Alexandre Dumas.

Comtesse de Charny (Volume 2) online

. (page 14 of 24)
Online LibraryAlexandre DumasComtesse de Charny (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

he murmured bitterly. And he sank back on the bed and
closed his eyes.

FLEE ! FLEE ! FLEE ! 195



The few remaining hours of Mirabeau's life were hours
of frightful agony. When he returned to consciousness,
it was through the gateway of terrible pain. He tried to
speak, but his eiïorts were futile. Gilbert had no difficulty
in guessing the desire that was uppermost in his mind,
however. The sick man had no idea whether his recent
swoon had lasted an hour or a day; but he wished to know
whether during that time the queen had sent to inquire
for him? The register on which each caller inscribed his
name was brought up , and Jean and Teisch were both ques-
tioned ; but no messenger had come from the royal house-
hold, or even from the Tuileries.

It became evident that Mirabeau was making an almost
superhuman effort to speak. At last he succeeded.

"Oh, do they not see that when I am dead they are
lost? " he gasped. " I bear the mourning garments of the
monarchy away with me, and the factions will tear the
remains of it into tatters over my grave ! "

Gilbert darted to the invalid's bedside.

"While there is life there is hope," he said to himself;
and, taking a spoon, he poured into it a few drops of the
greenish liquid he had given Mirabeau once before, — only
this time he did not dilute it.

"If you want the elixir to have any effect, my dear
doctor, you must give me the entire bottleful," said
Mirabeau, smiling.

"And why?"

"Do you suppose that such an abuser of every good gift


as I am could liave such a treasure in my possession with-
out abusing it? I had the liquid analysed, my friend,
and have since taken it, not by the drop, but by the spoon-
ful, — not for the sake of life, but for the sake of the
delightful visions it inspired. Thanks to it, I have lived
a century, and have possessed, in imagination, the treas-
ures which in real life have evaded me, — strength, love,
and fabulous riches. Don't repent of your gift, doctor,
but congratulate yourself upon it. My life has been a
poor botched, wretched aft'air. I do not know that I owe
God any thanks for such an existence as it has been , but I
do owe you thanks for your poison. Fill the spoon again,
doctor, and give me another dose."

Gilbert complied with the dying man's request, though
not without reluctance. After a few seconds, as if the
near approach of death enabled him to lift the veil of
futurity, Mirabeau exclaimed, —

''Ah! happy are those who die in this year of 1791.
They have seen only the serene and resplendent face of
the Revolution, and never before has so great a change
been effected with so little bloodshed; but the day is near
at hand when an entirely different state of things will
prevail. Perhaps you imagine they will regret my death
down there at the Tuileries. On the contrary, it will
prove a welcome relief. With me, they would have been
obliged to govern in a certain way, and I was consequently
not a help, but a hindrance. I could do nothing without
her, and she would have none of me. I pledged myself,
like a fool; she bound herself to nothing, promised
nothing. So, doctor, all this is for the best; and if you
will promise me one thing, I shall not be troubled by a
single regret during the few hours I have to live."

"And what do you wish me to promise ? "

" Promise me if my exit from life is too hard, too pain-
ful — promise me, not only as a physician, but also as a
friend, or rather as a philosopher — promise me that you
will help me through."

FLEE ! FLEE ! FLEE ! 197

"Why do you ask me this ?"

" Because, though I know that death is near, I feel that
life is still strong within me, and the last step will be hard
to take."

"I have promised not to leave you. If God has con-
demned you to die, trust me to do all that it is in my
power to alleviate your sufferings. If death comes, it will
find me here beside you."

It was evident that the invalid had only waited for this
promise. "I thank you," he murmured gratefully; and
then his head sank back on his pillow.

For three hours after this, his icy hand rested quietly in
Gilbert's. His breathing was so regular, his countenance
so placid, liis whole attitude so restful, that one would
have supposed he was asleep. But about eight o'clock
Gilbert felt the cold hand suddenly tremble, and then
clench itself.

" The last struggle has come ; the death agony is begin-
ning," Gilbert said to himself.

Great drops of sweat suddenly appeared upon the brow
of the dying man, and his eyes glittered with a wild, un-
natural light. He m.ade a motion indicative of a desire
to drink, and his attendants offered him water, and wine,
and orangeade ; but he shook his head. He desired none
of these things.

