Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

MIRANDA: A TALE OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.

[blocks in formation]

BY PERCY B. ST. JOHN.

BOOK I.

THE DUKE AND STUDENT-1789.

Ir was the evening of the 1st of March, 1789, and darkness had already veiled the face of nature; heavy clouds rolled their huge and unwieldy masses along the turgid sky, amid faint and dull flashes of far-off lightning, when a man on foot, a bundle on his shoulder, and wearing a rude costume-that of the working-classes of society-broad-rimmed felt hat, blue cotton frock, dark trousers, and heavy boots-stopped before the auberge

of the Dernier Sou.

This inn, situated on the roadside, about a dozen miles from Paris, was of mean appearance, but large in its premises, for over the door was written, in almost legible characters, with nearly correct orthography—

"Ici one logg a pied est a chevale."

The traveller, whose back was turned to Paris, paused ere he entered to listen for sounds from within, and as if satisfied with the result of his scrutiny, he prepared to pass the threshold, when another wayfarer presented himself.

This was a young man of better appearance than the other, though not a member of the upper classes. He wore, it is true, a sword, but his dress left it in doubt whether he were a simple citizen, or a student aiming at one of the learned professions. There was a careless mixture of both in his costume, but he, too, had a stick and a bundle. Like the artisan, he paused, looked up, and then followed the other into the auberge.

It was a large room which they entered, with a huge fireplace, a few tables and chairs, and a sideboard, on which were displayed bottles and glasses of varied shape, size, and contents. Near this table stood a woman, and by her side a man, apparently in active and earnest conversation-active, because both were lively earnest, because the subject-matter was not of the slightest importance.

Of small stature, with a loose brown coat, a red cap, and huge boots, which had evidently seen service on salt water, this man, whose head was very much on one side, as if he were always in the act of listening, cast an uneasy and uncertain glance upon the pair as they entered. His eye rested an instant on the younger traveller, but nothing there seemed to him to require further notice; when, however, he caught sight of the other, he turned pale, and for a minute his whole form, the very sinking of his knees, betrayed an abject sense of fear. Without noticing the scrutiny, or the alarm which succeeded it, the object of so much terror asked for some bread, wine, and a saucisse a l'ail. He then seated himself at a table, and placed his bundle on the ground.

"And what shall I serve for you, Monsieur ?" said the woman, addressing the young man.

"Have you materials for an omelette?" he replied, in a voice which made both men look up and examine

VOL. XIV.INO. CLXVI.

his appearance, so richly musical were its tones, falling as it were with a metallic ring on the ear.

Of middle size, with long dark hair, pale and oval face, eyebrows pencilled like a woman's, a forehead high and smooth, a straight nose, and a mouth which seemed made to utter none but gentle things; there was a fire flashing from his eye, however, which belied this gentleHe was evidently one of those who could be mild or stern as the occasion required. "Monsieur shall have one in ten minutes," replied the hostess with a smile, for on her woman's heart his good looks were not lost, and away she hastened to perform her promise.

ness.

Meanwhile the man with the wry neck and the other traveller had been eyeing each other with some little curiosity and anxiety. At length the former, whose first terror was now passed, but who was still uneasy at the pertinacious glances which the stranger, after once catching a glimpse, seemed to throw upon him, made an effort and spoke, though his tongue with difficulty performed its office.

"You seem to know me ?" he said in a thick voice, which appeared to make itself heard by a struggling effort, and came rather from the ear which rested on his left shoulder, than from his throat.

"Oh, no!" cried the other, turning pale, and as if fascinated by the speaker's look, "not at all.”

"Excuse the liberty; I thought you did; but as I was mistaken, let us drink to our better acquaintance, sotte animale he who swills alone," and taking up glass and bottle, he came and seated himself opposite to the stranger.

"You honour me vastly," muttered the other, who looked as if he only wanted courage to refuse; he was, in fact, though not a man casily daunted, in a state of the most intense agony of mind.

