Read The Countess De Charny - Volume II Online
Authors: Alexandre Dumas
Tags: #Classics, #Historical
LA COMTESSE DE CHARNY. CHAPTER I.
The dispersal of the crowd was as quiet and gradual as the invasion had been boisterous and alarming. Astonished at the meagre results of their day’s work, the rioters began to say to one another : ” We accomplished nothing. We shall have to go back again.”
Those who had fancied they could foresee what would happen, had judged the king by his reputation. They remembered how this monarch had appeared at Varennes clad like an upper servant, and prophesied that at the first intimation of danger Louis would hide under a table or in some closet or behind a curtain, and that somebody would stab him as if by accident, and then get off by saying, “How now! A rat? “as Hamlet says in the play when he slays Polonius behind the arras, thinking it is the tyrant of Denmark.
The result, as far as Louis was concerned, had been quite the opposite. Never had the king appeared so calm, or, rather, so truly great.
The insult had been colossal, but it had not exceeded his resignation or powers of endurance. His timid firmness — if one could so term it — needed to be stimulated
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by excitement, but, in the heat of excitement, acquired the hardness and tenacity of steel.
For five long hours he saw axes gleam above his head, and lances, swords, and bayonets aimed straight at his breast, without once turning pale. No general in a dozen battles, no matter how desperate they may have been, ever faced greater danger.
The ïhéroignes, the Saint-Huruges, the Fourniers, and the Verrières had started out with the determination to murder the king; but his unexpected majesty of demeanour awed them, and made the poniard drop from their hands.
If such a sacred word can be used in connection with a human personage, this was the passion of Louis XVI., as he stood there with his brow encircled, not with a crown of thorns, but with that odious red cap; and as Jesus in the midst of insults and cruelty had said “I am the Christ,” so Louis, undaunted by insult and outrage, composedly said, in manner if not in words, “I am your king.”
The extreme Eevolutionists had believed when they forced open the doors of the Tuileries that they should find only the helpless and trembling ghost of royalty on the other side; but, to their intense surprise, they had met the spirit of mediseval times, erect and alert. For an instant these two conflicting principles were seen standing face to face, — one about disappearing below the horizon, the other just rising in the east; and the effect was as startling as if one beheld two suns of equal splendour shining in the sky at the same time.
The Eoyalists were delighted, for the victory seemed to be theirs.
After these violent measures the king, instead of signing one of the decrees, as he had intended, now made up his mind to veto both; for he knew he ran no more risk in rejecting both than in rejecting one.
After this eventful 20th of June a strong reaction set in. The very next day the Assembly passed a decree that no
assemblage of armed citizens should ever again be allowed to enter its doors, — which was equivalent to a condemnation of the uprising of the previous day.
On the evening of the twentieth, Petion arrived at the Tuileries just after order had been restored.
“I have only just now heard of your Majesty’s situation,” he remarked.
“That is strange,” responded the king, drily. “It has lasted long enough.”
On the day following, Constitutionalists, Royalists, and Feuillants all united in imploring the Assembly to proclaim martial law.
Everybody knew what the result of instituting martial law had been on the 17th of July of the previous year ; but this request was said to have been due to the discovery of fresh conspiracies.
But Petion hastened to the Assembly and stoutly declared that these conspiracies were purely imaginary, and that he was perfectly willing to be answerable for the tranquillity of Paris ; so martial law was not proclaimed.
At the close of the session, about eight o’clock in the evening, Petion repaired to the Tuileries to assure the king of the peaceful condition of the capital. He was accompanied by Sergent, who was an engraver, a brother-in-law of Marceau, a member of the City Council, and one of the police commissioners. Two or three more city officers went with them.
As they crossed the Carrousel, they were insulted by several Knights of the Order of St. Louis, and Constitutional Guards who chanced to be standing there. Petion was attacked, and Sergent, in spite of the official scarf he wore, was struck on the breast and face, and finally knocked down.
They had scarcely been ushered into the presence of their sovereign before Petion perceived that a quarrel was imminent.
Marie Antoinette gave him one of those wrathful glances
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which the eyes of Maria Theresa had known so well how to bestow, — a glance full of defiance and scorn, though so dazzling in its brightness.
The king knew what had occurred at the Assembly, so he said: —
” Well, monsieur, you claim that quiet has been restored in the capital, do you? “
“Yes, Sire; now that the people have made their wishes known to you, they are quiet and satisfied.”
“Confess, monsieur, that the proceedings of yesterday were a disgrace to the country, and that the municipal government neither did all that it should or all that it could.”
“The municipal government did its duty, Sire.”
“What is the present condition of Paris, monsieur?”
“That is false.”
” Hold your tongue ! “
” A servant of the people has no right to hold his tongue when he is doing his duty and speaking the truth.”
“That ‘s enough. Take yourself off! “
Petion bowed and withdrew.
The king’s manner was so violent, and his face wore such an expression of intense anger, that even the high-spirited queen was alarmed.
“Don’t you think the king has been too hasty?” she said to Rœderer when Petion had vanished. “Are you not afraid this ebullition of anger will incense the Parisians still more?”
“No one will think it surprising that the king should silence a subject who is lacking in proper respect to him.”
The next day the king wrote to the Assembly, complaining of the profanation of his royal domicile and person.
Then he issued a proclamation to his people. Consequently there were two peoples, — the people who had
created the disturbance on the 20th of June, and the people to whom the king complained.