Then he motioned them to bring him pen, ink, and
paper. They quickly obeyed, in order that no thought of
this great mind should be lost ; and, taking the pen, he
traced with a firm hand the words of Hamlet: "To die, to
sleep — "

Gilbert pretended not to understand. Mirabeau dropped
the pen, and, grasping his breast with both hands, as if
trying to tear it open, uttered a few inarticulate sounds ;
then, i)icking up the pen again, wrote, with an almost
superhuman effort, "This pain is becoming insupportable.
Must a man be left on the rack for hours, when a few
drops of opium would spare him this torture ? "


But the doctor hesitated. He was there to fight against
death, not to act as its second in the duel.

The agony became more and more terrible. The sick
man wrung his hands and gnawed his pillow.

At last he broke the bonds of paralysis.

"Oh, these doctors! these doctors!" he exclaimed.
'' Gilbert, are you not my friend? Did you not promise
to save me from such agony ? You make me regret hav-
ing trusted you. Gilbert, I appeal to your friendship, to
your honour! " and with a shriek of agony he fell back
on his pillow.

"You shall have what you ask, my friend," said Gilbert,
sighing deeply.

He took the pen to write a prescription ; but Mirabeau,
hastily raising himself up in bed, snatched the pen from
his hand, and, with fingers already stiffening in death,
scrawled upon the paper these words in a handwriting
which was scarcely legible: "Flee! Flee! Flee! "

He tried to sign his name, but only succeeded in tracing
the first four letters.

"For Aer," he whispered, extending his rigid arm towards
Gilbert; and again sank back on his pillow, motionless,
breathless, sightless.

Mirabeau was dead.




The grief was intense, universal. In an instant the news
spread from the centre of the town to its furthermost
limits, — from the Rue de Chaussée d'Antin to the barriers.

The populace raised a terrible clamour; then they took
it upon themselves to see that proper respect was shown
for the dead. They rushed to the theatres, tore down the
play-bills, and closed the doors. A ball was in progress
in a house on the Eue de Chaussée d'Antin that evening.
They invaded the mansion, drove the dancers away, and
broke the instruments of the musicians.

The national bereavement was formally announced to
the Assembly by its president. Immediately afterwards,
Barrère mounted the tribune, and moved that testimony
to the Assembly's grief at the loss of such a man should be
incorporated in the official records of the day, and that
the Assembly should attend the funeral in a body.

On the following day, April 3d, the municipal officers
appeared before the Assembly and asked that the church
of Ste. Geneviève be constituted a Pantheon, or place of
sepulchre for distinguished men, and that Mirabeau should
be buried there first of all.

The following is the decree as first passed : —

" The National Assembly decrees that the new church of Ste.
Geneviève shall be set apart for the reception of the ashes of illus-
trious men, dating from the epoch of French liberty.

" That Honoré Riquetti Mirabeau is adjudged worthy of this

" That the Legislative Body is alone to decide upon whom this
honour shall be conferred.


" That the municipal officers of the city of Paris shall oe charged
■with the duty of putting the church of S te. Geneviève in proper
condition for this purpose, and of placing upon its pediment this
inscription :

" ' To Her Great Men, by a Grateful Nation.'

" That while the new church of Ste. Geneviève is undergoing the
necessary preparation for this purpose, the body of Eiquetti Mirabeau
shall be placed beside the remains of Descartes, in the crypt of the
church of Ste. Geneviève."

The next day, a,t four o'clock, the National Assembly-
left the legislative hall and proceeded in a body to j\Iira-
beau's house, where all the city officers, cabinet ministers,
and prominent government officials, together with a crowd
of at least one hundred thousand persons, were already
assembled. But in all this immense concourse there was
not a single representative of the queen.

The procession took up its line of march, headed by
Lafayette, as the commander of the National Guard of the

Then came Tronchet, the president of the National
Assembly ; then the cabinet ministers ; then the members
of the Assembly, without any distinction of party, — Sieyès
arm-in-arm with Charles de Lameth.

Immediately after the Assembly came the Jacobin Club,
which had voted to wear mourning for eight days; and
Robespierre, too poor to go to the expense of purchasing
a new coat, had hired one, as he had done when he put on
mourning for Benjamin Franklin.

