The Peasant and the Prince, by Harriet Martineau.
This short novel describes in great detail the last months of the French Royal family. The book starts with four chapters describing the apalling lives that some of the French nobility were forcing their peasantry to live. Every last bit of value was extorted from these noblemen's estates, to finance their extravagant life styles, and the poor people suffered greatly as a result.
There then follow fifteen chapters of harrowing detail, as the Royal Family were treated with contempt and rudeness, interspersed with episodes of great kindness. There had been a revolution, and the cry was for the nobility to be hanged or guillotined, but for the Royals the process was a long drawn out period of torture and torment.
Particularly sad was the story of the last few months of the boy Louis, the Prince of the title, who at one stage was left on his own for months on end with no friendly face to comfort him, while he lay in a dirty and unmade bed. A kind tutor was ordered for him, and he was cleaned up and comforted a little, but soon after died, having not been allowed to see his relatives for years.
You can't help feeling that the French nobility had it coming, that their fate was one of their own making. Their behaviour during the eighteenth century made the Revolution inevitable.
THE PEASANT AND THE PRINCE, BY HARRIET MARTINEAU.
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER ONE.
THE LOVER IN THE WOOD.
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.
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER TWO.
COMPANY TO SUPPER.
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 Jerome, 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 Jerome. "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 Jerome, "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 Jerome, "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 Jerome, "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 Jerome; "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 Jerome 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. Jerome 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.
Jerome 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 Jerome 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 Senard, 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 Jerome.
"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 Jerome 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 Jerome.
"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 Jerome.
"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. Jerome 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.
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER THREE.
A HOLIDAY MORNING.
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.
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER FOUR.
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 Jerome'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, Jerome 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 Jerome 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.
Jerome 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. Jerome 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, Jerome 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. Jerome'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 Jerome intended that she should; and when her attention was fairly fixed, he called to the boys to come back to their places.
As Jerome 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 Jerome. 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 Jerome had to shake hands with every person in the crowd; and every man who had a house or cottage begged Jerome to be his guest. Jerome 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, Jerome 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. Jerome 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."
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER ONE.
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.
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER TWO.
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 sucree (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 levee, 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.