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When a Cobbler Ruled a King By Augusta Huiell Seaman Characters: 15136

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"This country is going to the dogs!" It was Bonaparte who spoke, striding up and down thoughtfully, his head bent, his hands clasped behind him. The two friends were taking an evening stroll in the Jardin des Plantes, and discussing, of course, the affairs of the nation, which were the only matters that interested anyone in those stirring days.

"Yes, the country, and especially this city is going to the dogs, and I think I'll leave it!" Jean was thoroughly startled.

"Leave it!" he echoed. "Oh, Citizen Bonaparte, where would you go?"

"I believe I'll go home to Corsica," replied Bonaparte. "I love my home, and I've always been happy there, poor though it is. And besides, my sister Elisa has been a student at the royal school of St. Cyr. I have just received word that this school was closed and suppressed by the Assembly on August sixteenth. So I must go there and take Elisa home. I don't want to return. Paris is a horrible place!"

"But what shall I do without you?" wailed Jean. "You are my best friend! I have almost no others in these dreadful days."

"Come with me, then!" generously responded Bonaparte. "Have you never thought of becoming a soldier? I have received news of my reinstatement in the army, and I would gladly take you with me."

"Ah, but would I not love to do so!" answered the boy sadly. "It has ever been my secret wish to serve my country in the army, and in these days when we are struggling for liberty, I desire it beyond everything. But how can I leave Mère Clouet and Yvonne? The good mother has cared for me ever since she took me, a homeless waif from the Foundling Hospital, and it would be wrong to leave her and the little Yvonne unprotected in this mad city. It is true I am young, but I am all they have! And besides, I have set my heart on being of service to the poor little Citizen Dauphin in prison, if I can. We owe that debt to him and to his parents, who helped us in our hour of need."

"You speak truly!" said Bonaparte. "Your family is your first concern, and nothing appeals to me more than the desire to pay a debt, whether of money or gratitude. But should the opportunity ever come, I'll take you with me in the army, lad, for I like your spirit. Would that Paris had in her many more such!

"But Paris is insane, blood-intoxicated!" he went on thoughtfully. "It is amazing how blind she has become to the real peril! She seems to think that the whole danger to her new liberty comes from within her midst, in the persons of suspected royalists. Whereas, look you! France is really menaced from without by the foreign powers Austria and Prussia, whose armies are threatening our borders everywhere. These powers think that the conquest of this nation will be a mere summer picnic, because she is internally torn by a great Revolution. What the country needs is a head! Oh, for someone who could mass all her squabbling factions in one united whole, and lead her to a glorious victory!"

So declaimed Bonaparte on this dusky, starlit night in the Jardin des Plantes. What if the curtain of the future could have rolled back for an instant and revealed to Jean's astonished gaze this same shabby young man, eight years later! He is the hero of a hundred, victorious battles! He has raised the perishing land of France and set her on the highest pinnacle of power in the world! He is the emperor of his country and the king of Italy! He has made his impoverished brothers and sisters kings and queens. He is at once feared, obeyed and adored! He has truly fulfilled his destiny! But the stars twinkled down on the Jardin des Plantes. Out of Paris rose the subdued murmur of an ever restless populace. The two friends walked together in silence for a space, and the future still darkly guarded the wonderful secret!

Suddenly the stillness of the night was broken by a roll of drums from the Rue Saint Victor. In an instant everyone was hurrying in that direction, realising that it was a signal of importance. Jean and Bonaparte lost no time in joining the ranks of the curious. What they learned that night served to add in no way to their peace of mind.

It seemed that the brain of Danton, ever fertile in inventing outrageous and unbearable measures, had hatched a new scheme. This was no less than to apprehend all aristocrats who had been concealing themselves since August tenth, all who had belonged to the late Court or were in any way connected with it, and all who were suspected of royalistic sympathies. This was to be effected by a series of domiciliary visits. At the roll of the drums, all citizens were to repair at once to their homes and remain there two days, during which time they would be personally visited by a committee of surveillance. Suspicious evidences found in any house, would subject all its inmates to immediate imprisonment.

"You are to disperse at once!" ended the soldier who delivered this message. "By ten o'clock not a soul must be abroad! Citizens, retire at once to your homes!"

