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When a Cobbler Ruled a King By Augusta Huiell Seaman Characters: 11708

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The warm September sun shone dazzlingly on the pavement before the buvette or tavern of Père Lefèvre. This shop was situated in the outer courtyard of the Temple Tower, and enjoyed the trade of all the soldiers, guards and commissaries employed in guarding the imprisoned king and his family. Père Lefèvre sat in a chair outside the door, nodding in the sunshine, for it was mid-afternoon and trade was dull.

Presently through the great gate and down the courtyard strolled a boy, whistling vigorously the "?a ira!" He was a little over twelve years of age, strong and long-limbed. His eyes and hair were black, and his curls were surmounted by a red liberty-cap. Such a racket did he make, that Père Lefèvre was awakened from his nap.

"Good afternoon, Citizen!" said the boy. "You look comfortable and happy! Business must be pretty poor to give you so much leisure!"

"Business is good enough, most of the time!" snapped Père Lefèvre. "I'm rushed to death in the morning and evening. Just now, however, the soldiers are all on duty, and it is not the hour for the commissaries' visit."

"Why don't you get someone to help you?" inquired the boy. "At your age it is not good for the health to get about so lively!"

"Help,-indeed!" growled Père Lefèvre. "Gladly would I, but the young boys are all too busy running about the streets and dancing the Carmagnole to pay attention to sober work. These are demoralising times for the young!"

"I imagine you are just the man for me, then," replied the boy. "The good woman I live with shoved me into the street this morning, and bade me not return till I had found employment for not less than seven francs a week. What do you say to that, my friend?"

"I say the saints must have sent you to me in my hour of need, and stay you shall for seven francs a week! But you must be here at six in the morning, and leave no earlier than ten at night."

"Done!" cried Jean, for of course it was he. "And now set me to work at once, lest I find time to regret our bargain!"

When Jean came back to the Rue de Lille that night, he was bubbling over with excitement and news.

"Oh, what do you think?" he exclaimed. "News!-the best of news! I am waiter at the tavern of Père Lefèvre, and have learned all about the situation of the ex-king and his family. The shop is crowded in the evening with soldiers and commissaries, and they do nothing but gossip over their suppers about what goes on in the Tower.

"Ah! their poor, fallen Majesties! It must be terrible for them! They are called no longer 'King' and 'Queen,' but 'tis 'Monsieur Capet' and 'Madame Capet' and the 'Little Capets'!-nothing but 'Capet, Capet,' every other word! Then they are watched and guarded every moment. There are two rogues, Tison and his wife, who are hired to do nothing but watch, watch, watch, spy on every word, sneak behind them at unexpected moments to see that they are not writing to anyone outside, listen to all their conversation, and search them every night and morning lest they have concealed weapons about them, or some means of escape!

"Think of it!-they prevented the King from teaching his son the multiplication table, because they said it might contain a cipher for communicating with friends outside! They took away the Queen's embroidery-work because they thought she might be sewing into it a secret language! They search every article of food that goes into the Tower, even cutting open loaves of bread and cake! Ah, it is horrible!

"The King and Queen and Madame Elizabeth spend their time in reading or teaching the children. Sometimes they take a walk in the tiny garden that is all enclosed by a high wall. To-day I heard the little fellow shout, as he romped there with his sister. There is talk too, in the tavern, that they are going to separate the King from his family, and keep him shut up by himself. After that they will bring him to trial, condemn him to death, and then!-" The thought was almost too much for the tender-hearted Jean, and he turned away lest the others should see the tears in his eyes.

"But do you think," questioned Yvonne, "that you will sometime get a chance to speak to the little fellow, and tell him that we still love him, and would do what we can to aid him?"

"I do not know yet," said Jean, "but I am going to try. He is so closely guarded, that it is all but impossible for even one within the Tower to make the slightest sign to him,-so well do those cats of Tisons perform their task. I can only wait and try, and meanwhile keep my eyes and ears open to all that goes on. I think some of the guards are more friendly to the unfortunates than others. If I am not mistaken, one or two are even royalists in disguise. If there should ever be any plans made for their escape you may warrant that I shall be helping! Royalist I may not be, but I am even willing to be taken for one in order to help my friends. But here's a piece of news that's not so good! Citizen Coudert is one of the commissaries of the Tower! He was not there to-day, but I heard his name mentioned, by chance. You should hear how they all speak of him! He has reminded more people than ourselves of a mouse, and hence they call him La Souris! But we must beware!"

Jean had not been long in the service of Père Lefèvre, before he became a general favourite. His friendly smile, his gay rejoinders, his sharp wit and his ready willingness won him many admirers. Few days went by when he did not dance on one of the tables, and sing the "Marseillaise" in his fresh young voice, for the benefit of an applauding audience. He even drew unaccustomed outsiders to the little tavern, and Père Lefèvre began to think he had drawn a prize when he hired the lively lad.

