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   Chapter 8 THE COBBLER TAKES COMMAND

When a Cobbler Ruled a King By Augusta Huiell Seaman Characters: 15105

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


No one ever knew just how it came about that the scheme of the Baron De Batz had failed. La Souris was firmly believed to be the one who had discovered it, though whether he had really become acquainted with the facts, or only suspected a plot could not be ascertained. All the conspirators could discover was that during the day, one of the grenadiers not in the plot had found a folded paper lying outside the courtyard. It contained but one sentence,-"Beware! Michonis will betray you to-night!" The soldier handed this to Simon, who immediately took steps to prevent all action, and had Michonis brought up before the Commune.

But wary Michonis had cleverly covered up his tracks! There was no evidence of guilt found upon him or any of his companions. He answered openly and calmly all incriminating questions, and seemed so earnestly and candidly interested in the welfare of the Republic, that the Commune decided Simon must have been mistaken, in spite of the note.

This, however, irritated Simon beyond measure! He doubled all the guards at the Tower. Then he went whining to the great Republican leader, Robespierre, complaining that he had unearthed evidence of many plots to carry off the royal child, proclaim him King of France, and overthrow the Republic. Between the two they so man?uvred that in consequence of these rumours, the Committee of Public Safety issued a decree:-the boy must be separated from his mother, kept in an apartment by himself, and put in charge of some tutor to be chosen by the Convention.

Then came the question who should take charge of him, who should be given the important task of educating his royal ideas in the principles of the Republic? Who but Simon, the zealous commissary that had been so active in thwarting all schemes of release! Yes, let Simon have charge of this tender life, and let his wife be there to assist him and minister to the bodily wants of this carefully reared, tenderly nurtured little son of a monarch! So it was decreed!

It was about ten o'clock on the night of July third, 1793. Louis XVI had been dead nearly six months. In their room in the Tower sat the Queen, Madame Elizabeth and little Marie-Thérèse. The two older women were sewing, or rather vainly attempting to darn and patch their much-worn clothes, for the Republic saw fit to provide them with no new ones. The fair young girl of fifteen was reading aloud. All were dressed in neat black gowns, their mourning-costume for the late king.

Over in a corner, in a small bed with no curtains about it, slept the little Louis Charles. His mother had carefully hung up a dark shawl to shield his eyes from the light and shut off the draughts. Once he stirred in his sleep and sighed heavily. Marie-Thérèse stopped reading, and all glanced toward the bed.

"Poor little fellow!" sighed his mother. "His life is not very happy now!"

"But how brave he is!" said Madame Elizabeth. "He never complains a bit, he tries so hard to be cheerful and keep us all in good spirits, and how tenderly he always speaks of his father!"

"Is it not strange," added Marie-Thérèse, "how he never speaks now of our happy life at Versailles, (how far away that all seems!) and he never even mentions the Tuileries, for fear it will make us sad! For one so young, he is very, very thoughtful!"

"God grant that he may have happier years in store for him in the future!" sighed Marie Antoinette. "But, whatever comes, I pray that he may never sit on the throne of France! Nothing but sorrow could come of it!" She shuddered, and after a moment's silence they all continued their work. Suddenly there was a loud sound outside on the staircase,-a heavy tread of feet, a hideous clanking of bolts and bars unfastened. The three women looked at one another in dismay. But they thought it was only another of the insulting searches to which they were obliged to submit so frequently, and at such uncertain hours. The last door opened, and six municipals entered.

"We are come with an order from the Committee of Public Safety," said their spokesman, in a loud, brutal manner. "The son of Louis Capet is to be separated from his family. Give him up to us at once!" Poor Marie Antoinette could not believe her senses. Separated from his mother! A little child of only eight! They could not be so cruel!

"It is not possible!" she cried, trembling. "You have got the order wrong! It cannot be true! He is so young, so weak! He needs my care!" Her anguish softened for a moment even the hearts of the rough municipals.

"Here is the decree," they said, more gently. "We did not make it,-it was the Convention. We are only here to carry it out and we cannot help ourselves." The three women placed themselves before the child's bed. They defended it with their bodies, they sobbed, they prayed, they implored, they humbled themselves to the utmost. All to no purpose!