"But now I know you," whispered the wry neck, bending across the table, and looking full in his companion's face, upon which he lavished a most malicious wink-the other's alarm having acted on him as a cordial; "I ought too."

[blocks in formation]

66

No, no!" replied the other, "I am perfectly at my ease," the big drops of perspiration coursing at the same time down his cheeks.

"Well, I should think it strange if you were not. You are no chicken, but are as brave as a dragon. True, a'int it. ?"

"Ye-e-e-s," said the unfortunate, with a ghastly grin, his throat swelling as with a choking sensation.

"You have done too many deeds of note to be suspected," repeated his merciless tormentor.

2 S

"Deeds of note," repeated the other mechanically. "Ah! there was the affair Latour," continued the wry neck.

"Ye-es," replied the man, peering cautiously round, as if in search of something with which to defend himself against the questioner.

"Ah! ah! you are modest, you wont unbosom yourself, but secrecy is of no use. I knew you, Maitre Duchesne," said the other, half maliciously, half in disgust.

"Hush, by all the saints, but who are you?" replied Duchesne, looking, despite himself, at the other's feet.

"Oh! I am Jean Torticolis," continued the other, pointing to his wry neck by a jerk of his thumb.

"Is that your only name?" inquired Duchesne curiously, but somewhat reassured.

"If Monsieur be delicate on the point, I will not press him," said the Bourreau, deprecatingly.

"You had better not, if you wish peace," continued the other, wildly.

"Agreed," said Maitre Duchesne. "So the doctorI sold you to him for twenty livres-took the liberty to bring you back. So much the better. I did my duty, he did his."

"You were both very attentive, I must confess," said Jean, grimly; "but let us drop the subject. On what duty are you now bound?" he continued, as if the other matter was not pleasing to him.

"Duty, Mordieu!” cried the other, savagely, none. It's all up with me; no more business. The Etats | Generaux are convoked."

"Ah! but I am not strong on politics," said Jean.

“I have no other,” replied Torticolis, somewhat sadly, "Excuse me, therefore, if I inquire how this will affect "no name, no existence."

"Ah!" exclaimed Duchesne, again becoming uneasy, ❝ and why?"

"Because I have a wry neck, and I am called Torticolis," answered the other moodily, his whole frame not only sombre, but terror-struck.

"But you have always been thus deform- thus twisted?" continued Duchesne.

"Not always," said Jean, glaring almost savagely at the other.

"Since when then?" faltered Duchesne.

you?"

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

"Since the 1st day of March, 1784," replied Jean, Bourreau, with a sneer. striking his fist upon the table.

Duchesne turned pale again, moved his chair a little from his companion, and, strong man though he was, appeared ready to faint.

"You are then ?" he again faltered.

"I was-Paul Ledru," replied Torticolis, fixing his eyes hard upon the other, "but he is dead, the law has said it; and I am now as I just told you, Jean Torticolis -Maitre Duchesne."

"Mordieu!” cried Duchesne, drinking off a draught of wine, and drawing at the same time a long breath, "this is too much. None of your coq a l'anès for me. You Paul Ledru! Why, I saw him dead-ah! dead, as my great-grandfather, if I ever had any." "So you thought," said the other, half savagely, his face awfully distorted as he recollected the horrors of that day, 66 so you thought, Monsieur le Bourreau de Paris. But it was I said the first of March, 1784, and the execution of the assassins of the Count le Bague gave you work. When it came to my turn you were drunk. You hanged me, but you did it badly. Science, not from humanity, but love of experiment, restored me, and the name of Torticolis is all that remains to remind me of your good intentions."

"Bah!" said Duchesne, with a grin, for he was now quite recovered, "this is too bad, to have one's subjects meet one in this way five years after death. Faugh! you smell of La Greve." "You don't approve of it," grinned Jean, "but I do; there we differ."

[blocks in formation]

"Yes; I should then have a straight neck, and not be called Torticolis, because my wife was handsome and a noble saw it !"

"By the way, what is become of Madame Ledru ?* said the other, affectionately.

"She is dead," replied the wry neck.

