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intended for me.

' On the 24th of July I was abruptly put in a coach, and trans-
ferred to the too famous Conciergerie, of the very existence of whose
dungeons, beneath the noble halls of the Palais de Justice, many
even in Paris have not an idea. A tall and insolent turnkey, after
reading aloud my description, marshalled me along a dark passage
to my new abode. It was a long narrow slip of a place, having
at one end a window so overhung ty jalousies as to afford one a
glimpse of about a foot square of sky, and its bare walls blackened
with prisoners' names and effusions of despair. A wretched pallet,
an old table, and two buckets were its sole furniture, in the descrip-
tion of which I should not have been so particular, had it not
formed for the previous three weeks the abode of Marshal Ney.

' I shewed myself to be weaker than he, for he never complained,
while I did ; for when I found it would be impossible for me to read
more than half an hour in the day, I wrote to the prefect of police
to tell him I should soon be a dead man if they did not change
my lodgings. That evening the turnkey came to take me out to
walk in the courtyard called the Pre*au, and at nine, instead of taking
me up again to my hole, he led me to a ground-floor room, which
boasted of a fireplace, and a window looking into a smaller court,
separated from that of the women by a pretty high wall. " I could
not put you here this morning," said he, " because General Labe"-
doyere was confined next door ; but he is removed to the Abbaye.
Next day I got him to shew me the chamber, which was still
more inconvenient than that I had left, and where the poor fellow
had remained in total solitude for eight days, without books or
any other recreation, seeing even a jailer only twice in the



STORY OF LAVALETTE.

twenty-four hours, and deprived, by the narrowness of his cabin,
from even such exercise as pacing its length would have afforded.

' I, too, was to spend six long weeks in secret, receiving no letters
that were not first opened, nor seeing any friend except in presence
of the prison clerk. I had but sorry news of my wife, whose assur-
ances of perfect health were sadly belied by her trembling hand-
writing, and the sufferings I knew to be inseparable from her
situation of advanced pregnancy, to which she carefully abstained
from alluding. My slumbers, which these tidings were not likely
to render sounder, were broken at all hours by the vicinity to my
cell of a huge iron door, the incessant opening and shutting of
which, when the sentries were relieving, shook me in my bed, and
often made me start up in alarm ; while the cold and damp obliged
me, even at midsummer, to keep up a fire night and day.'

During this period of suspense, Lavalette seems to have been
chiefly supported under his misfortunes by reflections on the yet
greater reverses of the emperor. It was not without a degree of
melancholy satisfaction that he was permitted occasional short inter-
views at his window with Marshal Ney, who was confined in the
same prison, and on a similar charge of breaking his faith with
the Bourbons, and going over to Napoleon. Ney was cheerful under
his reverses, consoling himself, like Lavalette, with the reflection
that he had only done as his sense of duty and gratitude had
dictated. Not a little of his time he spent in playing the flute,
and when his companions in misfortune could not see him, they
knew from the notes of his flute that he was still a living man.
Of the three victims confined on a similar charge, Labe'doyere was
first tried and executed. ' Labe'doyere is gone,' said Ney to Lava-
lette at their last interview ; ' it will be your turn next, dear Lavalette,
and then mine.' This anticipation proved correct. Lavalette was
brought to trial in the course of November; but before proceeding
with his story, we may present a few details respecting the unfortu-
nate Ney.

MARSHAL NEY.

Michel Ney was the son of a poor tradesman of Saarlouis,
on the borders of Germany, and, like Lavalette, rose to a high post
in the army entirely by the force of his character. At first he was
intrusted with only the command of a body of irregular troops,
called partisans, who, knowing very little of discipline, yet exceeded
all other men in the impetuosity of their attacks, and were ready
for any enterprise, however daring or desperate. To execute missions
of extraordinary peril, to traverse the enemy's lines, to recon-
noitre his positions and strength, to cut off his convoys, and to
destroy or make prisoners such separate detachments as they might
encounter such were their usual tasks ; and it was in this adventur-
ous service that Ney acquired the surname of the Indefatigable.
14



STORY OF LAVALETTE.