Following the Jacobin Club came the entire population
of Paris, between two lines of National Guards numbering
more than thirty thousand jnen.

Funeral music — in which two instruments until then
unknown in France, the trombone and the tam-tam, were
heard for the first time — marked the time for this
immense throng.


It was not until eight o'clock that the funeral cortege
reached St. Eustache. The funeral oration was delivered
by Cerutti. When it was concluded, ten thousand of the
National Guards, who were in the church, discharged their
muskets simultaneously. The shock was so great that
not a single tile remained unbroken; for a moment it
seemed as if the arch of the temple had been rent in twain,
and that the church would serve as a grave both for the
dead and for the living.

_ The procession then resumed its line of march by torch-
light; for the shades of night had descended, not only upon
the streets through which the cortege passed, but upon the
hearts of the mourners as well; for the death of Mirabeau
seemed indeed a political eclipse. Who would guide the
fiery steeds known as Hatred and Ambition now? The
spirit of peace, watching in the midst of turmoil and war,
had departed from the Assembly. Henceforth the chariot
would roll on more swiftly, the descent be more abrupt.
Who could tell whether it was hastening on to victory,
or to an unfathomable abyss? The Pantheon was not
reached until midnight.

But one important personage was absent, — Pe'tion.
When questioned, he gave as a reason to two of his friends
that he had read a plan for an anti-revolutionary conspi-
racy, written in Mirabeau's hand.

Three years afterwards, on a gloomy autumn day, the
Convention, no longer in the Hall of the Manège, hxxt in
the Hall of the Tuileries, having killed the king, the
queen, the Girondists, the members of the Cordelier Club,
the Jacobins, and itself, —having nothing else left to kill,
proceeded to kill the dead over again.

With savage delight the Convention declared it had
been deceived in regard to Mirabeau's true character, and
that his genius could not atone for his corruption; so a
new decree was passed, excluding him from the Pantheon.
Mirabeau was declared unworthy to share the last resting-
place of Voltaire, Rousseau, and Descartes.


So a voice more terrible than tliat heard in the valley of
Jehosaphat cried, "Pantheon, give up thy dead! "

And the Pantheon obeyed.

Mirabeau's body was delivered to the officer of the
Convention, who, as he himself averred, removed the
aforesaid body and reinterred it in a public burying-
ground, — that is to say, Clamart, the burial-place of

And to render this punishment more terrible, — a punish-
ment which extended beyond death's door, — this removal
took place at the dead of night, without any escort, and
without anything to indicate the place of re-interment,
either cross, stone, or inscription of any kind.

Later on, however, an old gravedigger, when questioned
on the subject, led the curious visitor to the centre of
the enclosure, and, stamping his foot on the ground,
exclaimed, —

"Here it is! I can vouch for that, for I helped to
lower him into the grave, and nearly tumbled in after him,
the confounded lead casket was so heavy."

Perhaps Mirabeau did not deserve the Pantheon; but
this much is certain, — many repose, and many will repose,
in consecrated ground who deserve ostracism far more
than he.

Oh, France, somewhere within thy borders grant Mira-
beau a tomb, and let his name be the sole epitaph, his bust
the only ornament, and the future his sole judge!




On the morning of April second, about an hour before
Mirabeau breathed his last, a roan attired in the uniform
of a naval ofiBcer entered the palace of the Tuileries from
the rear, and, like an old habitué of the place, promptly
made his way to a back stairway used by the servants, but
communicating by means of a long narrow corridor with
the king's private apartments.

On seeing him, the valet in attendance uttered an excla-
mation of mingled joy and surprise; but the new-comer
placed his finger warniugly on his lip, and then asked, in
a low tone , —

*' Can the king see me, Monsieur Hué ? "

"His Majesty is with General Lafayette now; but as
soon as the general leaves — "

*' You will announce me ? "

*' That is hardly necessary, as his Majesty is expecting
you, and gave orders yesterday that you should be admitted
immediately upon your arrival."

Just then they heard a small bell tinkle in the king's

"There! his Majesty is about to ask for you now, I
expect," added the valet.

" Then go in. Monsieur Hué, at once ; and if the king is
at liberty, ask him to grant me an audience immediately."

