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   Chapter 13 THE TENTH THERMIDOR

When a Cobbler Ruled a King By Augusta Huiell Seaman Characters: 12944

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


It would be impossible to describe the meeting between Jean and his loved ones on that memorable night. To Mère Clouet and Yvonne it seemed as though he had actually risen from the dead. For months they had received absolutely no news of him, or his fate. Yvonne confided to him that Mère Clouet had even gone to witness the daily executions at such times as she felt she could be away from necessary work, though the sight of them nearly killed her. But it seemed the only way in which she could learn whether the boy had yet been doomed to perish. As her work, however, compelled her to miss many days, she could never be certain that he had not been executed in her absence.

For several days Jean remained securely hidden. It would have been far from safe for him to show his face out of doors, for his enemy, La Souris, was still very active. So he stayed indoors, played with Moufflet, and asked incessant questions about the long period of his imprisonment, striving to learn every detail of what had occurred in his absence.

While he was thus in hiding, Paris was full of strange mutterings and subdued excitement. People conversed in undertones in the streets, gesticulated freely and had heated arguments. Detachments of soldiers were stationed in every quarter, and an uprising of some kind was plainly expected. Jean remembered the words of the Baron de Batz, and scented trouble but could make little of what he slyly witnessed from the windows. In fact, people seemed themselves scarcely to comprehend the true cause of all this ferment. Naturally the unrest communicated itself to Mère Clouet and the children. Yvonne begged to be allowed to go out and investigate but Mère Clouet and Jean would not hear of this. At last, on the afternoon of July twenty-eighth, Mère Clouet herself could no longer contain her curiosity.

"I am going out myself!" she announced. "I at least will be safe in the streets, and something unusual is happening to-day. Rest you here! I will come back shortly, and tell you all about it!" And she hurried away.

Now it must be explained that France, from the time of September, 1792, had determined to change the names of all the months, and number the years beginning from her birth as a Republic. Consequently this day of July 28, 1794, or the Tenth Thermidor, year II, as she called it, was destined to be a date long remembered in history.

In about two hours Mère Clouet came back. She was breathless, her eyes were flashing, and she was under the influence of some keen excitement.

"My soul!" she exclaimed, sinking into a seat "What I have seen! What I have heard! What times we live in! You will scarcely believe me! I went to the Rue St. Honoré. It was filled with a shouting crowd. I asked a woman what was happening, and she looked at me as though she thought me insane for not knowing! 'Where have you been?' she cried. 'What! do you not know that Robespierre was yesterday condemned by the Convention for his barbarity, declared an outlaw, and naturally headed for the scaffold? Coward that he is! He tried to kill himself, but missed his aim and only wounded his jaw. He's on the way to the guillotine now, with a few others of a similar stripe,-Couthon, Henriot, St. Just! Curse him! Curse him! He put to death my husband and my father for no crime at all,-they were good Republicans! And Barras,-he's in command of all the forces of Paris, and will soon be at the head of the government, also. He is at least a humane man! Ah, here comes the tumbril now!'

"Then a mighty roar went up from the crowd, a cart jolted up the street, and there sat that Robespierre, his hands tied behind him, and his wicked face bound up in a rag! Faugh! the sight turned me sick! But here's something else quite as wonderful! Directly beside him, cheek by jowl, sat (you'll never believe me!) that ruffian Simon the cobbler, in the very Carmagnole suit he used to wear in the Temple. His teeth fairly chattered with fright! Ah, but I wish the little fellow could have seen him! Was ever a punishment so well deserved!

"Never, in all my life have I witnessed such a sight! People sang for very joy, and even strangers embraced each other. They say that in some of the prisons, many were set free! I saw a man pay thirty francs for a newspaper telling how yesterday Robespierre was condemned! They say the Reign of Terror is over! Thank God! Thank God!" And Mère Clouet, no longer able to control herself, sobbed in sheer ecstasy of joy.

The Reign of Terror was over, at last! In a few days that became apparent. Exiles flocked back to the country. Prisons gave up their "suspects" to the number of ten thousand. Families were reunited, and people who had been existing miserably in all sorts of hiding-places, came out of their seclusion. Paris became a city of resurrected hopes and homes.

On the morning of the Tenth Thermidor, Barras had made a tour of all the military posts of Paris, in the course of which he stopped at the Temple and inspected it. When he saw the condition in which poor little Louis XVII was kept in solitude, he was filled with pity, and announced that this must be improved, and that he would at once take steps to accomplish it. We will now see what the Tenth Thermidor brought to this unfortunate little monarch.

Six months had passed since Louis Charles had been barred into his lonely cell. Not that he realised the time at all! One day dragged on wearily and gave place to the next, but he took no heed, and probably knew not whether his time of incarceration had been six months or as many years.

It was the twenty-eighth of July, 1794. For three days the child had lain inert upon his bed. Life had become absolutely insupportable to him. At the very moment when he had been compelled to rise and take in his morning meal, wishing that they would send in no more food so that he might die the quicker, Robespierre and Simon were passing through the streets in a tumbril to their well-deserved reward. But he knew it not!

That night the light of a candle shone through his wicket, and an unusually gentle voice called to him: "Capet! Little Capet! Are you there?" "Yes!" he answered feebly.

