little how his ministers managed his kingdom, or how his wife spent her time, and formed her friendships.
A person who had the opportunity of examining his apartments gives an account of them which shows how little the king liked the common course of royal life, and how differently he employed his hours in private from what his people supposed. On the staircase which led from one to another of his small private apartments, hung six pictures of the king’s hunts, with exact tables of the game he had killed,—the quantity, the kind of game, and the dates of the occasions, divided into the months, the seasons, and the years of his reign. In a splendid room below stairs hung the engravings which had been dedicated to him, and designs of canals and other public works. The room above this contained the king’s collection of maps, spheres, and globes. Here were found numbers of maps drawn and coloured by the king,—some finished, and many only half done. Above this was a workshop, with a turning-lathe, and all necessary instruments for working in wood. Here, while no one knew where the king was, did he spend hours with a footman, named Duret, in cleaning and polishing his tools. Higher up was a library, containing the books the king valued most, and some private papers relating to the history of the royal families of Hanover, England, Austria, and Russia. In the room over this, however, did his majesty most delight to spend his mornings. It contained a forge, two anvils, and every tool used in lock-making. Here he took lessons of Gamin, who was smuggled up the back stairs by Duret; and here the king and the locksmith hammered away for hours together; while all about the room might be seen common locks, finished in the most perfect manner, secret locks, and locks of copper splendidly gilt. Gamin was a vulgar-minded man; and he treated the king ill, both at this time, and after adversity had overtaken the royal family. In these early days, he felt that the king was in his power, so afraid was his majesty of the queen and court knowing about his lock-making, and Gamin having it in his power to tell, any day. He spoke gruffly to the king, and ordered him about as if he had been an apprentice; to which the king always submitted. He not only endured this treatment, but entrusted Gamin with various secret commissions, which were sometimes of great importance. The account which Gamin gave of the king was that he was kind and forbearing, timid, inquisitive, and very apt to go to sleep.
There was one more apartment, a sort of observatory, on the leads, in which was an immense telescope. Duret was always at hand, either sharpening tools, or cleaning the anvil, or pasting maps; and the king employed him to fix the lens of the telescope so as to suit his majesty’s eye; and there, in an arm-chair at the end of the telescope, sat the king, for hours together, spying at the people who thronged the palace courts, or who went to and fro in the avenue.
While his majesty was thus pursuing all this child’s play in private, his people were starving by thousands, and preparing by millions to rebel; the government was deep in debt, the ministers perplexed, and the wisest of them in despair, because they never could get his majesty to speak or act, even so far as to say in council which of two different opinions he liked the best. He would sit by, hearing consultations on the most important and pressing affairs, and after all leave his ministers unable to act, because he would not utter so much as “Yes” or “No.” He had no will, and nothing could be done without it. What a pity, for suffering France, and for the mild Louis himself and all his family, that he was not a huntsman or a mechanic instead of a king!
The little Duke of Normandy knew nothing of all this, and saw very little of his father in any way. What did he see his mother doing? The formality of the court was such that he saw less of his mother than almost any child in the kingdom of its parents; but the sort of life the queen led was as follows.
She had been married, as we know, at fifteen, when she was not only inexperienced, but very ignorant. Her mother, the Empress of Austria, was so busy governing her empire, that she could pay little attention to the education of her children. She gave them governesses; but these governesses indulged their pupils, doing their lessons for them,—tracing their writing in pencil,—casting up their sums,—whispering to them how to spell,—doing the outline of their drawings first, and touching them up at last. The consequence was, that when this young girl entered France, a bride, at fifteen years of age, she knew next to nothing, and though she took some pains, she never learned to spell well in French, or to write grammatically, even after she declared that she had forgotten her native language—German. She was very clever, notwithstanding. She had a strong, firm, and decided mind. Her ignorance, however, was an irreparable evil,—especially her ignorance of men and common life. She had no means of repairing this ignorance. Everybody flattered her; every one yielded to her in the days of her prosperity; so that she knew no will but her own, till some mistake, which it was to late to set right, showed her how she had been deceived. Even during the happiest years of her life, while all appeared to go well, she was perpetually getting into scrapes, and making enemies; and we shall see, by-and-by, how, on one occasion, her inexperience cost, in its consequences, the lives of herself and all her family but one.
Of her many mistakes, however, none were so fatal as that of concluding that all was well because no one told her to the contrary,—of passing her days in splendour and pleasure, giving her whole mind to acting plays, masquerading, and inventing new amusements, and now and then providing for dependents by giving a licence to sell some necessary article dear to the poor, while the poor were growing desperate with famine. She was careless and selfish, but she was not hard-hearted; for whenever she witnessed misery she hastened to relieve it, often sacrificing her own pleasures for the purpose; but the people, hunger-bitten and in rags, seeing her splendour, and hearing reports of far more than was actually true, believed her hard-hearted; and from being proud of her, and devoted to her, when she entered France as a bride, they learned at last to hate her from the bottom of their souls.
There would be no end to the story of how many attendants the queen had, and what were the formalities observed among them. We will only briefly go over the history of a day, in order fully to understand how great was the reverse when she became a prisoner.
The queen was awakened regularly at eight o’clock, at which hour her first lady of the bed-chamber entered the room, sad came within the gilt railing which surrounded the bed, bringing in one hand a pincushion, and in the other the book containing patterns of all the queen’s dresses, of which she had usually thirty-six for each season, besides muslin and other common dresses. The queen marked with pins the three she chose to wear in the course of that day;—one during the morning, another at dinner, and a third in the evening,—at a card-party, a ball, or the theatre. The book was then delivered to a footman, who carried it to the lady of the wardrobe. She took down from the shelves and drawers these dresses and their trimmings; while another woman filled a basket with the linen, etcetera, which her majesty would want that day. Great wrappers of green taffeta were thrown over these things, and footmen carried them to the queen’s dressing-room. Sometimes the queen took her breakfast in bed, and sometimes in her bath. Her linen dress was trimmed with the richest lace; her dressing-gown was of white taffeta; and the slippers in which she stepped to the bath were of white dimity, trimmed with lace.
Two women were kept for the sole business of attending to the bath, which was usually rolled into the room upon castors. The bathing-gown was of fine flannel, with collar and cuffs, and lining throughout of fine linen. The breakfast, of coffee or chocolate, was served on a tray which stood on the cover of the bath. Meantime one of the ladies warmed the bed with a silver warming-pan, and the queen returned to it, sitting up in her white taffeta dressing-gown, and reading; or if any one who had permission to visit her at that hour wished to see her, she took up her embroidery. This kind of visit, at a person’s rising, is customary abroad; and it had been so long so at the court of France, that certain classes of persons were understood to have a right to visit the queen at the hour of her levée, as it was called. These persons were the physicians and surgeons of the court; any messengers from the king; the queen’s secretary and others; so that there were often, besides the ladies in waiting, ten or a dozen persons visiting the queen as she sat up in bed, at work, or taking her breakfast.
The great visiting hour, however, was noon, when the queen went into another room to have her hair dressed. We see in prints, how the hair was dressed at that time,—frizzed and powdered, and piled up with silk cushions, and ribbons and flowers, till the wonder was how any head could bear such a weight. It took a long time to dress a lady’s hair in those days. The queen sat before a most splendid toilet-table, in the middle of the room. The ladies who had been in waiting for twenty-four hours now went out, and gave place to others in full dress, with rose-coloured brocade petticoats, wide hoops, and high head-dresses with lappets, and all the finery of a court. The usher took his place before the folding-doors; great chairs and stools were set in a circle for such visitors as had a right to sit down in the presence of royalty. Then entered the ladies of the palace, the governess of the royal children, the princes of the royal family, the secretaries of state, the captains of the guard, and, on Tuesdays, the foreign ambassadors. According to their rank, the queen either nodded to them as they entered, or bowed her head, or leaned with her arm upon her toilet-table, as if about to rise. This last salutation was only to the royal princes. She never actually rose, for her hair-dresser was powdering her hair.
It was considered presumptuous and dangerous to alter any customs of the court of France; but this queen thought fit to alter one among others. It had always, before her time, been the etiquette for the lady of the highest rank who appeared in readiness in the queen’s chamber, to slip her majesty’s petticoats over her head in dressing; but when her majesty was pleased to have her head dressed so high that no petticoat would go over it, but must be slipped up from her feet, she used to step into her closet, to be dressed by her favourite milliner and one of her women. This change gave great offence to the ladies who thought they had a right to the honour of dressing the queen.
Her majesty came forth from her closet ready to go to mass in the chapel, on certain days: and by this time her chaplains were in waiting among her suite. The royal princesses and their trains stood waiting to follow the queen to the chapel: but, strangely enough, this was the hour appointed for signing deeds of gift on the part of the queen. These gifts were too often licences for the exclusive sale of articles which all should have been left free to sell. The secretary of the queen presented the pen to her majesty; and at these hours she signed away the goodwill of thousands of well-disposed subjects. At such a moment, while she stood, beautiful and smiling, among a crowd of adorers, and while her husband, with smutted face and black hands, was filing his locks in his attic, how little did either of them think that their eldest son was sinking to his grave, and that the storm of popular fury was even now growling within their dominions,—the tremendous storm which was to prove fatal to themselves!
At this hour of the toilet, on the first day of the month, the queen was presented with her pocket-money for the month—the sum which she might do what she liked with, and out of which she made presents. This sum was always in gold, and was presented in a purse of white kid, embroidered in silver, and lined with white silk. Its amount was, on an average for the year round, 12,500 pounds. It was by saving out of this allowance that she paid for the pair of diamond ear-rings which she bought soon after her marriage; but it took six years’ savings to pay for that one ornament. She was young and giddy when she bought those jewels, and she paid for them out of her own pocket-money; but, as has been seen, the purchase did not sound well in the ears of peasants who boiled nettles for food when they could get no bread, from the pressure of the taxes. Whether the discontented knew it or not, a good deal of this monthly gold went in charity—charity, however, which did not do half the good that self-denial would have done.
Her majesty was waited on at dinner by her ladies. She dined early, generally eating chicken, and drinking water only. She supped on broth, or the wing of a fowl, and biscuits which she steeped in water. She spent the afternoons among her ladies, or with her two most intimate friends—the Duchess de Polignac, for some time governess to the royal children, and the Princess de Lamballe, superintendent of the household. After a time the friendship with both these ladies cooled; but while it lasted, the pleasantest hours the queen passed were when working and conversing with these ladies. After the private theatre was given up, the evenings were commonly spent in small dull card-parties, but sometimes in more agreeable parties in the apartments of one or other of her two friends. It was thoughtless and undignified of the queen to act plays, to which the captains of the guard, and various other persons, were in time admitted as spectators; but though her best friends would have been glad that she should have abstained from such performances, it is not surprising that she inclined to an amusement that gave her something to think of and to do, and from which she really learned more of literature than she could otherwise have done. Amidst the deplorable dulness of such a life as hers, we cannot wonder that studying some of the best French dramatic poetry, and feeling for the hour that she was the companion and not the queen, should have been a pleasure which she was sorry to forego. She sorely lamented afterwards that she had ever indulged in it.
But, it may be said, she had children and she had friends. Could she not make herself happy with them? Alas! She found herself disappointed there,—as she was whichever way she turned for happiness. Though her friend, the Duchess de Polignac, was governess to her children, and though she had hoped by this plan to enjoy more freedom with both than by any other means, all went wrong. The other gentlemen and ladies—the tutors and under-governesses who were about the children—became jealous of the duchess, and taught the children to dislike her. The Princess de Lamballe also had misunderstandings with the duchess; and the queen and her children’s governess began to be equally hated by the people, who believed that the duchess instigated the queen to all the bad actions of which she was reported guilty.
The Duke of Normandy was three years old when the serious misfortunes of his family began. Up to that time he had seen only what was bright and gay. He himself was a little rosy, plump, merry child, with beautiful curling hair, and so sweet a temper that everybody loved him. He found many to love. There was his beautiful, kind mother. She could not do for him what a mother of a lower rank would have done; she could not wash and dress him, and keep him on her lap, or play with him half the day, or walk in the sweet, fresh fields with him—but she often opened her arms to him, and always smiled upon him, and loved him so much, that some ill-natured people persuaded his elder brother, the Dauphin, that the little Duke of Normandy was his mother’s favourite, and that she did not care for her other children.
Then there was the Princess Royal, the eldest of the children. She was at that time eight years old, and as grave a little girl as was ever seen at that age. She rarely laughed or played, but she was kind to her brothers and the people about her.
Next was the Dauphin, a year younger than his sister. He was sinking under disease; and it made every one’s heart ache to see his long sharp face, and his wasted hands, and his limbs, so shrunk and feeble that he could not walk. His tutor could not endure the duchess, his governess, and taught the poor fretful child to be rude to her, and even to his mother. When the duchess came near to amuse him, he told her to go away, for he could not bear the perfumes that she was so dreadfully fond of. This was put into his head, for she used no perfumes. When the queen carried to her poor boy some lozenges that she knew could not hurt him, and that he was fond of, the under-tutors, and even a footman of the Dauphin, started forward, and said she must give him nothing without the advice of the physicians. She knew that these were the very people who were always putting it into the Dauphin’s head that, she was more fond of his little brother, and she saw that it was intended to prevent her having any influence with her own sick child; and bitterly she wept over all this in her own apartment.
One day, some Indian ambassadors were to visit the king in great splendour, and it was known that there would be a crowd of people in the courts and galleries to see them. The queen desired that the Dauphin might not be encouraged to think of seeing this sight, as it would be bad for him, and she could not have him exposed, deformed and sickly, to the gaze of a crowd of people. Notwithstanding her desire, the Dauphin’s tutor helped him to write a letter to his mother, begging that he might see the ambassadors pass. She was obliged to refuse him. When she reproached the tutor with having caused her and her boy this pain, he replied that the Dauphin wished to write, and he could not vex a sick child—the very thing which he compelled the mother to do, after having fixed the subject in the boy’s mind, and raised his hopes.
There was another sister, younger than the Duke of Normandy—quite a baby. The Duke of Normandy used to see this little baby every day, and kiss her, and hear her crow, and see her stretch out her little hand towards the lighted wax candles, which made the palace almost as light as day. One morning, baby was not to be seen: everybody looked grave: his mother’s eyes were red, and her face very sad. Baby was dead; and, young as he was, Louis did not forget Sophie immediately. He saw and heard things occasionally which put him in mind of baby for long afterwards.
There was one more person belonging to the family, whom the children and everybody dearly loved. This was their aunt Elizabeth, the king’s sister, a young lady of such sweet temper—so religious, so humble, so gentle—that she was a blessing wherever she went. She disliked the show and formality of a life at court, and earnestly desired to become a nun. The king and queen loved her so dearly that they could not bear the idea of her leaving them. They devised every indulgence they could think of to vary the dulness of the court. The king declared her of age two years before the usual time, and gave her a pretty country-house, with gardens, where she might spend her time as she pleased; and he encouraged her taking long country rides, as she was fond of horse-exercise. At last, when she was full of gratitude for her brother’s kindness, he begged her to promise not to become a nun before she was thirty, when, if she still wished it, he would make no further opposition. She promised. We shall see, by-and-by, what became of this sweet princess when she was thirty.
She was at this time twenty-three years old. She was a great comfort to the queen, not concealing from her that she thought the Dauphin was dying, and the nation growing very savage against the royal family; but endeavouring to console and strengthen her mind, as religious people are always the best able to do. The poor queen began to want comfort much. She went to bed very late now, because she could not sleep; and a little anecdote shows that her anxieties made her again as superstitious as she had formerly been, when she dreaded misfortune because she was born on the day of the great earthquake at Lisbon.
On the table of her dressing-room, four large wax candles were burning one evening. Before they had burned half-way down, one of them went out. The lady-in-waiting lighted it. A second went out immediately, and then a third. The queen in terror grasped the lady’s arm, saying, “If the fourth goes out, I shall be certain that it is all over with us.” The fourth went out. In vain the lady observed that these four candles had probably been all run in the same mould, and had therefore the same fault. The queen allowed this to be reasonable, but was still much impressed by the circumstance.
For one of the impending evils there was no remedy. The Dauphin died the next June, when the Duke of Normandy, then four years old, became Dauphin. It may give some idea of the formality of the court proceedings to mention that, when a deputation of the magistrates of Paris came, according to custom, to view the lying-in-state, the usher of the late Dauphin announced to the dead body, as he threw open the folding-doors, that the magistrates of Paris had come to pay their respects.
Little Louis had no cause to rejoice in his new honours. Much more observance was paid to him within the palace, now that he had become heir to the throne; but out of doors all was confusion: and five weeks from his brother’s death had not passed before the little prince had to endure one of those fits of terror of which he had but too much experience from that time forward.
The two principal royal palaces were, that called the Tuileries, in Paris, and that of Versailles, twelve miles from Paris. At this time, July, 1789, the royal family were at Versailles. The discontented, long-murmuring people of Paris rose in rebellion, because their favourite minister, Necker, who had managed the money affairs of the nation well, and was more likely to take off taxes than any other minister, had been dismissed from his office. The nation were determined to have him back again; but, having once risen in rebellion, they aimed at more achievements than one. On the 14th of July the people of Paris besieged and took the Bastille, the great state-prison, where, for hundreds of years, victims had suffered cruel imprisonments, often without having been tried. The very sight of this gloomy castle was odious to the people; and they pulled it down, leaving not one brick upon another, and carrying the prisoners they found there on their shoulders through the city, in triumphant procession.
While this attack on the Bastille was taking place, there was a ball given in the orangery at Versailles, where the court ladies and the officers of the troops danced, and laughed, and talked, and took their refreshments, as if all was well. The French Parliament was sitting in the town of Versailles; and they sent some of their body repeatedly that day to the palace, to tell the king of the danger, and urge him to do what was proper: but there was no moving the king to do anything, that day, any more than on other occasions; and he only sent word to the parliament to mind their own business. The inhabitants of Versailles were alarmed at the reports that arrived from Paris, and they were all on the watch, consulting in the streets, or wondering in their own houses what would happen next. Some vague rumours reached the palace; but the court ladies and their guests danced away in the orangery, till the time for breaking up the ball arrived. Late at night, a nobleman who had a right to demand an audience of the king at all times, arrived, made his way, dusty as he was, to the king’s chamber, and told of the rebellion, the destruction of the Bastille, and the murder of two faithful officers, well-known to the king. “Why,” said the king, as much surprised as if nothing had happened to warn him, “this is a revolt.”
“It is not a revolt,” said the nobleman: “it is a revolution.”
The Dauphin was fast asleep when this alarm arrived. He saw, the next morning, that every one about him was in terror, and that the courts of the palace were filled with a crowd of ill-looking angry people. His governess appeared greatly alarmed; and well she might be; for the mob outside were shouting her name, and saying that they would be revenged on her for giving the queen bad advice. The king had gone to address the parliament, promising to do all that they had advised the day before, and to recall Monsieur Necker, the favourite minister. While he was gone, one of the queen’s ladies came to the room where Louis was with his governess, unlocked the door with the queen’s key, and told him that he was to go with her to his mother. The Duchess de Polignac asked whether she might not take him herself to the queen: but the lady messenger shook her head, and said she had no such orders. She knew very well that if the people who were looking up at the windows should once see the duchess, they would be ready to pull her to pieces. The duchess, understanding the lady’s countenance, took the child in her arms, and wept bitterly. Louis did not know what it all meant; but it frightened him. The messenger tried to console the duchess with promising to bring Louis back presently; but she said, weeping, that she knew too well now what to expect. One of the under-governesses asked whether she might take the prince to his mother, and did so.
The queen was waiting for the boy, with the Princess Royal by her side. She stepped out into the balcony with her two children, and repeatedly kissed them in the sight of the people. Little Louis might well be glad to step back from the balcony into the room again; for the mob was very noisy and rude. The lady who had been sent to summon him slipped out among the people, to hear what they were saying. A woman, who kept a thick veil down over her face, seized her by the arm, told her she knew her, and desired her to tell the queen not to meddle any more in the government, but to leave it to those who cared more for the people. A man then grasped her other arm, and said he knew her too, and bade her tell the queen that times were coming very different from those which were past. Just then, the queen and the children appeared in the balcony. “Ah!” said the veiled woman, “the duchess is not with her.”
“No,” said the man, “but she is still in the palace, working underground like a mole: but we will dig her out.” The queen’s lady had heard quite enough. She was glad to go in and sit down, for she could scarcely stand. She thought it her duty to tell the queen what she had heard; and the queen made her repeat it to the king.
One of the king’s aunts was at her tapestry-work that day, in a room which looked towards the court, and where there was a window-blind through which she could see without being seen. Three men were talking together; and she knew one of them. They did not whisper, or speak low; and one of them said, looking up at the window of the throne-room, “There stands that throne of which there will soon be left no remains.”
While such a temper as this was abroad, it mattered little that everything seemed set right for the time by what the king said to the parliament. The members escorted him back to the palace, and the people cheered him. All Paris cheered when the news arrived that the people’s minister was to be restored to his office; and a messenger was sent off to Monsieur Necker that night.
The Duchess de Polignac and her relations now saw that they must be off, if they wished to preserve their liberty—perhaps their lives. After the next day, Louis never saw his governess more. She bade him good-night at his bed time; and in the morning she was far away. She went disguised as a lady’s maid, and sat on the coach-box, leaving the palace just at midnight. The queen bade her farewell in private, with many and bitter tears, forgetting any coolness that had lately existed between them in the thought of their former friendship, and the care the duchess had taken of her children. The duchess was not rich; and the queen, after they had parted, sent her a purse of gold, with a message that she might want it on the journey.
It was a perilous journey. The party consisted of six, of whom two were gentlemen. When they arrived at Sens they found the people had risen. The mob stopped the carriage to ask, as they had been asking of other travellers who came the same road, if those Polignacs were still about the queen. “No, no,” said one of the gentlemen, “they are far enough from Versailles. We have got rid of all such bad subjects.” The next time the carriage stopped, the postilion stood on the step, and whispered to the duchess, “Madam, there are some good people in France. I found out who you were at Sens.” They gave him a handful of gold.
The queen wept the more bitterly on parting with her friend, because she would have been glad to have gone away too. It was talked of: and some of the king’s relations, with their families, set off the same night as the Polignacs, and were soon out of danger beyond the frontier. The question had been whether the king should go with them, or show himself in Paris, and endeavour to come to an understanding with his people. This question was debated for some hours by the royal family and their confidential friends; and the king let them argue, hour after hour, without appearing to have any will of his own. “Well,” said he, when he was tired of listening, “something must be decided. Am I to go or stay? I am as ready for one as the other.” It was then decided that he should stay. The queen, meanwhile, had been making preparations for departure, in hopes that they should go. She probably saw that it would have been all very right to stay if the king meant to act vigorously, and to save the monarchy by joining with the nation to reform the government; but that, since acting vigorously was the one thing which the king could not do, it would have been better for all parties that he should have left a scene where his apathy could only do mischief, exasperate the people, and endanger his own safety and that of his family. The queen had burned a great many papers, and had her diamonds packed in a little box, which she meant to take in her own carriage: she had also written a paper of directions to her confidential servants about following her. As she saw her jewels restored to their places, and tore the paper of directions, with tearful eyes, she said she feared that this decision would prove a misfortune to them all.
The king was next to go to Paris. He set out from Versailles at ten in the morning after the departure of the Polignacs. He was well attended, and appeared, as usual, very composed. The queen kept her feelings to herself till he was gone; but she had terrible fears that he would be detained as a prisoner in his own capital. She shut herself up with her children in her own apartment. There she felt so restless and miserable that she sent for one after another of the courtiers. Their doors were all padlocked—every one of them. The courtiers considered it dangerous to stay; and they were all gone. Though this afflicted the queen at the moment, it happened very well; for it taught her to place no dependence on these people another time. It must have been a dreary morning for the children,—their father in danger, their governess gone, and their mother weeping, deserted by her court. She employed herself in writing a short address, to be spoken to the National Assembly at Paris (which may be called the people’s new parliament), in case of the king not being allowed to return. She meant to go with her children, and beg of the Assembly that they might share the lot of the king, whatever it might be. As she learnt by heart what she had written (lest she should not have presence of mind to make an address at the time), her voice was choked with grief, and she sobbed out, “They will never let him return.”