The valet opened the door, and announced the visitor
almost instantly, — conclusive proof that the king was

"Show him in! Show him in!" exclaimed the king.
"I have been looking for him ever since yesterday."


"I am a few hours behind time, sire, but I am sure your
Majesty will pardon me when you learn the reason of the

" Come , come, Monsieur de Charuy . I have been awaiting
your arrival with great impatience, it is true ; but I know
perfectly well that you would not have permitted any mere
trifle to retard your progress. You are here, and I assure
you you are welcome; " and the king offered the count his
hand in a most cordial manner.

"Sire, I received your orders the night before last, and
left Montmedy yesterday morning at three o'clock."

" How did you travel ? "

"By post-chaise."

"That explains the slight delay," said the king, smiling.

"On the contrary, I travelled at such a rate of speed
that I should have reached here by eleven o'clock last
night if I had taken the most direct route; but I wished
thoroughly to inform myself of the advantages and disad-
vantages of the route chosen by your Majesty, to find out
whether the post-stations were well supplied with horses,
and, above all, to ascertain how much time to a minute, or
even to a second, would be required to make the journey
from Montmedy to Paris, and consequently from Paris to
Moutmedy . "

" Bravo, Monsieur de Charny ! What an efBcient helper
you are ! But let me begin by giving you some idea of the
situation here."

"I should judge from what I hear that matters must be
in pretty bad shape."

"They are in such a shape that I am to all intents and
purposes a prisoner in the palace, my dear count. As
I just remarked to my gaoler, General Lafayette, I would
much rather be king of Metz than of France, just now.
You have heard of the flight of my aunts, I suppose?"

"I have heard the mere fact, like everybody else; but I
am acquainted with none of the details."

" You know the Assembly only allows us such priests as


have taken tlie oath to support the Constitution. Well,
the poor women became frightened as Easter approached,
and thought they would imperil the salvation of their
souls if they confessed to such a priest; so, by my advice,
I confess it, they started for Rome. There was no law
forbidding the trip, and certainly the dear people had no
good reason to fear lest the two poor old ladies should
prove valuable auxiliaries to the party of émigrés. They
intrusted the preparations for their departure to Narbonne,
who must have managed rather clumsily, I think, for the
secret leaked out ; and on the eve of their departure they
were favoured with a visit similar to that with which the
populace honoured us on the tifth of October. Fortunately,
they made their way out by one door as the mob entered
by the other. There was not a carriage to be found, of
course, — though, according to agreement, three were to
have been in waiting, — and they had to go afoot as far
as Meudon. There they succeeded in procuring vehicles,
and were soon safely on their way. But all Paris was in
a state of intense excitement; the papers were full of the
affair the next day. Marat declared they had carried off
millions; Desmoulins declared they had carried off the
dauphin. Of course there was n't a particle of truth in
all this. The poor old ladies had three or four hundred
thousand francs in their purses, and this gave them anxiety
enough, without taking a child along, whose presence would
have been certain to betray them, as they were recognised
first at Moret, where they were allowed to continue their
journey, and afterwards at Arnay-le-Duc, where they were
stopped. I had to write to the Assembly, asking that
they might be allowed to continue their journey; but in
spite of my letter the Assembly discussed the matter an
entire day. Finally, my aunts were permitted to proceed
on their way, on condition that the committee should draft
a law against emigration."

"Yes; but I believe that, after Mirabeau's eloquent pro-
test, the Assembly rejected the measure."


"Yes, it was rejected; but a deep humiliation accom-
panied that triumph. When some friends of mine saw
what a disturbance the departure of these poor old ladies
had occasioned, they rushed to the Tuileries to offer me
their lives, if necessary; and forthwith it became noised
about that a conspiracy for abducting me had been dis-
covered. Lafayette, who had been enticed to the Faubourg
Saint Antoine under the pretext that there was a riot
near the Bastile, returned to the Tuileries sword in hand,
furious at having been thus duped, and then and there
arrested and disarmed my poor friends. Pistols and
knives were found upon several of them, for each man had
caught up the first weapon he could lay his hands on."

"Oh, sire, sire! what terrible times these are!" ex-
claimed Charny.

