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   Chapter 2 JEAN MEETS WITH A THIN YOUNG MAN

When a Cobbler Ruled a King By Augusta Huiell Seaman Characters: 13156

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


When the Dauphin came to dig in his garden next morning, he found his new friends again at the fence, accompanied by a woman.

"Little Citizen Prince, this is my mother," said Yvonne, "and we have persuaded her to come with us and beg you to fulfil the promise that you gave for your good father and mother yesterday. She is indeed in sore need of help." The Dauphin came to the fence and gave Mother Clouet his hand with his own peculiarly winning smile.

"Good Madame Clouet, my mother will be walking here in a little while. Will you not wait and speak to her yourself? I know she will be glad to help you." Now Mère Clouet bore no animosity toward this little prince,-on the contrary, she admired and almost loved him,-but she was plainly reluctant to meet the Queen who appealed in no way to her sympathies. But there seemed nothing else to be done, so she drew aside while the children chatted together and romped with Moufflet. Presently, hearing voices, the Dauphin left his friends, ran along one of the walks, and came back leading a lady and a young girl of thirteen.

"This is my Mother-Queen, and this is my sister, Marie-Thérèse," he announced. "Mother, these are the new friends that I told you of yesterday, and this is Yvonne's mother. She wishes to ask something of you."

"Good Mistress Clouet," said the Queen gently, "whatever I can do for you I will, if you will but make known your request." Her voice was soft and penetratingly sweet, and her face, framed in waving hair whitened by sorrow, was full of a strange beauty veiled by overwhelming sadness. Here was something entirely different from the haughty sovereign that Mère Clouet had expected to meet, and she was overcome by surprise and bashfulness, but she managed to stammer out her request.

"Your Majesty," she faltered, "my good man when he died, left me the house I live in, but though I work hard,-I am a laundress,-I have been unable to do more than provide our three mouths with bread. Jean here I adopted from the Foundling Hospital to help me with my work. But his mouth is wide!-he eats quantities unknown, and hardly does he pay for his keep! For three years past I have been unable to pay the taxes, so great is their amount, and now they threaten to turn me out and keep the house, if I do not pay up every sou next month. For myself, I would go uncomplainingly, but how can I rob the little Yvonne of a roof to shelter her!" Tears came into the woman's eyes as she clasped tighter her little daughter's hand. "So I must beg for my daughter's sake, but Madame I trust that some day I may repay it, for I would not be under obligations, even to a queen!" The Queen was sincerely touched by this revelation of mingled pride and mother-love.

"I know how you feel, Mistress Clouet. I should not be ashamed to do the same for my own children. How much is the amount?" The laundress shuddered, as with bated breath she named the sum,-a fortune in her eyes.

"A thousand francs, your Majesty!" The Queen seemed not a whit appalled.

"I have not the money with me to-day, but come to-morrow and the Dauphin shall give it to you. I do not walk out every day. God bless you and the little Yvonne, and Jean also!" She held out her little white hand, and Mère Clouet, moved by a gratitude and respect the like of which she would not yesterday have believed she could experience, took it in both her rough, work-worn ones. And so they stood a moment gazing at each other, the proud, beautiful Marie Antoinette, and Citizeness Clouet, the woman of the people, hand locked in hand across the tri-coloured fence.

"Some day I will repay you!" declared Mère Clouet. "It may not be in money, but it shall be in service. We are of the people, and our hearts and sympathies are with the people. But this is a debt of gratitude which we three shall never forget. We will repay you!"

The Citizeness Clouet spoke more truly than she knew!

* * *

After this event, Jean was sorely perplexed. He talked his trouble over with Mère Clouet who seemed more kindly disposed toward him since the load of debt had been lifted from her shoulders, and her mind had been set at rest about a home for her beloved Yvonne.

"I do not now know how to act," he told her. "My heart is still all for the people and the cause of our Liberty, yet I do truly love the little prince, and even the King and Queen. And I fear from the things I have heard, that the people will sometime do them harm."

"Let your sympathies still be with the people," counselled Mère Clouet wisely. "We are not royalists, and our heads will not be safe should we appear so! But that need not prevent your loyal friendship for these royal ones, only you must keep it very secret. Heaven help us should it be discovered! I pray God that the royalty may be left in peace, or at least be allowed to depart from the country unharmed when the time comes. We may not desire their sway, but we should not menace their personal safety."

"Well, at least," answered Jean, "it will do no harm for me to keep posted as to what the popular intention toward them may be. And for this, I could learn best what I wish at one of the political clubs,-the Cordeliers or the Jacobins. But none except the initiated are allowed to enter. However, I'm going to watch my chance and try!" True to this resolve, he informed Mère Clouet one evening:

"I shall go to the Rue St. Honoré to-night and linger near the Jacobin Club. We shall see what we shall see!" And he was off before she could even protest at the lateness of the hour.

The way from the Rue de Lille to the Rue St. Honoré was not long, but it was varied by sights and sounds only to be witnessed in Paris during one of her revolutions. More than once Jean caught the infection from some shouting group, and snatching outstretched hands, joined in the wild dance of the Carmagnole. Then again he would pause before a gesticulating orator madly haranguing his audience from a bench or improvised platform. The air was filled with shouts of "Vive la Nation!" "Vive Danton!" "A bas le Roi!" Jean drank it all in, his boyish bosom filled with pride at the thought of this strange, new liberty. Yet at the cry, "Down with the King!" his heart would grow sick with the menace that it carried for his benefactors.