"Come, come!" at length remonstrated the head of the band. "Give over this disturbance! They are not going to kill the child! He will be safe and in good hands." He approached the bed and seized the heavy shawl which fell on the boy, waking him suddenly and completely enveloping him. He shrieked aloud in his sudden fright and clung to his mother, crying:

"Do not let them take me! Oh, mother, mother!"

But the municipals were growing weary of the scene. "If you do not let him go peaceably," they warned, "we will call the guard and take him by force!" Then the Queen begged that he should be left at least over that night, that she should be allowed to see him at meals each day. In vain! In despair the three women began to dress him. Never did a toilet take so long! They lingered over each garment, passed his shoes from hand to hand, put them on and took them off again, thinking in this way to delay the time of parting a few moments.

"Hurry, hurry!" commanded the officials. "We cannot wait all night!" At length it was completed. The Queen took her son, all trembling and frightened, sat him on a chair, kneeled down before him, and clasped both his hands in hers.

"Dear little child of mine, we are about to part! I know not when we shall see each other again, but when I am not with you, remember always your duty. Never forget that it is the good God who is putting you to this test! Be good and patient, brave and straightforward, and your father will bless you from Heaven where he is gone!" Then she kissed him and gave him to the municipals. But the little fellow broke from them, rushed to her again and clasped her knees with his arms. With the tears streaming down her cheeks, she released his hold. "Go, my son! You must obey me!" Grasping his arm, the leader dragged him, still looking backward, from the room. The women strained their gaze till they could see him no longer, and the door was shut!

Down in the room below, in the apartment formerly occupied by Louis XVI, a thick-set, dark man was striding about, smoking an evil-smelling pipe. The door opened, and some municipals entered with a sobbing boy. They spoke a few words to the man and then went out, leaving Louis XVII alone with his tutor. He recognised at once Simon the cobbler, whom he had frequently seen before, and for whom he entertained an unconquerable aversion.

"Sit down on that chair, Little Capet!" commanded the cobbler, without removing his pipe from his mouth. The child obeyed.

"Now there are a few things I want you to understand," said Simon, striding up and down before him, puffing out great clouds of smoke, "and we might a

s well make them plain in the beginning. In the first place, you are to be called nothing but Little Capet! Do you comprehend that?" The boy made no answer, but only choked and coughed, for the unaccustomed smoke almost strangled him. Simon laughed aloud at his plight.

"Next, you are to obey implicitly every order that I give you. I'm master, now! Do you understand?" Still no answer.

"Lastly, you are to forget all about your royal fol-de-rols, and learn carefully from me how to conduct yourself as a good citizen of this great and glorious Republic. I'll teach you! Oh, I'll teach you well!" The boy's continued silence irritated him beyond measure.

"Answer me, you little pig!" he shouted, grasping him by the collar. And for the first time in his life, the son of a king, the gentle loving child who had never before had a rough hand laid on him, was shaken to and fro by the cobbler's muscular arm. He sobbed and caught his breath, but still persisted in a stubborn silence. Simon now perceived that in this frail little body, he had an iron will to cope with, and mentally bracing himself, he vowed to break it or perish in the attempt.

Then ensued a frightful struggle! The cobbler scolded, threatened, raged, tramped about the room, and finally resorted to blows. The little king set his teeth and endured to the last, but he would not open his lips. It was far into the night when Simon, furious but exhausted, threw the boy on his bed in a dark corner, and left him to sob out his grief, pain and despair till morning.

The next day appeared on the scenes, Madame Simon, the cobbler's wife. She was very little, very fat and very ugly. Her face and hands were brown like Simon's, and she always wore a cap tied with red ribbons, and a blue apron. She was rough, coarse-mannered and common like her husband, but unlike him, she was inclined to be a little more kindly toward their captive.

The young King took no more notice of her than he had of Simon. For two days he would touch neither food nor drink, persisting always in his obstinate silence. On the third day some municipals came to pay a visit of inspection. Rushing to them, the child demanded with blazing eyes:

"Where is the law by which you keep me from my mother? Show me the law! I wish to see it!" The men only laughed, but Simon dragged him away, exclaiming:

"Silence, Little Capet! What do you know about the law, young fool?" When the visitors had gone, he continued:

"Now that I see you have not forgotten how to speak, I shall teach you to shout 'Vive la République!' and dance the Carmagnole. We will make a brave little patriot of you!"