He did return, however, late in the evening. He had had a weary day. He had been received with gloom, and with either silence or insulting cries. It was not till, at the desire of the mayor of Paris, he had put the new national cockade in his hat, that the people cheered him; after which they were in good humour. This cockade was made of the three colours which are now seen in the tricolour flag of France,—red and blue, the ancient colours of the city of Paris, with the white of the royal lilies between. In these troubled times a white cockade was a welcome sight to royal eyes, as an emblem of loyalty; while red and blue colours were detestable, as tokens of a revolutionary temper. When the king himself was compelled to wear them, it was a cruel mortification. It was, in fact, a sign of submission to his rebellious people. Glad indeed was he to get home this night, and endeavour to forget that he had worn the tricolor. He kept repeating to the queen what he had said in the hearing of many this day, “Happily, there was no blood shed; and I swear that not a drop shall be shed by my order, happen what may.” These were the words of a humane man: but it was hardly prudent to speak them during the outbreak of a revolution, when they might discourage his friends, and embolden the violent.
Note: The Fleur-de-Lys (lily) was blazoned in the royal arms of France for many centuries.
From this day forward the king met with insults whichever way he turned,—even at the doors of his own apartments. It was resolved by the National Assembly that all the men in France should be armed and wear a uniform, and be called the National Guard. One day the Dauphin’s footmen all appeared in this uniform, and the king’s porters, and almost every man about the palace. What displeased the king yet more was, that the singers in the royal chapel appeared in the same dress. It was absurd and shocking to see their part of divine service performed by men in the uniform of grenadiers. The king said so, and forbade that any person should appear in his presence again in that dress. But the time was past for the king’s orders to be obeyed. He was destined to grow weary enough of the sight of this uniform.
A great part of the king’s own guard had joined the revolutionary party; but one company remained, whose commanding officer was proud of their loyalty, and declared he could answer for its continuance. He was mistaken, however. One morning, at the end of July, when the royal family rose and looked out from their windows, they did not see a single sentinel anywhere about the palace. Such a sight had never been witnessed before as the palace of Versailles without a guard. On inquiry, it turned out that the whole company had marched away in the night, to join their former comrades in Paris.
During the month of August, crowds had at various times assembled in Paris, with the declared purpose of going to Versailles, to separate the king from his bad advisers, and to bring the little Dauphin to Paris, to be brought up better than he was likely to be at home. One would think that such assemblages and such declarations would alarm the king and queen, and cause them to make some preparations for putting themselves, or at least the Dauphin, in safety. Because these crowds were several times dispersed, however, the royal family appear to have thought nothing of the danger: and in September they committed an act of imprudence which brought upon them the worst that was threatened. The truth is, they were ignorant of all that it most concerned them to know. They did not understand the wants of the people, nor the depth of their discontent; nor had they any idea of the weakness, ignorance, and prejudice of the gentlemen and ladies about them, whose advice they asked, and on whose narrow views they acted. There were a few wise and good men in the nation who understood both sides of the question, and who were grieved for the hardships of the people, and for the sufferings of the royal family; and happy would it have been for all if the king and queen could have been guided by these advisers. The chief and best of these was that excellent patriot and loyal subject the Marquis Lafayette. While he was adored by the people, he did all in his power to aid and save the royal family; but, unhappily, the king distrusted him, and the queen could not endure him. She not only detested his politics, but declared that she believed him (the most honourable man in the world) to be a traitor, and laid on him the blame of misfortunes which he had no hand in causing, and for which he grieved.
The king had a regiment from Flanders on whom he was sure he could rely. It came into some one’s head that if this regiment and the faithless body-guard could be brought together, the loyalty of the latter might be revived and secured. So there was an entertainment given in the theatre of the palace of Versailles, where the soldiers of the two regiments were to make merry, sitting alternately at table. Such a feast, if every man there was loyal in the extreme, could signify little, while there was out of doors a whole rebellious nation,—millions of hungry wretches clamouring for food and good government; and, whether such a meeting signified much or little, it was certain that the king and his family, should have had nothing to do with it, after he had been to Paris to assure the people of his reliance upon them, assuming their cockade as a declaration that he was in earnest.
The friends of the royal family thought this,—even the queen’s own ladies. One of them was requested by the queen to enter the theatre, and observe what passed, in order to report it to the king and her. What was the surprise of this lady, when in the midst of the entertainment, the doors were thrown open, and their majesties appeared, the queen having the Dauphin in her arms! The sight of them, looking gratified and trustful, roused all the loyalty of the soldiers present; and some imprudent acts were done. The queen’s ladies handed white cockades to the officers; the party drank the healths of the king and queen, omitting that of the nation; they cheered the loyal air, “O, Richard! O my king, the world is all forsaking thee:” and the whole company were presently in a delirium of hope, and of defiance of the people of Paris. The queen afterwards declared in public that she was delighted with the Thursday’s entertainment; and this set the people inquiring what had delighted her so much. They made many inquiries. “Why was this Flanders regiment brought to Versailles?”
“How did it happen that the king had at present double the usual number of his Swiss guards?”
“Where were all those foreign officers from, who were seen in the streets in strange uniforms?” The people, exasperated afresh by finding that, though the harvest was over, there was still a scarcity of bread, were in a temper to believe the worst that was told them; and it seems now very probable that much of it was true. They were told that these same soldiers had breakfasted together, and that they had planned to march upon the National Assembly, and destroy it. They heard a report that the king meant to go away to Metz, and to return at the head of an army, and to crush all those who had risen against him. Nothing could now prevent the people from doing what they had threatened—going to Versailles, to separate the king from his evil counsellors, and bring the Dauphin to Paris. Some went further than this, saying to General Lafayette that the king was too weak to reign; that they would destroy his guards, make him lay down his crown, and declare the Dauphin king, with Lafayette and others to manage the affairs of the empire till the boy should be of age.
This was said to Lafayette on the morning of the 5th of October. Grieved as he was to see that the mob were resolved to go to Versailles, he saw what he must do, since he could not keep them back. He detained them as long as he could by speeches and arguments, while he sent messengers by every road to Versailles, to give notice of what might be expected; and he declared his intention of leading the march when the people could be detained no longer. Several of his messengers were stopped: but some who went by by-roads reached Versailles, and gave the alarm. Meantime, he contrived to make the march so slow, as that he and his thirty thousand followers were nine hours going the twelve miles to Versailles. Lest the royal family should not be gone, as he hoped, he made the crowd halt on the ridge of the hill which overlooked Versailles, and swear, with their right hands lifted up towards heaven, to respect the king’s dwelling, and be faithful to the orders of the Assembly they themselves had chosen. Unhappily, all he did was of little use. He arrived at near midnight; but another mob—a mob of women, savage because their children were hungry—had been in possession of Versailles since three in the afternoon.
Though it became rainy during the latter half of the day, so that the thousands out of doors were all wet to the skin, the morning had been fair; and the king went out hunting, as usual, while the queen spent the morning at her favourite little estate of Trianon. The Dauphin was at home, with his new governess, the Marchioness de Tourzel, little dreaming, poor child, that there were people already on the road from Paris who wanted to make him a king instead of his father. One of the ministers hearing unpleasant rumours, took horse, and went to try to find the king. He met him in the woods, some way from home, and conjured him to make haste back. The king, however, rode as slowly as possible, till more messengers appeared with news that a mob of desperate women was actually entering the avenue. Then he had to spur his horse; and he arrived safe. The queen had returned before him. She had been sitting, alone and disconsolate, in her grotto at Trianon, reflecting on the miserable prospects of her family, when a line was brought to her from one of the ministers, begging that she would hasten home. As soon as the king returned, orders were given to have the carriages ready at the back doors of the palace; and the children (kept out of sight) were equipped for a journey.
The want of decision in the royal movements, as usual, ruined everything. When the king had received and dismissed a deputation of the women, there was a shout of “Long live the king!” and he then thought it would not be necessary to go. Not long afterwards, when the people were seen to be as angry as ever, and to be insulting the royal guard, the carriages were again ordered. Some of them, empty, attempted to pass the back gates, to ascertain whether others might follow with the family: but the mob were now on the watch, and the carriages were turned back. The hour for escape was gone by.
When little Louis was got ready for the journey, it was by candlelight, and past bedtime. Perhaps he was not sorry when his things were taken off again, and he was laid in his bed, instead of getting into the carriage on a pouring rainy night, to pass through or near a disorderly mob, who might be heard from within the palace crying “Bread! Bread!”
Little Louis did not know all the disorders of that mob. Thousands of women, wet to the skin, were calling out “Bread! Bread!” till they were hoarse. They threatened his mother’s life, believing that to her influence and her extravagance it was owing that their children had no bread. Some sat upon the cannon they had brought. Some dried their wet clothes at the fires that blazed on the ground: and haggard and fierce did the faces of both men and women look in the light of these fires. By the orders of certain officers and members of the Assembly, provisions were brought from the shops of Versailles; and groups were seen eating bread and sausages, and drinking wine, in the great avenue; and not there only, but in the House of Assembly itself,—the parliament-chamber of Versailles. Hundreds of poor women, wet and dirty, rushed in there, and sat eating their sausages while the members were in debate, breaking in sometimes with, “What’s the use of all this? What we want is bread.” The king was told of what was going forward; and yet it was six hours before he could make up his mind what answer to give to the messages sent him by deputations from the rioters. The answer he gave at last, late at night, could be no other than that which they chose to have; though the king was well aware that the people did not know what they were asking, and that he should never be able to satisfy them. What they asked, and made him promise in writing, was an abundance of food—“a free circulation of corn,” as they called it,—believing that the wealthy, and the millers and bakers under them, kept large hidden stores of grain, in order that bread might be dear.
Louis understood nothing of all this; but he was aware that all was confusion and danger. About two hours after midnight everybody in the palace was suddenly relieved, and led to believe that the danger was past. General Lafayette entered, and pledged his life that they should be safe: and everybody was accustomed to rely on Lafayette’s word. He happened to be mistaken this time,—to think better of the temper of the people outside than they deserved; but what he said he fully believed. With him came some messengers from Paris, to entreat the king, among other things, to come and live among his people at Paris. This was the very thing the king was least disposed to do; but he dared not say “No.” He promised to consider of it. Lafayette and his companions then went away; and between two and three o’clock almost everybody but the guards went to bed.
I say almost everybody. The queen desired her ladies to go to rest; but two of them were still uneasy and distrustful, and thought that the queen’s servants should not all sleep while thousands of people who hated her were round about the very doors. They watched in the ante-chamber: and it was their vigilance which saved her life.
About five in the morning the Dauphin was snatched from his bed, and carried into his father’s room. There were his mother, aunt, and sister; and his mother was in a passion of tears. Clinging round the king’s neck, she cried, “O! Save me! Save me and my children!” There was a dreadful noise. Not only was there the clamour of an angry multitude without, but a hammering and battering at all the doors, and fierce cries, and clashing of arms—all the dreadful sounds of fighting—from the queen’s apartments. The mob had indeed forced their way in. Her two watchful ladies had heard the shout from the corridor, given by a faithful guard at the peril of his life, “Save the queen!” They lifted her from her bed, threw a dressing-gown over her, and hurried her across a great apartment which divided her rooms from the king’s. This was her only way of escape, and even this appeared at first to be closed; for the door which led from the queen’s dressing-room to this apartment—a door which was always kept fastened on the inside—was now, by some accident, found to be locked on the outside. It was a moment of dreadful suspense,—for the fighting behind came nearer. The ladies called so loud that a servant of the king’s heard them, and ran to unlock the door. Even as they crossed the large apartment, the mob were battering at the doors.
Presently some soldiers came from the town: and General Lafayette appeared, addressing the people in passionate speeches, in favour of respecting the persons and dwelling of the royal family. The palace was soon cleared; but the terrors of the household did not disperse with the intruders who occasioned them.
It is believed that this sudden uproar was caused by a quarrel between one of the body-guards and the people without. Some shots were fired; and a young man, known to the mob, was killed. They were instantly in a rage, shook at the gates, burst in, and, as they hated the queen most, sought her first.
This was the last night that the royal family ever spent in their palace of Versailles.
It was too plain to all now that everything must be yielded to the people, if lives were to be saved. As soon as it was light, Lafayette led into a balcony the commander of the Flanders regiment,—the body-guard,—with a huge tricolor in his hat, instead of the royal white cockade. All the soldiers of the regiment immediately mounted tricolor cockades, and were cheered by the mob. The king appeared on the balcony, with Lafayette, and they cheered him too; but some voices cried that he must go to Paris.
The mob then demanded to see the queen. She asked for her children; and they were brought to her, probably not very willing to face the noisy multitude. She took Louis in her arms, and led his sister by the hand, and stepped out on the balcony, with Lafayette by her side. There was a shout, “No children!” It does not seem clear why the people would not have the children too; but the queen believed that it was intended that some one should shoot her as she stood, and that the children were not to be endangered. She gently pushed them back, and bade them go in, and then stepped forward in the sight of the people, with her hands and eyes raised to heaven. Lafayette took her hand, and, kneeling reverently, kissed it. This act turned the tide of the people’s feelings, and they cheered the queen. It was finely done of Lafayette, both for presence of mind and noble feeling.
Here was the difference between the enraged people and their enlightened leaders. Lafayette was a friend of the people, and an enemy to tyranny: but he had not been ground down by poverty, reared in hunger and brutal ignorance, and taught to hate proud and selfish oppressors with a cruel hatred. Such was the difference between him and this wretched mob, whom we feel more disposed to pity than to blame, so great was their ignorance, and so terrible had been the sufferings of their lives. Lafayette’s eyes were opened by knowledge and reflection, while theirs were closed by passion and prejudice. They believed that all royal rulers were wicked, and the queen the most wicked of all; and that if she were but out of the way, with a few more, all would go right,—bread would be cheap, the nobility less extravagant and oppressive, and the king willing to govern by men of the people’s choice. Lafayette saw that all this was very foolish. He saw that nothing could be worse than the state of France,—the tyranny of the nobility,—the extravagance and frivolity of the court,—and the wretchedness of the people. He was for amending all this; but he knew that these sins and woes were the growth of many centuries, and that no one person, or dozen of persons, was to be blamed as the cause. He probably saw that the queen was as ignorant in one way as the mob in another; and was therefore to be pitied. She had never been taught what millions of people were suffering, and did not know how to frame her conduct so as to spare their irritated and wounded feelings: and therefore she had filled up her youth with shows and pleasures, and from year to year given to her dependents the means of enriching themselves at the expense of the poor, without being in the least aware of the mischief she was doing. It was in the knowledge of all this, in deep sorrow and compassion for both parties in this great quarrel, and with an earnest desire to bring them to bear with each other, that Lafayette kissed the queen’s hand in the balcony. His heart must have beat with hope and gladness when he heard the people immediately shout, “Long live the queen!”
Again the cry was, “The king to Paris!” and still the king was as unwilling as ever to go. He wished to consult the Assembly about it, and sent to ask them to come, and hold their sitting in the palace. While they were deliberating whether to do so, the mob became so peremptory, so noisy, that the king dared no longer hesitate. He did the same thing now that no experience could teach him to avoid, in great affairs or small: he refused as long as possible what the people had set their hearts upon,—then hesitated, and at last had to yield, when it was no longer possible to show any good grace in the action. From his failures a lesson might be taken by all rulers of a nation which has learned to have a will of its own, and to speak it:—a lesson to grant with readiness and a good grace what must be, or ought to be yielded, and to refuse with firmness what ought not to be granted. Louis the Sixteenth never could even get so far as to settle in his own mind what ought, and what ought not to be granted; and unhappily there was no one about him well-qualified to advise. The queen was firm and decided; but she was so deficient in knowledge that she was always as likely to guide him wrong as right. Now, however, there was no longer room for doubt. The king said from the balcony, “My children, you wish that I should follow you to Paris. I consent, on condition that you do not separate me from my wife and children.” He also stipulated that his guards should be well treated; to which the multitude consented.
It was, however, far from their intention that the king should follow them to Paris. They did not mean to lose sight of him, for fear he should slip away. They caused General Lafayette to fix the hour at which the king would go. One o’clock was fixed.
Till one, the royal grooms were preparing the carriages to convey the royal family and suite,—a long train of coaches. The servants in the palace were packing up what they could for so hurried a removal. The royal children did no lessons that day, I should think; for Madame de Tourzel, who was to go with them, must have been in great terror for the whole party. Lafayette was establishing what order he could, riding about, pale and anxious, to arrange what was called the Parisian army. For two nights (and what nights!) he had not closed his eyes. The people meantime searched out some granaries, and loaded carts with the corn, to take with them to Paris.
A more extraordinary procession was perhaps never seen. Royal carriages, and waggons full of corn,—the king’s guards and the ragamuffin crowd; round the king’s carriage a mob of dirty, fierce fish-women and market-women, eating as they walked, and sometimes screaming out close at the coach-door, “We shall not want bread any more. We have got the baker, and the baker’s wife, and the little baker’s boy:”—such was the procession. There was another thing in it which the king and queen saw, but which we must hope the children did not,—the heads of two body-guards who had been killed early in the morning, in the quarrel which led to the attack upon the queen.
The queen sat in her coach, seen by the vast multitude, for five long hours,—calm, dignified, and silent. From one till two the royal carriage had to stand, while the great procession was preparing to move; and it did not enter Paris till dusk,—till six o’clock. It was still raining,—a dull, drizzling rain. Louis could not have liked to hear himself talked about as he was, by the loud dirty women that crowded round the coach; nor to hear them speak to his mother. Some pointed to the corn-waggons, and told her they had got what they wanted, in spite of her. Some said, “Come now, don’t you be a traitor any more, and we will all love you.” There were two hundred thousand people in this procession.
When they reached Paris, the royal family did not go straight home to the Tuileries. There was something to be done first. They had to go to the great city hall, to meet the authorities of Paris. The mayor received them, and welcomed them to the city; and the king replied that he always came with pleasure and confidence among his good people of Paris. In repeating what the king had declared to those assembled, the mayor forgot the word “confidence.” The queen said aloud, “Say confidence;—with pleasure and confidence.”
Then there were many speeches made, during which poor little Louis, tired as he was, had to wait. Called up before five in the morning, and having sat so many hours in the carriage, with guns and pistols incessantly popping off, and yells and shouts from such a concourse of people, he might well be tired: but before they could go home, the king had to show himself in the balcony of the city hall, by torch-light, with a great tricolor cockade in his hat. It was just eleven o’clock before they got to their palace of the Tuileries.
There everything was comfortless,—for there had been no notice of their coming. The apartments had been occupied by the servants of the court, who, turning out in a hurry, left everything in confusion. Probably Louis did not mind this,—glad enough to get to bed at all after such a long and dreary day. This was the 6th of October.
In the morning of the 7th, some magistrates came, bringing upholsterers with them, and asked the king how he would be pleased to be lodged. They were ready to dispose and furnish the palace as he liked. He answered gruffly that others might lodge as they pleased, he had nothing to say to it. He was apt to be sulky occasionally, in his most prosperous days; and it was natural that he should be more so now. Sometimes, when the queen made anxious inquiries about the state of affairs, he answered, “Madam, your affair is with the children.” He knew that he was, in fact, a prisoner in his own capital; and that it must at any rate be long before he could leave it. He was losing the fine hunting season; and there was no saying when he might hunt again. This grieved him very much. He sent for his locksmith, and did a little filing, now and then; but he was losing his pleasure in everything.
Some of the women who had walked by the royal carriage yesterday came this morning, and stationed themselves before the queen’s windows, requesting to see her. One of them told her that she must send away all bad advisers, and love the people. The queen replied that she had loved the people when she lived at Versailles, and that she should go on to love them now. They repeated to her some reports that they had heard against her,—that she had wished in the summer that Paris should be fired upon; and that she would yesterday have fled to the frontiers, if she had not been prevented. She replied that they had heard these things, and believed them; and that while some people told and others believed what was not true, the nation and the king would never be happy. One woman then spoke a few words of German: but the queen interrupted her, saying that she was now so completely a French woman, that she had forgotten her German. This delighted the women much; for some of the jealousy of the queen which existed was on account of her being a foreigner. They clapped their hands; and asked for the ribbons and flowers out of her hat. She took them off with her own hands, and gave them to the women. They divided them to keep; and they remained half an hour shouting, “Long live Marie Antoinette! Long live our good queen!”
It was found, during the whole long period of her residence where she now was, that everybody who talked with the queen liked her;—her bitterest enemies were heard to shout as these women did, when once they had heard her speak; and soldiers, who had spoken insultingly of her before they knew her, were ready to lay down their lives for her when they became her guards. The reason of this was, not merely that she was beautiful, and that she spoke in a winning manner, when she knew how much depended upon her graciousness;—it was chiefly because the ignorant and angry people had fancied her a sort of monster, determined upon her own indulgence at all cost, and even seeking their destruction, and delighting in their miseries. When, instead of this monster, they found a dignified woman, with sorrow in her beautiful face, and gentleness in her voice, they forgot for the time the faults she really had, and the blameable things she had really done. When again reminded of these, in her absence, the old hatred revived with new force; they were vexed that she had won upon them, and ended by being as cruel as we shall see they were.
She found, this morning, how frightened her little boy had been, the day before. There was some noise in the court-yard of the palace. Louis came running, and threw himself trembling into her arms, crying, “O, mamma, is to-day going to be yesterday again?” When they were settled, and everything was done to make him as happy as a child should be, he did not forget what he had seen and heard. He not only walked with his mother, or with Madame de Tourzel, in the garden of the Tuileries, but he had a little garden of his own, railed in, and a little tool-house for his spade and rake. There the rosy, curly-headed boy was seen digging in the winter, and sowing seeds in the spring; and, sometimes, feeding the ducks on the garden ponds with crumbs of bread. Still he did not forget what he had seen and heard. One day, his father saw the boy looking at him very gravely and earnestly. The king asked him what he was thinking about. Louis said he wanted to ask a very serious question, if he might; and the king gave him leave.
“I want to know,” said Louis, “why all the people who used to love you so much are now so angry with you. I want to know what you have done to put them in such a passion.”
The king took him upon his knee, and said,—
“My dear, I wished to make the people happier than they were before. I wanted money to pay the expenses of our great wars. I asked it of the parliament, as the kings of France have always done before. The magistrates who composed the parliament were unwilling, and said that the people alone had a right to consent that this money should be given. I called together at Versailles the principal people of every town, distinguished by their rank, their fortune, or their talents. These were called the States-General. When they were assembled, they required of me things which I could not do, either for my own sake or yours; as you are to be king after me. Wicked persons have appeared, causing the people to rebel; and the shocking things that have happened lately are their doing. We must blame them and not the people.”
