Alexandre Dumas.

Comtesse de Charny (Volume 2) online

. (page 22 of 24)
Online LibraryAlexandre DumasComtesse de Charny (Volume 2) → online text (page 22 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Damas at Clermont? We know what had happened to
both these gentlemen; but Choiseul had no suspicion of
the real facts of the case.

By taking the cross-road at Orbeval the duke reached
the Forest of Argonne about nightfall, — in fact, at the
very time Charny was frantically pursuing Drouet through
another part of the wood. In the last village before
entering the forest, that is to say, at Neuville, he was
obliged to waste half an hour in waiting for a guide; and
while he was waiting he heard alarm-bells ringing in the


neighbouring villages, and the four hussars that composed
his rear-guard were seized by the peasantry; but Monsieur
de Choiseul, being promptly apprised of the fact, charged
upon the crowd, and the four prisoners were soon free.
From that time the tocsin rang even more furiously

The road through the forest was a very bad one, and
even dangerous in many places; and either intentionally
or unintentionally the guide often led the little party out
of the right course. Frequently, too, the hussars were
obliged to dismount and lead their horses up or down
precipitous hills; often, too, the path was so narrow that
they had to move in single file. One hussar fell over a
declivity; and as his shouts for aid proved he was not
dead, his comrades very naturally refused to desert him.
Three-quarters of an hour were devoted to rescuing him ;
and it was during this very interval of time that the king
was stopped in Varennes, forced to alight from his car-
riage, and enter Sausse's house.

About half-past twelve o'clock, as Jules de Bouille and
Eaigecourt were flying along the road to Dun, Choiseul
with his forty hussars entered the other end of the town
from a cross-road through the forest.

As he neared the bridge, he was greeted with a deter-
mined "Who goes there?" from one of the National
Guards stationed there.

" France ! The Lauzan Hussars ! " responded Choiseul.

"You can't pass," answered the sentinel, and he gave
the call to arms.

At the same time, Choiseul perceived that the entire
town was in the wildest commotion; for armed men could
be seen hurrying through the streets, candles gleamed in
every window, and the glare of torches filled the streets.

Not knowing what had happened or what all this meant,
Choiseul was naturally anxious to secure some definite
information concerning the state of affairs; so he asked to
be put into communication with the detachment of troops


stationed in Varennes. This request led to a long discus-
sion, but it was finally granted.

Meanwhile, Choiseul could see that the National Guards
were making the most of their time by erecting a sort of
barricade of branches of trees, and bringing two small
guns to bear upon his forty men.

Just as these warlike preparations were completed, a
small detachment of hussars arrived from the barracks on
foot. They knew nothing except what they had been told,
namely, that the king had been stopped and taken to the
house of one of the residents of the town. They them-
selves had been roughly treated by the populace, and
compelled to dismount, and they did not know what had
become of their comrades.

As they concluded their explanation, Choiseul caught
sight of a small body of cavalry advancing through the
darkness, and at the same instant heard the challenge,
"Who goes there?"

" France ! "

" What regiment? "

^^ Monsieur^ s dragoons."

As these words were uttered, a shot fired by one of the
National Guards rang out upon the air.

" Good ! here comes Damas with his dragoons ! ''
Choiseul whispered to an officer near him.

Without waiting to hear any more, Choiseul broke away
from the two men who were clinging to his bridle, and
who called out to him that he ought to obey the municipal
officers, and no one else; then he ordered an advance, drove
back those who attempted to stop him, and forced his way
through the crowd to the public square.

Here he saw the royal coach standing unharnessed, as
well as quite a strong guard stationed in front of an
unpretentious house.

In order to keep the troops from coming in contact with
the populace he rode straight on to the barracks, — which
he found empty, — and left his forty hussars there. He


saw two or three grooms standing around, however, and
ascertained from them that the hussars stationed there,
not knowing what had become of their officers, had gone off
with a crowd of citizens that came after them, and were
now scattered through the town, drinking with their captors.

This news dismayed Choiseul not a little; for he thus
found his force reduced to forty men, whose horses had
already travelled over fifty miles that day, so that men and
animals were alike exhausted.