"And the young Count?"

"Lives;

but there is time for revenge. My wounded honour, my legal death, because I chastised a scoundrel, and her decease, all call on me. Trust me, I bide my time. But whither are you bound ?”

"For my village; I have saved a few hundred livres, and now for Picardy, where I hope to spend my old age in peace."

"You are wrong," said the young man, who had just commenced his omelette.

[ocr errors]

Why, Monsieur?" inquired Duchesne, turning round sharply.

"Because there will be more work for you than ever, though not of the same kind,” replied the youth, a strange and wild fire shining in his speaking eyes.

"More work than ever," cried Duchesne, incredulously. "Man," said the other, with considerable excitement of manner, 66 we are on the threshold of wondrous days; great things are about to happen; all men should be ready, for all men are interested. Who knows," he murmured to himself, "my republic may turn out other than a dream."

"You said," observed Duchesne,

"Return to Paris-it is the place for men," replied the young man, and then, as if recollecting the horrible vocation of him he spoke to, a burning blush overspread his cheeks, and he resumed the consumption of his halfforgotten meal.

"You are going to Paris," said Jean Torticolis, meekly, his little grey eyes fixed piercingly on the youth.

"I am," coldly said the other. "You are a deputy to the States-General, perhaps," continued the man with the wry neck.

"Perhaps," replied the other with a smile, not unmingled with a little pride, for so inherent is the love of power and station, that the poorest republican, even despite himself, cannot withstand the feeling which it generates.

"At all events," insisted the other, "as you say great things are to happen, you may, perhaps, advise us when the time comes.'

"My God," exclaimed Duchesne, "that never struck me before."

"And we are many," continued the wry neck, caressing his chin. "Who, we ?"

"THE PEOPLE."

“Ah, yes! the people," laughed Duchesne, “what good are they against musketeers, Swiss, chevaliers, cannon?"

"But, Duchesne," said Jean, gravely, " a million ants might kill an elephant; besides, this is not the

"If it be in my power," said the young man, quietly. first time I think of this." "Where shall we find Monsieur?"

"Oh! if you want me, on asking Rue Grenelle St. Honoré, No. 20; au Troisieme for Charles Clement, you will find me."

"Good, I thank you, Monsieur," said Jean, drawing forth a greasy pocket-book, and with difficulty making note of the address and name.

"I shall face about,” cried Duchesne, awaking from a reverie, and then addressing Jean in a whisper, "The youth has set me thinking. Who knows what may happen? Tonnere, but Paris is, after all, the place for a man to get an honest living.'

[ocr errors]

"Did I know where to perch," said Jean, in reply, "I might join you.”

"Just now you said you knew nothing of politics," continued Duchesne, gaily.

"I didn't know your sentiments, my dear Duchesne ; but I hope to see the people something in future."

"One might come to that," replied Duchesne, "who knows; the States-General are convoked, and they talk of the Tiers-Etat having the upper hand."

And thus, as thousands of others were doing, without premeditation, ignorant of the consequences of their own thoughts, unaware of their own mighty power, these two men went on conversing-preparing themselves for the great events of the French revolution.

When from a charming hill-side, bespangled with flowers, and rich in jewelled drops, sparkling in the sun,

"Until you settle," replied Duchesne, with a grin, "I the traveller beholds bubbling forth the tender rivulet, will give you a berth, and not the first neither."

"Bah! no more of that; where do you quarter?" "If my room be not let, I have a sky parlour; it is rather high, on the sixth storey, but there is a good view of the tiles."

"What part? "Rue Grenelle."

"St. Honoré ?

"Yes."

"What number?"

he little thinks it the cradle of a mighty river, which, afar of, sweeps everything before it, irresistible, grand, sublime, and to affront which is madness. So the movement in France. Gentle, polite, still at first, commencing in the discussion of certain trivial forms, it was to end only when monarchy, church, aristocracy, all that vainly strove to stay its career, were crushed. It began in sunshine, it ended in a thunder-storm-but thunderstorms proverbially cleanse and purify the atmosphere.