So spoke Louis the Sixteenth to his young son: and from these words (among other evidence) we learn how little he was aware of the true causes and nature of the great Revolution which was taking place. It appears that he really thought this revolution was owing to the acts of the last few months, and not to the long course of grinding oppression which had begun hundreds of years before he was born. He believed that the violence he witnessed was owing to the malice of a few “wicked persons,” and not to the exasperation of a nation,—the fury of many millions of sufferers against a few hundreds of the rich and powerful. This was not the first time of the king’s showing how little he understood of what was taking place and what ought to be done. When it was absolutely necessary to the peace of the kingdom to have a minister who would relieve the people of the heaviest taxes, the king removed such a minister, and thought he was doing what he could to make up for this, by retrenching some expenses in the palace. For instance, it had always been the custom for the two first bed-chamber women of the queen to have for their own all the wax-lights placed daily in the whole suite of royal apartments, whether lighted or not. These they sold for many hundred pounds a year. When the king began to retrench, he took from these women the wax-light privilege; and the candles which were not lighted one evening served for the next. The ladies were not pleased at being thus deprived of a large part of their income; but this, with the few other retrenchments made by the royal family, was right. All these retrenchments were nothing, however, in comparison with what was wanted. The peasantry still had to pay the grievous land-tax, even when they were reduced to eat boiled nettles and grass. The poor still had to buy the quantity of dear salt ordered by law, even when they had no meat to eat it with. The labouring man and his sons, weakened by hunger and spent with toil, still had to turn out and work upon the roads, without wages, while wife and young children were growing savage with want in their ruined hut. It was all very well for the king and queen to burn fewer wax-lights; but far happier would it have been could the monarch have seen and known that the thing wanted was to relieve the poor from these heavy oppressions; and that his duty was to uphold a minister who would do it, even if every rich and noble person quitted his court, and turned against him. This, however, was not to be expected; for the king and queen lived amongst, and were acquainted with, not the poor, but the noble and the rich, and heard only what they had to say.
It is not known whether little Louis was ever told what the poor suffer. It is probable that he heard something of it; for his elder brother and sister certainly had, upon one occasion. It was the queen’s custom to give her children a stock of new playthings on New Year’s Day. One very hard winter, she and the king heard of the sufferings of the poor in Paris from cold; and the king ordered a large quantity of wood to be purchased with his money, and given away. The queen commanded the toy-man to bring the new toys, as usual, on New Year’s eve, and spread them out in one of her apartments. She then led the children in, showed them the playthings, and said these were what she meant to have given them; but that she had heard that so many poor families were perishing with cold, that she hoped they would be willing to do without new toys, and let the money go for fuel for the poor. The children agreed, and the toy-man was sent away, with a present of money, to console him for the disappointment of having sold nothing. It is probable that Louis also, when old enough to understand, was told of the sufferings of the poor: but it is difficult to give an idea of what want really is to children who have half-a-dozen ladies and footmen always at their orders, and who are surrounded with luxuries which seem to them to come as naturally as the light of day, and to belong to them as completely as their own limbs and senses. We have all heard of the little French princess who, when told by her governess how many of the poor were dying of starvation, in a hard season, said, she thought that was very foolish; and that, rather than starve, she would eat bread and cheese. She had no idea that multitudes never tasted anything better than the coarsest black dry bread; and that it was for want of this that many were perishing. How should she know? She had never seen the inside of a poor man’s hut, or tasted any but the most delicate food.
Louis wished to know what he ought to do, now that the people were so angry with his father. The queen told him that he must behave civilly and kindly to the magistrates, when they came; to the officers of the people’s army,—the National Guard,—and to everybody that belonged to Paris. Louis took great pains to do this: and when he had an opportunity of speaking kindly to the mayor, or any other visitor, he used to run up to his mother, and whisper in her ear, “Was that right?”—He once said a thing which pleased the mayor of Paris very much. The mayor showed him the shield of Scipio, which was in the royal library, and asked him which he liked best, Scipio or Hannibal. The boy answered that he liked best him who had defended his own country.
At this time he read, not only of Scipio and Hannibal, but much besides. The royal family, out of spirits, and not knowing what would happen next, led a very quiet life in the Tuileries, from the 6th of October, when they were brought there, till the beginning of the next summer.
During this season, the queen never went to the theatre. She gave no concerts, or large entertainments: and only received the court twice a week, where everybody came wearing white lilies, and bows of white ribbon, while tricolor cockades were sold at all the corners of the streets; and the National Guards stopped all who did not show red and blue colours. The queen went to mass, and dined in public with the king, twice a week, and joined small card-parties in the evenings. The Princess de Lamballe, who had returned to resume her office in the palace, gave gay parties; and the queen went a few times, but soon felt that, in her circumstances, a private life was more suitable. One evening she returned to her apartments in great agitation. An English nobleman had been exhibiting a large ring which he wore, containing a lock of Oliver Cromwell’s hair. She looked with horror upon Cromwell, as a regicide; and she thought the English nobleman meant to point out to her what kings may come to when their people are discontented with them. It was probable that the gentleman meant no such thing: but he was guilty of a very thoughtless act, which gave a great deal of pain.
The queen’s mind was so full of the revolution, that she found she could not fix her attention upon books. Work suited her best; and she sat the greater part of the morning working, with the Princess Elizabeth, at a carpet intended for one of their apartments. After breakfast she went to the king, to converse with him, if he was so inclined. She then sat by, at work, while the children did their lessons, which was the regular employment of the morning. They all walked in the palace gardens; and the queen returned to her work after dinner. She could talk of nothing but the revolution: and was extremely anxious to know what everybody thought of her,—particularly persons in office. She was for ever wondering how it was that those who hailed her with love and joy, when she came as a bride from Germany, should so fiercely hate her now. It is a pity that she did not now learn to know and trust Lafayette. It might have saved her, and all who belonged to her; but she was prejudiced against him from his being a friend of the people, and in favour of great changes in the government.
Thus the winter passed wearily on. If the people of Paris were jealous of the queen’s wish to get away, and suspicious of her meaning it, if possible, they were not far wrong. Some or other of the nobles and clergy were continually planning to carry the royal family, either to Rouen (a loyal city) or to the frontiers, to meet the king’s brother and friends, and the army they were raising. It would probably have been done, but for the king’s irresolution. He would neither speak nor stir about it.
One night in March, at ten o’clock, when the children were asleep in bed, the king and queen were playing whist with his next brother and sister-in-law (who had not gone away), and the Princess Elizabeth was kneeling on a footstool beside the card table, looking on. Monsieur Campan, one of the most trusty of the queen’s attendants, came in, and said, in a low voice, that the Count d’Inisdal had called to say that everything was planned for an escape. The nobles who had contrived it were collected to guard and accompany the king;—the National Guard about the palace were gained over;—post horses were ready all along the road;—the king had only to consent, and he might be off before midnight. The king went on playing his cards, and made no answer. “Did you hear,” said the queen, “what Campan has been telling us?”
“I hear,” said the king; and still went on playing. After a while, the queen observed, “Campan must have an answer of some kind.” Then, at length, the king spoke. “Tell the Count d’Inisdal,” said he, “that I cannot consent to be carried off.” The queen repeated, “The king cannot consent to be carried off,” meaning it to be clearly understood that he would be very glad to go, if it could be so done as that he might say afterwards that he had had nothing to do with the plan. The Count d’Inisdal was very angry at the message. “I see how it is,” said he. “We, the king’s faithful servants, are to have all the danger, and all the blame, if the scheme fails.” And off he went.
The queen would not give up her hopes that the nobles would understand how glad the royal family would be to go, and would come for them. She sat till past midnight wrapping up her jewels to carry away; and then desired the lady who assisted her not to go to bed. The lady listened all the night through, and looked out of the window many times; but all was still, and no one but the guards was to be seen. The queen observed to this lady that they should have to fly. There was no saying to what lengths the rebellious people would go, she declared, and the danger increased every day.
There was indeed no respite from apprehensions of danger. About a month after, on the 13th of April, there was a good deal of agitation in Paris, from the debates in the Assembly having been very warm, and such as to make the people fear that the king would be carried away. Lafayette promised the king that if he saw reason to consider the palace in danger, he would fire a great cannon on a certain bridge. At night, some accidental musket-shots were heard near the palace, and the king mistook them for Lafayette’s cannon. He went to the queen’s apartments. She was not there. He found her in the Dauphin’s chamber, with Louis in her arms. “I was alarmed about you,” said the king. “You see,” said she, clasping her little son close, “I was at my post.”
While thus suffering, and certainly not learning to love the people more on this account,—while distrusting Lafayette, and knowing no one else who could give them the knowledge and advice which would have been best for them, the royal family were confirmed in their worst prejudices and errors by letters which reached them from a distance. Those who wished to write to them in their distress were naturally those who sympathised most with them, and least with the people. One instance shows how absurd and mischievous such a correspondence was. The Empress Catherine of Russia wrote to the queen, “Kings ought to proceed on their course without troubling themselves about the cries of the people, as the moon traverses the sky without regard to the baying of dogs.” Whether the queen saw the folly of these words, and thought of the proper answer to them,—that a king is a man, like those who cry to him for sympathy, but the moon is not a dog,—we do not know; nor whether she perceived the insolent wickedness of the sentence; but she saw the unfeeling absurdity of writing this to a king and queen who were actually prisoners in the hands of their subjects. If the king had been active, decided, and equal to the dangers of the times, he would have made use of this winter in Paris to go among his people, and learn for himself what was the matter, what they wanted, and how much could be done for peace and good government: and then this correspondence from a distance might have done no harm: but, indolent and passive as he was, everything seemed to conspire to prevent all mutual understanding between him and the nation.
One of his wishes was, to a certain degree, gratified at length. He got a little more hunting when June came. To the surprise of the court, and many besides, the royal family were quietly permitted to go to their country-house at Saint Cloud, a few miles from Paris, when the weather became too warm for a comfortable residence at the Tuileries. The National Guard followed them; but the king rode out daily, attended only by an officer of General Lafayette’s staff. The queen was guarded by another of these officers, and the Dauphin by a third.
It seems rather strange that so much liberty should have been allowed, when so lately every precaution was taken to prevent the flight of the family. During the past winter and spring, and the next season, the leaders of the revolution kept a constant watch upon the palace, and knew all that went on there. They knew what persons were admitted at back doors to consult with the queen. They also knew, after the family returned from Saint Cloud, how many horses were in the royal stables, and how many of them stood constantly saddled and bridled. They knew how the royal carriages were kept stuffed with luggage, ready to start at a moment’s warning,—the royal arms being nearly rubbed out from the panels. They declared also that they knew that the king’s old aunts meant to go away, carrying off, not only plenty of treasure, but little Louis; and that a boy, very like Louis, had been in training for some time, to represent him, when the true Dauphin should have been carried to his uncle, over the frontiers. All this was published in the newspapers, so that, if the old princesses had any such plan prepared, they were obliged to give it up. Thus were the family guarded in Paris, before and after, and yet, in June, they were riding and driving about Saint Cloud, believing that they might go off any day they chose. Perhaps, however, this might not have proved so easy as they thought. There might have been spies about them that they did not know of; and, since nothing could be worse than their management of all business matters, from inexperience and want of knowledge of other people’s minds and affairs, their enemies might feel pretty secure that the royal prisoners could not fly far without being caught.
There was a plan for escape completely formed, as we know from the lady to whom the queen confided it. No one doubted of the entire success of this scheme; and the lady daily expected and hoped to have to wait in vain for the return of the royal family from their drive.
They went out every afternoon at four o’clock; and often did not return till eight, and sometimes even not till nine. The king went on horseback, attended by grooms and pages on whom he could rely. The ladies, in a carriage, were also followed by grooms and pages. The plan was for all to ride to the same place on a certain afternoon, by different roads,—the king on horseback, the queen and her daughter, and the princess Elizabeth, in a carriage; the Dauphin and Madame de Tourzel in a chaise; and some of the royal suite in other vehicles. On meeting in a wood, twelve miles from Saint Cloud, the three officers of Lafayette’s staff were to be gained over, or to be overpowered by the servants; and then all were to push on for the frontier. Meanwhile, the people at home would wait till nine o’clock, quietly enough. Then, on becoming alarmed and looking about, they would find on the king’s desk a letter to the Assembly, which they would instantly forward. It could not reach Paris before ten; and then the Assembly would not be sitting. The president would have to be found; and the Assembly could hardly be got together, or messengers sent after the fugitives, before midnight; when the royal family would have had a start of eight hours.
The lady to whom the queen confided this scheme approved it, but asked no questions, and hoped she should not be told the precise day, as she was to be left behind, and wished to be able to say that she had not known that they intended more than an afternoon drive when they went forth. One June evening, nine o’clock came, and none of them were home. The attendants walked restlessly about the courts, and wondered. The lady’s heart beat so that she was afraid her emotion would be observed. But presently she heard the carriage-wheels; and all returned as usual. She told the queen that she had not expected to see her home to-night: and the queen replied that they must wait till the king’s aunts had left France, and till they knew whether the plan would suit the wishes of their friends over the frontier.
It was believed by many persons, and certainly by Lafayette, that there were plots, at this time, against the life of the queen. An agent of the police gave notice of an intention to poison her. The queen did not believe it. She believed that her enemies meant to break her spirit by calumny; but she had no fear of poison. Her head physician, however, chose to take precautions. He desired one of her ladies to have always at hand a bottle of fresh, good oil of sweet almonds, which, with milk, is an antidote against corrosive poisons. He was uneasy at the queen’s habit of sweetening draughts of water from a sugar-basin which stood open in her apartment. He was afraid of this sugar being poisoned. The lady therefore kept a great quantity of sugar pounded in her own apartment, and always carried some packets of it in her bag, from which she changed the sugar in the basin, several times a day. The queen found this out, and begged she would not take the trouble to do this, as she had no fear of dying by that method. Poor lady! She said sometimes that, but for her family’s sake, she should be glad to die by any means. She was indeed unhappy; but she had not yet learned how much more unhappy had been multitudes of her people before they hated her as they now did. She grieved to see her daughter growing up grave and silent, and her little boy of five years old surrounded by sorrowful faces, and subject to terrors at an age when he should have been merry, and smiled upon by everybody near him: but she knew nothing of the affliction of thousands of mothers who had seen their children dying of hunger on heaps of straw, in hovels open to the rain; or of the indignation of thousands more who had seen their lively, promising infants growing stupid and cross under the pressure of early toil, and in the absence of all instruction. All this had happened while she was paying 15,000 pounds for a pair of diamond ear-rings, and using her influence in behalf of bad advisers to the king. She might wish to die under her sorrows; she little knew how many had died under their most intolerable sufferings.
The longer the revolution went on, exhibiting more and more fully the incapacity of the king, the more were the intoxicated people tempted to exult over him, sometimes fiercely, and sometimes in mockery. It is not conceivable that they would have ventured upon some things that were said and done, if the king had been a man of spirit; for men of spirit command personal respect in their adversity. The great original quarrel with the king, it will be remembered, was on matters of finance,—about the vast debts of the State, and the choice of a minister who would wisely endeavour to reduce these debts, and at the same time to relieve the people from some of the pressure of taxation. Towards the end of this year, 1790, the Assembly had decreed the discharge of the debts of the State; and (whether or not they might prove able to execute what they decreed) the people were highly delighted. It was the custom to serenade the royal family on New Year’s morning. On this New Year’s day, the band of the National Guard played under the king’s windows an opera air which went to the words, “But our creditors are paid, and we are consoled.” They would play nothing but this air; and finished it, stopped and resumed, over and over again. They might have been very sure that the king knew what they meant by playing it at all.
Another New Year’s day custom was to present gifts to the royal children. On this day, some grenadiers of the Parisian guard came, preceded by military music, to offer a gift to the Dauphin. This gift was a set of dominoes made of the stone and marble of which parts of the Bastille had been built. On the lid of the box were engraved some verses, of which the sense was as follows:—
“These stones of the walls which enclosed so many innocent victims of arbitrary power, have been made into a toy, to be offered to your Highness, as a token of the love of the people, and a lesson as to their strength.”
The queen would not allow her son to have this toy. She took it from him, and gave it into the hands of one of her ladies, desiring her to preserve it as a curious sign of the times.
If the royal family received insults from people who could not feel for them, it was equally true that their adherents exasperated the feelings of persons who quite as little deserved insult. Such was the effect of mutual prejudice. General Lafayette, still in hopes of bringing the opposing parties to some understanding, frequently went to the palace of the Tuileries, where now, during the winter, the royal family were once more established. As there was little use in conversing with the king about affairs, these interviews were generally with the queen,—a fact which prevents our wondering much at the common accusation that the queen meddled with the government, and did mischief by it. One day when Lafayette was with the queen, one of her majesty’s ladies observed (intending to be heard by the General’s officers) that it made her uneasy to think of her majesty’s being shut up alone with a rebel and a robber. An older and more prudent lady, Madame Campan, seeing the folly of such a speech at a time when everything might depend on General Lafayette’s goodwill, reproved the person who had spoken; but it is curious to see how much more she thought of the imprudence than of the injustice of the speech. She observed that General Lafayette was certainly a rebel: but that an officer who commanded forty thousand men, the capital, and a large extent of country, should be called a chieftain rather than a robber. One would think this was little enough to say in favour of such a man as Lafayette: yet the queen the next day asked Madame Campan, with a mournful gravity, what she could have meant by taking Lafayette’s part, and silencing the other ladies because they did not like him. When she heard how it was, the queen was satisfied: but we, far from being satisfied, may learn from this how difficult it must have been to help the royal family and court, while they thought and spoke of the best men in the nation in such a way as this. In truth, there were miserable prejudices and insults on both sides: and at this distance of time, Lafayette, with his love of freedom, and his goodwill towards all the sufferers of both parties, rises to our view from among them all as a sunny hill-top above the fogs of an unwholesome marsh.
The next event in the royal family was the departure of the old princesses. They got away in February; and, though stopped in some places on their journey, crossed the frontiers in safety. They might probably have remained secure enough in Paris; and their departure was not on their own account, so much as that of the king. He could not have attempted to fly while his aged aunts remained in the midst of the troubles. When they were disposed of, he felt himself more free to go or stay. The old ladies earnestly entreated the sweet princess Elizabeth to go with them, representing to her how happy she might be at Rome in the exercise of the religion to which she was devoted. But her religion taught her that her duty lay, not where she could say her prayers with the most ease and security, but where she could give the most help and consolation. She refused ease and safety, and declared her intention of remaining with her brother’s family to the end—whatever that end might be.
The queen immediately (that is, in March) began her preparations for departure. Remembering how easily they might have got away from Saint Cloud, last summer, it was determined to start from Saint Cloud this time. On the 15th of April, notice was given to the Assembly that, the king having become subject to colds of late, the royal family would remove into the country in a few days.
The people of Paris discussed this plan very earnestly. Lafayette wished that the king should live at any one of his palaces that he pleased. But so much had been said, all through the winter, about his majesty’s leaving Paris, that it had now become a very difficult thing to do. The papers on the royal side had proudly threatened that the king would leave his people, if they were not more worthy of his presence. The revolutionary papers had said that the king should not go, to raise up armies of enemies at a distance. All Paris had been kept awake by stories of saddled horses in the royal stables, of packed carriages, and a host of armed nobles, always hovering about, ready to rescue him and murder the people. It does indeed appear that latterly there had been various mysterious meetings of gentlemen, who were secretly armed: and report, which always exaggerates these things, declared that thirty thousand such armed gentlemen were hidden in the woods, about Saint Cloud, and that they would overpower the people’s guard, and carry off the family.
Some may wonder why the nation, if sick of their king, did not let him go, and rejoice to be rid of him. The reason why they detained him so carefully was this: they knew that his brother and friends were raising an army at a distance; and they saw that, if once the royal family escaped from their hands, they should have all Europe down upon them; whereas, if they kept the family as hostages, their enemies would let them alone, in the fear that the first march of a foreign army into France would be revenged upon the lives of the very persons whom it was desired to save.
Considering all these things, the people resolved that the royal family should not go to Saint Cloud.
First, numbers of the servants were sent off, to get everything made ready for the king, who was to follow on the 18th, to dinner. The servants were allowed to go without opposition; so that on the 18th, the apartments at Saint Cloud were ready, the dinner was cooking, and the attendants looking out along the road to Paris, wondering why the carriages did not appear, and fearing the dinner would be spoiled. Nobody came to eat it, however, unless it was given to the National Guard, a detachment of whom had gone forward, to be on duty about the palace.
At one o’clock, the great royal coach, drawn by its eight black horses, drove up to the palace-gate in Paris; and immediately the alarm-bell from a neighbouring church-steeple began to sound. The family were almost ready; but multitudes of people, summoned by the bell, collected presently, and declared that the coach should not move. Lafayette and his officers came up, and did what they could in the way of persuasion: but the crowd said, “Hold your tongues. The king shall not go.” They shouted, on seeing one of the royal family, “We do not choose that the king should go.” The royal party, however, entered the carriage, and the coachman cracked his whip; but some seized the reins and the horses’ heads; others shut the gates: and a multitude so pressed round the heavy coach that it rocked from side to side. Such of the royal attendants as attempted to get near for orders were seized, their swords taken from them, and their persons roughly handled. The children must have been grievously terrified; for even, their mother, so calm in danger, passionately entreated from the carriage-window that her servants might not be hurt. The National Guards did not know how to act. Lafayette and his officers rode hither and thither, trying to open a way: the driver whipped, the horses scrambled and reared; and the people pressed closer and closer, so that the great coach rocked more and more;—all in vain, it did not get on one inch.
All this, amidst tremendous noise and confusion, went on for an hour and three-quarters. Then Lafayette rode up to say he would clear the way with cannon, if the king would order it. The king was not a person to give any order at all; and least of all, such an order as that. So the royal family alighted, and returned into the palace, while the coach went back to the coach-house, and the eight black horses to their stalls.
The king and queen were not sorry for what had happened. This act of violence must prove so plainly to all the world that they were prisoners, that all the world would now think them justified in getting off, in any way they could. They might now devote themselves to the one great object of escape.
Poor little Louis must have been very sorry. He had seen the hay-making at Saint Cloud, last summer: and now he must have been pleased at the thought of the sweet fields and gardens of the country, and the woods just bursting into leaf. There were many woods about Saint Cloud. He knew nothing of armed nobles lurking there to save him and his family. What he thought of was the violets and daffodils, and fresh grass and sprouting shrubs,—the young lambs in the field, and the warbling larks in the air. And now, when actually in the carriage to go (his garden tools probably gone before), he had to get out again, and stay in hot, dusty, glaring Paris; and, what was far worse, in danger of seeing every day the sneering, angry faces which had been crowded round the carriage for nearly two hours; and of hearing, wherever he walked, the cruel laugh or fierce abuse with which his parents were greeted when they attempted to do anything which the people did not like. No doubt, the little boy’s heart was heavy when he was lifted from the coach, and went back into the palace.
How much happier he might have been if he had been one of the children he had seen hay-making at Saint Cloud, the year before! Or even as the child of a Paris tradesman he might have been happier than now, though the children of the tradesmen of capital cities seldom have a run in the fields, or gather violets in the fresh woods of April. But, as a shop-keeper’s child, he might at least have seen his father cheerful in his employment, and his mother bright and gay. He might have passed his days without hearing passionate voices, and seeing angry faces; without dreaming of being afraid. It was now nothing to him that he was born a prince, and constantly told that he was to be a king. He saw nothing in his father’s condition that made him think it a good thing to be a king; and he would have given all the grandeur in which he lived, all the ladies and footmen that waited upon him, all his pretty clothes, all his many playthings, all the luxuries of the palace, to be free from the terrors of the revolution, and to see his parents look as happy as other children see theirs every day.
He did not know it, but preparations were from this time going on diligently for an escape,—for a real flight, by night.
We must not suppose that in this, any more than other affairs, the king showed decision, or the queen knowledge and judgment. They could not show what they had not: and it was now too late for the king to become prompt and active, and for the queen to learn to view people and things as the rest of the world did, brought up, as she had been, in ignorance and self-will. She often complained (and we cannot wonder) at having to live and act among people who showed no presence of mind and good sense: but, really, the king, and everybody concerned, might well have complained of the ruin which her folly and self-will brought upon the present scheme,—the last chance they had for liberty. Not that she only was to blame. There were mistakes,—there was mismanagement without end; showing how little those who are brought up in courts, having everything done for them exactly to their wish, are fit for business, when brought to the proof.
The case was just this. Here were the king and queen, with a sister and two children, wanting to get away from Paris. They had plenty of money and jewels; plenty of horses and carriages; plenty of devoted servants and friends:—friends at hand, ready to help; friends at a distance, ready to receive them; and every court in Europe inclined to welcome and favour them. The one thing to be done was to elude the people of Paris, and of the large towns through which they must pass.