A daring act of intrepidity which he performed at the siege of Mann-
heim in 1799, raised him to the head of a division in the regular
army. This act was his assumption of the character and costume
of a peasant, and entering the town to spy the nature of its defences.
German being his native language, and being well acquainted
with the manners of the peasantry, he escaped suspicion, and
returned in safety to the French camp. With the knowledge he
had so gained, he proceeded, during the darkness of night, with
a chosen band, and by the fury of his attack captured the place.

Now installed in the favour of Napoleon, Ney rose to distinction,
and was created Duke of Elchingen, in reward for the victory he
achieved at the battle of that name. In the French campaigns in
the Peninsula, he was in active service, and conducted the retreat
from Torres- Vedras with an ability which greatly increased his fame.
Colonel Napier, in his History of the Peninsular War, has an
anecdote about his brother, honourable alike to Marshal Ney and
the French commander-in-chief, Soult. Major Napier, at the battle
of Corunna, having been wounded and made prisoner, 'he was
returned among the killed. The morning after the battle, the Duke
of Dalmatia, being apprised of Major Napier's situation, had him
ccnveyed to good quarters, and, with a kindness and consideration
very uncommon, wrote to Napoleon, desiring that his prisoner
might not be sent to France, which (from the system of refusing
exchanges) would have been destruction to his professional pros-
pects. The marshal also obtained for the drummer (who had saved
him from being murdered by a French soldier) the decoration of the
Legion of Honour. The events of the war obliged Soult to depart in
a few days from Corunna, but he recommended Major Napier to
the attention of Marshal Ney; and that marshal also treated his
prisoner with the kindness of a friend rather than the rigour of an
enemy, for he quartered him with the French consul, supplied him
with money, gave him a general invitation to his house on all public
occasions, and refrained from sending him to France. Nor did
Marshal Ney's kindness stop there ; for when the flag of truce
arrived, and he became acquainted with the situation of Major
Napier's family, he suddenly waived all forms, and instead of
answering the inquiry by a cold intimation of the captive's existence,
sent him, and with him the few English prisoners taken in the
battle, at once to England, merely demanding that none should
serve until regularly exchanged. I should not have dwelt thus long
upon the private adventures of an officer, but that gratitude demands
a public acknowledgment of such generosity, and the demand is
rendered imperative by the after-misfortunes of Marshal Ney.'

Ney served in the Russian campaign, and for his gallantly during
this disastrous expedition he was created Prince of Moskwa. In
1813, when the power of Napoleon was crumbling to ruin, Ney still
adhered faithfully to him. Like others, however, as has been

is



STORY OF LAVALETTE.

already said, he went over to the Bourbons, and, more fortunate
than many of his brethren in arms, was intrusted by them with a
high military command, and created a knight of St Louis, and a
peer of France. But France was now at peace with all the world ;
and no one of these great military chiefs could be more unprepared
for the change than the Prince of Moskwa. He was too old to
acquire new habits. For domestic comforts he was little adapted.
During the many years of his marriage, he had been unable to pass
more than a very few months with his family. Too illiterate to find
any resource in books, too rude to be a favourite in society, and too
proud to desire that sort of distinction, he was condemned to a
solitary and an inactive life. The habit of braving death, and of
commanding vast bodies of men, had impressed his character with
a species of moral grandeur, which raised him far above the puerile
observances of the fashionable world. Plain in his manners, and
still plainer in his words, he neither knew nor wished to know the
art of pleasing courtiers. Of good-nature he had indeed a consider-
able fund, but he shewed it not so much by the endless little atten-
tions of a gentleman, as by scattered acts of princely beneficence.
For dissipation he had no taste ; his professional cares and duties,
which during twenty-five years had left him no respite, had engrossed
his attention too much to allow room for the passions, vices, or
follies of society to obtain any empire over him. The sobriety
of his manners was extreme, even to austerity. Contrary to his
wife's inclinations, Ney seldom appeared at court, and it was while
at his country seat, in March 1815, that he was surprised by a
summons to join the division of the army of which he was com-
mander. He undertook the commission, but the universal defection
of the army caused him to abandon the attempt, and he hastened to
meet Napoleon, by whom he was received with open arms, and
hailed by his undisputed title of Bravest of the Brave.*

