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   Chapter 11 EXIT THE COBBLER

When a Cobbler Ruled a King By Augusta Huiell Seaman Characters: 14055

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Louis Charles Capet sat on his rough wooden chair by a table, anxiously eyeing the door, and listening nervously for the slightest sound. Simon was not with him, having gone up on the platform by himself for a little airing. Madame Simon sat knitting in another corner of the room. Just for a while the child was enjoying one of his rare intervals of peace, free from violence, insult and terror.

Had one watched him, it would soon have become evident that he was waiting for something,-waiting, longing, with every nerve tense, for some desired event. It was the day that the laundry should come back, and the child knew it. Therefore with all his heart he was hoping for one of those infrequent visits with Yvonne, the sole pleasure in his weary little existence. It was long since she last came to him.

For a while nothing was heard in the room but the click of Madame Simon's knitting-needles, and the chirp and flutter of five or six canaries in a big gilt cage on the table. It was through the goodness of the kind-hearted Meunier, another commissary, that the child had been allowed this plaything. Pitying his forlorn and empty life, Meunier had obtained permission to have placed in the room a gilt cage that he had found in the store-room of the Temple. This cage contained an artificial canary, which when wound up would whistle the air, "O Richard! O, my king!"

At first Louis Charles was immensely pleased with this toy, thinking that the bird was alive and a captive like himself. But when he discovered that it was only an automaton, he lost all interest and apathetically refused to be entertained by it. Then good-natured Meunier scoured the neighbourhood and brought him some live canaries to put with the mechanical one.

"These, at least, are real birds!" the child cried gleefully, and kissed each one as it was put into the cage. "I shall try to tame them!" From that time he had always a pleasing occupation with his feathered captives. He fed them, cleaned the cage, and clapped his hands with delight when they all started to sing, accompanying the toy one in his tune of the "King's March." One little fellow seemed tamer than the rest, never failed to come when the boy chirped to it, and even perched fearlessly on his shoulder. This one he called "La Petite," and had tied a tiny pink ribbon around its leg.

But the birds were rather quiet just now, hopping about and twittering softly. Suddenly in the silence of the room there sounded the rasping of bolts undrawn, the clanking of chains and the hoarse command of the sentries. The door queued. The boy's heart almost stood still in the intensity of his expectation. Would she come? Was Yvonne just beyond the door? With a stifled cry of joy he recognised the sound of her voice, and knew that his desire was to be fulfilled. When she entered he thought she looked grave, and not nearly so buoyant as was her wont. Poor Yvonne! At that very moment she was sick with fear for Jean's yet unknown fate.

Wishing to rid herself at once of the packet, and deeming Simon's absence the most favourable moment, she thrust it into his hand under the table.

"From your mother! Hide it quickly!" she whispered. Watching Barelle and Madame Simon who were talking together, he slipped to his bed, and shoved the packet into a small hole in the mattress, returning noiselessly to Yvonne. Then he said aloud:

"I have something for you, Yvonne. It is not much, but I wish you to take and enjoy it!" And he handed her a small, shrivelled pear. Little Yvonne was sincerely touched by this gift. She knew how small an amount the poor child got to eat, and she could not bear to deprive him of even this miserable little piece of fruit.

"Oh, I ought not take it!" she said. "You need it more than I!" But Louis Charles eagerly pressed her to accept, and even Madame Simon turned to intervene:

"Take it! take it, little girl! The little fellow has been saving it for a week to give to you. He will be sorely grieved if you refuse!" With tears in her eyes, Yvonne accepted the pitiful gift.

"And now show me your birds! How pretty they are!" she said. But the boy had a question to ask. "My mother! How is she?" he whispered. Poor little fellow! He did not dream that his mother, long since removed from the Tower, had so recently gone to her eternal repose. Even the cruel-hearted cobbler had spared him that blow, and Yvonne would sooner have had her tongue cut out than be the one to impart such news. So she only smiled and pointed to the ceiling. And Louis Charles, reassured, turned to show her his birds.

He whistled and sang to them, and started the toy-bird playing its tune. This encouraged all the feathered flock to warble and soon there was a gay little concert in the dingy prison room. The children clapped their hands and laughed with delight. In the midst of this the door suddenly opened, and Simon entered, followed by some new municipals who were making their first tour of inspection.

"What's this! What's this!" exclaimed one, more ferociously zealous than the rest, as he approached the cage. The live birds all ceased their music, but the ill-fated automaton went on with its song, "O, Richard! O, my king!"

"Kings! kings! Here's a pretty state of affairs! How comes such a thing here? There are no more kings!" Then he noticed the ribbon around the leg of the boy's favourite. "And what's this! Here's a decorated bird! Here's a privileged character! Here's an aristocrat, I suppose!" He burst open the door of the cage, and seizing the offending songster, roughly tore off the "Order." Then he threw it violently from him. Poor Louis Charles was watching the treatment of his pet. He sat rooted to his chair with frightened eyes, and a little sob escaped him when the man cast the bird from him. But he knew better than to utter one word in defence of his favourite. Experience had taught him that such a course would conspire even sooner, to bring about the defeat of any wish he might express.

"Take these things away!" ordered the new municipal, and Simon quickly removed the cage from the room. Then the municipal turned his attention to Yvonne.

"Who is this, and why, pray, is she here?" he stormed. Barelle explained Yvonne's presence.

"Away with her! This is all against the rules!" he shouted, and poor Yvonne was hustled off before she could even say good-bye to her friend. In her heart she knew that she would never be allowed to come again.

Louis Charles cried himself to sleep that night, in the agony of the day's double disappointment. To be robbed at once of his birds and Yvonne was a crushing blow. But he woke in the night, remembered the packet his mother had sent him, drew it out and opened it. Though he could see nothing, by touch he recognised the prayer-book he had so often seen in his mother's hands. Reassured by her love and thought for him, he kissed it reverently. After that he thrust it back in its hiding-place, and went to sleep calmed and comforted.