In such a case as this, it seems clear that, in the first place, everything at home should go on as usual, up to the very last moment; that there should be no sign of preparation whatever, to excite the suspicion of any tradespeople or servants who were not in the secret.
In the next place, it is clear that the king should have separated from his family on the road. His best chance was to go with one other gentleman, and to travel as private gentlemen are in the habit of doing. While he went by one road to one country, the queen and princess should have gone by another road, under the escort of one or two of the many gentlemen who were devotedly attached to their cause. The children might, with their governess, have gone, under the charge of another gentleman, to Brussels, to the arms of their aunt (their mother’s sister), who held her court there.
In the third place, they should have taken the smallest quantity of luggage they could travel with without exciting suspicion, carrying on their persons money and jewels, with which to buy what they wanted when they were safe. They should have travelled in light carriages, and have made sure, by employing drivers and couriers who knew the respective roads, of encountering no difficulty about meeting the relays of horses, and of exciting no particular observation at the post-houses. These are the arrangements which ordinary people, accustomed to business, would have made. We shall see how the queen chose that the affair should be managed.
During the month of March (before the attempt to go to Saint Cloud), the queen began her preparations for her escape to another kingdom. Madame Campan (in whom she had perfect trust, and with good reason) was in attendance upon her during that month. The queen employed her in buying and getting made an immense quantity of clothes. Madame Campan remonstrated with her upon this, saying that the queen of France would always be able to obtain linen and gowns wherever she went: but the queen was obstinate. Though it was necessary for Madame Campan to go out almost disguised to procure these things,—though she was obliged, for the sake of avoiding suspicion, to order six petticoats at one shop, and six at another, and to buy one gown in one street, and two in another,—and though this great load of things would be sure to attract notice, however they might be sent off, nothing could satisfy the queen but having with her a complete and splendid wardrobe for herself and the children; and this, after she and the king had a hundred times wondered how it came to be told in the newspapers that so many horses were kept saddled in their stables, and that such and such persons had paid them visits by the back-door. After having suffered for months from spies, the queen would not agree to the simple plan of doing nothing which spies might not see, and tell all Paris, if they chose. As it was, it was well-known when Madame Campan went out, where she went, and what about, from the very day her shopping began.
Madame Campan endeavoured to use more disguise by getting her own little boy measured for the clothes which were intended for the Dauphin; and by asking her sister to have the Princess Royal’s wardrobe made ready as if for her daughter. But these poor expedients were seen through, as might have been expected. How much easier and safer it would have been to have no ordering and making at all.
These clothes were not all to go by the same coach which conveyed the family. Most of them were sent in a trunk to one of the queen’s women, who was now at Arras, from whence she was to proceed to Brussels with these clothes, to meet her mistress. Of course, the sending off of this trunk was observed.
All this was not so foolish as what followed. The queen had a very large, expensive, and remarkable toilet-case, called a nécessaire, which contained everything wanted for the toilet, from her rarest essences and perfumes down to soap and combs. It was of fine workmanship, and had much expensive material and ornament about it. In short, it was fit for a splendid royal palace, and no other place. The queen consulted Madame Campan about how she should get this nécessaire away. Madame Campan entreated her not to think of taking it, saying that if it was moved from its place, on any pretence, it would be enough to excite the suspicions of all the spies about the court. The poor queen, however, seemed to think that she could no more do without her nécessaire than go without shoes to her feet. The nécessaire, she declared, she must have; and she hit upon a device which she thought very clever for deceiving any spies, but which deceived nobody, though Madame Campan herself hoped it might afford a chance of doing so. The queen agreed with the ambassador from Vienna (who was in her confidence), that he should come to her, while her hair was dressing, and, in the presence of all her attendants, request her to order a nécessaire precisely like her own, for her sister at Brussels, who wished to have exactly such an one. The ambassador did as he was desired; and the queen turned to Madame Campan, and requested her to have a nécessaire made by the pattern of the one before her. If the plan had succeeded, here was an expense of 500 pounds incurred, at the time when money was most particularly wanted, and great hazard run; and all because the queen could not be satisfied with such a dressing-case as other ladies use. Any of her friends could have supplied her with such an one as she was setting off.
The nécessaire was ordered in the middle of April. A month after, the queen inquired whether it would soon be done. The cabinet-maker said it could not be finished in less than six weeks more. The queen declared to Madame Campan that she could not wait for it; and that, as the order had been given in the presence of all her attendants, nobody would suspect anything if her own nécessaire was emptied and cleaned, and sent off to Brussels; and she gave positive orders that this should be done. Madame Campan ordered the wardrobe-woman, whose proper business it was, to have this order executed, as the archduchess could not wait so long as it would take to finish the new nécessaire; and she particularly desired that no perfume should be left hanging about any of the drawers which might be disagreeable to the archduchess.
One evening in May, the queen called Madame Campan to help her to wrap up in cotton, and pack, her jewels, which she sent, by the hands of a person she could trust, to Brussels. They sat in a little room by themselves, with the door locked, till seven o’clock, when the queen had to go to cards. She told Madame Campan that there was no occasion to put by the diamonds; they would be quite safe, as there was a sentinel under the window, and she herself should keep the key in her pocket. She appointed Madame Campan to be there early the next morning, to finish the packing; till which time the jewels lay on the sofa, some in cotton, and some without.
The same wardrobe-woman, Madame R—, who was ordered to empty the nécessaire, was clever about her business, and had been engaged in it for many years, and all the year round; so that the queen, without having much to do with her, had become accustomed to see her, liked her way of discharging her business, and did not dream of distrusting her. Madame Campan did, however. She knew that this lady, having grown rich in her office, gave parties, consisting chiefly of persons of politics opposed to the court,—several members of the Assembly of those politics being often there,—and one of Lafayette’s staff, Monsieur Gouvion, being a lover of Madame R—’s. This lady was indeed not to be trusted. On the 21st of this month of May, she went and made a declaration before the mayor, that she had no doubt the royal family were planning an escape. She told the whole story of the nécessaire, saying that everybody knew the queen was too fond of her own nécessaire to think of parting with it, when another might be had for a little waiting; and that the queen had often been heard to say how useful this article would be to her in travelling. Madame R— went on to declare that the queen had been engaged in packing her diamonds in the evening of such a day,—those diamonds having been seen by her lying about, half wrapped in cotton, on the sofa of such a room; and that Madame Campan had helped the queen, and, of course, knew all about it. It was plain that this woman had a key of the little room, and that she must have been in it, either in the evening while the queen was at cards, or very early the next morning.
The queen confided to Madame Campan a letter-case full of very valuable papers, which was immediately put into the hands of some faithful persons in the city. This proceeding also did not escape the quick eyes of Madame R—. She declared before the mayor that she saw a letter-case upon a chair, which had never been seen there before: that she observed the queen say something about it in a low voice to Madame Campan, after which it disappeared. The mayor took these depositions, as in duty bound: but he let them lie, not wishing to injure the royal family. So the queen went on, more hopeful every day, and not in the least suspecting that her scheme was seen through from beginning to end.
The other persons who were taking part in the plan were, a brave officer of the name of Bouillé, and a Swedish Count Fersen, helped by the Duke de Choiseul, who was a colonel in the French army.
Bouillé was near the frontier, collecting together such French soldiers as were loyal, and several Germans, under pretence of watching the Austrians. It was secretly settled for him to meet the royal family near the frontiers, and escort them beyond the reach of their enemies. They really had not to go very far. Montmédy, where Bouillé was making a fortified camp, was less than two hundred miles from Paris; and he meant to meet the royal family, with a guard of hussars, at some distance nearer Paris.
We have seen how the queen neglected the first precautions, and how much risk she ran about clothes and luggage. So it was with the other precautions we mentioned. She did, at one time, intend to send the children to Brussels, under the care of a gentleman who might be trusted; but she changed her mind, and resolved that the whole family, with attendants, should go together.
Again, instead of travelling in light carriages, and in the most ordinary style, so as to excite as little observation as possible, they must all go in the same carriage,—that is, the king, the queen, and two children, the Princess Elizabeth, and Madame de Tourzel,—six in one carriage, while the other attendant ladies were to follow in another. These were great difficulties; and it was over these difficulties that Count Fersen did all he could to help them. He declared, openly, that a Russian lady, a friend of his, the Baroness de Korff, was about to travel homewards, with her valet, waiting-woman, and two children, and that she wanted a carriage for that purpose. The Count pretended to be very particular about this carriage,—a large coach, called a berlin. He had a model made first; and employed the first coach-makers in France. When it was done, he and the Duke de Choiseul made trial of it in a drive through the streets of Paris. They then sent it to a certain Madame Sullivan’s, near the northern outskirts of the city. Count Fersen also bought several horses and a chaise, to convey, as he said, two waiting-women; and exerted himself much about getting the necessary passport for the Baroness de Korff and her party. It appeared that Count Fersen was uncommonly polite, or very much devoted to this Baroness de Korff.
In order to put Paris off its guard, the king and queen promised to be present at a great Catholic festival, in the church of the Assumption in Paris, on the 21st of June; meaning, however, to be off on the 20th.
Little Louis knew nothing of all that was going on, nor guessed, when he went to bed on the 20th of June, that he should have to get up again presently. As soon as it was dark, his governess took him up, and dressed him, and put a sort of hood over his head, which prevented his face being seen. He was probably as sleepy as a little boy of six, just waked up before eleven o’clock at night, was likely to be; and knew and cared little about what Madame de Tourzel was doing with him. His sister was dressed, and had a hood over her head too; and so had Madame de Tourzel. They were very quiet; for everybody in the palace but those who were in the secret believed that the king was now gone to bed. Somebody opened the doors for them, and showed them the way. They passed some sentinels who knew better than to ask them who they were; then went out through a back-door where there was no sentinel, along a court and a square, and into a street. A glass-coach was stationed before the door of Ronsin, the saddler, as if waiting for some visitors of Ronsin’s. The coachman, standing beside his horses, opened the door without any question, and let Madame de Tourzel and the children into the coach. This was no real coachman, however, but Count Fersen.
In a little while came another lady, attended by a servant, as it seemed. She said “Good night” cheerfully to him, and stepped into the coach. It was the Princess Elizabeth. If anybody in the street wondered to see ladies coming the same way, one after another, the answer was easy; they had, no doubt, been at the palace.
Presently, the coachman’s hand was again upon the door; and a gentleman, stout, in a round hat, was seen coming, leaning upon the arm of a servant. As he passed a sentinel, one of his shoe buckles gave way. He stooped down and clasped it. Glad were the party in the coach when the king stepped in. They were all there now but the queen; and it was rather odd that she should be the last.
One looked from the window, and then another watched; and still she did not come. It must have been a terrible worry,—waiting and waiting there,—the Count afraid of what everybody in the street might think of a coach standing so long before one door;—the party within afraid of something having happened to the queen. Minute after minute passed slowly away, and then,—“what is this? Here is some great man’s carriage, with lights all about it, dashing up the street!” It was Lafayette’s carriage, evidently in a prodigious hurry: and it went under the arch; it was certainly going to the palace.
It was going to the palace. Madame R—’s eyes were as quick as ever. She had told her lover perpetually that she was sure the royal family were going off; and Gouvion had kept constantly on the watch, but could discover nothing. This evening she had told him that she was sure they meant to go in the night. Gouvion sent an express for Lafayette, who came directly. He thought he met no one in the courts,—saw nothing suspicious. The sentinels were all at their posts, and the royal family (as all the palace believed) quietly in their chambers. So Lafayette went away again, telling his officer that he must have been deceived, and bidding him beware of treachery.
Lafayette was mistaken if he thought he had met no one within the precincts of the palace. Under the arch he had whirled past two people,—a lady in white, with something in her hand, leaning on a man’s arm. The lady had even touched the spoke of one of his carriage-wheels with that which she had in her hand,—a sort of switch, which it was then the fashion for ladies to carry. This lady was the queen, and she was conducted by a faithful body-guard. However faithful this man might be, he did not know the way; and the queen’s guard on such an occasion should also have been a well-qualified guide. The queen was flurried with meeting the enemy’s carriage rumbling under the archway, with its flaring lights; and, on entering the square, she took the turn to the right hand instead of the left. She and her guard wandered far away, over the bridge, and they knew not where. The queen of France wandering through the streets of Paris, losing her way on foot at midnight! What could she have thought of a situation so new? How must her guard have felt, with such a charge upon his arm! And the Count, standing beside the hackney-coach-door; and the party within! We may hope that Louis was fast asleep upon Madame de Tourzel’s lap, forgetting all about where he was.
A hackney-coachman came up, and began to talk. The Swedish count talked as like a hackney-coachman as he could. They took a pinch of snuff together, would rather not drink together, and the real hackney-coachman bade good-night, and went off without making any discovery. The clocks had struck midnight by this time; but soon after the queen appeared. She had had to inquire her way, which was dangerous. Her companion and the king’s were to go with them; so they jumped up, the Count was on the box in a moment; and off they drove,—six inside and three out.
In a little while there was another panic. The king was sure they were going the wrong way. They ought to leave Paris by the north-eastern road; but they were now going straight north. The king might have been sure that the Count knew which way to drive, after managing so well all else that he had to do. He was only going to Madame Sullivan’s, to make sure that the new berlin was gone to the place where they were to meet it. All was right. Count Fersen’s servant had called for the Baroness de Korff’s coach, an hour and a half before. So on they went, through the north entrance, turning immediately eastwards; and when fairly free of Paris, they came in sight of the great coach, waiting by the roadside, with its six horses, and the Count’s coachman on the box.
The party made haste to settle themselves in the berlin; for too much time had been lost already. Count Fersen was again the driver. His coachman went off in another direction, to have his master’s chariot ready for him, at some distance on the north road. Who then was there to drive home the glass-coach? Nobody. So they turned the horses’ heads towards the city, and set them off by themselves; and the coach was found next day in a ditch. Still there was another meeting to take place. At the hamlet of Bondy they were to meet the two waiting-women, with their luggage in the new chaise, and postilions with fresh horses. There they were at Bondy, while every one else was asleep. They had been waiting some time. Here Count Fersen took his leave. How must the party have felt towards him! How must they have longed to say what they must not say before the postilions, in whose eyes Count Fersen must be a driver, and nothing more! He met his coachman and chariot on the north road, and got safely away. It must have given him satisfaction all the rest of his life to look back on this adventure, in which his part was so admirably performed. Perhaps, if he had been of the party for another day or two, things might have gone better with the fugitives than they did.
Now they had to take care of their behaviour, lest, by any forgetfulness, they should cause suspicion as to who they were. Madame de Tourzel had to act the Baroness de Korff, and call the princess and the dauphin her children. The king, who wore a wig, was her valet, and the queen her waiting-maid. The Princess Elizabeth was her travelling companion. We know nothing of how they supported these characters at the places where they stopped. One may imagine the queen putting some spirit into her part; but one can never fancy the king doing anything in the service of Madame de Tourzel. They stopped as little as they could, however; and yet they did not get on fast. How should a heavy coach, with nine people in and on it, get on fast? How much wiser would it have been to have travelled separately, and like other people! The king’s brother and his lady did so; going in common carriages towards Flanders, by different roads, and finding no difficulty. At one point their roads crossed, and they happened to meet while changing horses. They had the presence of mind to take no notice, and drove off their separate ways without a look or sign. The Princess de Lamballe travelled in the same way towards England, without impediment. It was lamentable folly in the king and queen to choose a way of journeying which must attract all eyes.
This sort of notice began almost before it was light. About sunrise they passed, in the wood of Bondy, a poor herb-man, with his ass and panniers of greens. When the hue and cry began, this herb-man told of the fine new berlin he had seen in the wood of Bondy; and thus set pursuers upon their track. Besides the eight horses wanted for the two carriages, there were more for the three body-guards, mounted and dressed as couriers, but knowing nothing about courier’s business, as the people along the road must have found out, while watching the changing of eleven horses at the different stages. Then the berlin wanted some repairs, and this detained them at Étoges: and the king would get out, and walk up the hills, and they had to wait for him: so that though they gave double money to the drivers to get on fast, they had gone only sixty-nine miles by ten at night. This slowness ruined everything.
The Duke de Choiseul, Count Fersen’s friend, had left Paris ten hours before the royal family, and was waiting, with a party of hussars, at a village, some way beyond Chalons. If the party had kept their time, they would have met their guard, and, finding more and more soldiers all along the road, would have been safe. There would have been no time for the attention of the country people to be fixed on the gathering of military in the neighbourhood. The Duke de Choiseul’s pretence for his party was that they were to guard a treasure that was expected. The “treasure” did not arrive; the soldiers lounged about; and it was all their officers could do to keep them out of public-houses, where they would be questioned and made suspicious;—for, of course, they knew nothing of the meaning of their errand. It was a great misfortune, too, that the queen had changed her mind about the day, when it was too late to warn some of the officers; and they, supposing the party to have set off on the 19th, were now in great dismay; and their soldiers were lounging about twenty-four hours sooner than they should have been. The village politicians did not like what they saw. They began to say to one another that no treasure ought to be leaving the kingdom. Any treasure which had to be guarded by soldiers must be public treasure, belonging to the people, which no one had any right to carry away. Some of these rang the alarm-bell of their parish church; and from several places, parties of the national soldiery went out to explore the roads, and met parties of the national soldiery from other places. They agreed that there must be something wrong. At Saint Menehould, the National Volunteers demanded three hundred muskets from the town-hall, and stood armed: the same Saint Menehould where the former arrival of the queen as dauphiness had been awaited in a far different temper. In short, the hussars had to ride away, and leave the “treasure” to take its chance. Thus all was confusion, expectation, and alarm along the road, for hours before the berlin appeared: the very road by which the queen had entered France, amidst cheers of welcome, in her bridal days!
It appeared afterwards that it was the king’s wish to have these soldiers in waiting along the road, while his advisers thought it would be better to keep up the story of the Baroness de Korff till the party actually drew near Montmédy. As it turned out, the king not only lost his desired security, but, by his and the queen’s management together, the whole region beyond Chalons was in an uproar before they entered it. Meantime, the party had travelled only sixty-nine of their two hundred miles in twenty-two hours; and little Louis must have been sadly tired before they had gone nearly half-way.
On and on they went, however, through the night and all the next day, little knowing how fast messengers from Paris were racing all over the kingdom, to give the news of their flight. Lafayette had been roused, at six in the morning of the 21st, by a note from a gentleman who had been informed that the king’s rooms at the Tuileries were empty. The whole city was in consternation, and Lafayette’s life in great danger. Tranquillity was preserved, however. Messengers galloped off in every direction; and one of these it was who, going north-east, spread the alarm which made the herb-man go and tell what he had seen in the wood of Bondy. Little did the travelling party think how much faster the mounted messengers were going than they: and on they lumbered, the eleven horses whisking their tails, and the king taking his time in walking up the hills, while the alarm was flying abroad.
It was near sunset on the second evening, when they had gone about one hundred and seventy miles, that one of the body-guards, mounted and dressed in yellow as a courier, came prancing into the village of Saint Menehould. His dress attracted all eyes; and so did his proceedings. The gazers saw that this odd courier did not know the post-house; for he spurred past it, and had to inquire for it. The master of the post, Drouet, of revolutionary politics, was in a very bad humour, and had been so all day, having been angry about the mysterious hussars in the morning, and no less angry at seeing the village now full of dragoons, from another quarter, whose business here he could not understand. These dragoons, strolling through the streets, touched their helmets to the party in the carriage, which the waiting-maid of the baroness acknowledged with remarkable grace. The dragoon officer, Dandoins, at first delighted to see the party arrive, presently did not like what he saw, and was pretty sure the village had taken the alarm. He looked full at the pretended courier, from the side pavement, as much as to say, “Be quick! Make haste to change horses, and be off.” The dull fellow, not understanding what he meant, came up to him, to know whether he had anything to say. All which was observed by a hundred eyes. Drouet’s eyes were the quickest. He thought that the waiting-maid’s face was like somebody he had seen somewhere in Paris; and the valet, how very like the king! He called to a friend to bring him, quick, a new assignat. (Note: A promissory note which passed as money, like a bank-note. It bore an engraving of the king’s head.) The king’s head there, and the valet’s head in the carriage, were exactly alike. Now Drouet understood the meaning of his village being filled with hussars in the morning, and dragoons in the afternoon.
The great coach was just driving off; and he dared not stop it, while the armed dragoons were standing about, even if he had been absolutely certain that he had seen the king and queen; which he could not be. So he let them drive off; and then told the friend that had brought him the assignat, desiring him to saddle two of the fleetest horses in the post-house, while he stepped over to the town-hall, to give the alarm. While they rode off, the report got abroad through the whole village. Dandoins wanted his dragoons to mount and ride; but they were hungry, and would have some bread and cheese first. While they were eating, the National Volunteers drew up, with their bayonets fixed, to prevent their leaving the village. The dragoons were willing to stay, and side with the people: and stay they did; only the quarter-master cutting his way through, and riding off with a pocket-book, containing secret despatches, which Dandoins had managed to slip into his hand.
The berlin went on faster now; but not so fast as Drouet and his companion were following; while the quarter-master was spurring on to overtake them, if possible. What a race!—the fate of France probably depending upon it!
About six miles before coming to Varennes, the party observed a horseman passing, at a gallop, from behind, close by the coach-window. In passing, he shouted something which the noise of their carriage-wheels prevented their hearing exactly. They caught the sound, however; and when all was over, agreed that he must have said, “You are discovered!” They did not know whether to take this man for a friend or an enemy. They received another warning from one who was no enemy. A beggar, who asked alms of the king at a place where the coach stopped, said, with much feeling, “Your Majesty is known. May God take care of you! May Providence watch over you!”
The quarter-master, on reaching Clermont after them, called up the dragoons who were gone to bed; and a few of them followed the royal carriage, under the command of a Cornet Rémy. But they lost their way in the dark, and floundered about in fields and lanes, stumbling over fences, before they found the direction in which they should go to Varennes. The rest of the dragoons at Clermont,—all but two,—struck their swords into the scabbard when ordered to draw, and declared for the people, instead of the king.
The Duke de Choiseul, with his hussars, was all the while stumbling about in the cross country, finding it difficult enough to get to Varennes, as he must avoid the high roads. Some of his troop fell and were hurt; and their comrades refused to go on without them. Towards midnight, the alarm-bell of Varennes was heard through the darkness. The duke said it was no doubt some fire: but in his heart he had strong fears of the truth.
Bouillé, junior, sent by his father, had been waiting with his troop six hours at Varennes: and he, supposing that the party would not arrive this day, was in bed and asleep when the berlin reached the village, at eleven o’clock. His troop were, some of them, drinking in the public-houses. None of them were ready; and the royal party tried in vain to discover through the thick darkness any sign of a friendly guard, where they had made sure of meeting one. If they could but find these hussars, they believed they should be safe; for they had now no more towns to pass through, and no great way to go.
The berlin stood on the top of the hill, at the entrance of Varennes, while their pretended couriers were riding about, rousing the sleeping village, in search of horses to go on with. The horses were standing, the whole time, all ready, by the orders of the Duke de Choiseul, in the upper village, over the bridge; and the men never found this out. They might have changed horses in five minutes, and proceeded, without having wakened a single person in the place; instead of which, the carriages actually stood five-and-thirty minutes on the top of the hill, while this blundering was going on. The king argued with the postilions about proceeding another stage: but their horses were so tired, they would not hear of it.
In the midst of this argument, two riders came up from behind, checked their horses for a moment on recognising the berlin, which they could just make out in the dark; and then pushed on quickly into the village. It was Drouet and his companion.