In the brief campaign of 1815, Ney had an important command,
and at Waterloo, where the whole energies of Bonaparte were con-
centrated for a final effort, he led the attack on the enemy's centre ;
and after five horses had been killed under him, he remained the
last French general on the bloody field. His clothes were full of
bullet-holes, and he fought on foot -till night, in the midst of the
plain. All being lost, and aware of the dangers to which he was
exposed, he fled to Auvergne, a remote part of France, and found
shelter and concealment in the castle of a friend at Aurillac.
During an entertainment given by his friend, one of the guests
observed a splendid sabre. The account of it reached the ears of
the sub-prefect, and it was immediately recognised as the sabre of
Ney. The castle was searched, the marshal taken, and imprisoned
on the 5th of August. Ney might have escaped with ease, but he

* Court and Camp of Napoleon.
16



STORY OF LAVALETTE.

was confident of acquittal. He was brought before a court-martial,
which on the loth of November declared itself incompetent to take
cognizance of his case. His trial was therefore referred to the
Chamber of Peers, where the minister, the Duke de Richelieu, was
eager for his punishment. His advocate was Dupin. The twelfth
article of the capitulation of Paris, signed July 3, 1815, promising a
general amnesty, was quoted in his favour ; but Wellington affirmed
that this was not the true construction of the article. Notwithstand-
ing the remonstrances of Marshal Davoust, who had made the
treaty, and who explained it in favour of Ney, he was sentenced
to death by 169 votes against 17. With the calmness which had
distinguished him through the whole trial he listened to the sen-
tence ; but when the person who read it came to his titles, he
interrupted him : ' What need of titles now ? I am Michel Ney,
and soon shall be a handful of dust.' When the assistance of a
priest was offered him, he replied : ' I need no priest to teach me
how to die ; I have learned it in the school of battle.' He permitted,
however, the curate of St Sulpice to accompany him to the scaffold,,
and compelled him to enter the carriage first, saying : ' You mount
before me now, sir, but I shall soonest reach a higher region.' On
the 7th of December 1815, at nine o'clock A. M., he was shot in the
garden of the Luxembourg. When an attempt was made to blind-
fold him, he tore away the bandage, and indignantly exclaimed :
' Have you forgotten that for twenty-six years I have lived among
bullets?' Then turning to the soldiers, he solemnly declared that he
had never been a traitor to his country, and, laying his hand upon
his heart, called out, with a steady voice : ' Aim true. France for
ever ! Fire ! ' He fell, pierced with bullets ; and his melancholy
fate will long be remembered as one of the most vengeful and
imprudent acts of the elder Bourbons.

STORY OF LAVALETTE'S CAPTIVITY CONTINUED.

We now turn to Ney's companion in captivity, the Count Lavalette,
the period of whose confinement previous to his trial in November
1815 was extremely irksome. 'Time in prison passes but slowly, 7 "
says he in his memoirs, ' and to the evils of my own situation were
now added deep anxieties about my wife, whom I had won upon to
promise not to come and see me till after her confinement, well
knowing the interview would be enough to kill her. On her account,
and that of my family, I succeeded in persuading myself that I
should get off with a few years' imprisonment, during which I could
watch over and occasionally see them ; and though the idea of the
scaffold would intrude, it was as yet but as a vague threat, scarce
likely, I flattered myself, to be realised. When such thoughts
became too oppressive, I escaped from them by mentally following
the bark which bore Napoleon over the wide waters to St Helena.

17



STORY OF LAVALETTE.

' One of the worst features of my domicile was the vicinity to it,
right opposite, though separated by a wall, of the women's court,
whence, from eight in the morning till seven at night, issued a
perfect torrent of stunning vociferation, couched in the lowest and
coarsest and most depraved terms to be found in our own or any
language, and sounds of riot, which the jailers were often obliged to
rush in to quell. On this same court, be it remembered, had looked
out the two windows of the prison of the unfortunate Queen Marie
Antoinette ! This chamber, which I had daily to pass through
during my sojourn, was a large waste place, divided by a sort of
pillar forming two arches, with a brick floor whose obsolete designs
indicated extreme antiquity. How often did I walk up and down
this prison when about to become a prey to despondency ! How
often did I blush there for complaining of a lot which, be it what it
might, could not transcend in horror that endured by a queen of
France !

