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sacrifice; she bowed her proud head to his will; she consented to
accompany the king with her children into the Assembly.

She took the dauphin in her arms, Madame Therese by the hand, and, at
the side of the king, followed by the Princesses Lamballe and Tarent,
walked out of the palace of the Tuileries to go to the Convent des
Peuillants, where the Legislative Assembly held its sessions.

What a martyrdom in this short distance from the Tuileries to the
Feuillants - what dishonor and fears were gathered on this path! Between
the deep ranks of Swiss grenadiers and National Guards was this path;
the queen stares fixedly on the ground, and she does not see that her
thin silk shoes will be torn by the hard, fallen leaves of the trees
under which they are moving.

But the king sees every thing, notices every thing. "How many leaves,"
said he, gazing forward - "they fall early this year!"

Now at the foot of the terrace the advance of the royal family is
stopped by a multitude of people, who, with wild howlings, swing their
pikes and clubs, and in their madness shout: "No, they must not enter
the Assembly! - they are the cause of all our misery! Let us put an end
to all this! Down with them! - down!"

The queen pays no attention to these shouts; she sees not that the
National Guards are clearing a way by force; she walks forward with
uplifted head, with a countenance petrified like that of Medusa at the
sight of evil.

But as a man approaches her, seizes the dauphin and takes him in his
arms, the transfixed queen is aroused, and, with all the anguish of a
mother's despair, grapples the arm of the man who wants to rob her of
all she now possesses, her child!

"Be not afraid," whispered the man, "I will do him no harm, I am but
going to carry him;" and Marie Antoinette, her eyes fixed on the child,
moves forward. At their entrance into the hall of the Assembly the man
gives her back the dauphin, and she makes him sit down near her on the
seats of the ministers.

A rough voice issues from the midst of the Assembly: "The dauphin
belongs to the nation; place him at the side of the president. The
Austrian is not worthy of our confidence!"

They tear away from the queen the weeping child, who clings to her, and
who is carried to the president, at whose left hand the king has seated
himself.

Again a voice is heard reminding the Assembly of the law which forbids
them to deliberate in the presence of the king.

The royal family must leave the lower portion of the hall, and are led
into a small room, with iron trellis-work, behind the president's chair.

The royal family, with their attendants, pressed into the small space of
this room, can here at least, away from the gaze of their enemies, hide
their dishonored heads; at least no one sees the nervousness of despair
which now and then agitates the tall figure of the queen, the tears
trembling on her eyelids when she looks to the poor little dauphin,
whose blond curly head lies in her bosom, asleep from exhaustion,
hunger, and sorrow.

No one sees the king and the queen, but they see and hear every thing.
They hear from without the howlings of the mob, the cannon's roar, the
reports of the rifles, telling them that a bloody fratricidal strife, a
terrible civil war, is raging. They hear there in the hall, a few steps
from them, the fanatical harangues of the deputies, whose words, full
of blood, are like the hands of the murdering Marsellais there without.
Marie Antoinette hears Vergniaud's motion, "to divest the king at once
of his power and rank," and she hears the acclamations of the Assembly
in favor of the motion. She hears the Assembly by their own power
reinvesting the Girondist ministers, dismissed by the king, with their
dignity and power! She hears the Assembly decide "to invite the French
people to form a national compact."

She hears all this, and the cold perspiration of anguish and horror
covers her brow while she has yet strength enough to force hack her
tears into her heart. She asks for a handkerchief to wipe her forehead.
Not one of the attendants around can furnish a kerchief which is not
stained with the blood of the victims fallen at their side in protecting
the royal family with their lives. [Footnote: "Memoires inedites du
Comte de la Rochefoucauld."]

At last, at two o'clock in the morning, is this painful martyrdom ended,
and the royal family are led into the upper rooms of the convent, where
hastily and penuriously enough a few chambers had been furnished.

The howlings of the crowd ascend to their windows. Under those of the
queen's room groups of infuriated women sing the song whose horrible
burden is, "Madame Veto avait promis de faire egorger tout Paris."
Between the sentences other voices shout and howl: "The queen is the
cause of our misery! Kill her! kill the queen, the murderess of France!
Kill Madame Veto! Throw us her head!"