They rode to the Golden Arms tavern, told the landlord what they came for, and proceeded to block up the bridge with waggons, and whatever else they could find. And the fugitives might have passed that bridge above half an hour before, and be now speeding on with the fresh horses that were standing ready,—if only young Bouillé had not gone to bed; or even if, instead of one of their useless servants, they had had a courier who knew the road, and could have told them of the upper village! Was ever an expedition so mismanaged?
Before the berlin came up (the horses somewhat refreshed with meal and water), the bridge was well barricaded; and (the landlord having roused three or four companions) about half-a-dozen men, with muskets and lanterns hidden under their coats, were standing under an archway, awaiting the party. Suddenly the lanterns shone out, the horses’ bridles were seized, and a man thrust the barrel of a musket in at each window, exclaiming, “Ladies, your passports!”
This was one of the moments which occur now and then in the course of men’s lives, as if to show what they are made of. This was the occasion, if the king had been a man of spirit, to forget that he had blood to spill,—to assert his rights as a ruler and as an innocent man,—to daunt his enemies, and rouse his friends,—to carry off his family in triumph,—to save his crown and kingdom, his life and reputation. Things much more difficult have been done. His enemies were but six; and he and his body-guards might have resisted them till Bouillé was roused by the noise, to come up with his hussars, to help and save. It is true, the king did not know that his enemies were but six: but a man of spirit would have seen how many they were before he yielded. It is true he did not know that Bouillé was in bed, and his hussars drinking in the village: but a man of spirit would have trusted that help would rise up, or have done without it in such an extremity, rather than yield. Instead of this, what did the king do? He heard what his enemies had to say.
One of the six was Monsieur Sauce, a grocer who lived in the market-place, and a magistrate. He said, in the name of his party, that, whether the travellers were the Baroness de Korff and suite, or of a higher rank still, it would be better that they should alight, and remain at his house till morning.
With what a bursting heart must the queen have seen the king quietly doing as he was bid! For twenty-one years she had suffered what a high spirit must suffer in being closely united with a companion who has none; but the agony of this moment must have exceeded all former trials of the kind. She, the woman and the wife, must obey, to her own destruction, and that of all who belonged to her. She said little; but there was afterwards a visible sign of what she must have endured. In this one night, her beautiful hair turned white, as if forty years had at once fallen upon her head.
The king stepped out of the coach, and the ladies followed him. They took each an arm of Monsieur Sauce, and walked across the market-place to his shop, the king following, with a child holding either hand. It was strange confusion for little Louis. This was the third night that he had spent out of his bed. He had been asleep,—the whole party had been asleep in the coach; and now this disputing, and the flare of the lanterns, and the presenting the muskets, and the having to get out and walk, must have been perplexing and terrifying to the poor little fellow. There was much noise round about. The alarm-bell was clanging; there were lights in all the windows: men poured out of the houses, half-dressed, and rolled barrels, and laid felled trees across the road, that no help might arrive on the king’s behalf.
And what did the king do next? He asked for something to eat! “Something to eat” was always a great object with him; and he seemed to find comfort under all trials in his good appetite. He sat now in an upper story of Monsieur Sauce’s house, eating bread and cheese and drinking Burgundy,—declaring that this bottle of Burgundy was the best he ever tasted. One wonders that the queen’s heart was not quite broken. She believed that there was yet a chance. She saw Monsieur Sauce’s old mother kneeling, and praying for her king and queen, while the tears ran down her cheeks. The queen saw that Monsieur Sauce looked frequently towards his wife, while the king talked with him, explaining that he meant no harm to the nation, but good, since he could come to a better understanding with his people when at a distance and in freedom. Monsieur Sauce, the queen saw, looked so frequently towards his wife, that it was plain that he would act according to her judgment. The queen of France therefore kneeled to the grocer’s wife to implore mercy and aid. Fain would the grocer’s wife have aided her sovereign, if she dared: but she dared not. Again and again she said, “Think what it is you ask, madame. Your situation is very grievous; but you see what we should be exposed to. They would cut off my husband’s head. A wife must consider her husband first.”
“Very true,” replied the queen. “My husband is your king. He has made you all happy for many years; and wishes to do so still.” Whatever Madame Sauce might think of the poor queen’s belief that her husband had made his people happy, she replied only, as before, that she could not induce Monsieur Sauce to put his life in danger.
The leaders of the different military parties, hearing one alarm-bell after another beginning to toll through the whole region, made prodigious exertions to reach Varennes, and did so. The Duke de Choiseul and his troop surmounted the barricade, and got in; and the hussars promised fidelity to “the king—the king! And the queen!” as they kept exclaiming. They were led forward to beset Monsieur Sauce’s house: but Drouet shouted to his national soldiery to stand to their cannon. On hearing of cannon, the hussars drew back: though Drouet’s cannon were only two empty, worn-out, useless field-pieces, which seemed fit only to make a clatter on the pavement.
Count Damas had also arrived; and the king sat consulting with these officers and the magistrates of Varennes,—consulting, when he, with the aid which had arrived, should have been forcing his way out towards the frontier. There he sat, as usual, unable to decide upon anything; and while he sat doubting, the national soldiery poured in to the number of three thousand, and would presently amount to ten thousand. While he thus sat doubting, the people were handing jugs of wine about among the hussars; and when their commander came out from Monsieur Sauce’s, at the end of an hour, he found them tipsy, and declaring for the nation against the king.
There was still one other chance—one more opportunity of choice for him whose misfortune was that he never could make a choice. Another loyal officer, Deslons, arrived, with a hundred horse-soldiers. He left his hundred horse outside the barricade, entered himself, and offered to cut out the royal party,—to rescue them by the sword, if the king would order him to do so. “Will it be hot work?” asked the king. “Very hot,” was the answer; and the king would give no orders.—In the bitterness of her regrets, the queen said afterwards, at Paris, that no one who knew what had been the king’s answer to Count d’Inisdal about being carried off, should have asked him for orders;—that the officers should have acted without saying a word to him.
The children were asleep on a bed up-stairs, and the ladies remonstrating with Madame Sauce, from hour to hour of this dreadful night: and the end of it all was that it was decided by somebody that the party were to go back to Paris, as the people in the market-place were loudly demanding. The poor queen’s doubts and fears thus ended in despair. Weary as they all were,—after having travelled so far, and escaped so many dangers,—and now so near the frontier, so near Bouillé’s camp, so close upon the queen’s own country,—they were to pursue their weary way back to Paris,—journeying in disgrace, prisoners in the eyes of all the people, to be plunged again into the midst of their enemies, now enraged by their flight. It would have been easier to a spirit like the queen’s to have died, with those who belonged to her, in one more struggle,—in one rush to the camp, than to undergo the slow despair of a return among their enemies.
Her feelings were understood,—the case was understood,—by one of the attendants who had travelled in the chaise,—the Dauphin’s head waiting-woman. Hoping that gaining time might afford a chance, she threw herself on a bed, and pretended to be taken suddenly ill, and in an agony of pain. The queen went to the bedside, and the woman squeezed her hand, to make her understand the pretence. The queen declared that she could not think of leaving in this state a faithful servant who had encountered many dangers and fatigues for the sake of the family; but a device so obvious was seen through at once, and no indulgence was allowed. The woman had to get off the bed and enter the chaise again.
The great berlin travelled back more slowly than it came, being surrounded by sixty thousand National Guards, besides the crowds of other people who drew near to see the captive royal family. There was so much indecent joy, so much insult shown by the ignorant and fierce among the crowd, that civility which would have been thought nothing of at another time touched the feelings of the unhappy ladies. The queen was delighted with the manners of a lady at whose house they rested,—the wife of Monsieur Renard, the mayor of Ferté-sous-Jouarre. The mayor waited upon the king at table; and Madame Renard did all she could to make the ladies comfortable. Everything was done so quietly that the queen did not discover, for a long time, who she was. When, at length, the queen inquired whether she was not the mistress of the house, Madame Renard replied, “I was so, Madame, before your Majesty honoured this abode with your presence.” To us there appears some affectation in this speech; but the queen was now so unused to homage from strangers that she shed tears at the words.
The Dauphin did not travel back, as he came, on the lap of Madame de Tourzel. The National Assembly sent three of its members from Paris to meet and travel with the royal family. Two of these members were to be in the carriage with the king; so that Madame de Tourzel had to turn out. The other member and she joined the two waiting-maids in the carriage behind. The pretended couriers were bound with cords, and rode conspicuous to all eyes on the top of the berlin.
Monsieur Barnave, one of the king’s new travelling companions, was so considerate, polite, and gentlemanly, that the royal party decided and declared that, if ever they regained their power, Monsieur Barnave should be pardoned the part he had taken in the Revolution. It does not seem to have occurred to them that they might have been prejudiced against him and others,—that the revolutionary leaders might not have been altogether so wicked and detestable as the Court had been accustomed to call them. Barnave, on his part, seems to have been touched by the sorrows of the queen; and it is probable that he discovered now that he had been prejudiced—too strongly wrought upon by the queen’s enemies.
A poor clergyman, endeavouring to reach the carriages to offer his loyal greeting, was seized, and roughly handled by the furious mob. Barnave feared they would kill him, as they had already killed one person under similar circumstances. He threw himself almost out of the coach-door as he cried, “Tigers, have you ceased to be Frenchmen? From being brave fellows have you turned assassins?” The Princess Elizabeth, fearing lest he should fall out of the carriage, grasped the skirt of his coat; and the queen told Madame Campan afterwards that she could not but be struck with the oddity of seeing the Princess Elizabeth taking care of the safety of a man whom they had all abhorred as a rebel and a traitor. So vehemently had the whole Court thus detested him, that Madame Campan could scarcely believe her senses when she heard the queen speak with earnest regard of the revolutionary Barnave. This is another circumstance which indicates how much guilt and misery might have been saved if the adverse parties could early have come to an understanding and made their mutual complaints face to face.
Barnave’s companion, Pétion, disgusted them all; including Barnave. He behaved with ostentatious rudeness and brutality. The king began to converse with him upon the condition of the nation, and to explain the reasons of his own conduct, saying that he wished to strengthen the government so far as to enable it to be a government, since France could not be a republic... “Not yet, indeed,” interrupted Pétion; “for the French are not ripe for a republic yet.” This brutal reply silenced the king, who spoke no more till he entered Paris.
The ladies offered refreshments to their new companions. Barnave said he had to occupy their Majesties with the serious business on which he was sent, but would not trouble them with his personal wants.
Pétion ate and drank greedily. He threw chicken-bones out of the window, past the king’s face; and when the Princess Elizabeth poured out wine for him, he jerked his glass, instead of speaking, to show that there was enough. He took Louis on his knees, and twisted his fingers in the child’s curly hair. When eager in conversation, he twitched the boy’s hair so as to make him call out. The queen held out her arms, saying, “Give me my son. He is accustomed to tender care, and to treatment very unlike this familiarity.”
The great coach entered Paris on the Saturday evening, slowly rolling on through hundreds of thousands of gazers. A placard had been stuck up through one region of the city, in the morning, declaring that whoever insulted the king should be caned: whoever applauded him should be hanged. The people were quiet, gaped and stared, and seemed neither very much pleased nor very angry. The king now began to speak once more. As one body of official personages after another met him, he said, over and over again, with an embarrassed sort of smile, “Well, here I am!” Again we cannot help thinking what a pity it was that he was not a locksmith, happy in his workshop in one of the meaner streets of Paris. As for his little son, how happy would Louis now have been to be the son of the poor herb-man in the wood of Bondy, gathering his dewy herbs in the fresh, free morning air and sunshine, and going to sleep at sundown, far from crowds and quarrels and fears! Never more was this unfortunate child in the open country. He had this day seen the last of green fields, breezy hills, and waving woods.
The couriers were the first objects of the people’s wrath. Some at length left off staring at the king and queen, and seizing the three men in yellow liveries, would have massacred them, if the Assembly had not sent a force to rescue them.
Glad was the poor queen to get out of sight of the hundreds of thousands of gazers, and to be within the courts of the Tuileries: but she found little comfort there. Three women only were appointed to wait on her; and those three were Madame R— the spy, her sister, and niece. It was only after the king had remonstrated with General Lafayette, that the queen could obtain the attendance of her former servants. She much needed the presence of some to whom she could speak without restraint; and yet this was an indulgence she found it prudent to wait for. Immediately on her arrival she caused these few lines, unsigned, to be forwarded by a faithful hand to Madame Campan:—“I dictate this from my bath, by which my bodily strength at least may be recruited. I can say nothing of the state of my mind. We exist: that is all. Do not return till summoned by me. This is very important.” It was not till seven or eight weeks after that Madame Campan saw her royal mistress. The queen was then rising from bed. She took off her cap, and showed her hair, white as any aged person’s, saying that it had become bleached in one night.
From this time forward, the National Guards stationed in the palace had orders never to lose sight of the royal family. They therefore, for some weeks, kept the doors open day and night, having their eyes upon the royal party all day, and upon their very beds at night. The queen caused a small bed to be placed between the door of her chamber and her own bed, that she might sleep or weep on her pillow without being exposed to the observation of her soldier-gaolers. One night, however, the officer who was on watch, perceiving that the queen was awake, and her attendant asleep, drew near her bed to give her some advice how she should conduct herself in regard to politics. The queen begged him to speak low, that her attendant might not be disturbed. The lady awoke, however, and was in terror when she saw with whom the queen was conversing. Her majesty then used the smooth and flattering tone which she always appeared to think her enemies would be pleased with, desiring the lady not to be alarmed, for that this officer was an excellent man, no doubt truly attached to the king, though mistaken as to what were the intentions of both the king and herself.
The king one day rose to shut the door of the room where he was sitting with his family. The guard immediately threw it open again, saying that he had orders to keep it open; and that the king would only give himself useless trouble by shutting it. The difficulty now was to find any opportunity for private conversation. This was done through the attachment of one of the guards, who often took a very disagreeable post which nobody else desired to have. This was in a dark corridor where candles had to be used all day, and where, therefore, no sentinel would like being on guard for twenty-four hours together, in the month of July. Saint Prix, an actor, devoted, however, himself to this service, for the sake of the king and queen, who often met here for short conversations. Saint Prix, on these occasions, retired out of hearing, and gave notice if he believed anyone was coming.
This extreme of insulting rigour did not last long this time. In August the family were allowed to open and shut their doors when they pleased, and the king was treated with more outward respect. The Assembly was then preparing a Constitution, which it was believed the king would sign; and it would be well that, at the time of doing so, he should appear in the eyes of the world as a king, and not a prisoner who acted merely upon constraint.
The new Constitution was prepared, and the king agreed to it; even sending a letter to the Assembly to propose to swear to the new Constitution in the place where it was framed,—in their chamber. The members were highly delighted: all Paris appeared highly delighted. The leaders of parties thronged to court: their majesties went to the theatres; and when the deputies from the Assembly came to the palace to assure the king how much satisfaction was felt at this agreement of all parties, the queen, the princess royal, and the dauphin stood looking on from a doorway behind. The king pointed to them, saying, “There are my wife and children, who feel as I do.”
All this, however, was false and hollow: all these celebrations were but melancholy mirth. All thinking persons must have known that the king could not really approve and rejoice in a new Constitution such as the people liked,—a Constitution which took from him many and great powers and privileges which he considered to be as truly his own as the throne itself. On the other hand, the royal family believed that this act was only one step towards the destruction of the monarchy altogether,—only one stage towards their own total ruin. So, while each party was applauding the other, and all wore smiles in public, there was no real confidence and joy except among the ignorant and thoughtless. After the queen had assured the deputies of her approbation and pleasure, she said, in the privacy of her apartment, “These people do not like having sovereigns. We shall be destroyed by their cunning and persevering management. They are levelling the monarchy stone by stone.”
The king felt the same. After professing the utmost satisfaction and delight at this settlement of affairs, and hearing from the Assembly, echoed by the acclamations of the people, that he had “obtained a new title of grandeur and of glory,” the king appeared at the door of the apartment to which the queen had retired after the ceremony,—his face so pale and so wretched that the queen uttered an exclamation as she looked at him. He sank into a chair, and covered his eyes with his handkerchief, saying, “All is lost! O, why were you a witness to this humiliation? Why did you come to France to see—” His words were choked by sobs. The queen had cast herself on her knees before him. She now exclaimed to Madame Campan, “Go! Go!” in a tone which conveyed, “Why do you remain to witness the humiliation of your king?”
All Paris was illuminated at night; and the royal family were invited to take a drive in the midst of the people. They were well guarded by soldiers, and received everywhere with acclamations. One man, however, with a prodigiously powerful voice, kept beside the carriage-door next the queen, and as often as the crowd shouted “Long live the king!” bawled out “No, no: don’t believe them. Long live the nation!” The queen was impressed with the same sort of terror with which she had seen the four wax-lights go out. Though panic-struck with this ominous voice, she dared not complain, nor ask to have the man removed. While the royal family were driving about the city in this false and hollow triumph, a messenger was setting off for the Austrian court, with letters from them expressive of extreme discontent and alarm at the present state of public affairs.
There were bursts of loyal feeling occasionally, which gratified the royal family; but these became fewer and fewer, as it was observed that they were not well taken by the leaders of the revolution. One day this summer, the Dauphin was walking on the terrace of the Tuileries. A grenadier took him in his arms, with some affectionate words; and everybody within sight cheered the child. Orders, however, soon came to be quiet on the terrace: the child was set down again, and the people went on their way.
Another day, Louis forgot his plan of being civil to everybody. He had hold of his mother’s hand; and they were going to walk in the gardens. A loyal sentinel, lately arrived from the country, made his salute so earnestly that his musket rang again. The queen saluted graciously: but Louis was in such a hurry that he was posting on through the gate. His mother checked him, saying, “Come, salute. Do not be unpolite.”
Some of the first difficulties which arose under the new Constitution, were of a kind which show how impossible it was for the royal family and the people ever to agree in their thoughts and feelings. The new law had provided a military, and also a civil, establishment for the royal household;—had provided what the king had declared a sufficient number of attendants, and described their offices,—doing away with many of the old forms, and with much of the absurd extravagance, of the old Court. It was now in the queen’s power to please the people by agreeing cheerfully to the new arrangements, and showing that she was not so proud and extravagant as she was reported to be. Instead of this, she clung to the old ways, after having declared her acceptance of the new. She would not appoint people to the offices agreed upon, saying that it was an injury to the old nobility to let them be turned out. To be sure, most of them had fled: but if they returned, what would they say, if they found their places filled, and the queen surrounded by persons of a lower rank? One noble lady at this time resigned an office she had been left in possession of, and said she could not stay now that she was deprived of her hereditary privilege of sitting on a stool unasked in the queen’s presence. This grieved the queen; and she said that this was, and would be, the way with the nobility. They made no allowance for her altered circumstances; but deserted her if she admitted to office persons of inferior rank. She could not do without this nobility: she said she could not bear to see nobody come to her card-parties,—to see no throng but of servants at the king’s rising and undressing. Rather than give up these old ceremonies, and this kind of homage, she broke through the only part of the Constitution that it was in her power to act upon, and insulted the feelings of the people. Barnave argued with her, but she would not yield.
The rejoicings for the new Constitution took place on the last day of September. During the rest of the year, the royal family, and the most confidential of their servants, were much employed in secret correspondence with the absent princes and nobility, and with the foreign Courts. Some of these letters were in cipher, and were copied by persons who knew nothing whatever of the meaning of what they were writing. The queen wrote almost all day long, and spent a part of the nights in reading. Poor lady! She could sleep but little.
Towards the end of the year, a new alarm arose, for which one cannot but think now there was very little ground; though no one can wonder that the unhappy family, and the police magistrates who had the charge of their safety, were open to every impression of terror. The king was told that one of his pastrycooks was dead; and that the man’s office was to be filled, of right, by a pastry-cook who, while waiting for this appointment, had kept a confectioner’s shop in the neighbourhood, and who was furious in his profession of revolutionary politics. He had been heard to say that any man would be doing a public service who should cut off the king; and it was feared that he might do this service himself, by poisoning the king’s pastry, now that he would have daily opportunities of doing so. The king was particularly fond of pastry, and ate a great deal of it. It would not do now suddenly to give up eating pastry, so as to set everybody in the palace inquiring why: besides, it does not seem to have occurred to the king, under any of the circumstances of his life, to restrain himself in eating. The new pastry-cook had nothing whatever to do but to make and roll out the crusts of pies and tarts; but it was thought so easy a matter to infuse a subtle poison into any of the dishes that stood about in the kitchen, that it was resolved that the king and queen should eat nothing that was brought thence, except roast meat, the last thing which anyone would think of poisoning. Other dishes were to be apparently half-eaten, and their contents conveyed away.
Here we see the absurdity of the old court-system, with its laws and formalities;—the system by which so many hangers-on were enriched, to the injury of better people than themselves: and by which the king himself was placed in a sort of bondage. Any shop-keeper in Paris might turn away his shop-boy for insolence; any tradesman’s wife might dismiss her cook for unwholesome cookery: but here was the sovereign of France compelled to retain in his service a man whom he believed to have said that it would be a meritorious act to murder him; and this man’s pastry must be admitted to the royal table every day! The man held the reversion to the office of king’s pastry-cook (the right to it when the occupant should die), and the right once acquired, the man could not, by court custom, be got rid of. Thus were court offices not open to merit; but conferred sometimes by favour, and sometimes for money; and greedily grasped at for the great profits they yielded. One wonders that the royal family did not discover that the new state of affairs, if it imposed some restrictions, might have freed them from many annoyances, if they could have suited their conduct to their affairs.—We shall now see what trouble was caused by the king’s being unable to turn away a kitchen servant whom he could not trust.
The bread and wine wanted for the royal table were secretly provided by a steward of the household. The sugar was purchased by Madame Campan, and pounded in her apartment. She also provided the pastry, of which the king was so fond; purchasing it as if for herself, sometimes of one confectioner and sometimes of another. All these things were locked up in a cupboard in the king’s study, on the ground-floor. The royal family chose to wait on themselves; so, when the table was spread, the servants went out, leaving a dumb-waiter and bell beside each chair. Then Madame Campan appeared with the bread, wine, sugar, and pastry, which were put under the table, lest any of the attendants should enter. The princesses drank no wine. The king drank about half a bottle; and when he had done he poured into the bottle from which he had drunk about half of that of which he dared not drink; and this latter bottle, with some of the pastry from the kitchen, was carried away by Madame Campan after dinner. At the end of four months, the heads of the police gave notice that the danger from poisoning was over; that the plans of the king’s enemies were changed, and that future measures would be directed against the throne, and not the life of the monarch. Meantime, did not every labouring man who could supply his family with bread take his meal in more cheerfulness and comfort than this unhappy king?
Everything went wrong. The royal party had never been remarkable for success in their undertakings; and now all that they did turned to their ruin. They corresponded at once with the emigrant princes, and with those leaders at home who were attached to the Constitution; and when, as might have been expected, they found that they could not please both, they distrusted and withdrew from those who were best able to help them. They would not follow Barnave’s advice. They believed General Dumouriez a traitor, and broke off from him when he was perfectly sincere in his wish to save them, and had more power to do so than all their emigrant friends together. They distrusted Lafayette; and when, a few weeks later, they were in deeper distress than ever, but might have been protected, and taken to Rouen by Lafayette’s army, the queen refused, saying in private that Lafayette had been offered to them as a resource, but that they had rather perish than owe their safety to the man who had most injured them, or even be obliged to treat with him. Thus, rejecting those who could help them, and relying on those who could not, this unwise and unhappy family went on to their ruin.