At last he reached the Rue St. Honoré and stood before the great stone building, so long the peaceful retreat of the Dominican Monks, now given over to the strongest political society of the day,-the Jacobin Club. Men were passing through its well-guarded doorway

, each separately interviewed for a moment by a crabbed, ill-disposed doorkeeper. Each as he passed this watchful sentinel, exhibited a card or murmured some magic password. Jean possessed neither a card nor the knowledge of the proper watchword, but he was not to be daunted by either lack. Boldly he marched up the steps, and would have walked straight into the hall, had not the doorkeeper seized him wrathfully by the collar. No one else was passing in at that moment.

"Impudent! What is your business here?" he shouted.

"I am a good citizen who loves liberty, and I demand to be admitted to this meeting!" replied Jean, hopefully.

"Well, of all outrages!" gasped the astounded doorkeeper. "Begone, you young scamp! The Nation has little use for such as you!" He released the boy's collar, and pursued him down the steps with a thick cane he had snatched up. Jean, deeming flight his wisest course, took to his heels and was speedily beyond the premises. But so rapid was his retreat that before he was aware of it, he had butted plumply into someone who was coming in the opposite direction, and the concussion knocked the stranger flat on his back!

"Oh, I beg your pardon!" entreated Jean, breathlessly, assisting his victim to rise.

"You would make a splendid catapult on a field of artillery!" answered the stranger who proved to be a short and exceedingly thin young man. He was wrapped in an old grey great-coat, though the weather was May, and warm. A round, shabby black hat was pulled over his eyes. His hair was arranged in a slovenly manner, and hung about his ears. In the lamplight his face was sallow, with high cheek-bones and a very prominent chin. But he had, so Jean thought, the most extraordinary eyes in the world. They were deepset, grey and piercing, and fixed one with a look as sharp as a sword. Jean felt that, had the man's lips commanded him to throw himself into the fire, those eyes would have compelled him to obey!

"Perhaps you will explain the cause for this unwarrantable attack on a peaceful citizen!" said the stranger as he brushed his coat.

"Indeed I meant no harm, nor even knew what I was about, since I was occupied in being forcibly put out of the Jacobin Club!" laughed the boy.

"And why should you want to be in the Jacobin Club!" demanded the stranger. Jean was on his guard at once.

"All good citizens must wish to be present at meetings so important," he replied airily. "I merely had a curiosity to know what was going on!" The young man fixed him with his brilliant eyes, and Jean felt the blood mount guiltily to his cheeks.

"There's something deeper than that!" he remarked coolly. "I can see it! What are your real reasons? Are you a royalist?"

"Indeed, I'm not!" asserted Jean vehemently.

"Well, it doesn't make a sou's difference to me!" his new companion declared. "I'm neither a royalist, nor am I a republican, nor, for that matter, even a Frenchman. But I happen to have a ticket for the Jacobins myself to-night, and since you're so interested, and have even graciously condescended to knock me down, I'll take you in with me!" Here was a stroke of luck indeed! Jean was instant in expressing his delight, and the two climbed together the steps down which he had so lately fled in ignominy. The gatekeeper scolded and muttered, but there was nothing to do but let him pass, since a man with a card vouched for him.

The boy never forgot that night. He reached home and the Rue de Lille long after midnight, encountering Mère Clouet at the door. She had been very uneasy, and was inclined to be somewhat wrathful at the lateness of the hour. But Jean was too excited to care.

"Don't scold, Mère Clouet!" he entreated. "I've gotten into the Jacobin Club at last!"

"You young rascal!" she exclaimed incredulously, "are you telling the truth?"

"Every bit!" he answered. "Give me a bite to eat, good mother, and I'll tell you all about it."

"Always hungry!" she muttered, but nevertheless she gave him a generous slice of bread and jam. Between great mouthfuls, he told the story of his forcible encounter with the thin young man and its sequel,-his admission to the club.

"Ah, but it was a wonderful night for me!" he continued. "Such speeches did I hear from Citizen Marat who is its president, and from one, Robespierre, whose voice, they say, has greater weight than any, and also from Citizen Danton, the president of the Cordeliers, who came this evening with many more of his own club! Much of what they said was hard for me to understand, but one thing I learned that it is well to know.

"The citizens of the Faubourg St. Antoine are planning a fête for the twentieth of June (that's the day after to-morrow), in which they will form a procession and march to the palace to present a petition to the King. That, of course, is all very well, but let me tell you what I heard whispered about by Santerre, the brewer, who is to lead them. Each sans-culotte is to carry a pike, and he thinks that when the King sees forty thousand pikes assembled about his door that he will become alarmed. Then will be the time to lead a general insurrection and demand that he resign his throne and crown or else force him to it. Is it not outrageous thus to take advantage of him unfairly?" Mère Clouet was alarmed and indignant.

"It is indeed!" she declared. "I believe the King means to do the right thing by his people, but the country is becoming mob-ruled. It is only the scum of Paris, of which that Santerre is a good sample, who would sanction such plans! But sadly do I fear that they will do the royal family harm!"

"And so do I," replied Jean, "and therefore I intend to march with the mob on the twentieth. Who knows but I may be in some way useful to the poor little Citizen Dauphin!"

"But," continued Mère Clouet, "it was kind of that strange young man to take you into the club to-night! Did you learn who he may be?"

"Indeed I did!" answered the boy. "All through the meeting he sat with his arms folded and his strange eyes fixed on the speakers. Once, when Santerre harangued us, I heard him mutter, 'Canaille!' and another time when Robespierre was speaking, he whispered to me, 'That is a man of power, but-one should beware!' When we left the club, we parted on the Rue St. Honoré, and he said, 'Perhaps you will tell me your name, young sir. You seem a lad of spirit!' When I had informed him, he told me his own. 'Tis a strange one, and has a foreign sound,-Napoleon Bonaparte!"

* * *

IN WHICH THE DAUPHIN WEARS THE RED CAP

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