"Can you not come here a moment?" the voice continued. But the boy was too weak to try, and too exhausted even to answer again. Then the light disappeared, and the gentle voice was silent. He passed the night in a feverish sleep. His poor limbs were wasted and thin, and gr

eat swellings on his knees and arms gave him unspeakable pain. No one would have recognised in him now even the pale captive of the cobbler, much less the beautiful boy of the Tuileries.

Next morning he was called again, by many voices this time, but he could make no response at all.

"He is dead!" he heard someone say. "Let us break down the door!" Forthwith, resounding blows rained on the barrier of his prison. When at length an entrance had been forced, several strange men entered.

"What a horrible place!" they all exclaimed, starting back in amazement and disgust at the filth and vile odours, and the rats and mice scampering off in all directions. The child lay on the bed nervously watching every movement, wondering what new horror this invasion boded. The municipals put to him many questions about himself, but he had neither the strength nor the courage to answer them. Most of them concluded that he had either become deaf and dumb, or had lost his mind during his confinement Presently one of them noticed his untouched meal of the day before still on the table.

"Why do you not eat?" he demanded. The boy raised himself on his arm with a great effort.

"Because I wish to die!" he answered quietly. Tears rose to the eyes of one or two of his questioners, and after a hasty consultation they all left the room, closing the door but not barring it. After a while it opened again, and the child awoke from an uneasy sleep to find a slight, thin, kindly-faced little man bending over him.

"I am Laurent," said the same gentle voice of the night before, "and I have come to take charge of you!" Some memory of the ungentle cobbler was aroused by the word "charge," and the boy shrank back nervously. Laurent divined his thought.

"Do not be afraid!" he went on in the same quiet voice. "I am not like Simon, poor child!" and a kindly hand was laid on the matted hair. Still the boy made no response. He was too sick, too weak, too listless, to care very much what might happen to him now, and he only desired to be left in peace.

But Laurent had him moved from his loathsome cell, and placed on a cot in the clean, airy outer room. With the assistance of Caron the cook, he bathed the child in warm water, put on fresh clothes, and gently tried to comb the tangles from his matted hair. Then Louis was given a little fresh fruit to eat, and some milk, in place of the horrible fare on which he had lived for six months. After that Laurent left him to rest and sleep.

Words cannot paint the slowly growing amazement of Louis Charles at these changes. So long had he been left to cruel neglect that he could hardly yet comprehend how any kindness remained in the world. And six months of absolute silence had rendered him so unaccustomed to speech, that the good Laurent could not draw from him one word. Many a dumb grateful look had the child given him, but as yet his lips were silent. When Laurent came back with his meal in a few hours, he stroked the boy's head awhile.

"Do you feel better, Monsieur Charles?" he inquired. Used as he was to being addressed as "Little Capet," "Wolf-Cub" or worse, the respect and civility in this long-unused title was almost beyond belief! At length his tongue was unloosed.

"Yes, thank you, Monsieur!" he replied. And from that moment his heart went out to his new keeper. In a few days he was better. Kindness, care, decent food and the human society of some well-disposed person revived the flame of life that had all but flickered out in his long solitude.

Citizen Laurent was by no means a royalist. On the contrary, his sympathies were entirely with the Republic. But his heart was so touched by the desperate plight of the little captive, that he resolved to render his condition as comfortable as possible. This had also been Barras's wish in placing him as guardian to the royal prisoner. Laurent himself was closely watched by the jealous municipals, and he could only be with the boy part of each day. Among other things, he decided that Louis Charles, to recover his health, must have exercise. So he sought, and finally obtained from Barras, permission to take him for an airing to the top of the Tower.

The little king could hardly believe his senses! He was going to see the sky again, to hear bird-voices, to smell the scent of growing things! Too wonderful! Accompanied by Laurent and a guarding municipal, they made the ascent of the closely sentinelled stairs. The child, still weak and inactive, could hardly drag himself up the steps, anxious as he was to reach the top, so Laurent took him in his arms.

It was a warm, delightful evening. The sun had scarcely set, and the birds were twittering their good-night in the trees beyond the Temple. Up from the street came the calls of vendors, the shouts of drivers, and occasionally the gay laugh of some child at play. The little prince listened to it all and his eyes filled with tears of joy to think that at last he was permitted to breathe again the free air of heaven and see the blessed light, even though it hurt his eyes a great deal, used as they had been only to semi-darkness. Releasing Laurent's hand, he wandered around by himself for a few moments. Suddenly he bent down with a low cry of pleasure. "See! See!" he cried, pointing, and Laurent looked down noticing only a few poor half-withered common little yellow flowers growing in the cracks of the stone walk. But the boy was on his hands and knees, gathering them eagerly.

The short time of outing over, Laurent led him down, still clasping carefully the meagre little bouquet. At the door of the room on the third floor the boy stopped, pulling back at his keeper's hand with all his strength. Laurent understood! The boy wished to go in and see his mother whom he thought was still there. Poor child! He little knew that only his sister was shut up in that room. It pained Laurent to refuse him, but to grant the wish was not in his power.

"You are mistaking the door, Monsieur Charles!" he said gently.

"No, I am not mistaking it!" answered the boy, terribly disappointed, and he walked down languidly. At his own door Laurent noticed that the child no longer carried his cherished flowers. He was about to ask what had become of them when an instinct warned him to refrain. Louis Charles had dropped them, a withered but tender offering of love, at the door of his mother's room!

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IN WHICH JEAN "FINDS CARON"

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