The foreign courts and emigrant princes were preparing to invade France; and the consequence was that the poor helpless king had to do an act which would have been ridiculous, if it were not too sad to laugh at. As pretended Constitutional King and Head of the Nation, he had to behave in public towards these foreign princes as if they were enemies, when it was for his sake that they were levying armies. By his private letters, written in cipher, and sent in secret, he was urging them to make haste to march to his rescue; and at the very same time he had to go to the Assembly and propose that they should declare war against these enemies of the nation. He said this with the tears in his eyes. It was on the 20th of April that he endured this humiliation. What man of spirit would not rather have taken one side or the other, at all hazards, than have played such a double part as this? If he could act with the people in reforming their affairs, well and good. If he could not,—if he believed them all wrong, and that it was his sacred duty to stand by the old order of things, how much more respectable it would have been to have said so,—to have declared, “You may imprison me—you may destroy me,—but I will stand by my throne and its powers!” In that case, the worst he could have been charged with would have been a mistake. As it was, he stood before the Assembly an object of universal contempt,—proposing, with tears in his eyes, a declaration of war against those who were preparing war at his desire, and for his sake; and everyone knowing that it was so.
He and the queen seemed never to have understood or believed what was carefully pointed out to them by the advisers whom they distrusted—that this making war in their behalf could not end well for them. If their foreign friends should be beaten, they would be left more helpless and despised than ever. If the French should be beaten, the frightened and angry people would be sure to treat with more and more rigour—and perhaps with fury—the family who had brought a foreign enemy upon them. Their advisers must have been glad at last to be rejected and dismissed; for it must have been provoking to discover, at every turn, the double dealing of the king and queen; and very melancholy to see them perpetually pursuing the exactly opposite course to that which was noble and wise. One wonders whether, if little Louis had lived to be a man, he would have been as ignorant, selfish, and unwise;—whether there is anything in belonging to the old royal family of France which stands between its princes and wisdom and knowledge. If so, one is less sorry that he died so early as he did.
Barnave’s last words impressed the feelings of the queen, but had no other effect. He begged to see her once more before he left Paris; and then withdrew from public affairs. He said, “Your misfortunes, madam, and those of the country, had determined me to devote myself to your service. I see that my advice does not accord with your majesty’s views. I augur little success from the plan which you have been induced to follow. You are too far from the help you rely on, and you will be lost before it can reach you. I earnestly hope that I may be mistaken in this prophecy. At all events, I am sure of losing my head for the interest I have felt in your affairs, and the services I have endeavoured to render you. I only ask as a recompense the honour of kissing your hand.”
The queen shed tears as she extended her hand to him, and often afterwards spoke of Barnave with regard. It does not appear, however, that either she or the king called in question their own conduct with regard to these men. They induced them to devote themselves to a most hazardous service—summoned them to secret interviews in the palace, in the night, in dark corridors, or on back staircases, where some spy or another was sure to see them, and report of them to the jealous people; and, after all this, they were dismissed, and left unprotected by the exact contrary of their advice being pursued. Barnave’s dismal predictions were all fulfilled. The royal family did sink down into destruction; and he himself perished, as he had foretold. He now left Paris, and married at Grenoble. The next August, less than three months after his last interview with the queen, his correspondence with her and the king was found in a chest in the palace; and orders were sent to arrest him, and imprison him at Grenoble. He lay in prison fifteen months, and was then brought to Paris, and tried for his life. He made a noble defence; but it was of no avail. He was beheaded on the 29th of October, 1793. When on the scaffold, he seemed suddenly struck with the infamy of the treatment he had met with on every side. He stamped with his foot, and exclaimed, “This, then, is the reward of all that I have done for liberty!” He was only thirty-two years of age. His unwise and miserable sovereign was not living to mourn the destruction he had brought on this high-minded man; and the fair royal hand which he had so desired to kiss had become cold in death some days before.
To return to the spring of 1792. The palace was now as dismal an abode as ever children grew up in. The king’s temper and manners gave way entirely. For ten days he never once spoke, except to say the words necessary in the game of backgammon, which he played with his sister every day after dinner. The queen kneeled to him, imploring him to exert himself. When this availed nothing, she endeavoured to arouse him by the most frightful representations she could make of the danger they were all in—a danger which increased every day, and which required that he should act, and not sit sulking, while the hours flew by which were bringing destruction on their heads. She sometimes expressed sympathy and tenderness; sometimes showed him his children, and besought him to act, for their sakes: and sometimes she asked him proudly whether, if they must perish, it would not be better to die with dignity and honour than to wait sullenly, as if inviting the rabble to come and tread their lives out on the floor of their own palace?
In one instance, she prevailed with him against his judgment; and in five days, after, bitterly repented it. There was no use in persuading him to a single spirited act now and then, when he had not resolution to follow it up by others: and so she found. In June, the Assembly wished to banish all the clergy, and to form a camp of twenty-thousand men, under the walls of Paris. The king would have agreed, telling the queen that the people only wanted a pretence for a general insurrection; and that it would burst forth at the moment of his refusing anything they wished. The queen, however, induced him to use his lawful power of disapproving and forbidding these measures. This happened on the 15th of June. When he declared to his ministers his intention of doing this, three days before, they remonstrated, and the wife of one of them, Madame Roland, wrote a letter, in her husband’s name, to the king; a letter so plain spoken that the king and queen could not brook it; and the ministry were all turned out next morning.
The angry people rose. Twenty-thousand of the poorest, dirtiest, and most savage, went to the magistrates in a body, to declare their intention of planting the Tree of Liberty on a terrace of the Tuileries, on the 20th; and of presenting, at the same time, petitions to the king against his late prohibitions about the priests and the army. It was easy to see what sort of petitions these were likely to be; but it had become difficult to make preparation for any expected public event,—there were so many opinions to be consulted, and so much suspicion was abroad.
Early in the morning of the 20th, a tall Lombardy poplar, which the people called their tree of liberty, was lying on a car in the lower part of the city, and the people were collecting in multitudes to make a procession with it to the palace. A messenger from the magistrates spoke to the people against their scheme; but they said they were only going to do what they had a right to do: it was lawful to petition; and that was their errand. So, on they went, their numbers being swelled by groups from every by-street on their way. They drew two pieces of cannon with them, and carried abundance of tricolour flags and ribbons; and also various significant emblems, one of which was a bullock’s heart with a spear through it, labelled “the Aristocrat’s heart.” The magistrates next met them: but again the crowd declared they intended only what was lawful, and pushed on.
They read their address in the Assembly, and then went, dancing and shouting, to plant their tree. The iron gates of the Tuileries were all shut, and National soldiers and cannon appeared within; so that the tree could not be planted on the terrace, as designed. There was a convent garden near, which served their purpose, and there was the tree of liberty erected.
While this was doing, the Assembly dispersed till evening. The crowd desired that the king would come out, and hear their petition. They waited and waited, pressing against the iron gates, till some were near being pressed to death, and were not in the better humour for that. The king did not appear. After a while, the guard within were told that, if the king would not come out to his people, his people would go in to him. As usual, there was no decision in the treatment of the people. After some hesitation, the guards opened one of the gates. The multitude swarmed in; rushed at a wooden door of the palace; shivered it; and the royal household were at once at their mercy.
Now at last the sovereign and his craving people met, face to face: met, too, that they might petition, and he reply. But they were no longer fitted for coming to an understanding. They despised him as weak, and a double-dealer; and he despised them for their ignorance, their tatters, and dirt. He showed this day that he was no coward. He was indolent, irresolute, and unable to act; but he could endure. After this day, no one could, unrebuked, call him a coward. When the mob began battering upon the door of the room in which he was, he ordered it to be thrown open. Some of the gentlemen of his household had rushed in through another door, and requested him to stand in the recess of a large window. They drove up a heavy table before him, and ranged themselves in front of it. They begged him not to be alarmed. “Put your hand on my heart,” replied the king, “and see if I am afraid.” The Princess Elizabeth flew to see what was doing to her brother. She heard fierce threats from the mob against the queen. They vowed they would have the blood of the mischievous Austrian woman. The attendants begged the princess to go away from this scene. “No,” said she, “let them take me for the queen, and then she may have time to escape.” They forced her away, however, with what emotions of admiration words cannot express.
The king demanded of the riotous crowd what it was that they wanted. They cried that they would have the patriot ministers back again, and no prohibition about the clergy and the army. The king replied that this was not the way, nor the time, to settle such matters. Those who heard him must have respected him for having at last given a good and decided answer. During the rest of the time, about three hours, he stood in the recess of the window, while the mob passed to and fro before the broad table which stood between him and them. At the very beginning of the scene one of the people handed him a red woollen cap, such as the furious revolutionary people had taken to wearing, to show their patriotism. This cap the king was bid to wear. He put it on; and it was matter of complaint against him afterwards by his aristocratic adherents, that he had worn the red cap for three hours. The fact was that he did not feel the cap on the top of his hair, matted with pomatum and powder as hair then was, and forgot it, till his family noticed it on his meeting them again. He declared himself thirsty, and a ragamuffin handing him a half-empty bottle, he drank from it.
The queen had attempted, with her children, to reach the room where the king was, but could not. Each seems to have believed that it was the intention of the mob to murder one or both of them, and there was much said of the murderers’ arms which were carried; but it does not now appear probable that there was any such intention. There was nothing to prevent its execution; for the multitude could in a moment have overpowered ten times the number of adherents that were about the royal family; and the Assembly were not seen or heard of till past six, when the mob had been parading about the palace for an hour and a half. However, the royal party did expect murder, and their suspense of three hours must have been terrible.
The queen was secured, like the king, behind a table. She put a large tricolor cockade upon her head, and placed the Dauphin on a table before her. There sat poor little Louis, with a great red woollen cap covering his head, down to his very eyes, seeing how his governess and the other ladies behind his mother were terrified, and perhaps finding out how his mother’s heart was swelling, and well-nigh bursting, while her face and manner were calm and dignified. He saw, too, the horrible things that were shown in the procession. The bullock’s heart was there; and there was a little gibbet, with a little doll hung to it, and his mother’s name written below. He heard many dreadful things said to her; but he also heard her answers, and saw that they pleased the people. One angry woman stood and railed at the queen. The queen asked whether she had ever seen her before, and whether she had ever done her any injury. “No,” said the woman; “but it is you who have done the country so much harm.”
“You have been told so; but you are mistaken,” said the queen. “Being the wife of the king of France, and mother of the Dauphin, I am a Frenchwoman. I shall never see my own country again; it is in France that I must be happy or unhappy. I was very happy till you began to hate me.” The woman was softened at once. She said, with tears, “I did not know you. I see now that you are good.”
The queen could not in the least comprehend the hatred of royalty, which had now become common. She could not comprehend it, because she was born royal; and it seemed to her as natural that princes should be served and obeyed by everybody below them as that children should be ruled by their parents. She also knew nothing of the miseries caused for long years past by the abuse of power by both kings and nobles, and by herself among the rest. Unconscious of all this, she could make nothing of what she heard this evening from a member of the Assembly.—Some of the members arrived at six o’clock, too late to do any good. The queen directed their notice to the broken doors, bidding them observe the outrageous way in which the home of the royal family had been violated. She saw signs of emotion in the countenance of Monsieur Merlin de Thionville, and observed upon it. Monsieur Merlin replied that he felt for her as a woman, a wife, and mother, but that she must not suppose that he shed a single tear for the king or the queen; that he hated kings and queens. It was the only feeling he had towards them; it was his religion.—Now, however extravagant this man’s feelings might be, and however harsh his expression of them, such sayings might have been a valuable lesson to one who could reflect and reason upon them, and diligently try to discover how such feelings could have grown up in millions of minds. This, however, the poor queen never thought of doing. She called it madness; and felt as if in Bedlam, while surrounded by those who were of the same mind as Monsieur Merlin.
At last the Mayor of Paris came. Monsieur Pétion was now mayor: the same who had pulled Louis’s hair, on the return from Varennes, a year before. He harangued the people: several others harangued; and at last the mob marched out through the broken doors of the violated palace. It was eight in the evening. When the members of this unhappy family could get to one another, again, when they felt that they were once more alone, they threw themselves into one another’s arms, weeping bitterly. The monarch and his people had met at last, face to face; and it was only to find that there was, and could be, no agreement between them. One of the parties must give way: the people were strong; the king was weak, and his ruin was now certain. Little Louis understood nothing of all this; but one wonders whether he could sleep that night,—whether he could forget the frightful procession he had seen filling the very rooms in which he lived.
The secret cipher letters went now faster than ever, and seem to have been so urgent about speedy help and rescue as to have appeared somewhat peevish to friends at a distance. The queen’s sister wrote from Brussels that she hoped the royal family did not doubt the anxiety of their friends: that the danger appeared indeed as pressing as it could be represented; but that some prudence was necessary on the part of those who were preparing help, and some patience on the part of those who were awaiting it.—Alas! It was difficult for the poor queen to be patient, expecting, as she did daily, the murder of the king. Though this fear seems to have been unfounded, it caused her as much suffering as if it had been just.—She had a breastplate made for the king, of silk many times folded, and well wadded, so that it would resist the blow of a dagger, and even a pistol-ball. This under-dress was made at Madame Campan’s house; and she brought it into the palace, wearing it as an under-petticoat, that no one might see it. For three days, in the beginning of July, did Madame Campan wear this heavy warm petticoat before an opportunity could be found for the king to try it on. The occasion for which it was wanted was the 14th of July, the anniversary of the destruction of the Bastille, and the date of the Independence of the Nation, as the nation chose to say: on which day the king was to appear in public.
When he tried on the breastplate, he said in a low voice to Madame Campan that he wore this to satisfy the queen, but that he was persuaded he should not be assassinated, but left to be disposed of in another way. The queen afterwards made Madame Campan repeat to her what the king had said, and then observed that this was not new to her: she had seen the king much occupied of late in studying the history of Charles the First of England. The king declared that he studied this history in order to learn how to avoid the errors of Charles in dealing with his people. Alas! If he had done so twenty years before, it is doubtful whether such study could have been of any use to a ruler who had neither the knowledge nor the spirit necessary for the times. Now it was by many years too late. No one believed in his sincerity: every one despised his weakness; and he was so humbled that no act of his could have the force or the grace of freedom. The history of Charles the First is indeed a most instructive lesson to kings: but it is a lesson which must be learned and used while kings are still sitting on an honoured and unshaken throne.
There were people enough in Paris grieved and shocked at the proceedings of the 20th of June to have made some stand in defence of the king,—some delay in the dissolution of society; and these people declared themselves by public acts, particularly by petitions to the Assembly. A man of spirit would have seized the occasion: and if the king had been such a man, he might possibly have risen from this point out of his misfortunes, and so have made a favourable day out of that most miserable one. But, as usual, the royal family overlooked the opportunity. They were so occupied in looking for help from Germany, that they had no attention, no trust, for friends nearer home. The Duke of Brunswick was coming with an army to rescue them. The people knew this well enough; and their panic about an invasion did not make them love the more the family at whose call the invaders were coming. On the 25th of July, the Duke of Brunswick began his march into France, and issued a proclamation which said that the whole French nation should be protected by him in rallying round their king; but that, if any parties should insult the king, or carry him away from Paris, such persons should be destroyed, and Paris blown to pieces with his cannon. As the French nation did not wish or intend to rally round their king, this proclamation made them furious, and caused the destruction of the royal family in a shorter time than it would otherwise have happened; if it had otherwise happened at all. Was ever such mournful folly heard of as marks the whole history of this unhappy king? One’s compassion, however, is chiefly for the three who were victims of this folly without sharing it. The king and queen brought much of their misery upon themselves; but the sweet Princess Elizabeth and the two children suffered without having sinned. The darkness of their lot was now gathering fast about them.
It was impossible, after the late proceedings, to consider the palace safe at any hour. The queen feared assassination for herself as a foreigner, and a trial for the king, preparatory to his death upon the scaffold; and she desired to guard against any seizure of papers, which might now take place at any time. She deposited her ready money in the hands of a faithful person; and the king employed his old companion, Gamin, the locksmith, to make, in great secrecy, a safe for papers in a place where no one would suspect its existence. This fellow betrayed the secret; first, luckily, to some friends; and the queen, hearing of this, persuaded the king to empty out the safe. Gamin afterwards publicly informed the enemies of the king of this cupboard, and moreover swore that the king attempted to poison him when it was done, that the secret might be safe. This absurd calumny was believed, like everything else that was said against the royal family; and the wretch had a pension given him. Such was the king’s reward for submitting, like a timid apprentice, to this man’s insolence, while learning lock-making from him, for ten years past.
General Lafayette came to Paris, to remonstrate, at the head of twenty-thousand petitioners, against the late treatment of the king. Of course, those who had done it looked coldly upon him; and so did the king. The king forbade his officers to support anything proposed by General Lafayette; and the queen refused to allow him to remove her and her family to the loyal city of Rouen. Lafayette, thus unsupported, had to hasten back to the army; and in this way the royal family insulted and dismissed the last person who could have rescued them from their impending fate.
Whenever even the children appeared out of doors, they experienced such insults that they left off going anywhere beyond the palace gardens, from which the public were excluded, in order to allow the family to take the air unmolested. Such cries, however, were heard from the terrace outside, that, after being twice driven in by them, the family gave up going out at all Louis had to give up his gardening, and the sight of the flowers he had sown, and to keep within doors all these long bright summer days.
The queen could not sleep much; and she ordered that neither the shutters nor blinds of her chamber should be closed, that the nights might appear less long. One night, as Madame Campan watched beside her, she fixed her eyes on the moon, and said softly, that before she saw the same moon next month, she and the king should be free. She declared that their affairs were now proceeding fast and well, and told how the army from Germany was to march, and how soon it might arrive. She admitted that there were alarming differences of advice and opinion among their followers, and spoke of the fatal consequences of the king’s irresolution; but still she hoped that another month would set them free. She was, as usual, completely mistaken. She found it so hard to bear the insults daily offered, even while expecting so speedy an end to them, that she declared she should have preferred imprisonment in a tower, on a lonely sea-shore, to her present condition. On their way through the corridor to the chapel, one Sunday, the king and she were greeted by the cry from some of the guards of “Long live the king!” but others broke in with “No, no; no king! Down with the veto!” This struck upon the queen’s heart; for it was she who had persuaded the king to put his veto, or prohibition, upon the banishment of the priests. When they were in the chapel, something worse happened. The passage “He bringeth down the mighty from their seat,” had to be sung; and when the choir came to it, they sang, or shouted it, three times as loud as any other part of the service. The king’s adherents were so angry at this that when the words came “And may the Lord keep the king in safety,” the royalists shouted out three times “And the Queen.” This indecent contention went on during the whole time of service; and the royal family found that they were no longer permitted even to worship in peace.
On the 9th of August, there was much noise and confusion throughout Paris; and it became known that an insurrection was to take place the next morning. Louis knew that something was dreaded, but he slept as usual. His servant, Cléry, put him to bed at half-past eight, while it was still daylight, and then went out, to try what he could learn of the proceedings of the people. The king and queen supped at nine o’clock. While Madame Campan waited on them at table, a noise was heard outside the door. Madame Campan went to see what it was. Two of the guards were fighting,—one abusing the king, and the other insisting that he was sincere in professing to stand by the Constitution. If the queen had not before given over all idea of safety, she would now have done so. She said she knew that some of their fiercest enemies were among their guards;—not their Swiss guards, but those who wore the national uniform.
This was a terrible night. It was oppressively hot; and the rooms of the palace were crowded with gentlemen, adherents of the court, who had come to devote themselves finally for their king and his family. The Swiss guards,—picked Swiss soldiers, strong and brave, hired to guard the person and palace of the sovereign,—stood silently at their posts, their red uniforms contrasting with the black clothes of the seven hundred gentlemen who waited to see what they were to do. Though these seemed a large number when collected under a roof,—though the rooms were so full that the windows had to be thrown open, and the mayor Pétion went down to walk in the gardens because the heat was so oppressive within, this was no force to oppose to a siege from the population of Paris. The king caused the plan of defence, prepared by General Vioménil, to be communicated to an officer, who said to Madame Campan, “Put your jewels and money into your pockets. There is no chance for us. The measures of defence are good for nothing. Our only chance is in the resolution of the king; and with all his virtues, he has not that.”
Never yet had the king cut such a wretched figure as on this occasion. He often congratulated himself on no blood having been shed by his order: and this was one of his dying consolations. It seems never to have occurred to him that his weakness caused more destruction than even cruelty would have done. It caused not only the loss of many lives; it encouraged the breaking up of society from its very foundations; it spared the wicked, while it betrayed the faithful. It did moral injury, which it may be worse to have to answer for in the end than some acts of bloodshed. He would not have half a dozen shots fired to make a way for his coach over the bridge of Varennes; but he deserted, without a moment’s scruple, his devoted Swiss guards, as we shall see; and as he refused to suffer with them, he may be considered answerable for their lives.
The clang of bells was heard by the inmates of the palace, as they stood, this summer night, by the open windows. Steeple after steeple rang out; and every one knew that this was the token of insurrection in the respective parishes. Pétion had been sent for, to answer for what was doing; he had not been civilly treated within doors, as might be supposed,—the king speaking very roughly to him. He could not get away again, as the gates were all guarded, and no one allowed to pass; so that the only thing he could well do was to walk in the gardens.
At four in the morning, the National Assembly sent for him, to appear and give an account of Paris. Considering that he had been pacing the garden walks all night, the Mayor of Paris was as little able as anybody to give an account of the city; but he was glad to get away, considering his situation one of great danger.
The number of the Swiss guards was a thousand. Their post was within the Tuileries. Outside were squadrons under the command of Mandat, a loyal officer, who kept them ranged with their cannon round the outer enclosures of the palace. Just at dawn, Mandat was sent for by the magistrates of the city, and went alone, suspecting no danger. To his amazement, he found that, with the exception of the mayor and one or two more, the entire magistracy was changed, and now composed of furious revolutionary men. They arrested him, and ordered him to prison; but the mob seized him on the steps, and murdered him. The question next was, what his soldiers would do now they had lost their commander. They were hungry and weary; and were heard to say how sad it would be to fire upon their own countrymen—how much easier to side with them. Now was the moment for the king to speak and act. Now he was told what a gloomy and uncertain temper these squadrons were in. He owed it to his office, to his family, to his adherents, to his Swiss guards, to endeavour to confirm these soldiers in their duty to him. A word, a look, a gesture might, in the right moment, have done it. What did he do?
In the middle of the night, while all was supposed to be well among the soldiers outside, the king had retired for a while. When he appeared again, on the arrival of fresh tidings, it was seen, by the powder being rubbed off from one side of his head, that he had been lying down to get a little sleep. The queen and Princess Elizabeth also withdrew; but not to sleep. They went, with Madame Campan to attend upon them, to a small room on the ground-floor, where they lay down on couches. In preparing to lie down, the princess took out the cornelian pin which fastened her dress, and showed Madame Campan what was engraved upon it. It was the stem of a lily, with the inscription, “Oblivion of wrongs: forgiveness of injuries.”
“I fear,” said the princess, “our enemies do not regard that maxim: but we must, nevertheless.” The ladies conversed sadly enough, but little imagining what was happening to Mandat. At last they heard a shot. They sprang from their couches, observing that this was the first shot, but would not be the last. They must go to the king. They did so, desiring Madame Campan to follow, and to be in waiting with the other ladies.—At four o’clock, the queen came out of the king’s apartment, saying that she had no longer any hope whatever, as Mandat was killed. Yet the king was going out to review the squadrons who had lost their commander; and the wife of a resolute and spirited king would not have been without hope. She would have hoped much from the king’s presence and appeal. It was because she knew the king so well that she had no hope.
Orders were given for Louis to be taken up and brought immediately: and he was presently ready,—at a little before five, when (it being the 10th of August) it was quite light. His sister appeared too, and the whole family went out to review the soldiers, as it was said, and to see the preparations for defence. Louis had hold of his father’s hand. At first, a few voices cried “Long live the king!” but the king, pale and silent, walked on without taking any notice; and in a few moments there was a long growl, which burst into a clamour of “Long live the nation!” Some of the gunners thrust themselves forward, and shook their fists in the king’s face, uttering the grossest insults. Some of the attendants pushed them back; but the king, now white as the wall, said not a word. Followed by the ladies of his family, he walked along the line, and back again, leaving nothing but contempt behind. “All is lost,” said the queen to Madame Campan, as she entered her apartments: “the king showed no energy; and this review has done nothing but harm.” What a lot was hers! To be dragged down, with her children, to destruction, by the apathy of a husband, while she herself had spirit enough to have ruled an empire, but must not now exert it, because it would exasperate the people to have the foreigner, the Austrian, meddle with the affairs of France!