H

e never saw his birds again, nor did Yvonne ever enter the door of his hated prison as the gloomy weeks passed, yet strange events were preparing which were to make radical changes in the life of Louis XVII. These events related chiefly to the cobbler Simon. The long confinement had been telling on his robust health, and stretching his nerves to an irritable tension. For confined he was, as surely and closely as the little king himself. He was there to guard "Little Capet" every moment of the time, and was being handsomely paid for it. Therefore every request to go out for a while, change scene and air or witness some festival of the Republic, was sternly refused by the Council-General. Madame Simon also grew restive, though she was allowed more freedom than her husband.

At length the time came when the cobbler felt he could endure it no longer. He liked his work,-nothing pleased him more than to maltreat this little prince of the blood,-and he liked his pay even better. But more than all he wanted freedom, and that he could not have with the position of tutor to "Little Capet." Consequently on the fifth of January, 1794, he handed in his resignation, and was released from a situation now become hateful to him.

A few days after, there was a great noise and confusion in the Tower. The cobbler and his wife were about to leave it. The child-prisoner could scarcely believe his senses! Was his terrible tormentor really going? Was he actually to be left in peace? He sat motionless and silent, watching their operations, while a frenzy of joy surged within him. At length all was in readiness, and there was no excuse for further delay. Madame Simon, who had never cherished her husband's hard feeling for the child, approached him, pressed his hand kindly and said:

"I do not know when I shall see you again, Little Capet, but good-bye!" Simon heard her, and added a farewell of his own that was quite characteristic of him.

"Ah, you little toad! I suppose you're glad to be rid of me, aren't you! But you won't get out of this hole, I can tell you, and you may do worse than have Simon the cobbler about you!" With this he pressed his hand heavily on the child's head, almost drawing from him a cry of pain. Then the door was shut, and Simon the cobbler went out of the life of Louis XVII forever!

All that day the boy was left alone to amuse himself at will, seeing none but Caron the cook who brought him his meals. In breathless expectation he awaited whatever might happen next. Who could tell! He might even be sent to his mother! Next day, however, another surprise awaited him.

The Council-General, it seemed, found great difficulty in replacing Simon. In fact, they declared that his counterpart could not be found, and so he should have no successor. They determined instead, to try the effect of absolute solitude for a time on the little sovereign.

Perhaps we wonder why, since the child's existence was so troublesome to them, they did not kill him outright, as they had his royal parents. But no! Such a crime would not befit a Republic "always great and generous!" They did not go about slaughtering innocent children whose only offence was that of having been born to the purple! By no means! They would make a great pretence of caring for and guarding him, but in time he should simply fade away, disappear, be lost to public interest. Or, in plainer words, he should die a natural death, brought about by systematic ill-treatment and neglect. The first stage had already been accomplished by the cobbler. The second was about to begin.

On the morning of the following day, into the room walked carpenters and workmen. What were they about to do, wondered the boy? He was soon to discover. First they moved his bed into a dark little back room that adjoined the large one. Then they cut down the door between to about breast-height, and criss-crossed the open upper part with heavy iron bars. In the middle of this they made a wicket or hole closed by other movable bars, and fastened with an enormous padlock.

Louis Charles was then commanded to enter. He did so, and the door was shut and fastened unalterably by every device of which they could think. And so he was left, having no communication with the outer world save the little wicket. Through this was passed his coarse meals, and whatever necessaries they thought fit to allow him. Through this also he sent out whatever he wished removed. The cell was lighted only by a lantern hung in the room outside, whose feeble rays scarcely penetrated beyond the bars of the door. He was allowed no books, no playthings, no occupation of any kind except to keep his cell clean with an old broom.

For the first few days, in spite of the utter desolation of his surroundings, the boy was contented, even happy. His young life had for the past six months been so constantly harried by the cruel cobbler and merciless municipals, that he was devoutly thankful for the peace and rest of his solitude. One of the first things he did was to draw his mother's prayer-book from its hiding-place, and try in the dim light to decipher some of the prayers she had so often repeated with him. This he had never dared to do when the cobbler had charge of him. Then he examined the glossy curl of Moufflet's hair, and wondered whether he should some day see his pet once more. When in want of other occupation, he would sweep his cell again and again, and make and re-make his bed.

His meals were handed to him twice a day. Coarse, ill-cooked fare it was, and very little of that,-some watery soup, a small morsel of meat, a loaf of stale bread and a pitcher of water. He never saw the one who brought it, for the wicket was so arranged as to hide the face outside. The commissaries changed daily, and their visits were always after nightfall. They would come to his wicket and call loudly, "Little Capet, are you there?" "Yes!" he would reply. "Well, go to bed then! You can't have any more light!" they would shout, and extinguish the lantern in the next room.

And so the time passed! Louis Charles soon lost all track of the dragging days and weeks, but this solitude began to tell frightfully on his strength, and he grew almost too weak to move about. Upstairs, just above him, his sister and aunt knew nothing of his troubles. They only knew that Simon was gone, for they heard no more dreadful shouting and scolding, nor the plaintive child's voice singing the songs of the Revolution at his jailer's command. But one dark night, Madame Elizabeth received a summons to appear before the terrible tribunal. And she also went out of the Temple, never to return, for she was shortly to travel the same dark way that the King and Queen had gone before her. Little Marie-Thérèse was also left in solitude.

And so for a space of several months must we leave the three children, each to a solitary cell, one in the Conciergerie, and two in the Temple Tower.

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A FRIEND RE-ENTERS AND EVENTS MOVE ON

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