The situation did not admit of any hesitation, however.
First, he examined the pistols, to see if they were all
loaded; then he made a little speech in German to the men,
who, as they did not understand a word of French, had
very little idea of what was going on around them. He
told them that the king and queen and the entire royal
family had been arrested, and that it was the duty of the
Lauzan Hussars to rescue them from the wretches who
held them prisoners, and who perhaps intended to put
them to death.

The address was brief, but impassioned, and seemed to
make a deep impression upon the hussars.

"Der Konirj ! Die Konir/in! " they repeated over and
over again, in profound astonishment.

Choiseul did not give their ardour time to cool, but
ordered them to draw their sabres and advance by fours,
in a brisk trot, to the house where he had seen the guard,
feeling positive that the king was there.

Reaching the spot amid the curses and vituperations of
the National Guards, — to which he paid not the slightest
attention, however, — he posted sentinels at the door and
dismounted to enter the house.

As he crossed the threshold, a hand was laid on his
shoulder; and, turning hastily, he saw Damas, whose voice
he had recognised when he answered the challenge of the
National Guardsmen at the bridge.

"Are you here in force?" asked Choiseul.

"I am alone, or nearly alone. My men refused to
follow me, — at least all but five or six of them."


""What a misfortune ! But never mind, I have forty
hussars. We must see what we can do with them."

The king was just receiving a deputation from the
municipal authorities. This deputation had come to say
that as the people of Varennes were so very fortunate as to
have the king among them, they had come for his orders.

"My orders!" responded the king. "Then have my
carriages made ready, and I will leave at once."

It is hard to say what the answer to this demand would
have been, for just then the hurrying hoof-beats of
Choiseul's horses were heard, and through the windows
the party could see the hussars approaching, sabres in

The queen started, and a ray of joy shot from her eye.

" We are saved ! " she whispered to Madame Elizabeth.

"God grant it! " answered this lamb-like creature, who
regarded everything as coming directly from God, good
and evil, hope and despair.

The king straightened himself ip and listened. The
town officials glanced anxiously at one another.

Then a great noise was heard in the room below, which
was guarded by peasants armed with scythes. A few
words were interchanged ; then came a brief struggle, and
Monsieur de Choiseul, bare-headed and sword in hand,
appeared in the doorway. Behind him could be seen
Damas' pale but resolute face.

There was a threatening expression on the countenances
of these two officers which put the deputies to flight; thus
leaving an open space between the new-comers and the
royal family.

When the officers entered the room, this was the scene
that met their gaze.

In the middle of the apartment was a table, on which
stood a bottle of wine, several glasses, and a loaf of bread.
The king and queen were listening to the deputation.
Madame Elizabeth and Madame Royale were seated near
the window, and the little dauphin, overcome with


fatigue, had fallen asleep upon the bed. Beside the bed
sat Madame de ïourzel, with her face buried in her hands,
and behind her stood Madame Brunier and Madame de
Neuville, The two guardsmen, Maiden and Valory, and
Isidore de Charny, were lying back in their chairs in the
shadow, overwhelmed by grief and weariness.

On seeing Choiseul, the queen darted across the room
and seized his hand.

"Ah, Monsieur de Choiseul, it is you! You are wel-
come indeed ! "

"Alas, I come very late, it seems to me."

"No matter, provided you come in good company."

"On the contrary, madame, we come almost alone.
Monsieur de Dandoins has been forcibly detained by the
authorities of Sainte Menehould, and Damas' men have
deserted him."

The queen shook her head despondently.

"But where is Bouille, and where is Raigecourt?" con-
tinued the duke, glancing around as he spoke.

"I have not had the pleasure of seeing either of those
gentlemen," replied the king.

" I assure you, sire, upon my word of honour that I am
confident they must have been killed in front of the wheels
of your coach," exclaimed Damas, earnestly.

"Well, what is to be done?" asked the king.

"Your Majesty shall be saved, at all hazards. Give us
your orders," responded Damas.

"I have forty hussars with me," added Choiseul.
"They have ridden fifty miles to-day, but they will be
able to go on as far as Dun."

"But how about ourselves?" inquired the king.