I had denied myself, since my imprisonment, the visits of my
daughter, now nearly fourteen, from the dread of deepening her
sorrows by the sad realities of a dungeon. But my wife having sent
her to receive my blessing on the eve of her first communion, it
was in vain that I strove to keep within bounds my long-repressed
affections. On seeing before me my only child, adorned with all
the charms of youth, first drowned in tears in my arms, and then
stretched in a deep swoon at my feet, my heart was torn with inex-
pressible parental anguish, and for the first time awakened to the
full extent of my misfortunes. I was wholly unable to control my
grief 5 my silent tears mingled with -the sobs of my child ; and when
I laid my hands on her head, the words of blessing died away on my
lips.

' This scene, as I have said, first roused me to a true sense of my
situation, and my kind and zealous legal defenders drew aside, in
their consultations, a part at least of the veil which had hitherto
blinded me to it. My chief adviser, Monsieur Tripier, a clear,
logical-headed man, prepared for my defence by first attacking me
on every vulnerable point of my case. " What business had I at
the post-office ? Why had I gone thither so early ? Why did I
despatch a courier to meet the emperor ? Why take upon me to
stop the royal proclamation, while accelerating by the same posts
the bulletin of Napoleon ?" My answers appeared to him candid
and straightforward, but insufficient to secure my acquittal Yet
up to the eve of my sentence, his opinion was, that I should be
condemned to five years' imprisonment for my unauthorised resump-
tion of office. What, however, engrossed far more of my thoughts
than even my trial, was the situation of my wife, whose new-born
infant the long-wished-for son on whom I reckoned to console her
in the event of my loss, and her cares for whom might reconcile her
to survive me had been taken from her suddenly, after an illness



STORY OF LAVALETTE.

of a few short hours. My anxieties on her account, in the event
of my condemnation, grew quite dreadful the calamities attendant
on revolutions having deprived her of nearly all her near relatives.
Her father, indeed, survived, and had returned to France, but
bringing with him a second wife and family; and residing, as he
did, at a distance from Paris, could offer little in the way of present
protection.

' It was amid these dismal reflections that my trial began, the
first day of which was marked by animosity, and was stormy and
unfavourable; though towards its close, prejudices seemed giving
way, and on the second, matters appeared taking a more favourable
turn. Just as the jury, about six in the evening, were going to
retire to consider their verdict, a question arose, on which its fate
turned, between my counsel and that for the crown, as to the order
of putting the questions : ' Was I guilty of conspiracy, or only of a
usurpation of power?' If put in this order, and separately, no act
of conspiracy having been proved, the capital offence and consequent
penalty fell to the ground, and the misdemeanour, carrying imprison-
ment, alone remained. But this was not the aim of my prosecutors,
and they prevailed to have the questions joined in one ; and thus
working partly on the timidity and partly on the humanity of the
jury, by assuring them that an example of clemency was alone now
wanted by the government, and an opportunity of pardoning in my
person (Ney being already executed) the third great state offender.

' During the deliberation I was taken back to prison, and a
kind young friend volunteered to keep me company. After a very
melancholy dinner, wishing to keep up his hopes, though my own
were at an end, I proposed to him our usual game at chess, and won
it, contrary to my custom, as he was more than my match. But
indeed, poor fellow ! as the night wore on, his firmness gave way
with it, and when, at ten o'clock, obliged to take leave, he fairly
melted into tears. I remained alone two endless hours longer, and
at midnight was summoned back to hear my sentence. The verdict
had been read in my absence, and it was easy for me to gather its
tenor from the ominous silence which reigned in the vast hall, whose
benches were still occupied, and even by women, among whom I
in vain sought for a single compassionate glance. One juryman
alone had his face buried in his handkerchief. It was Monsieur
Jurien, a returned emigrant, whose nomination I had looked upon
as peculiarly disastrous, yet who, I afterwards learned, had for six
hours advocated my cause in a jury where eight out of twelve had
voted against me.