[blocks in formation]

An hour passed, during which time Charles Clement luxuriated in the study of a well-thumbed pamphlet—

"Didn't you hear him say so just now," continued one of those leaves which, scattered as by the wind, and Jean Torticolis.

[ocr errors]

pregnant with seed, sowed everywhere the germs of the

No, but this is lucky, we shall know where to find terrible future-his eye kindling as he read, and his him, en cas."

[ocr errors]

Exactly; but I should like to know what he means by great events," mused Torticolis, addressing himself rather than his companion.

"Why, wine at two sous a bottle, bread at one sou a pound, meat the same, what else could he mean?" said Duchesne.

"Thunder, that would be great," continued Jean, pleased but not convinced, "one might live without working."

"Not exactly," said Duchesne, who for the first time in his life, perhaps, began to think, "but one might work a little less like animals."

"You might punish the insolence of a few nobles," whispered Jean, as if half afraid of the enormity of his proposition, “that would suit me."

whole mien revealing the emotion which agitated him. Ardent, sanguine, full of the spirit of youth, burning with shame and sorrow beneath the cumbrous tyranny which everywhere assailed the people-all who were unenobled the discussions of the day, the writings of Voltaire, Mirabeau, Rousseau-spirits that saw the evils of the times without discovering their own errors-had infused into his mind, aided by his classics, a theory of polity, before which the feeble, enervated, and tottering monarchy of France would then have trembled, could it have believed it widely diffused. Charles Clement was an enthusiastic and ardent republican, dreaming of a state of things where the happiness of the people would be the first and only consideration of government, and dreaming, too, that democracy was to come forth in all its strength, quietly, calmly, and amid the joyous but

"Impossible," said Duchesne, alarmed, "they are peaceful acclamations of grateful millions. too powerful."

66

They are very few," mused Torticolis.

Charles Clement, while wrapped in his ardent visions→→ such as are ever those of talent and virtue-forgot the

fierce passions, the brutal ignorance, the unbridled thoughts, the canker-worm of corruption, the rotten fabric of the State, the seeds of poverty, misery, and death, all plentifully sown by ages of debauchery, profligacy, and misgovernment, on the part of the kings and aristocracy of France; but concealed beneath the surface, hid by the spangled splendour of courtiers and court, veiled by the silks and satins of haughty dames, smothered beneath orient pearls, jewels, and gold; its cries stifled amid the resounding of great names, the glare of rank, and the laugh, the song, and the festival— but still smouldering-in places bursting forth and preparing to flood all bounds, to visit with awful retribution the authors of so much evil-was coming that terrible thing called public opinion.

"I rather think it is. The nobles have skinned us long enough. Their turn now. I wonder if their hides are really so much softer," said the Bourreau-ready-made disciple of the reign of terror.

“Fichtre, you go quick,” said the other, more cautiously, "our masters won't give way without a struggle."

[ocr errors]

"You are right," observed Duchesne, “therefore, quiet' is the word, and let us wait what turns up. Be sure somebody will be sappeurs."

"Agreed, comrade, and now enough of history, it's dry talk," said Torticolis, pledging the other in a bumper.

“Enough—for the present."

And, unknown to himself, Charles Clement had secured for the revolution two blind and devoted adherents, but such as served to ruin the hopes of its wisest advocates.

"But allow me to observe, M. Duchesne, that the weather is somewhat dark; I expect we shall have a storm."

"Two and two make four," said the Bourreau, "and thick clouds bring rain. Madame Martin, we shall sleep here to-night."

66

Very good," said the dame, complacently, "there is a double-bedded room at your service."

"And for me?" inquired Charles Clement, raising his head from the pamphlet over which he had been musing.

"I have had a fire lit in No. 1," replied Madame Martin, with a smile and a curtsey.