On June 24th the king and queen reviewed the National Guards, and were greeted with enthusiasm.
That same day the Directory of Paris suspended the mayor from office. What had inspired them with such audacity? Three days later the mystery was solved.
Lafayette, attended by a single officer, left his army, reaching Paris on June 27th. On his arrival, he went straight to the house of his friend Rochefoucauld,
During the night the Constitutionalists, Feuillants, and Royalists were duly notified, and arrangements were made to pack the gallery the following day-Three rounds of applause greeted him when he presented himself before the Assembly on that day; but they were drowned in the murmurs of the Girondists, and it was evident that the session was destined to be a stormy one.
Lafayette was one of the bravest men that ever lived; but there is a great difference between bravery and foolhardiness. In fact, a truly brave man is rarely, if ever, foolhardy.
Lafayette understood the danger he was incurring, perfectly. He was about to stake the last remnant of his popularity. If that went, he would perish with it. If he won, he might perhaps save the king.
This action was all the more magnanimous on his part, because he was perfectly well aware of the king’s dislike and the queen’s positive hatred; for had not her Majesty as much as said, “I would rather perish through Petion than be saved by Lafayette “?
It is quite possible, though, that he had come as much in answer to a sort of challenge as anything.
About a fortnight before, he had written both to the king and to the Assembly, — to the king to encourage him to resist, and to the Assembly to warn it against the continual attacks upon the Crown. “He is very high and
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mighty out there surrounded by his army,” cried a voice. ” Let us see if he will talk in the same fashion here in the Assembly.”
These words had been reported to Lafayette, and perhaps they were the real cause of his journey to Paris.
Amid hearty applause from one side, and groans from the other, he ascended the tribune.
“Gentlemen,” he began, “I have been severely censured for writing my letter of the 16th of June in the midst of my troops. It is consequently my duty to protest against this imputation of cowardice, by coming out from behind the sort of rampart the devotion of my soldiers forms around me, and presenting myself alone and unattended before you. A still more imperative duty also calls me here. The outrages of the 20th of June have aroused the indignation of all good citizens, and especially of the army. Officers, subalterns, and privates have but one opinion in regard to these most reprehensible acts; and from each and every division I have received the warmest assurances of devotion to the Constitution, and protests against such disorderly and rebellious proceedings. I have deprecated any further manifestations of feeling, however, and have taken it upon myself to express the sentiments now prevailing in the army. I speak only as a citizen, however. It is time to establish the Constitution on a firm basis, to protect the liberty of the National Assembly and the king, as well as the king’s dignity. I therefore implore the Assembly to treat the excesses of the 20th of June as treasonable crimes against his Majesty, and prosecute the perpetrators thereof; also to adopt effectual measures for making the authority conferred by the Constitution respected, — especially yours and the king’s, — and to give the army some assurance that the Constitution will not be attacked at home, while brave Frenchmen are pouring out their blood in its defence upon the frontier.”
Guadet had risen slowly as he perceived that Lafayette was approaching the end of his discourse. When the
Girondists wished to shoot an arrow barbed with sarcasm and irony, it was to Guadet the bow was intrusted, and Guadet had only to take an arrow at random from his quiver. The last round of applause had hardly died away before his resonant voice was heard.
“The moment I saw Monsieur Lafayette,” he began, “a very consoling idea suggested itself to my mind. I said to myself: ‘We have no more foreign enemies; the Austrians must have been vanquished, for here is Monsieur Lafayette come to announce the news of his victory and their destruction. But, alas! this pleasing delusion was short-lived. Our enemies are still in the held! The danger on our frontier remains the same ; and yet — Monsieur Lafayette is in Paris. He declares himself the mouth-piece of the army and of certain honest citizens. Where are these worthy citizens? What opportunity has the army had for deliberation? But, first of all, let our gallant general show us his leave of absence.”
At this sally the Girondists perceived that the wind was shifting around to their quarter; and the speaker had hardly ceased before a round of deafening applause burst forth.
A deputy hastily rose, and, speaking from his seat, exclaimed: “Gentlemen, gentlemen, surely you forget to whom you are speaking, as well as the question at issue. You forget who Lafayette is. Lafayette is the eldest son of French liberty! Lafayette has sacrificed his fortune, his titles, and his life to the Revolution.”
” It seems to be his funeral oration you are pronouncing,” cried a mocking voice.
“Gentlemen,” said Ducos, “the deliberations of this Assembly are disturbed by the presence on the floor of a person who does not belong to this body.”
“Nor is that all,” shouted Vergniaud. “This commander has forsaken his post in the face of the enemy. It was to him, and not to the subordinate he loft in his place, that a division of our army was intrusted. We know
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that Lafayette has left his post without permission; and as we know that to be the case, let him be arrested and tried as a deserter.”
” I second the motion ! ” cried Guadet.
“And I! And I! ” shouted all the Girondists.
“Call the roll,” said Gensonne.
The roll-call gave Lafayette’s friends and supporters a majority of ten.
But, like the populace on the 20th of June, Lafayette had either ventured too much or too little. This was one of those triumphs which cause a leader to exclaim, with Pyrrhus, ” One more such victory, and I am lost! “
On leaving the Assembly, Lafayette, like Petion, hastened to the palace.
The king received him with a more affable countenance, but a no less bitter heart.
Lafayette had just sacrificed something more precious than life for the king and queen. He had sacrificed his popularity. ‘This was the third time he had made this sacrifice, for which even a king can give no meet reward.