"Nor is this all. Listen! Every year we go to St.
Cloud, you know. It is a settled thing. We have always
done it. Well, the day before yesterday, when we went
down into the courtyard to get into our carriages, as usual,
we found a crowd of at least fifteen hundred people around
the vehicles. We seated ourselves in the carriages; but it
was impossible to drive on, for the people clutched the
horses' bridles and declared I wanted to run away, but
shouldn't. After an hour of fruitless effort, we had to
return to our apartments. The queen fairly wept with

" But why was n't Lafayette at hand to compel the
populace to listen to reason ? "

"Lafayette? Do you know what he was doing ? First,
he sent to St. Roch to have the tocsin sounded; then he
ran to the Hôtel de Ville to ask for the red flag, inasmuch
as he declared that the country was in danger. The
country in danger because the king and queen were going
to St. Cloud ! Do you know who refused to let him have
the flag, or, rather, who snatched it from his hands when
he had succeeded in securing possession of it? Danton!
Then he pretended that Danton had sold himself to me


for one hundred thousand francs per month. This is the
present state of affairs, my dear count, to say nothing of
the fact that Mirabeau, our chief dependence, is dying, —
is perhaps even dead at this very moment."

"All the more reason for making haste, sire."

"I quite agree with you. Now tell me what you and
Bouille have decided upon. Everything is all right, I
hope. That affair at Nancy furnished a good excuse for
increasing his powers and placing more troops at his

"Yes, sire; but, unfortunately, the arrangements of the
minister of war conflicted with ours. He has withdrawn
the regiment of Saxon hussars, and refuses to send the
Swiss regiments."

"You think the minister of war suspects, then ?"

"No, sire. It was merely an unfortunate coincidence.
But no matter; we must take the chances. If such an
undertaking is prudently conducted, there are always
about ninety chances of success out of a hundred, I should

" Very well. Then what would you suggest ? "

"Is your Majesty still inclined to take the Chalons,
Clermont, and Stenay route, — though this is at least
twenty leagues longer than the others ? "

"I have already explained to Bouille my reasons for
preferring this route."

" Yes, sire ; and it is in accordance with these instruc-
tions that I have examined the route bush by bush, stone
by stone, I might say. The map I made of it is in your
Majesty's possession, I believe."

"Yes; and a model of clearness it is. I know the road
almost as well as if I had travelled it myself."

As he spoke, the king drew the map from a portfolio
and spread it out upon the table. It was not engraved,
but drawn by hand, and, as Charny had said, "not a tree
nor a rock was wanting."

"The real danger begins at Sainte Menehould, and ends


at Stenay, your Majesty," remarked Charny, as they bent
over the map. " It is upon that portion of the road that
we must concentrate our forces."

"Could they not come nearer to Paris, count, — as far as
Chalons, for instance ? "

" Chalons is too large a place for forty, fifty, or even a
hundred men to be of much service, if your Majesty's
safety should be endangered. Besides, Bouille's powers
of jurisdiction do not extend beyond Sainte Menehould.
The best he can do — and he bade me mention this fact
particularly to your Majesty — is to station his first detach-
ment of troops at Sommevelle Bridge, — here, sire, at the
first post-station beyond Chalons," added Charny, pointing
to the place mentioned.

"How long did it take you to make the journey?"

"Thirty -six hours."

"But you were in a light vehicle, and had only one
servant with you."

"Yes; but I spent at least three hours in examining the
country around Varennes, and in endeavouring to ascer-
tain the best places for stationing relays of horses. The
time thus lost will compensate for the extra weight of
your coach. In my opinion, your Majesty could easily
reach Montmedy in thirty-five or thirty-six hours."

"And what did you decide in regard to the relays at
Varennes ? That is an important matter. We must be
subjected to no delay there."

" I think the relays should be stationed on the other side
of the town."

"And why ?"

" On account of the situation of the town. I have passed
through Varennes five or six times since I left Paris, and
I spent nearly three hours there yesterday. It is a town
of about sixteen hundred inhabitants, and is divided into
two distinct parts, known as the upper and lower town,
separated by the river Aire, and connected only by a
bridge that spans the river. This bridge is commanded by


a high tower, — the tower of an old toll-house, which
stands in a dark, narrow place, where the slightest obstacle
would effectually impede the traveller's progress. As
there is some risk to be run, I think it would be much
better to take our chances of getting across this bridge

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryAlexandre DumasComtesse de Charny (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 24)