Three days after, the royal family are led to the Temple. The rulers of
the state are now state prisoners. But the queen had already found the
peace which misfortune generally brings to strong souls; and as she
walked to the Temple, and saw her foot protruding from the extremity
of her shoe, she said with an affecting smile, "Who could have believed
that one day the Queen of France should be in want of shoes!"

With the 10th of August began the last act of the great tragedy of the
revolution. Its second scene had its representation in the first days of
September, in those days of blood and tears, in which infuriated
bands of the people stormed the prisons to murder the captive priests,
aristocrats, and royalists.

Under the guillotine fell during this month the head of the queen's
friend, the Princess de Lamballe, who was followed in crowds by the
king's faithful adherents, sealing their loyalty and their love with
their death.

This loyalty and love for the royal family was during this month branded
as an unpardonable crime, for the National Convention, which on the 21st
of September had taken the place of the Constituent Assembly, on the
25th declared France to be a republic, and the royalists became thereby
criminals, who had sinned in the respect and love which they owed to the
"republic one and indivisible."

The new republic of France celebrated her saturnalia in the following
months, and unfurled her blood-stained standard over the nation. She
was not satisfied with having brought to the guillotine more than ten
thousand aristocrats and royalists, to terrify the faithful adherents
and servants of the throne. She required, moreover, the death of those
for whose sake so many thousands had perished - the death of the king and
of the queen.

On the 5th of December began the trial of Louis Capet, ex-King of
France, now accused by the Convention. The pages of history have
illustrated this stupendous and tragical event in all its shapes and
colors. Each party has preyed upon it, the poets have sung it, and made
it the central point of tragedy and romance: but none have painted it
in so telling, in so terse, masterly traits, none have so fully
comprehended and expressed the already stupendous event, as Lieutenant
Napoleon Bonaparte, the future Emperor of France.

He happened to be in Paris during these days of terror. He had, with all
the energies of his soul, given himself up to the new state of
things, and he belonged to the most upright and zealous faction of
the republicans. He acknowledged himself won over to their ideas, he
participated in their celebrations, he was the friend of many of the
most influential and conspicuous members of the Convention, and he was
rarely absent from their meetings; but in the presence of the awful
catastrophe of the king's accusation and execution his proud and daring
soul shrank back, and, full of misgivings, shuddered within itself. The
young, enthusiastic republican, to his own great horror, found in
the depths of his soul a holy respect and awe in the presence of this
royalty which he so often in words had despised, and the fall of the
king, this enemy of the republic, moved his heart as a calamity which
had fallen upon him and upon all France. He himself gave to one of
his friends in Ajaccio a very correct description of these days. After
narrating the events of the first days of the trial of the king, he
continues:

"The day after I heard that the advocate Target had refused to undertake
the king's defence, to which he was privileged by virtue of his office.
This is what may be called, in the strictest sense of the word, to erase
one's name from history. What grounds had he for such a low cunning?
'His life I will not save, and mine I dare not risk!' Malherbes,
Tronchet, Deseze, loyal and devoted subjects, to imitate them in their
zeal would be impossible for me; but were I a prince I would have them
sit at my right hand - united together in the most strenuous efforts to
defend the successor of St. Louis. If they survive this deed of sublime
faithfulness, never can I pass by them without uncovering my head.

"Business detained me unavoidably in Versailles. Only on the 16th of
January did I return to Paris, and consequently I had lost three or four
scenes of this tragedy of ambition. But on the 18th of January I went
to the National Convention. Ah, my friend, it is true, and the most
infuriated republicans avow it also, a prince is but an ordinary man!
His head will as surely fall as that of another man, but whosoever
decrees his death trembles at his own madness, and were he not urged
by secret motives, his vote would die on his lips ere it was uttered.
I gazed with much curiosity at the fearless mortals who were about
deciding the fate of their king. I watched their looks. I searched into
their hearts. The exceeding weightiness of the occasion had exalted
them, intoxicated them, but within themselves they were full of fear in
the presence of the grandeur of their victim.