"He's worth seven francs and more," he would mutter, "even if he does crawl behind the counter and slee

p away half his time!" But Jean was not as idle as Père Lefèvre supposed. He had his shrewd eyes always open, and his quick ears ready to catch the slightest whisper. Many a time when the tavern-keeper thought him sleeping behind the counter, he was in reality only "playing possum," and listening all the while to the low-muttered conversations of the soldiers or municipals of the Tower. In this way he learned much, that no one ever suspected him of knowing.

Strangely enough, Citizen Coudert, or La Souris as he was universally though not openly called, exhibited no special interest in the boy's position as waiter here, nor in his close proximity to the royal prisoners. But Jean was perfectly certain that La Souris was keeping him under the strictest watch, nevertheless. He longed to ask him what had become of his little Moufflet, but dared not exhibit the slightest interest in a subject so dangerous.

But there was yet another of all the throng that frequented the tavern, who struck Jean with a thrill of dread, whenever he entered the shop. This was Simon, once a cobbler in the Rue des Cordeliers, now a commissary of the Tower. He was a medium-sized, square-built man of about fifty-seven years, with great, powerful limbs, a tanned face framed by coarse black hair that was always hanging in his eyes, and a heavy beard. His eyes were ugly and malicious, and he was never seen without a short black pipe between his teeth. His manner was gruff and insolent, especially when he spoke of the royal prisoners. Jean's hands itched to choke him, particularly on one day when he flung himself into a chair, and exploded in the following fashion:

"That Capet creature! What do you think he has done to-day? Handed me a paper on which was written,-'The King wishes such and such articles for his wardrobe! The Queen desires some more linen, etc!' I said to him,-'Capet, don't you understand that we have abolished kings and queens? This nation is a republic now! Alter that memorandum as quickly as you can!' He replied that I could hand it to his valet and he would attend to it. The insolent object! Those Capets! Kinging and queening themselves in spite of everything! I'll teach them a few lessons!"

Jean could not rid himself of the impression that this man was to play some dreadful part in the lives of the unhappy prisoners, and as time proved, he was not mistaken.

Meanwhile the months were passing, and events were hastening on toward the dark deed which our Jean could neither delay nor prevent,-the trial, condemnation and execution of Louis XVI. At last it came! The Republic pronounced him guilty of conspiring against the liberty of his people, and of endeavouring to endanger their safety by defending himself.

Poor King! His only crime had been that of being born a monarch, his heritage the wrongs committed by generations of his ruling ancestors, and his misfortune that he was utterly unable to cope with the situation in which fate had placed him. Never was a trial conducted that was so much of a farce! The King was allowed two lawyers to defend his cause, but his condemnation was a foregone conclusion-even to himself. He was sentenced to lay down his life the very next day, the twenty-first of January, 1793. The new Republic had stained her glorious liberty by this great injustice, and therefore she dared lose no time in executing the sentence.

It must not, however, be supposed that the royal sufferers had no friends, that they were abandoned by all. Many royalists in the same city yet remained alive after the massacre of September, and would have laid down their lives to save the monarch they had never renounced. But they were overwhelmingly outnumbered by their enemies and rendered practically helpless. And even the good Republicans deemed this an outrage on personal liberty and deplored it, but the Terror kept them silent. Outside of Paris, whole sections of France still declared for the king. One especially, La Vendée, was engaged in raising an army to defend his cause. Meanwhile, mob-ruled Paris held him in the very heart of her, helpless, a prisoner, condemned to die!

Jean never forgot that dreadful day! 'Twas early in the morning, and the tavern was crowded. In the courtyard stood the carriage waiting for the doomed monarch, while all pressed close to the doors and windows to see the better. Simon, the cobbler, harangued the crowd in his strident voice, and bade them rejoice that they were at last to be rid of so great a tyrant.

A roll of drums announced the coming of the fallen monarch. He crossed the courtyard on foot, pale but erect, calm and brave. Twice he turned and looked back toward the Tower, in farewell to all he held dear. At the entrance gate he stepped into the carriage and the door was shut. A great shout led by Simon went up from all but Jean. The cobbler, noticing his silence, grasped him by the collar.

"Shout, you monkey! Rejoice for the death of Capet! What? Are you a royalist?" he hissed. Jean did not dare to disobey. With a bursting heart, he snatched off his liberty-cap, threw it in the air, and cried: "Vive la République!" Simon, satisfied, let him go. He darted through the crowd unnoticed, and running madly, sought his home in the Rue de Lille. There on good Mère Clouet's broad bosom he sobbed out his shame and sorrow for hours, and did not return to the tavern that day.

At quarter past ten o'clock, a dreadful shout rang out from the Place de la Révolution, mingled with the ringing of bells and the booming of cannon. Louis XVI was no more! Paris congratulated herself that at last she was rid of monarchy. But back in the Tower, a little frightened lad wept and shuddered on his mother's bosom,-a throneless, crownless boy-king, called Louis XVII of France!

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