Time went on, and gradually the poor child learned that stubbornness would prove of little avail, so he resigned himself to his cruel master with as good grace as he could. He never forgot, however, that he was a king, and his actions were always dignified and manly. His mother, failing in her demand to see him, had his books and playthings sent down, that he might both amuse himself and continue his studies. The things were all dumped into a corner in a heap. Simon 'pooh-poohed' at the books and used their pages to light his pipe. The toys he either stepped on or threw away, as the fancy took him.

"I'll give thee something to amuse thee, and instruct thee too!" he volunteered one day, and presented his charge with a little concertina. "Now pipe away on that! Thy wolf of a mother can play, and thy dog of an aunt can sing. Thou shalt learn to accompany them! It will be a fine racket!" Louis Charles pushed the instrument away from him. The coarse remarks about his mother and aunt stung him to the quick. "I do not wish it!" he said quietly. Simon was furious! He had taken the trouble to make the little wretch a gift, and it was scorned!

"Peste! You shall suffer for this!" he threatened. And suffer the poor child did for many a long day, in consequence of that refusal. Yet no brutality ever induced him to touch the hated instrument. Simon finally gave it up.

When he entered under the cobbler's yoke, the little king had worn a suit of black clothes, in memory of his father. Simon's jealous eye was not long in perceiving that the child was fond of these clothes, since his mother had fashioned them.

"It's time you left those off!" he announced one day. "I'll have no one about me mourning for old Capet! We'll have a gay little new suit made for you!" Louis begged and pleaded to no avail. A few days after, he was arrayed in a little coat and trousers of the Revolutionary red, and a bright red liberty-cap. The boy donned the suit sadly but without resistance. But when it came to the liberty-cap, nothing would induce him to let it be placed on his head. He fought and struggled wildly against wearing the headdress of his father's murderers. It was only through Madame Simon's interference that the cobbler gave up the contest.

"Come, come!" she said. "Let be! Another time perhaps, he will listen to reason!" The child gave her a grateful glance that she never forgot.

In addition to his other hardships, the young king was obliged to wait on his two captors, and run at their beck and call like the meanest servant. He performed his tasks without a murmur, and counted himself fortunate if he were not rewarded by a kick, or a cuff on the ear.

One morning while it was yet dark, Louis XVII awoke on his hard truckle-bed. All days now were bad enough and sad enough, but he somehow had a presentiment that this one would be worse than the rest. He rose shivering, lighted a little foot-stove, and took it to Madame Simon's bed as he had been directed to do. She scolded him sleepily for not bringing it sooner, and his heart ached as he recalled how he used to lay a bouquet from his garden at Versailles on his mother's bed every morning. Oh, the hideous difference! After his scanty breakfast, he caught the eye of Simon fastened upon him, with some new, malignant interest in its gaze.

"Thou art bewigged like a royal courtier!" growled the cobbler, passing his rough hand over the silky curls. "'Tis little like a good Republican's head. This must go!" With a huge pair of shears, he hacked into the thick hair with great, jagged strokes. In a few moments the curls all lay on the floor, and Louis Charles stood like a shorn lamb, heartbroken but tearless, before his tormentor. Then the cobbler took his charge down to the courtyard for his daily breath of fresh air. Some of the soldiers, at the sight of the poor, ill-cropped head, laughed immoderately. Only one commissary, Meunier, said regretfully:

"Why have you hacked off all the hair that was so becoming, Simon?"

"Oh, don't you see! We are playing at a game of despoiling kings!" chuckled Simon. Again the soldiers laughed. The child, always peculiarly sensitive to mockery, hung his head and turned away, losing all desire to run about with his football. He was glad when Simon took him in again.

That night the cobbler made him drink two glasses of bad wine. As he had heretofore never touched anything but water, it made him stupid and heavy. Perhaps he did not quite understand what was happening. Perhaps his spirit was at last beginning to break. But, at any rate, when Simon said to him:

"Now here's your nice red cap! Put it on!" the boy, worn out with struggling, yielded at last.

"Ah! Now thou art a true sans-culotte!" cried Simon in triumph. And he crowned the shorn head of Louis XVII with the badge of the Commune!

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HOW YVONNE SAW THE KING

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