"Had they dared retreat, the prince had been saved. To his misfortune,
they had argued within themselves, 'If his head falls not to-day, then
we must soon give ours to the executioner's stroke.'

"This was the prominent thought which controlled their vote. No pen
can adequately portray the feelings of the spectators in the galleries.
Silent, horrified, breathless, they gazed now on the accused, now on the
defenders, now on the judges.

"The vote of Orleans sounded forth - 'Death!' An electric shock could
not have produced deeper impression. The whole assembly, seized with
an involuntary terror, rose. The hall was filled with the murmurs of
conflicting emotions.

"Only one man remained seated, immovable as a rock, and that one was
myself.

"I ventured to reflect on the cause of such indifference (as that of
Orleans) and I found that cause grounded on ambition, but this cannot
justify the conduct of Orleans. It is only thus that I could account
for his action: he seeks a throne, though without any right to it, and
a throne cannot be won if the pretender renounces all claims to public
respect and virtue.

"I will be brief, for to unfold a mournful story is not my business.
The king was sentenced to death; and if the 21st day of January does
not inspire hatred for the name of France, a glorious name at least will
have been added to the roll-call of her martyrs.

"What a city was Paris on that day! The population seemed to be in a
state of bewilderment; all seemed to exchange but gloomy looks, and one
man hurried on to meet another without uttering a word. The streets were
deserted; houses and palaces were like graves. The very air seemed to
mirror the executioner. In a word, the successor of St. Louis was led to
the scaffold through the ranks of mourning automatons, that a short time
before were his subjects.

"If any one is at your side, my friend, when you read this, conceal the
following lines from him, even were he your father. It is a stain on the
stuff of which my character is made - that Napoleon Bonaparte, for the
sake of a human being's destruction, should have been deeply moved and
compelled to retire to his bed, is a thing barely credible, though it is
true, and I cannot confess it without being ashamed of myself.

"On the night before the 21st of January I could not close my eyes, and
yet I could not explain to myself the cause of this unusual excitement.
I rose up early and ran everywhere to and fro where crowds had gathered.
I wondered at, or much more I despised, the weakness of those forty
thousand National Guards, of which the nineteenth part were practically
the assistants of the executioner. At the gate of St. Denis I met
Santerre; a numerous staff followed him. I could have cut off his ears.
I spat down before him - it was all I could do. In my opinion, the Duke
d'Orleans would have filled his place better. He had set his eyes on a
crown, and, as every one knows, such a motive overcomes much hesitancy.

"Following the Boulevards, I came to the Place de la Revolution. The
guillotine, a new invention, I had not yet seen. A cold perspiration
ran over me. Near me stood a stranger, who attributed my uneasiness and
pallor to some special interest on my part for the king's fate. 'Do not
be alarmed,' said he, 'he is not going to die; the Convention is only
glad to exhibit its power, and at the foot of the scaffold the king will
find his letters of pardon.' 'In this case,' said I, 'the members of the
Convention are not far from their own ruin, and could a guilty man have
more deserved his fate than they? Whoever attacks a lion, and desires
not to be destroyed by it, must not wound but kill on the spot.'

"A hollow, confused noise was heard. It was the royal victim. I pushed
forward, making way with my elbows, and being pushed myself. All my
efforts to come closer were fruitless. Suddenly the noise of drums
broke upon the gloomy silence of the crowd. 'This is the signal for
his freedom,' said the stranger. 'It will fall back on the head of
his murderers,' answered I; 'half a crime in a case like this is but
weakness.'

"A moment's stillness followed. Something heavy fell on the scaffold.
This sound went through my heart.

"I inquired of a gendarme the cause of this sound. 'The axe has fallen,'
said he. 'The king is not saved then?' 'He is dead.' 'He is dead!'

"For ten times at least I repeated the words 'He is dead.'

"For a few moments I remained unconscious. Without knowing by whom,
I was carried along by a crowd, and found myself on the Quai des
Theatines, but could say nothing, except 'He is dead.'

"Entirely bewildered, I went home, but a good hour elapsed before I
fully recovered my senses." [Footnote: See "Edinburgh Quarterly Review,"
1830.]