"Listen, sire, for this is the only plan I can think of,"
responded the duke. "I have forty hussars, as I told you
just now. Seven shall dismount, and you shall ride one
of the horses, with the dauphin in front of you; the
queen can take the second horse, Madame Elizabeth the
third, Madame Royale another, and Madame de Tourzel


and the other ladies the remaining three. We will sur-
round you closely with the thirty-three hussars we have
left, and cut our way through the crowd. This is our only
chance, it seems to me. Consider the proposal well, but
decide as soon as possible; for in an hour, a half hour, yes,
perhaps a quarter of an hour, my men may be won over
to the other side."

Choiseul paused, and stood anxiously awaiting the king's
response. The queen seemed to favour the scheme, and
scrutinised her husband's face closely and eagerly; but he
seemed to avoid her gaze, and to chafe against the influ-
ence it exerted over him.

At last, looking Choiseul full in the face, he answered:
"Yes, I know very well that this is probably our only
chance of escape; but can you vouch for it that in this
unequal conflict between thirty-three men and seven or
eight hundred, a stray shot may not kill my son or my
daughter, the queen or my sister?"

"If such a catastrophe should occur, and occur because
you had yielded to my persuasions, there would be nothing
for me to do but kill myself before your Majesty's very

" Then, instead of allowing ourselves to be carried away
by any such desperate project, let us consider the situation

The queen sighed heavily, and retreated a step or two.
As she made this movement, which indicated her regret
and disappointment incontrovertibly, she found herself
face to face with Isidore, who, his attention being attracted
by a noise in the street, had started towards the window.

They exchanged a few words, and Isidore darted out of
the room.

The king, without seeming to notice what had just taken
place between Isidore and the queen, continued, —

"The municipal authorities do not refuse to let me con-
tinue my journey ; they only ask me to remain here until
daybreak. I say nothing of Count Olivier de Charny, who


lias always manifested such devotion towards us, and of
whom we have no intelligence; but the Chevalier de Bouille
and Monsieur de Raigecourt left, I am told, about ten min-
utes after our arrival, to summon the Marquis de Bouille
with his body of troops, which must certainly be in readiness.
If I were alone, I should adopt your plan; but my wife, our
children, my sister, and these ladies — I cannot think of
risking their lives with a force so small as yours; and an
even larger number of hussars would have to dismount, for
I certainly would not leave my three bodyguards here. It
is three o'clock now," he added, drawing out his watch.
"Young Bouille left half an hour after midnight. His
father must certainly have had troops stationed at differ-
ent points along the road, and they will lose no time in
coming as soon as they are informed by the chevalier. It
is not more than twenty miles to Stenay, and a man can
easily make the journey on horseback in two hours, or two
hours and a half; so detachments of troops will soon begin
to come in. By five or six o'clock the Marquis de Bouille
will be here in person, and we shall then be able to leave
Varennes and continue our journey without the slightest
danger to my family."

Monsieur de Choiseul recognised the good sense of this
reasoning; and yet his instinct told him that there are
times when it is not well to listen to reason.

So he turned to the queen, with a look which seemed to
implore her to give him different orders, or at least to
revoke those he had just received; but she shook her head

"I cannot take such a responsibility upon myself," she
said. "It is for the king to command, and for me to
obey. Besides, I agree with the king, that Monsieur de
Bouille is sure to arrive soon."

Monsieur de Choiseul bowed and stepped back, taking
Damas, whom he wished to consult, with him, and also
beckoning to the two guardsmen to come and take part in
the conference.



POOR Catherine!

There was very little change in the appearance of the

Madame Eoyale had succumbed to fatigue, and Madame
de Tourzel had put her to bed beside her brother.
Madame Elizabeth was sitting beside the bed, leaning her
head against one of the posts.

The queen, rigid with anger, was standing near the
mantel, gazing alternately at the king, who was seated on
a bale of merchandise, and at the four officers, who were
deliberating near the door.

An aged woman, an octogenarian, in fact, was kneeling
by the children's bedside, as if before an altar. It was
the solicitor's grandmother. Impressed by the beauty of
the two children and the imposing air of the queen, she
had fallen upon her knees and was praying in a whisper,
tears streaming down her face the while.