"Outrage! Unwarrantable outrage! This is worse than the Bourbon tyranny!" muttered Bonaparte, as the two separated, for it lacked but half an hour of the required time. "But go cautiously, Jean, when the inspectors visit your house! Remember, you've something incriminating there!"

When the following morning dawned, Paris was a singular sight! Streets that had been populous with passing throngs and carriages, or swarming with the crowded masses of the poor, were silent and deserted. Everyone sought the vain protection of his own roof, which was soon to prove no protection at all, and waited in fearful expectation for the threatened visit. No one, were he never so innocent, could be certain of immunity. Valuable property was hurriedly concealed, and persons who had the slightest reason to think themselves objects of suspicion were carefully hidden, some even going so far as to have themselves nailed up within the walls of their houses!

For two days Mère Clouet, Yvonne and Jean remained within doors in nerve-racking uncertainty, trembling at the slightest sound, or the faintest cry in the streets. For they had in their midst, as Bonaparte had said, "something most incriminating,"-the pretty, coal-black spaniel of Louis Charles, so lately imprisoned and deprived of his title.

"What shall we do with Moufflet, when the committee of surveillance comes?" whispered Yvonne, who with all the others, instinctively lowered her voice in this time of peril, lest the very walls betray her.

"Leave that to me!" commanded Jean. "I've decided what I shall do and say, only be sure you do not contradict me, either by word or action!"

"I wish we could have hidden the little animal," sighed Mère Clouet, "but of course it would have been useless to try. He would surely betray both himself and us by some bark or whine!" So the hours wore away. The two days of suspense drew to an end, and the Clouet family were beginning to hope they had escaped the ordeal, when at dusk that night, a thundering knock was heard at the door.

"Open, or we break in!" growled a voice, and Jean hastened to comply.

"Coming, coming!" he called cheerfully. "You are welcome, citizens all!"

"That's a gayer greeting than we get at most places!" answered a high nasal voice as the door was opened. And without further ceremony there tramped in six huge pikemen, headed by one of the committee of surveillance,-the owner of the nasal voice. He was a singularly unprepossessing specimen of humanity, thin, wiry, short of stature, evil-faced, with litt

le, claw-like hands. He had a curious habit of slinking about with soft, noiseless steps and a watchful look in his beady eyes that reminded one irresistibly of a mouse. The pikemen addressed him as Citizen Coudert.

"Pikemen, do your duty," he commanded, "while I question these people!" And while the pikemen tramped through the house, emptying drawers, boxes and barrels, thumping the walls and floors, tearing up clothing and destroying china on the pretence of a more thorough search, Citizen Coudert proceeded to put the inmates upon a rack of torturing questions. He had just touched upon the ticklish subject of sympathy for the ex-king and the royal family, when a shout from one of the pikemen announced the discovery of Moufflet, curled up in a distant corner.

"That's a dog I'll swear I saw at the Tuileries garden many a day this past year, with the little Wolf-Cub! I know dogs well, and am never mistaken in one!" Jean's heart was in his throat, but he maintained an indifferent air.

"Aha! is it so!" snarled Coudert, rubbing his claw-like hands, and with a gleam very like satisfaction in his beady eyes. "Answer me in regard to this dog, if you please, young sir! Is he the property of that Wolf-Cub brat?" Then Jean played his boldest card.

"He was, I suppose, Citizen Coudert, but he's mine now! And when you hear how I got him, you will say I did well, and acted worthily as a good republican citizen. I went with the throng to the palace on June twentieth, to see the sights. There I found this little dog, and I said to myself,-'Won't it be a fine joke on royalty to take this animal and train him in good republican ways!' So I caught him and carried him home." Citizen Coudert looked incredulous.

"You do not believe me, Citizen," continued Jean eagerly, "but hark! I will prove it! Here, Moufflet! Bark for Liberty!" The little animal ran to him, crouched, and barked once. "Now for Equality!" Moufflet barked twice. "Now for Fraternity!" The dog gave three short, sharp barks, then sat up and lifted its paws to beg. And Mère Clouet and Yvonne realised now why Jean had been diligently training the intelligent animal in this new accomplishment during the past two days of seclusion.

"Bravo!" applauded the pikeman. "That's a rare trick for a royalist dog! You've done well, my boy! I imagine we've no fault to find with you!"