CHAPTER XII. THE EXECUTION OF THE QUEEN.


The king's execution was the signal-fire which announced to the
horrified world the beginning of the reign of terror, and told Europe
that in France the throne had been torn down, and in its stead the
guillotine erected. Yes, the guillotine alone now ruled over France; the
days of moderation, of the Girondists, had passed away; the terrorists,
named also men of the Mountain, on account of the high seats they
occupied in the Convention, had seized the reins of power, and now
controlled the course of events.

Everywhere, in every province, in every city, the blood-red standard of
the revolution was lifted up; might had become law; death was the rule,
and in lieu of the boasted liberty of conscience was tyranny. Who dared
think otherwise than the terrorists, who presumed to doubt the measures
of the Convention, was a criminal who, in the name of the one and
indivisible republic, was to be punished with death; whose head must
fall, for he had cherished thoughts which agreed not with the schemes of
the revolutionists.

How in these days of agitation and anguish Josephine rejoiced at her
good fortune, that she had not to tremble for her husband's life; that
she was away from the crater of the revolution which raged in Paris, and
daily claimed so many victims!

Alexandre de Beauharnais was still with the army. He had risen from rank
to rank; and when, in May, General Custine was deposed by the Committee
of Public Safety from the command of the Northern army, Alexandre de
Beauharnais, who was then chief of the general's staff of this army, was
appointed in his place as commanding general of the Army of the Rhine;
and the important work now to be achieved was to debar the besieging
Prussians and Austrians from recapturing Mayence. The Committee of
Public Safety had dismissed General Custine from his post, because
he had not pressed on with sufficient speed to the rescue of Mayence,
according to the judgment of these new rulers of France, who wanted from
Paris to decide all military matters, and who demanded victories whilst
too often refusing the means necessary for victory.

General de Beauharnais was to turn to good what General Custine,
according to the opinion of these gentlemen of the Convention, had
failed to do. This was an important and highly significant order, and to
leave it unfulfilled was to excite the anger of the Committee of Safety;
it was simply to deserve death.

General de Beauharnais knew this well, but he shrank not back from the
weighty and dangerous situation in which he was placed. To his country
belonged his life, all his energies; and it was to him of equal
importance whether his head fell on the battle-field or on the scaffold;
in either case it would fall for his country; he would do his duty, and
his country might be satisfied with him.

In this enthusiastic love for country, De Beauharnais accepted
cheerfully the offered command of the Army of the Rhine as
general-in-chief, and he prepared himself to march to the rescue of
besieged Mayence.

Whilst General de Beauharnais was on the French frontier, Josephine
trembled with anxious misgivings. The new dignity of her husband filled
her with fear, for she multiplied the dangers which surrounded him and
his family, for now the eyes of the terrorists were fixed on him. An
unfortunate move, an unsuccessful war operation, could excite the wrath
of these men of power, and send Beauharnais to the guillotine. It
was well known that he belonged not to the Mountain party, but to the
moderate republicans, to the Girondists; and as the Girondists were now
incarcerated, as the Committee of Safety had brought accusations against
them, and declared them guilty of treason toward France, it was also
easy, if it pleased the terrorists, to find a flaw in the character of
General Beauharnais, and to bring accusations against him as had been
done against the Girondists.

Such were Josephine's fears, which made her tremble for her husband,
for her children. She wished at least to secure these from the impending
danger, and to save and shield them from the guillotine. Her friend, the
Princess von Hohenzollern, was on the eve of leaving for England with
her brother the Prince von Salm, and Josephine was anxious to seize this
opportunity to save her children. She brought Eugene and Hortense to the
princess, who was now waiting in St. Martin, in the vicinity of St. Pol,
in the county of Artois, expecting a favorable moment for departure; for
already was the emigration watched, already it was considered a crime
to leave France. With bitter tears of grief, and yet glad to know her
children safe, Josephine bade farewell to her little ones, and then
returned to Paris, so as to excite no suspicion through her absence. But
no sooner had General Beauharnais heard of Josephine's plan to send her
children from the country, than in utmost speed he dispatched to his
wife a courier bearing a letter in which he decidedly opposed the
departure of the children, for by this emigration his own position would
be imperilled and his character made suspicious.