' The judges returned, for form's sake, for a few moments ; but I
had read my doom in many a countenance ere the president pro-
nounced aloud the article of the code which involved capital pun-
ishment ! I was pronounced guilty, and doomed to death under
the guillotine. As I went back to my cell, the turnkey met and



STORY OF LAVALETTE.

questioned me. "All is up with me !" said I ; and the man recoiled
as if he had received a shot. Hitherto, and in public, I had kept up ;
but night and solitude gave full effect to the terrible words : ' Guilty
of death ! ' My first impulse was again an indignant one. I strode
rapidly through my cell, appealing to France and the whole world
against an iniquitous sentence ; but by degrees I grew calm, and
exhausted nature found oblivion in sleep.

' My earliest care next day was how to break the sad tidings to
Madame Lavalette. I wrote to the Princess de Vaudemont and
another old female friend, who hastened to her, and whose deep
mourning garb made her at once aware of their mission. But the
princess, a woman of firm, decided character insisted on dictating
a letter to the Duke de Duras, first gentleman of the bedchamber,
soliciting an interview with the king. It was granted, contrary to
all expectation, Mesdames Ney and Labe"doyere having been refused ;
but the hopes it gave rise to proved cruelly delusive.

'Led by the hand by Monsieur de Duras through all the assembled
courtiers to the king's closet, my wife fell at the feet of Louis XVIII.,
who said to her : " Madam, I have at once received you, to give you
a mark of my deep interest." He added no more ; but the words had
been overheard, and were whispered abroad in the ante-room as
Madame Lavalette passed. Her grief, her beauty, the grace and
nobleness of her demeanour, notwithstanding her deep dejection,
affected all who beheld her. It was remembered that she was the
daughter of an emigrant, and no one doubted that a pardon would
follow, since the king had granted the audience. It was not, how-
ever, thus to be.

' The next day, for the first time during four months, we met,
and her paleness, her thinness, her deep depression, shocked me
dreadfully. She fell speechless into my arms, unable during the
first hour to articulate a single word. At length she slowly came to
herself, and I drew from her the particulars of her interview with
the king. For her sake and that of my child I assented to appeal,
as I had the right of doing, against my sentence to the Court of
Cassation; though my first impulse had been to shrink from the
torturing suspense of the month, perhaps, which might intervene
before its decision. During this period I strove to familiarise my-
self, by means of closely interrogating the jailers, with all the horrible
minutiae of the scaffold and its preliminaries ; and though at first
the very marrow in my bones seemed frozen at their cold circum-
stantial recitals, by degrees I got wonderfully hardened, and could
listen without blenching. The mode of execution alone revolted
and disgusted me ; and while the jailer, who informed me of poor
Key's fate, and told me he had been shot, thought me mad because
I said he was " a happy fellow ! " I left no stone unturned to procure
for myself a similar soldier's death.

' I failed ; and not death itself could be more bitter than the



STORY OF LAVALETTE.

terms in which this was conveyed by some on whose gratitude I
had strong claims ; while from others, especially the Duke of
Ragusa (from whom circumstances had estranged me), I received
the most unexpected testimonies of devoted interest. He proved it
when, on the confirmation of my sentence, and the extinction of all
hope, save from the royal clemency, he risked, and actually lost his
favour at court, by introducing my poor wife once more to the
presence of the monarch. It was in vain. Repulsed in all direc-
tions, she remained sitting for above an hour on the stone steps of
the court, without one of the numerous comers and goers venturing
to bestow on her the smallest token of recognition or compassion ;
and at length, worn out in body and mind, and deprived of all hope
from man, she returned, broken-hearted, to my dungeon.

' My hours, I felt, were now literally numbered, only forty-eight
remaining of the three day? allowed for the condemned to apply
for a pardon. All my friends were in consternation ; the jailers
themselves avoided my presence ; even Eberle, the one employed
about my prison, had no longer the heart to address me, but moved
silently about the room, scarcely seeming to know what he was
doing.

' On the Tuesday night I said to him : " It is usually on Friday,
is it not, that executions take place ?" " Sometimes on Thursdays,"
said he, smothering a sigh. "At four o'clock in the afternoon
generally 1" asked I. " Sometimes in the morning," he replied,
hastily running out, without ever remembering to shut the door
behind him. A female turnkey from the women's ward happening
to pass by, and observing this, slipped into my room, and passion-
ately kissing my cross of the Legion of Honour, rushed out again,
drowned in tears ; and thus it was to a woman I had scarcely seen,
and never spoken to, I owed the certain knowledge of my impending



Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 46 of 58)