What was to be done next? The Swiss, and the gentlemen and servants of the court, were all that now remained to be depended upon. The Swiss stood firm as their own Alps. The household arranged themselves in the apartments, armed, and ready for the assault from without: though no one of them could have hope of victory, or any expectation but of destruction. In this terrible hour, however, they jested; and upon a melancholy subject. They were miserably armed; and they quizzed one another and themselves for the appearance they made. None had more than a sword and a pair of pistols: one page had only a single pocket-pistol; and another page and equerry had broken a pair of tongs, and taken each a half.
The insurgents were now surrounding the Tuileries, and filling the neighbourhood: and it seemed probable that the gunners, placed outside for the defence of the palace, would turn their cannon against it. The king sent a messenger to the Assembly, to request them to depute some of their body to be a safeguard to the throne in this extremity. The Assembly took no notice of the message; but went on with their regular business.
The magistrate of the district saw now, from the temper of the people outside, no chance but of destruction to every individual within the palace, if once the siege began. The error was in ever pretending to make a defence, while such a helpless being as the king must be the one to give orders. It was too late to help that now. There were the cannon, with the gunners surlily asking whether it was expected of them to fire upon the people: and there were the people, too many and too angry to be got rid of. The magistrate of the district, Roederer, visited the palace, and begged a private interview with the king. He was shown into a small apartment, which the king and queen entered. Roederer proposed their going over to the Assembly without a moment’s delay, to commit themselves and their children to the protection of the representatives of the people. “No, no!” exclaimed the queen, blushing, no doubt, at the thought of the infamy of deserting, at the fatal moment, their adherents, their steady Swiss, and the servants of the household. Roederer told her that by remaining she would render herself responsible for the lives of the whole family; for that no power could save them within the walls of the palace. She said no more. The king sat, the picture of indifference, with his hands upon his knees, listening. When there was a pause, and he must say something, he looked over his shoulder to the queen, and said, “Let us go.”
As they left the apartment the queen told Madame Campan to remain till either the family should return, or she should be sent for to join her mistress,—no one knew where. The family never returned.
Only two ladies were permitted to accompany them,—the Princess de Lamballe and Madame de Tourzel. In order to fulfil her duty,—in order not to desert Louis,—his governess was compelled to leave her daughter Pauline, only seventeen years old, in this besieged palace, among the soldiers. Pauline escaped with life and safety, and joined her mother soon after.
As the king walked through the apartments of the palace, followed by his family, Roederer went before him, saying, “Make way! The king is going to the Assembly.” How these words must have pierced the hearts of his devoted servants, of his faithful Swiss! This was the reward of their brave fidelity! The king was leaving those who were ready to die rather than desert him. He was going to walk out at an open door, while they were shut in, to be shot down like game in an enclosure.
The family had but a short way to go; and their passage to the Assembly was watched from the windows by some of the doomed friends whom they left behind. They walked between two rows of guards; but were yet so pressed upon that the queen was robbed of her watch and purse. Louis held his mother’s hand, and amused himself with kicking the dead leaves as he walked. A gigantic man, a ringleader of the mob, snatched up the boy, and carried him. The queen screamed with terror, and was near fainting: but the man said, “Do not be frightened: I will do him no harm.” He merely carried him, and then set him down at the gate, where a deputation from the Assembly came out, to meet the royal family. From the palace windows the royal family were seen to enter that gate; and those who saw it well knew that all hope for the royal cause was now over.
The assailants without and the defenders in the outer court of the Tuileries did not know of the departure of the royal family; and the battle therefore began with fury. The gentlemen and servants had now only to think of saving themselves as they could. Some escaped from windows, and others under disguises: but many were murdered. The fate of the Swiss was dreadful. They fought bravely, and kept their ranks. At last, a messenger arrived with a written order from the king that they should cease firing. But they were still fired upon from without. They knew not what to do, and dispersed. Some few reached the Assembly, and were sheltered there. Some few more fled into private houses; but, as for the rest, their blood streamed on the floor of the palace, and their bodies blocked up the doorways. Some lay dead on the terraces, and others were shot down from street to street as they fled, fighting their way. From fifty to eighty were marched as prisoners to the Hall where the magistrates were sitting: but the crowd broke in upon them on the way, and slaughtered them every one. Their last thought might well have been, “Put not your trust in princes.” But perhaps more painful thoughts still were in their fainting hearts; and before their swimming eyes might be visions of their homes in the Swiss valleys, and their wives and children singing of them, while tending the cows on the mountain side. Yet the king who, by his orders and arrangements, gave them over to such a death as this, and deserted them at the crisis, was for ever consoling himself with the thought that not a drop of blood had ever been shed by his command.
In the neighbourhood of Lucerne, in Switzerland, there is a monument to the memory of these men. Above a little lake rises a precipitous face of rock. In the midst of this the monument is hollowed out. The Swiss lion, wounded and dying, grasps with its failing claws the French shield, with the royal lilies upon it.—If the king had sent his family to the Assembly for safety, and himself remained to fall with his adherents, this monument would not have been, as it is now, a reproach upon his memory, durable as Swiss honour and as the everlasting rock.
The royal family were placed for three days in a forsaken monastery, where four cells were allotted to them and their attendants. There Madame Campan went to them on the 11th. In one cell the king was having his hair dressed. In another, the queen was weeping on a mean bed, attended by a woman, a stranger, but civil enough. The children soon came in, and the queen lamented bitterly over them, mourning that they should be deprived of so fine an inheritance as this great kingdom; for she now knew, she said, that the monarchy was really coming to an end. She spoke of the kingdom, with its many millions of inhabitants, as she would have spoken of a landed estate with the animals upon it,—as a property with which monarchs ought to be able to do what they like. Such was her idea of royalty. She lamented in this crisis over her boy’s loss of the crown, as if that were the greatest of the misfortunes that awaited him—as if he could not possibly be happy anywhere but on the throne. Such was her idea of human life. She was brought up with such ideas, and was to be pitied, not blamed, for acting and feeling accordingly.
She mentioned to Madame Campan her vexation at the king having been so eager about his dinner, and having eaten and drunk so heartily in the presence of malignant strangers, on that dreadful day, and in this miserable place. She need not have minded this so much; for everybody now knew the king and his ways, and how he never dreamed, under any circumstances, of not eating and drinking as usual.
The departure from the Tuileries had been so sudden that the family had at first only the clothes that they wore. Louis would have wanted for clean linen, if the lady of the English ambassador had not kindly thought of the poor boy, and sent him some clothes.
On the 13th, the family were removed to the prison of the Temple; and Madame Campan, and almost all the servants of the royal household, lost sight of their master and mistress for ever. It was seven in the evening when the removal to the Temple took place; and then there was so much disputing about where the family should be accommodated, whether in the tower of the building or another part of it, that poor Louis, though overcome with sleep, had to sit up while his father and mother supped. At eleven o’clock Madame de Tourzel took him to the Tower, to find some place where he might go to rest. When the others lay down, at one in the morning, there was no preparation made for their comfort. The Princess Elizabeth, with her waiting-woman, slept in the kitchen. Louis, with his governess and lady-attendant, slept in the billiard-room. It was all confusion and discomfort. The next morning, Louis was taken to breakfast with his mother; and then all went together to see the best rooms in the Tower, and arrange how they were to be occupied.
It soon became unnecessary to plan for so many people; for an order arrived for the royal attendants to be removed, to make room for a new set appointed by the Common Council. The king and queen refused to be waited upon by strangers, who were, no doubt, to act as spies: but their own people were removed notwithstanding. On the night of the 19th, the king’s valets were carried off; and then the Princess de Lamballe, and Madame de Tourzel and her daughter, and even the waiting-women. Louis was taken up, and carried to his mother’s apartment, that he might not be left quite alone. He probably slept after thus losing his governess a second time: but his mother and aunt did not. They were too anxious to think of sleeping: too anxious to know what to believe, and whether, as they had been assured, they should see their companions again in the morning. In the morning, instead of the ladies, came the news that they were all removed to another prison. At nine o’clock, one of the king’s valets reappeared. He alone had been pronounced innocent of any offence, and permitted to return to his master.
Cléry, the Dauphin’s valet at the Tuileries, had been on the watch for an opportunity of returning to his office, after having been left behind on the dreadful 10th of August, when his life had been in the utmost danger. He now heard that the mayor was about to appoint two more servants to wait on the king and the dauphin; and he so earnestly entreated that he might be one, that he obtained the appointment. No one was more pleased than Louis to see Cléry again.
It was on the 26th of August, at eight in the evening, that Cléry entered once more upon his service. The queen desired him to resume his attendance upon the Dauphin, and to unite with the king’s valet in rendering the family as comfortable as they could. The princesses had now been eight days without the attendance of their women; and their hair much needed proper combing and arranging. At supper they asked Cléry whether he could dress their hair. His reply was, that he should be happy to do whatever they desired. The officer on guard commanded him aloud to be more guarded in his replies. Poor Cléry was aghast at finding that he must not be civil in his expressions to his master and mistress.
Cléry did not devote himself exclusively to the service of the Dauphin; for there were at first few, and latterly no other servants than himself, except a man named Tison, and his wife, who did the rough work of the chambers for a time.
The way in which the royal prisoners passed their days, for some few months, was as follows:
The king rose at six in the summer, and at seven as winter came on. He shaved himself, and then Cléry dressed his hair, and finished his toilette. The king retired to a small turret-chamber, which he made his study, and there kneeled at his prayers, and read religious books till nine o’clock, his guard always taking care that the door was half-open; so that the king could not even kneel to pray in entire privacy.—Meantime Cléry made the bed, and prepared the room for breakfast, and then went down to take up little Louis. After washing and dressing him, he dressed the queen’s hair, and then went to the other princesses, to do the same service for them. This was the opportunity seized for telling the family any news he had been able to obtain of what was going on out of doors. It was almost the only occasion on which he could speak without being overheard by the guards: and even this was contrived with caution. Cléry showed, by an appointed sign, that he had something to say; and one of the princesses engaged the guard at the door in conversation, while Cléry whispered his news into the ear of the other, as he bent over her head, to dress her hair.—At nine, the princesses and Louis went up to the king’s apartment to breakfast, when Cléry waited upon them, making haste, when the meal was done, to go down and get the other beds made. At ten, the whole family came down to the queen’s apartment, and began the business of the day. Louis said his geography lesson to his father, read history with his mother, and learned poetry by heart; and did his sums with his aunt. His sister did her lessons at the same time. Hers lasted till twelve, while Louis’s were over by eleven, when he played by himself for an hour. The queen generally worked at her tapestry-frame; but sometimes she wrote out extracts from books for her daughter’s use. When she did this, and when the young princess wrote out sums into her cyphering-book, the officer on guard used to stand looking over their shoulders, to see that they did not, under false pretences, carry on any secret correspondence. It is believed that they did so, notwithstanding all this vigilance; but how they contrived it will probably never be known; for, of course, they have not told their plan, and their gaolers were not aware of it.
At twelve o’clock the ladies changed their dress in the Princess Elizabeth’s room, before going out to walk in the garden. The king and queen did not relish this daily walk in the garden, because they rarely went without being insulted: but they persevered as long as the practice was permitted, for the sake of the children. That Louis, particularly, might have air and exercise, they would have made a point of going out, in all but the very worst weather. They were, however, allowed no choice. Wet or dry, rain or shine, out they must go, at the same hour every day, because the outside guard was changed at that hour; and the officer chose to see, without trouble to himself, that the prisoners were all safe. Several guards were always in attendance upon the steps of the family as they walked; and there was only one walk which they might enter, because workmen were rebuilding the walls in other parts of the inclosure. Louis would thus have benefited little by the hour or two out of doors, if it had not been for good Cléry, who seems to have found time to do everything that could serve or please the family. Cléry went out with them every day, and kept Louis at play the whole time,—sometimes at football,—sometimes at quoits,—sometimes at running races.
This daily walk did not long continue the practice of the family; and, though they thought it right not to give it up themselves, some of them were very glad when it was over. Their gaoler treated them with intolerable insolence. He would not stir till they reached the door they were to pass out at, and then made a prodigious jingling with his great bunch of keys, and kept them waiting, under pretence of not being able to find the key: then he made all the noise he could in drawing the bolts; and, stepping before them, stood in the doorway, with his long pipe in his mouth, with which he puffed smoke into the face of each of the princesses as she passed,—the guard bursting into loud laughs at each puff. Wherever they went, the prisoners saw a guillotine, or a gallows, or some vile inscription chalked upon the walls. One of these inscriptions was, “Little cubs must be strangled.” Others threatened death, in a gibing way, to the king or the queen. Cléry one day saw the king reading some such threat of death, and would have rubbed it out; but the king bade him let it alone.
They had one object of interest in their walks, which, however, they were obliged to conceal. Certain of their devoted friends obtained entrance to the houses whose back windows commanded this garden, and, though afraid to make signals, looked down upon the forlorn party with sympathy which was well understood. Cléry one day believed that Madame de Tourzel had watched them during their walk; a lady very like her had so earnestly followed Louis with her eyes through his play. He whispered this to the Princess Elizabeth, who shed tears on hearing it; so persuaded had the royal family been that Madame de Tourzel had perished.—It was not she however: neither had she perished. She was at one of her country estates, hoping that she was kindly remembered by the royal family, and forgotten by their enemies.
One of the most important pieces of intelligence that reached them, they first learned in the course of their walk. A woman at a window which overlooked the garden watched the moment when the guards turned their backs, and held up for an instant a large sheet of pasteboard, on which was written “Verdun is taken.” The Princess Elizabeth saw and read this. The woman no doubt thought this good news; and perhaps they, too, were pleased that their friends and the foreign army were fairly in France, and had taken a town on the road to Paris: but we shall see how it turned out to be anything but good news.—After a few weeks they walked no more in the garden, and had only such air and exercise as they could obtain upon the leads of the Temple.
From their walk they came in to dinner at two o’clock, where Cléry was again ready to wait, when he became the only remaining servant. This was the hour when Santerre the brewer, now commanding the National Guard of Paris, came daily, with two other officers, to examine all the apartments inhabited by the family. The king sometimes spoke to him,—the queen never.
After dinner, the king and queen played piquet or backgammon; not because they could enjoy at present any amusement of the kind, but because they found means, while bending their heads together over the board, to say a few words unheard by the guard. At four o’clock, the ladies and children left the king, as it was his custom to sleep at this hour. At six Cléry and Louis entered the apartment, and Cléry gave the boy lessons in writing, and copied, at the king’s desire, passages from the works of Montesquieu and others, for the use of the Dauphin. Then Cléry took Louis to his aunt’s room, where they played at ball, and battledore and shuttlecock, till Louis’s supper-time, at eight o’clock. Meanwhile the queen and the Princess Elizabeth read aloud, till eight o’clock, when they went to Louis, to sit beside him while he had his supper. Then the king amused the children with riddles, which he had found in a collection of old newspapers. All kindly exerted themselves to send Louis cheerful to bed. He was too young, they thought, to lie down with so sad a heart as they each had every night in their prison.
However busy Cléry might be, he never failed to be in the king’s little study at seven o’clock. Regularly at that hour every evening, a crier stood in the street, close by the tower of the Temple, and proclaimed what had been done that day in the Assembly, the Magistrates’ Hall, and in the army. This crier was no doubt sent, or induced to stand in that particular place, by friends of the royal family. In the little turret-room, while all was silent there, Cléry could catch what the crier said: and he found means to whisper it to the queen when she had heard Louis say his prayers, and when Cléry put him into bed.
Louis had added to his prayer one for the safety and welfare of Madame de Tourzel. He had so well learned the temper and feelings of the guards that were always about the family, that when one of them stood near enough to hear the words of his prayer, he repeated the parts in which persons were named in a whisper.
At nine o’clock, Cléry went down to wait at supper. As the Dauphin was never to be left alone, while such guards stood about, his mother and aunt took it in turn to sit beside him; and Cléry brought up supper for whichever of them it might be. This afforded opportunity for a few more words of news, if there was any to tell.
After supper the king attended his wife, sister, and daughter to the queen’s apartment, shook hands with them as he said good-night, and retired to his little study, where he read till midnight. The guard was changed at midnight; and the king would never go to rest till he knew who was to be on guard. If it was a stranger, he would learn his name. This kept Cléry up too. After he had assisted the king to undress, he lay down on his small bed, which he had placed beside that of the king, in order to be at hand in case of danger.
Such was the course of the weary days of this unhappy family’s imprisonment. The king does not seem to have been troubled by any suspicion that they were all here through his fault; and there was nothing in their conduct to remind him of it. They could not but have felt it; but they probably did not blame, but only mourned over him. His quietness they called heroism, and his indolent content, patience. His worst weaknesses were hidden here, where there was nothing to be done. The queen would have been better pleased if he had never spoken to any of their gaolers; but, upon the whole, they managed to persuade themselves and each other that he was a martyr suffering in piety and patience. We should have thought better of him if he had shown himself capable of self-reproach for having done nothing in defence of his crown, his family, and friends, but much towards the destruction of all. If he had been brave and sincere, however ignorant and mistaken, his family would now have been in a condition of honour and safety, though perhaps exiles from France.
These dreary days were varied by the arrival of bad news; never of good,—though the taking of Verdun at first looked like good news. It does not appear to have occurred to the king that, though his brothers and other friends were nearer than they had been, his most deadly enemies were nearer still,—close round about him, and sure to be made more cruel by every alarm given them by his allies. The nearer the army approached, the greater was the danger of the prisoners. A few minutes after the Princess Elizabeth had read the words on the pasteboard, a new guard arrived, in a passion of fear and anger. He bade them all go in; he arrested and carried off Cléry’s fellow-servant, whom they never saw again, though he got off with a month’s imprisonment. While the valet was packing up his clothes, the guard kept shouting to the king, “The drum has beat to arms: the alarm-bell is ringing: the alarm-guns have been fired: the emigrants are at Verdun. If they come here, we shall all perish; but you shall die first.” On hearing this, Louis burst into an agony of tears, and ran out of the room. His sister followed, and tried to comfort him. He saw that his father was not frightened. The king was full of hope; but there was more reason for Louis’s terror than for his father’s expectation of deliverance. Many warnings of the kind occurred, but the king never believed them. One of his guards said to him, one night, that if the invaders advanced, the whole royal family would certainly perish. This man declared that many people pitied the little boy; but that, as the son of a tyrant, he must die with the rest.
The fears of the disorderly people of Paris, who knew that they were ill prepared for an invasion, made them desperate; and they began murdering before the very gates of the prison, all whom they supposed to be the king’s friends, and therefore their enemies. It was not likely that the Princess de Lamballe should escape,—she who had been the superintendent of the royal household, and the intimate friend of the queen;—she who, after having been in safety in London, had gone back to France, to share the fortunes of her mistress and friend. This news of the taking of Verdun cost her her life; and a multitude more were massacred during the next three days.
In the night after the news came, the queen, who could not sleep, heard the drums rolling continually. The next day, the 3rd of September, as she was sitting down to backgammon with, the king, at three o’clock, a great clamour was heard in the street. The officer on guard in the room shut the window, and drew the curtains,—knowing well what was the matter. Cléry at this moment entered. The queen asked him why he was not at dinner. He replied that he was indisposed,—and well indeed he might feel so. He had just sat down to dinner with Tison and his wife, when something was held up at the window which he knew at a glance to be the head of the Princess de Lamballe. He ran to prevent the queen’s hearing of it, if possible.
The king asked some of the officers if his family were in danger; and was told that the people had heard that the royal prisoners had left the Temple, and were crying out for the king to appear at a window; but that this was not to be allowed, as the people must learn to have more confidence in their magistrates. Meantime, curses of the queen were heard without; and one of the guard told her that the people wanted to show her her friend’s head, that she might see how tyrants were to be served; and that if she did not go to the window, the people would come up to her.
The queen dropped in a fainting-fit; and the brute left the room. The Princess Elizabeth and Cléry lifted the queen into an arm-chair; and Louis helped his sister to try to revive their mother. He put his arms about her neck, and his tears fell upon her face. When she revived, they were glad to see her shed tears. They all went into the Princess Elizabeth’s room, where the noise from without was less heard. There the queen stood, silent and motionless, and apparently unaware of all that was said and done in the room. Yet this was the time chosen by a messenger from the mayor for settling some accounts with the king. This man, not understanding the queen’s misery, thought, when he saw her lost and motionless, that she remained standing out of respect to him!
The noise continued for two hours; and it is believed that the mob would have burst the doors, and murdered the family, if an officer of the magistrates had not fastened a tricolor ribbon across the great gate,—a symbol which the people always respected. This officer made Cléry pay, out of the king’s money, for this ribbon, which cost somewhat less than two shillings.
The queen had not slept the night before; this night, her daughter and sister heard her sobs the whole night through, while the continual roll of the distant drums prepared them for new horrors. Nothing more occurred to alarm them, however, for some weeks; and it was long before they knew that the massacre which began on that dreadful day was carried on through the two next.
Whatever hopes the king had from abroad soon grew fainter. The army began to retreat before the end of September. One of the reasons of this was that the king’s brothers and friends had misled the sovereigns of other countries, by saying that the French nation generally were attached to the king, and that the country people would rise in his favour all along the line of march. They may have believed this themselves: but it was a great mistake; and when the foreign forces entered France, they found the country people universally their enemies. They would not furnish food, or any other assistance, and deserted their homes to join the revolutionary forces. Thus, the foreign troops could not get on; and before a month was out, they were retreating, having done the royal cause nothing but harm by taking Verdun.
The people of Paris, encouraged and delighted, now declared royalty abolished in France. The gaolers at once left off calling the family by their titles, and objected to Cléry’s making any requests in the name of the king, whom, to his face, they called Louis or Capet. A shoemaker, named Simon, was always in office in the Temple, superintending the management of the prison in some of its departments. This man prided himself upon his rudeness, and would now sometimes say, in the king’s hearing, “Cléry, ask Capet if he wants anything, that I may not have the trouble of coming up a second time.”
Some new linen being at last sent (after the princesses had been obliged to mend their clothes every day, and to sit up to mend the king’s after he was in bed), the sempstresses were found to have marked the linen, as usual, with crowned letters; and the princesses were ordered to take out the marks before they were allowed to wear the clothes. As it was found that some correspondence was carried on between the prisoners and their friends without, and the means could not be detected, all their employments looked suspicious in the eyes of their gaolers. After pen, ink, and paper had been forbidden, the queen gave directions to Cléry as to what should be done with some chair-covers of tapestry-work which she and her sister-in-law had worked for their amusement; but the guard would not let them be sent out of the prison, as they were supposed to contain hieroglyphic figures, which would be understood by the lady to whom they were directed. One day, when Louis was by his mother’s side, studying a multiplication-table which Cléry had made for him, at her desire, the guard interfered, saying that he was afraid the queen was teaching her son a cipher-language, under pretence of giving him lessons in arithmetic. So the poor boy learned no more arithmetic. While reading history with her son, the queen had many lectures to undergo about giving him a republican education,—lectures which were cruel because they were perfectly useless. The queen knew nothing about republicanism, beyond what she had seen of late in Paris; and she had seen nothing which could induce her to instruct her child in its favour.
Everything that came in and went out was searched; but yet it does not appear that the real means of communication were discovered. The macaroons were broken, the fish cut open, the walnuts split, in search of notes; and none were found. A book which the Princess Elizabeth wished to return to the person who had lent it to her, had all the margins cut off, lest there should be writing on them in invisible ink. The washing-bills, and all paper wrappers, were held to the fire, under the same suspicion: and all the folds of the linen from the wash were examined for hidden notes.