But republicanism in France was but the splendid dream of a few noble, though erring spirits, who mistook hatred of oppression, impatience of suffering for love of liberty, and enthusiastic reception of it for fitness to enjoy it. They forgot that the despotic monarchy had not only impoverished, but corrupted the people, who were brutal, superstitious, ignorant, impulsive, incapable of reasoning, and that they must infallibly become anarchical, disbelieving, and not knowing what liberty really was, degenerate into license. A people passes not from slavery to freedom at a stroke without losing all selfcontrol. A republic, being the perfection of human government, requires for its maintenance and then magnificent, indeed, would be its career-that the monarchy upon whose ruins it is erected should have given the people a foretaste of freedom-that they should have exercised, without knowing it, most of the functions of democracy-that trusting in a religion which is cherished because heart and head go hand in hand with faith, they should not blindly follow mere ceremonies and symbols they do not understand-that they be educated sufficiently to understand the full difference between liberty and license-that they knew enough to distinguish between patriots and spouting quacks. The republic must come, too, gradually, but as the culminating stroke of a long line of reforms; in a word, they must have dwelt long beneath a constitutional government, not a despotism-be Protestants, not Catholics-an industrial thinking people, not a passionate and military nation-refreshed by the addition of several huge logs. Graduhave lived in the nineteenth, not the eighteenth century -and instead of Frenchmen be History will conclude my sentence.

"See what it is to be young and have good looks,” whispered Duchesne, with a meaning wink; "I shouldn't wonder if she sent him away without asking for his bill."

"Sapristi," replied Torticolis, laughing, "it is the way of the world."

Meanwhile the weather had in reality set in with violence. The growling of thunder was heard in the distance, gradually becoming more distinct, while the wind shook the not very firm timbers of the Dernier Sou, making the travellers draw with additional pleasure round the fire, which Madame Martin had recently

ally, as the day quite faded, and no light illumined the room save the fitful flame of the fire, Clement closed his book, and, being in a dreamy humour, kept his eye fixed upon the blaze, while his ears drank in, with sin

Who looks on France, however, before the revolution, who inquires profoundly into the natural causes of its ex-gular satisfaction, the sound of the storm without. cesses, will own that the awful tempest was necessary, for the blood of the nation had stagnated, and the heart would soon have ceased to beat. The remedy was terrible, but with all its horrors less terrible than the evil.

Meanwhile Duchesne and Torticolis, between whom a strange link had created a kind of fraternity, had spent their time in discussing over their bottle and glass the hopes which the few words of the ardent youth had awakened in their bosoms.

"Peste," said Duchesne, continuing his remarks, "if he were right, and the people were about to become something."

"It is time," replied Torticolis, gravely, for this his first political discussion seemed to weigh upon his mind.

"It rolls on apace," he muttered, as the heavy booming of the thunder was heard overhead, and, like it, will roll the anger of the people; much noise, much tumult, to leave the air all the more fresh and pleasant.”

But Clement forgot, in applying his comparison, the devastating fire, which, previous to the termination of the storm, often does terrible deeds.

"It strikes me," said Torticolis, suddenly rising, "that I hear voices withont."

"The wind," replied Duchesne, who was quietly loading a pipe, his ultima thule of happiness.

"Did you ever hear the wind say 'Sacré !'" continued Torticolis, somewhat contemptuously.

"Not exactly," answered Duchesne, raising a burning stick, and applying it methodically to the bowl of his pipe.

"Then don't contradict me," observed Torticolis, | sembled, in his plumed hat, his powdered wig, his short

"and allow me to observe, without denial, that a voice just now said Sacré !'"

[ocr errors]

At the same time, the loud clashing of a postilion's whip, the rumbling of wheels, and the sound of horses' feet, were heard above the roar of the storm, which now came down in pitiless showers of rain.

mantle and long braided waistcoat, with loose green coat, a diamond-hilted sword, and other courtly appendages, a skeleton dressed up in mockery of death, so thin were his cheeks, so shrivelled, dry, and yellow was his skin.

Presenting a marked contrast, not only with the aged “Travellers,” said Madame Martin, advancing with nobleman, but one with the other, the two ladies formed alacrity to meet them. a bright relief to the aspect, stern, proud, and cadaverous, of the courtier.