Josephine sighed, and, with tears in her eyes, submitted to her
husband's will; she sent a faithful messenger to St. Martin to bring
back Eugene and Hortense. But the Princess von Hohenzollern would not
trust the children to any one; she had sworn to her friend Josephine to
watch over them, never to let them go out of her sight, and she wished
to keep her oath until such time as she could restore the children to
their mother. She therefore returned herself to Paris, to bring back
Eugene and Hortense to Josephine; and this journey, so short and so
insignificant in itself, was nevertheless the occasion that the Princess
von Hohenzollern remained in France; that her brother, the Prince von
Salm, should mount the scaffold! The favorable moment for emigration was
lost through this delay; the journey to Paris had attracted the eyes of
the authorities to the doings of the princess and of her brother, the
contemplated journey to England was discovered, and the incarceration of
the Prince von Salm and of his sister was the natural consequence. A few
months after, the prince paid with his life the contemplated attempt to
migrate; his sister, the Princess von Hohenzollern, was saved from the
guillotine through accident.

Meanwhile, Josephine had at least her children safely returned, and,
in the quietude and solitude of Fontainebleau, she awaited with beating
heart the future developments of events; she saw increase every day the
dangers which threatened her, her family, and, above all things, her
husband.

Mayence was still besieged by the Austrian and Prussian forces. General
Beauharnais had not completed the organization of his army so as to
press onward to the rescue of the besieged, whose perils increased every
day. But whilst, in unwearied activity, he urged on the preliminary
operations, a courier arrived, who brought to the general his
appointment to the office of minister of war, and required his immediate
presence in Paris, there to assume his new dignity.

Alexandre de Beauharnais had the courage to answer with a declination
the office. He entreated the Convention to make another choice, for
he considered himself more competent to serve his country against the
coalition of tyrants, among his companions-in-arms, than to be minister
of war amid revolution's storms.

The Convention pardoned his refusal for the sake of the patriotic
sentiments which he had expressed. But this refusal was to have, not
only for the general, but also for all the aristocracy of France, the
most fatal results. Some of the most fanatical members of the Mountain
party ever considered as an audacious resistance to the commands of
the Convention this refusal of Alexandre de Beauharnais, to accept the
office which the highest powers of the land offered him.

It was a nobleman, an aristocrat, who had dared oppose the democratic
Convention, and hence the welcome pretext was found to begin the
long-wished-for conflict against the aristocrats. One of the deputies of
the Mountain made the motion to remove from all public offices, from
the army, from the cabinet, all noblemen. Another accused General de
Beauharnais, as well as all officers from amongst the nobility, of
moderate tendencies, and requested at the same time that a list of all
officers from the nobility, and now in the army, should be laid before
the Convention.

But on this very day a letter from the general reached the Convention.
In this letter he expressed the hope of a speedy rescue of Mayence; he
announced that he had completed the organization of his forces and
all his preparations, and that soon from the camps of Vicembourg and
Lauterburg he would advance against Mayence.

This letter was received by the Convention with loud acclamations, and
so took possession of all minds that they passed over the motion of
hostility against the nobility, to the order of the day.

Had General de Beauharnais accomplished his purpose - had he succeeded in
relieving the garrison besieged in Mayence, now sorely pressed, and
in delivering them, this horrible decree which caused so much blood to
flow, this decree against the nobility, would never have appeared, and
France would have been spared many scenes of cruelty and horror.

Beauharnais hoped still to effect the rescue. Trusty messengers from
Mayence had brought him the news that the garrison held on courageously
and bravely, and that they could hold their ground a few days longer.
Dispatch was therefore necessary; and if in a few days they could be
re-enforced, then they would be saved, provided the other generals
should advance with their troops in time to attack the Austrian and
Prussian forces lying round about Mayence. The French had already
succeeded in obtaining some advantages over the enemy; and General de
Beauharnais could triumphantly announce to the Convention that, on the



Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 11 of 40)