Once there was a fancy that the king wished to poison himself; and the guards made poor Cléry swallow some essence of soap, bought for the king to shave with. All these things show the dread entertained by the newly freed people of being crushed by foreign powers, and the opinion that prevailed of the selfishness and tyrannical habits of the king and queen. The jealousy and cruelty from which they were now suffering were signs, perhaps, of the ignorance of the people; but they told quite as plainly of a condition of desperate fear. If they had known the truth, they might have discovered that their persecutors were not less wretched than themselves. In point of ignorance of one another’s views, wishes, and intents, and of the means of securing the welfare of a nation, it might be difficult to say which party was the least fit to govern.
Now that royalty was declared to be abolished, the family must have pondered night and day what was to become of them, if a foreign army did not come to release them; of which there seemed less chance now than on that summer night when the queen had gazed at the moon, and hoped that another month would restore her to freedom and dignity. She could not now avoid supposing that they might be got rid of by death: yet she heard rumours of another fate. One day she was told that her husband and son were to be imprisoned for life in the castle of Chambord. The king was under forty years of age, and it was early for him to have to quit the activity and enjoyment of life: but what must she have felt as she looked upon her boy, not yet eight years old, and imagined him mured up in a fortress for as long as he might live! She seems to have felt more keenly than anything else any fear or vexation caused to her boy; which was natural enough, as he was the youngest of the party. Almost the only time when she showed any impatience at the behaviour of their guards was when one of them waked Louis suddenly one night, to see whether he was safe in bed.
Their sorrows increased as time went on. The king was separated from his family: but when the queen’s grief alarmed the gaolers, the party were allowed to take their meals together, on condition of their speaking so as to be heard, and only in French. It now became more necessary than ever for Cléry to learn what he could of what was passing out of doors; and Louis helped in a plan by which Cléry was to tell whatever he could learn. Louis and his sister now played battledore and other games after dinner, in an outer room, their aunt sitting by with her book or work. Cléry sat down with his book, and the children made all the noise they could with their play, that Cléry might speak to the princess unheard by the guard. Neither he nor the princess raised their heads from their books, and Cléry moved his lips as little as he could; so that no one who was not listening could have supposed that he was speaking.
The Dauphin cheered and amused his parents by his childish fun and little pranks; but yet, every one observed that he never forgot that he was in a prison. It was painful to see a boy so young acting with the caution of an old person, from the consciousness of being surrounded by enemies. Some of his caution was owing to fear, and some to the gentleness of his temper. He was never heard to speak of the Tuileries or of Versailles, though it was certain that he had a vivid remembrance of the kind of life he had led there. He thought it would grieve his parents to be reminded of their palaces, and of the days of their power. One morning, he declared, when asked, that he had seen before an officer who came to guard them for the first time. The officer asked him repeatedly where he had seen him, but Louis would not say. At last, he whispered to his mother, “It was when we were coming back from Varennes.” When any guard more civil than the rest appeared on duty, Louis always ran with the good news to the queen. One day, a stone-mason was employed in making holes in the doorway of the outer room, in which large bolts were to be fixed. While the man was at breakfast, Louis amused himself with his tools. This was an opportunity for the king to gratify his well-known taste; and he began to work with the mallet and chisel, to show his boy the way. The mason came back, and, moved by seeing the king so employed, said, “When you get out, you will be able to say that you worked at your own bars.”
“Ah!” said the king, “when and how shall I get out?” Louis burst out a-crying; and the king, throwing down the tools, went into his chamber, and paced up and down with long strides.
It appears that the king was touched with somewhat of the same superstition of which the queen gave occasional tokens,—like many other sufferers in a time of suspense. No one liked to refuse to play with Louis when he wanted to play; so, one afternoon, when the king was very sad, he consented to a game at nine-pins, because his boy asked him. The Dauphin twice counted sixteen, and then lost the game. “Whenever I get sixteen,” exclaimed he, a little vexed, “I always lose the game.” The king, remembering that he was the sixteenth Louis, looked very grave; and Cléry thought his mind was superstitiously impressed by the boy’s words.
In the beginning of November a feverish complaint attacked the king, and then the whole family in turn. The wife and sister of the king assisted Cléry to nurse him, and often made his bed with their own hands. Louis, who had slept in the king’s room since the partial separation of the family, was the next attacked. Not all that the queen could say availed to procure permission to remain with her child during the night. Cléry, however, never left him; and Louis had soon an opportunity of showing that he was grateful.
Before the princesses had recovered, poor Cléry was more ill, with rheumatic fever, than any of them had been. He made a great effort to rise and attend the king, the first day; but his master, seeing the condition he was in, sent him to bed again, and himself took up his son, and dressed him. Louis scarcely left Cléry’s bedside all day, bringing him drink, and doing all the little services he could think of. The king found a moment to tell Cléry, unobserved, that he should see the physician the next day; and the princesses went to visit him in the evening, when the Princess Elizabeth slipped into his hand some medicine which had been brought for her, as she was yet far from well. It distressed Cléry to accept this, and to know how the ladies undertook his duties,—the queen putting Louis to bed, and the Princess Elizabeth dressing the king’s hair. The Princess Elizabeth asked for medicines, as if for herself, that Cléry might have them, even after he had left his bed, to which he was confined for six days. Among other things she had obtained a box of ipecacuanha lozenges for his cough. Having had no opportunity of giving these to Cléry during the day, she left them with Louis when she bade him good-night, thinking that Cléry would be up-stairs presently. This was before nine. It was just eleven when Cléry came up, to turn down the king’s bed. Louis called to him in a low voice; and Cléry was afraid that he was ill, as he was not asleep. “No,” Louis said, “I am not ill; but I have a little box to give you. I am glad you are come, at last, for I could hardly keep my eyes open; and they have been shut several times, I believe.” Seeing that Cléry was moved, Louis kissed him; and then was asleep in a minute.
At five in the morning of the 11th of December, everybody in the Temple was awakened by the noise of cavalry and cannon entering the garden, and the drums beating throughout the city. Louis did not know what this meant; but his parents understood that the king was to be brought to trial, and that this noise arose from the military preparations for the great event. His father took him by the hand, and led him to breakfast, as usual, at nine o’clock. Nobody said much, because the guards were in the room; but he saw his father and mother look very expressively at each other when he and his father were going downstairs again, at ten o’clock. He went to his lessons, as usual, and was reading to the king, when two officers came from the magistrates, to say that they must immediately take Louis to his mother. Argument was useless; so Cléry was desired to go with the boy. On his return, Cléry gave comfort to the king by assuring him that Louis really was with his mother.
The king was soon after taken to the Convention, before whom he was to be tried. Never till this day had the queen asked any question of her guards: and to-day she obtained no information, though she made every inquiry she could devise. The king returned at six o’clock; but he was immediately locked up, without seeing any one. No bed had yet been provided for Louis in his mother’s room: and this night, she gave up hers to him, and sat up. The princesses were most unwilling to leave her in the state of agitation she was in; but she insisted upon their going to rest. The next day, she implored that if the king might see his wife and sister, his children should not be separated from him. The reply was what might have been expected;—that the children must not be made messengers between their parents; but that they might be with their father, if they did not see the queen, till the trial was over. Occupied as the king was with his defence, this could not be: nor would he deprive their mother of the solace of their society: so Louis’s bed was removed to his mother’s room, and no one knew when he would see his father again.
Louis saw his father but once more. It was in the evening of Sunday, the 20th of January. The crier, who came into the street at seven o’clock, proclaimed the sentence that Louis Capet was to be executed the next day.
The family were at last permitted to see the king; and at half-past eight were told that he was ready. The queen took Louis by the hand, and led him downstairs, the princesses following. It appears that the guards had some idea that the king would attempt suicide; for they would not allow him to have a knife at his dinner; and they now would not lose sight of him, even while meeting his family. They would not have allowed the door to be shut, but that it was a glass door, through which they could look, on any alarm. So far from the king having thought of suicide, it is now believed by most people that he allowed himself to be persuaded by his counsel and friends that there was not really much danger of his execution taking place, and that he would be permitted, at the last moment, to appeal to the Primary Assemblies, where an appeal would be successful. This seems confirmed by his conduct on the scaffold. He was, as he had been through life, deceived and mistaken; and the moment of his being undeceived was one of dreadful agony of mind. It deprived him of all dignity and fortitude; and his struggles were such that it required the strength of three executioners to overpower him, and fulfil the sentence. It is to be hoped that his family never knew this; and the mass of the crowd did not see what happened on the scaffold; but some who did see the whole, have proved beyond a doubt that Louis the Sixteenth showed, at last, no more dignity in his death than in his life.
How much hope he imparted to his family during their evening interview can now never be known; but his legal advisers and his servants gave him such abundant assurances that the sentence could never be really executed upon a king, that the hopes of his family were probably sustained by their words. Not a sound, however, was heard by Cléry outside the door. The king sat between his wife and sister, and kept Louis standing between his knees,—the Princess Royal sitting nearly in front. There was much weeping; and most that was said was by the king. He desired his boy to harbour no revenge against the authors of his death, and then gave him his blessing.
When the peasant-child sees his father dying on his fever-bed, and knows that the question is in the heart of both parents, what is to become of the widow and her children, he may feel his little heart bursting with fear and sorrow, and may think that no one can be more unhappy than he. But Louis was more unhappy. Here was his father, in the full vigour of his years, about to die a violent death, amidst the hatred of millions of men who, if all had done right, should have been attached to him, and have defended his life at the peril of their own. For the peasant-child there is comfort in prospect. His father’s grave is respected in the churchyard; the neighbours are kind; there is the consolation of work for those who survive, and the free air, and the spring flowers, and the mowing, and the harvest, and all the pleasures which cannot be withheld from those who live at liberty in the country. For the princely child there were none of these comforts. As far as he could see, his father and mother had no friends; he and his family were in a dismal prison, with insulting enemies about them, and no prospect of any change for the better, when his father should have been thus violently torn away. Never, perhaps, was there a more miserable child than Louis was now.
The queen much wished to remain with the king all night; but the king saw that it was better that their strength should not be thus worn-out in grief, and he said that he needed some hours of rest and stillness. He promised that the family should come to him in the morning: and they therefore left him at a quarter past ten, having spent an hour and three-quarters with him. He told Cléry that he never intended to keep this promise, and should spare them and himself the affliction of such an interview. The queen chose to put Louis to bed, as usual; but had hardly strength to do it. She then threw herself, dressed, upon her own bed, where the princesses heard her shivering and sobbing with cold and grief, all night long. The whole family were dressed by six, in expectation of being sent for by the king; and when the door opened, in a quarter of an hour, they thought the summons was come; but it was only an attendant, looking for a prayer-book, as a priest was going to say mass in the king’s apartment. Then they waited hour after hour, and do not seem to have suspected that the king would not keep his promise. At a little after ten, the firing of the artillery, and the shouts in the streets of “Long live the Republic,” told them but too plainly that all was over.
The melancholy life they led went on through the rest of the winter and spring with little variety. The parapet of the leads was raised, and every chink stopped up, to prevent the family seeing anything, or being seen when they walked; so that his daily exercise could have been but little of an amusement to the poor boy. On the 25th of March, he was snatched up from sleep, in the middle of the night, in order that his bed might be searched, as it was believed that his mother and aunt carried on a correspondence with people without, by some secret means. Nothing was found in Louis’s bed; and only a tradesman’s address, and a stick of sealing-wax, in any of the apartments. The princesses certainly contrived to conceal some pencils; for they had some remaining in the following October. While the king was separated from them, they corresponded with him by putting small notes into the middle of balls of cotton, which were found by Cléry in the linen-press, occasionally, and which would hardly have excited any suspicion if they had been seen there by the most watchful of the gaolers. It is probable that the princesses communicated by the same method with people out of doors, when their linen went out or was brought in. It certainly appears that they did carry on a correspondence by some means. No one would blame them for this: but neither, when the situation and the fears of the new republicans are considered, assailed and invaded as they were by the powerful friends of royalty, can we wonder at the frequency and strictness of their searches, while certain that their orders were evaded by the prisoners.
On the 9th of May, poor Louis was taken ill with fever. It was a very serious illness, and lasted nearly a month; and he never was in good health again. The want of proper air, exercise, and play, and the dull life he led among melancholy companions, were quite enough to destroy the health of any boy. He was tenderly nursed by his mother and aunt, and his sister played with him; but there was no peace in their minds, and no mirth in their faces, to cheer his young heart. One anecdote shows how sad their manners were now. Tison’s wife, who did some of the work of their chambers, went mad, and talked to herself in a way so ridiculous, that the Princess Royal could not help laughing. This made the queen and Princess Elizabeth look at her with pleasure—it was so long since they had seen her laugh! And yet this poor girl who never laughed was then only fifteen years old, and her brother not yet nine.
The 3rd of July was the most terrible morning to Louis. Before he was up, and while his mother was by his bedside, some officers came into the room, with an order from the Convention that Louis should be taken from his family, and kept in the most secure room in the Temple. If the queen could have commanded herself so far as to obey at once, and let him go quietly, the unhappy boy might have been less terrified than he was. But this was hardly to be expected. These repeated cruelties had worn out her spirits; and she now made a frantic resistance. For a whole hour she kept off the officers from his bed, and her lamentations were dreadful to hear: so that the terrified boy not only wept, but uttered cries. His aunt and sister, though in tears, commanded themselves so far as to dress him, and thus show that they intended no vain opposition. The officers were made angry by the delay in obeying orders of which they were only the bearers. They did all they could in assuring the queen that no danger to the boy’s life was to be feared, and in promising to convey to the authorities her request that she might see him at meal-times, at least. Then they carried him off, crying bitterly. He never again saw his mother, though she saw him by stealth.
It was not likely that her request about meeting him at meals would be granted; for the very object of separating him was to put out of his head all the ideas of princely power and authority of which the mind of a royal child was likely to be full. The intention was to bring him up with republican ideas and feelings, in order at once to make of him what was then called “a good citizen,” and to render him less an object of hope and expectation to the foreign powers who already gave him the royal titles, and led on their armies, as if to the rescue of a king, while the French nation declared that royalty was abolished, and that they had no king, and would have none. So this sickly, sad, helpless little boy was taken by one of the party from the arms of his mother and aunt, to be brought up in contempt of his family and rank, while the other party were, all over Europe, giving him the title of Louis the Seventeenth, and speaking with reverence of him, as if he sat upon a throne. This unhappy child, called a king, wept without pause for two whole days, begging every one he saw to take him to his mother. The endeavour then was to make him forget her; but though they awed him so that he soon did not dare to speak of her, or to weep, an incident showed that he still pined for her. A report got abroad that he had been seen in one of the public walks of Paris; and others said that he was dead. Some members of the Convention were therefore sent to the Temple, to ascertain the truth. Louis was led down to the garden to be seen by them; and he immediately begged to be taken to his mother; but was told that it was impossible.
Long and wearily did she pine for him. She heard of him frequently, from one of the gaolers; but there was nothing to be told which could cause her anything but grief: for those who had taken from her the charge of her child, did not fulfil the duty they had assumed. She saw this for herself. He often went to the leads; and the queen found a chink in a wall at some distance, through which she could watch him as he walked. Sometimes she waited many hours at this chink, in hopes of his coming: and yet it might have been better for her not to have seen him; for he altered sadly.
It was the duty of the authorities, if they meddled with the boy at all, to have educated him well. Nothing could excuse their not taking him from prison, tending his weak health, and having him kindly cheered and well taught. Instead of this, they committed him to the charge of the man called Simon (mentioned before), a shoemaker, whose business it was to tend and bring up the boy. Simon was a coarse and ignorant man, full of hatred of rank and royalty. He would not let Louis wear mourning for his father, and took away his black clothes. He taught him to sing the rough songs of the day, mocking royalty and praising revolution. Louis never till now drank wine, and had always disliked it. This man made him drink a great deal of wine, and eat to excess, so as to bring on his fever again. This might be meant for kindness; but it shows how unfit a guardian Simon was. Louis recovered less favourably from the second fever than the first. He still walked on the leads; but, instead of growing taller, he was stunted in his growth, and became fat and bloated, and thoroughly unhealthy.
On the 8th of October, just after he had got up, his room-door opened, and his sister ran in. She threw her arms round his neck; but almost before he could express his surprise, she was fetched away. She had been sent for by some people below, who were waiting to question her; and knowing which was Louis’s room, she had run downstairs to it; thus making use of the only opportunity she was likely to have of seeing her brother.
In a little while, these two royal children were each left entirely alone. The queen had been removed early in August, and was beheaded in October, the day week after Louis saw his sister. The good Princess Elizabeth was always persuaded that her turn would come; and so it did. She suffered on the 10th of the next May, when she was thirty years of age. It will be remembered that the king implored her not to enter a convent in her youth, as she desired; and that he obtained her promise to refrain from being a nun till she should be thirty years old. If he had not interfered at first, and if her noble disinterestedness had not caused her to devote herself to her brother and his family when she saw adversity coming upon them, she might have fulfilled a long course of piety and charity, and even been living now. Her life was so innocent, so graced by gentleness and love, that it may well be a matter of wonder on what accusation she could have been tried and put to death. It was the accusation most common at that day—of having conspired with the enemies of the Republic to set up royalty again in France. That she corresponded with the friends of royalty, is probable: that she wished for the re-establishment of the throne, there can be no doubt: but to suppose that she could in her prison conspire for such a purpose is absurd. The true reason of her death no doubt was, that the party-leaders of the time wished to be rid of as many royal personages as possible, and to strike terror into the hearts of all who were not pleased with the Republic. The Princess Royal was not told what had become of her mother and aunt. She remained alone, passing her weary hours in keeping her chamber and clothes neat, in knitting, and in reading a few books, which she had read over and over again.
How came her little brother to be alone too? Why, Simon accepted an office which he liked better than that of being Louis’s guardian, and left him on the 19th of January. Nobody seems to have remembered to appoint another guardian; and Louis was alone, all day and all night, for months after.
We cannot dwell upon this part of his story. We know little of it; and that little is terrible. There was a broken bell in his room; but he was so afraid of the people that he never rang it. He might, it is said, have left the room: but he was very weak and ill, and seems to have grown bewildered. He had not strength to make his own bed; and it was never made for six months: nor was the bedding changed, nor even his shirt, nor the windows opened in all that time. A pitcher of water was put into his room sometimes; but he never washed himself. There he lay, feeble, and frightened at every noise, surrounded with filth, and covered with vermin, scarcely knowing day from night,—with no voice near to rouse him, no candle in the longest winter nights, no books, no play, no desire for any of these things, no cheerful thoughts in his own mind, and his weak body feverish and aching. Was any poor man’s child ever so miserable?
Let us pass on to a brighter day, which came at last.
On the 28th of July following, there was much noise in the streets, and bustle in the prison, so early as six in the morning; and some finely-dressed gentlemen entered the poor boy’s room. He did not know who they were; and they said little, and soon went away. They were, however, sufficiently impressed with what they saw to take some measures for Louis’s relief. They had been sent by the Convention, on the downfall and death of the great revolutionary leader, Robespierre, to see what was the state of things at the Temple; and in consequence of their report, a person named Laurent was appointed to visit the royal children.
At last, Louis found himself visited, several times in the day, by one whom he need not be afraid of. Laurent spoke tenderly to him, and told him he should be better taken care of. The dirty bed was carried away; the window was opened, and the room cleaned; and then a clean comfortable bed was brought in. The best thing was that Louis was put into a warm-bath; and Laurent cleansed him from head to foot. Louis was sorry to see Laurent leave the room; but he knew he would soon be back again; and never failed to appear three times during the day. He would have done more for the poor boy: he would have changed his room, and found him amusements, and had him well nursed, but that he feared being dismissed if he showed too much indulgence at once; and that then Louis would be allowed to relapse into his former state. Perhaps it was better for the boy that the improvement in his condition took place gradually; for it might have overpowered him to have had people about him, taking care of him all day, after so many months spent entirely alone.
In November there was another Commission sent to the prison, to give further account of Louis. One of the visitors, a kind-hearted gentleman, named Gomier, remained to assist Laurent in his charge. Gomier devoted himself to the boy, and made him as comfortable as he could be made in his diseased state. Louis need not fear the long dark winter evenings this year; for Gomier had lights brought, as soon as it grew dusk. Gomier passed many hours of the day in talking with him, and got him to play sometimes. Gomier rubbed the swollen joints of his knees and wrists, and obtained leave to give him such exercise as he could take. He did not carry him at once into the open air, but removed him into a little parlour, where Louis seemed so happy that it touched the heart of his kind guardian. Then Gomier and Laurent took him to the leads again, and wished him to go there every fine day. They used all gentle means to tempt him up, and to amuse him when there,—but poor Louis was now too weak to enjoy air and exercise. He complained directly of being tired, and begged to go down: and his pleasure was to spend the whole day quietly by the fire-side. It was better to indulge him in this; for it was clear that he could never again be well, and that all that could be done was to make his decline as easy as possible.
He had several attacks of fever during the winter; and his knees swelled more and more. Laurent had to leave him; but happily a man no less kind succeeded him in his charge. This man’s name was Loine. During the spring the boy’s strength failed, day by day. He was attended by good surgeons, who saw that he must die, but did what they could to give him ease. His mind had now become dull and confused; but he had no pain. Except when he had occasional fever fits, he seemed in an easy state, and died, at length, quite peacefully. He breathed his last on the 9th of June, 1795, at three o’clock in the afternoon, his age being ten years and two months.
His sister then felt as if she was quite alone: but it was not for long; and in the interval she was treated kindly. On the 19th of December following, which happened to be her seventeenth birthday, she was released from the Temple, and sent to her uncles and aunts, with whom she lived from that time forward. She married her cousin, the Duke d’Angoulême, and is still living, having seen her family once more restored to the throne of France, and again deposed for tyranny. No cruelty was inflicted upon them in the course of this last change. They were quietly sent into a foreign country, where they are now living, surrounded by all the comforts and luxuries suitable to their rank; and their gentle punishment is no more than, in the opinion of almost everybody but themselves, their ignorant misuse of power deserves.
The pictures of human life which are here given are almost too sad and dreary to be dwelt upon. But we must dwell upon them long enough to learn from them one important thing. We are accustomed to say that the sufferings of men come from the hand of God, and ought to be submitted to with perfect patience on that account. This is true with respect to many of the woes of mankind; but we are far too hasty in declaring this occasionally where it is not true.
How is it in the cases before us? God gave to the French nation one of the richest, gayest, and most beautiful countries in the world. This country, with its sunny hills, its fertile plains, its great forests, and brimming rivers, can easily produce more of all the good things of life than are wanted for the use of all its inhabitants. No man, woman, or child within its boundaries ought ever to be in want of the comforts of life. God has also given to the people of that country affectionate hearts, and loyal tempers: as was shown by their long forbearance with their rulers, under cruel oppression. If such a people in such a land were miserable, some living in pinching poverty and gross ignorance, and others in tyranny and selfishness which brought upon them a cruel retribution, let no one dare to say that such misery was from the will of God. God showed what his will was when he placed beings with loving hearts in the midst of the fruitful land. They might and must have been happy, but for their misuse of his gifts.
The mischief cannot be undone: the misery cannot now be helped: but men may learn from it not to allow such a case to happen again. It is not only France that has been ignorant, and guilty, and miserable. Every country is full of blessings given by the hand of God; and in every country are those blessings misused, more or less, as they were in France. If every child, as he grows up, was taught this truth—taught to reflect how all men may have their share of these blessings who are willing to work for them, there would be no more danger of such woe as we have been contemplating. It would then appear as impious as it really is to call God the author of sufferings which need never happen. Instead of crying to Him for mercy under intolerable misery, all might then bless Him for having placed His children on a fair and fruitful earth, where all may have their fill and dwell in peace.