What was the petition she addressed to heaven? Was
it that God would forgive these two angels, or that these
two angels would forgive mankind?

Sausse and the municipal officers had withdrawn, promis-
ing the king that the horses should soon be put to his
carriage; but the queen's face showed that she placed
no dependence whatever upon this promise, — showed it
so plainly that Monsieur de Choiseul remarked to the
gentlemen around him, —

"We must not be deceived by the apparent composure of
the king and queen. The situation is not exactly desper-
ate, or at least not hopeless ; but we must look at it as it


really is. It is more than probable that the Marquis de
Bouille has been notified by this time, and that he will be
here between five and six in the morning, as he must be
somewhere between Dun and Steoay with a detachment of
the Royal German regiment. It is even possible that his
advance guard may arrive here a little sooner; but we must
not forget that we are surrounded by four or five hundred
determined opponents, and that the arrival of Bouille's
troops will be a moment of great peril and frightful tur-
moil. The people here will do their best to get the king
out of Varennes ; they may even try to make him mount a
horse, in order to take him back to Clermont. His life
will be threatened, and the infuriated populace may even
attempt to kill him; but this danger will last only a few
minutes. As soon as the hussars are once in the town, the
trouble will be over. Consequently, we shall be compelled
to hold out only about ten minutes, and there are ten of
us. As things are arranged here, we can reasonably hope
that they will not be able to kill more than one of us a
minute, so the day will be ours."

The auditors contented themselves with nodding their
assent. This proposal, though involving devotion unto
death, was accepted as simply and quietly as it was made.
"What I think we had better do, gentlemen, is this,"
continued Choiseul. "As soon as we hear the first shot,
we will rush into the adjoining room, kill all the people
who happen to be in there, and so secure possession of the
staircase and windows. There are three windows, — three
of us will defend them; the remaining seven will guard
the staircase, which it will be an easy matter to defend, as
from its winding shape one man can without difficulty hold
five or six assailants at bay. The bodies of those who are
killed will serve as a rampart for those who are left; so
I '11 wager a hundred to one that the troops will be mas-
ters of the town before the last one of us is killed, and if
we should be, the place we shall occupy in history will
richly reward us for our devotion."


The young meu grasped each other's hands like Spartans
on the eve of battle, then each man selected his post. The
two guardsmen and Isidore de Charny were to defend the
three windows overlooking the street, Monsieur de
Choiseul was to stand at the foot of the staircase; next to
him was to be Damas, then Floirac, then Foucq, and then
the nou-commissioned officers who had remained faithful
to Damas, and who had also taken part in the conference.

These arrangements had only just been concluded when
an increased commotion was apparent in the street below.
It was caused by the arrival of another delegation, com-
posed of Sausse, — who seemed to be the chief element in
every deputation, — Captain Hannonet of the National
Guards, and three or four of the municipal authorities.

They were duly announced, and the king, believing they
had come to inform him that his horses had at last been
put to the carriage, ordered them to be admitted.

They entered, and the young officers fancied they de-
tected a determined expression, which boded the king no
good, on their faces.

Almost at the same moment Isidore came upstairs,
exchanged a few words with the queen, and hastily left the
room again.

The queen turned as pale as death, and, stepping back,
clutched the bed upon which her children were sleeping,
as if for support. The king looked inquiringly at the
envoys, and waited for them to speak; but they only
bowed, without uttering a word. So Louis XVI. pretended
to misunderstand their intentions, and said, —

" Gentlemen, the French people are only led astray
temporarily. Their devotion and attachment to their
sovereign are profound and genuine. Weary of the insults
and contumely to which I have been subjected in my capital
for some time past, I have decided to retire to the })rov-
inces, where the sacred flame of royalty and devotion still
burns brightly."

The envoys bowed again, and the king continued, —

POOR Catherine! 319

"I am ready and willing to give a convincing proof of
the confidence I feel in my people; so I shall take from
here an escort, made up half of National Guardsmen and
half of regulars, to the place whither I have decided to
retire for the present. Consequently, I must ask you to
select half my escort from among your own citizens, and
to have horses put to my carriage at once."