"Be silent, Citizen Prev?t!" growled Coudert. "Pay attention to your own duties, and leave these things to me! Now, young sir, this is all very well, but what business had you to appropriate to yourself any property that belongs to the people at large? This dog should have been delivered to the Assembly. He is valuable, and might have been sold and the money turned to helping our starving poor. Hand him over to me! I will do what is right with him, but I'm going to keep a strict watch over you, do you understand? You have given me cause to be suspicious of you! Here, Prev?t, carry this dog! To the next house, pikemen!"

It was all Jean could do to be silent and submissive under this act of injustice and outrage, but imploring glances from Mère Clouet and Yvonne helped him to hold his tongue. The committee of surveillance left the house, accompanied by yelps of protest from Moufflet, struggling in the grip of Prev?t. When they were gone, Jean tramped up and down the room in a fury of rage and disappointment.

"That sneak of a Coudert!" he exploded. "Has he any more right to that dog than we have? He'll never give it to the Assembly, that I know! He wants it for himself, or else he just took it for the sake of robbing us! And now I cannot restore Moufflet to his little master, as I had hoped some day to do!"

"Hush! hush!" begged Mère Clouet. "We were lucky to have gotten off without being dragged to prison! Had it not been for that dog's trick, which you were clever enough to teach him, I doubt not but we would have all been in La Conciergerie within an hour!" But Jean was not to be passified by such reasoning, and he went to bed in wrath and tears, and Yvonne followed his example.

Events, however, shortly came to pass that made him sincerely thankful they were all yet alive and going about with heads still secure on their shoulders. The domiciliary visits of the last of August had so filled to overflowing every prison in the city with victims (sad to say, for the most part absolutely innocent of the crimes imputed to them!) that a still more horrible plan was determined upon by those two arch fiends of the Revolution, Marat and Danton,-one which should at once clear the prisons for more victims, and strike such terror to the hearts of any remaining royalists as to suppress absolutely all further tendencies in this direction. This was nothing more nor less than a general massacre of all the prisoners without trial, justice or mercy.

At two o'clock on Sunday, September 2, 1792, this wholesale slaughter commenced, and for five days the prisons of Paris were scenes of unspeakable and indescribable carnage till at last they were empty. Never was there in history so revolting a sacrifice of innocent lives. Twelve thousand victims perished, and with this fearful prelude, the Reign of Terror began!

Three days later, Jean went to make his farewell visit to his friend Bonaparte, now no longer a resident of the Rue Cléry, for he had in the meantime brought his sister to the city from St. Cyr, and was staying at the little hotel De Metz in the Rue du Mail. Bonaparte introduced the boy to his sister, a slender, rather pretty girl of fifteen in the tight-fitting black taffeta cap of the St. Cyr school. As she had little to say for herself, Bonaparte suggested that she remain in her room, while he and Jean repaired for a walk to their favourite spot, the Jardin des Plantes. Once there, Jean reported to him the outrages of their domiciliary visit and discussed with him the horrors of the past few days.

"Oh, Citizen Bonaparte," he ended, "I am sorely tempted to go away with you and join the army! I want to fight for better things for France. This is not liberty, here in Paris! It is oppression and butchery! But I dare not leave yet! I feel that I have a sacred trust to fulfil! Yet all has gone wrong! Moufflet is stolen and I shall never see him again. We are constantly in danger from that spying Coudert; it was only yesterday that I saw him again sneaking about our street! To help the royal family seems utterly impossible. And now you are going to leave me too,-you who once saved my life, and to whom I can never be grateful enough!"

"I am sorry, little Jean! I truly am!" answered his friend. "Many things call me away, but cheer up! The tide will turn, and there is no telling what you may yet do-or what I may yet be! I tell you I believe in my fortunate star! But one thing I will say to you, my lad. You have a brave loyal spirit, than which I admire nothing more heartily. I like you, and I will surely come back some day,-and who knows what we may yet do together! Au revoir now! Be true to your trust, and don't forget the friend you once made by butting him flat on his back!" Jean could not even answer. He seized the young man's hands, kissed them passionately, and with a sob fled down one of the long, green alleys of the Jardin. Could he have guessed how long it would be before he and this thin young man with the marvellous eyes should meet again, his despair would have been deeper yet. But that also was guarded with the secret of the future!

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