There was a silence; Sausse was probably waiting for
Hannonet to speak, and the captain was waiting for Sausse.
At last, Hannonet bowed and said : " I should be very
glad, sire, if I could obey your Majesty's commands; but
there is an article in the Constitution which forbids the
king to leave the kingdom, and also forbids any loyal
Frenchman to aid him in his flight."

The king started angrily, and Hannonet, with a gesture
as if entreating the monarch to hear him throT:gh,
continued, —

" Consequently the authorities of Varennes have decided
that before permitting the king to proceed any further, a
courier shall be sent to Paris to ascertain the will of the
National Assembly."

Great drops of sweat bedewed the king's brow, the
queen bit her lip wrathfully, and Madame Elizabeth lifted
her eyes and hands to heaven.

" Indeed, gentlemen , am I, then, to understand that I am
no longer master of my own movements?" said the king,
with a dignity which always seemed to manifest itself in
him on any great emergency. " In that case, I am more
of a slave than the least of my subjects."

"Sire, you are always the master," responded the cap-
tain of the National Guard; "but all men, kings as well
as ordinary citizens, are alike bound by their oaths. You
have taken an oath. Be the first to fulfil that oath, sire,
and obey the laws. It will not only be a noble example
that you set, but a sacred duty that you perform."

During this conversation the duke gazed questioningly
at the queen several times, and apparently received an


affirmative answer to his mute inquiry, for lie went down-

The king understood that if he submitted to this rebel-
lion on the part of an insignificant town, — and, regarded
from his point of view, it was a rebellion, — his cause was
irretrievably lost.

"Gentlemen, this is nothing more or less than an out-
rage on your part," he replied; "but I am not so entirely at
your mercy as you may suppose. I have forty faithful
soldiers in front of this house, and a thousand other
soldiers in close proximity to Varennes. I command you
to have my horses harnessed. Do you understand me?
This is both my wish and my command."

The queen stepped to his side. " Good, sire, good ! "
she exclaimed. "Let us risk our lives if necessary, but
never forget our honour and our dignity."

"And if we should refuse to obey your Majesty, what
will be the consequences?" asked Hannonet.

" I shall be compelled to resort to force, and you will be
responsible for the blood I refused to shed until forced to
do so by you."

" So be it. You summon your hussars, and I will sum-
mon the National Guard."

And he went downstairs in his turn.

The king and queen gazed at each other in dismay.
Perhaps neither of them would have dared to risk such an
attempt, had not the wife of the solicitor entered, and,
pushing aside her grandmother, who was still praying by
the bed, remarked to the queen with the bluntness and
brusqueness of a woman of the people, —

"So you 're really the queen, madame?"

The queen turned hastily, cut to the quick by the
familiar manner of the speaker.

"Yes," she replied, "at least I thought so, an hour

"Well, if you 're the queen," continued Madame Sausse,
undaunted, "we pay you twenty-four millions a year to


keep your place. It is a very good place, it seems to me,
as you 're so well paid. Why do you want to give it up? "

The queen uttered a cry of indignation, and, turning to
the king, exclaimed, —

"Anything, anything, rather than submit to such

And, catching up the dauphin, who was still asleep on the
bed, she ran to the window, and, opening it, cried, —

"Let us show ourselves to the people, sire, and see if
their minds are entirely poisoned against us. If they are,
we will appeal to the soldiery, and encourage them with
voice and gesture. They deserve at least that much, men
who are willing to die for us ! "

The king followed her mechanically out upon the

The wildest confusion and disorder pervaded the square.

Many of Choiseul's hussars had dismounted; the others
were still on horseback. Those on foot were swallowed
up in the crowd, and their horses had been led off in
different directions. These men had already been won
over to the National Cause ; but those on horseback seemed
to be still under the influence of Choiseul, who was ha-
ranguing them in German; but their commander saw that
at least half the original number had deserted.

Standing a little apart, was Isidore, with his knife in
his hand, like a hunter watching for his prey.

Cries of " The king ! the king ! " resounded from five
hundred throats as the royal family appeared upon the bal-
cony, the queen still holding the dauphin in her arms.

If Louis XVI. had been clad in his royal robes,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 22 24

Online LibraryAlexandre DumasComtesse de Charny (Volume 2) → online text (page 22 of 24)