Reaching the door, and throwing it wide open, the worthy landlady of the Dernier Sou peered forth into the darkness.

66

The one slight, delicate, and frail, the other of equal height, but fuller and more womanly proportions, with

Holy mother! a chaise de poste! Pierre! Pierre !" out being a month older; the one pale, with a comshe cried in a loud and shrill tone.

"Hola! he!" replied a rough voice from the stable. "Come round and attend to the carriage."

A vehicle, and one, too, of no small pretensions, to judge from its unwieldy though handsome form, with four horses and numerous outriders, had, in fact, halted before the little inn, while several men-servants descending from their horses, hastened, some to open the door of the carriage, while others advanced to the entrance of the auberge.

"Woman," said one of these, insolently apostrophising the worthy Madame Martin, "my master, to avoid the storm, has decided to honour your cabaret with his presence. Make way for the Duke de Ravilliere."

The various parties occupying the interior of the inn started, while each experienced sensations peculiar to their individual characters.

Madame Martin, true to the money-bag, like all faithful innkeepers-no longer the accomplices but the principles in acts of extortion-without noticing the too common impertinence of the servant, was overwhelmed with delight at the honour which fell upon her house, though a pang went to her heart as she remembered that her only decent room was engaged by the handsome young stranger.

The two men, Torticolis and Duchesne, were equally solicitous about their apartment, which they had little doubt would be summarily taken possession of by the lacqueys.

Charles Clement smiled. He, the republican aspirant, had possession of No. 1, and the Duke de Ravilliere was no doubt about to dispute it with him. Another sentiment evidently actuated him, as a blush passed rapidly across his intelligent face.

Meanwhile Madame Martin and Pierre busied themselves in hunting up and lighting several lamps, which, with the blaze of the fire, made the old room look more cheerful and sunny. Charles retreated into a dull corner of the apartment, to be as far apart from the new company as possible, and was nearly concealed by the curtains of the good landlady's bed, while Duchesne and Torticolis, their valiant resolutions and resolves made against the whole race of nobles vanishing for the nonce, like morning dew, rose, respectfully awaiting the

entrance of the aristocrats.

Preceded by servants holding hastily-lit torches, and having on each side a young lady, the Duke walked with stately step, neither casting look to the right nor the left, and proceeded to dry his damp and spotted clothes by the now sparkling fire, in which he was imitated by his fair companions.

plexion of dazzling fairness, the other with a rich tint of summer skies on her scarcely less white complexion; the one with light graceful hair, worn powdered, in the fashion of the day, the other with a mass of heavy dark ringlets, falling as nature gave them on her shoulders; the one with liquid blue eyes, soft, tender, and fawn-like, the other with dark and speaking orbs, that spoke of passion, energy, and fire; the one with a delicate but somewhat low forehead, the other with a lofty, almost massive brow, all intellect; the one with a mouth made but to speak sweet things and give soft kisses, the other with beautifully shaped lips, but ones on which sat determination and power; the waist of the former was thin, that of the latter disdained all artificial restraint, and exhibited the natural graces of form which woman generally does her best to mar.

Charles Clement has caught all these shades of difference at a glance, though his eyes, after the first impulse, rested, by virtue of the spirit of antagonism inherent in our nature, on the fair girl who so little resembled himself, it could be seen at once, either in appearance or character. His attention was, however, only given to their native graces, omitting all search for the details of their costume, which he noticed not, in which particular, therefore, we shall follow his example.

[blocks in formation]

"Faith, I hope not," said the dark-eyed beauty, laughing, "for the air and motion has given me an appetite,"

"Countess," replied the Duke gallantly, "were you a man, I should remark that your observation was vulgar."

66

But, as I am a woman," gaily continued the Countess, "it is truth."

"Monsieur," said the valet, respectfully, "forgets that the lunch is yet untouched."

The Duke recollected it perfectly well, but did not choose to know anything of which his servants could more properly remind him. In those days inns were so ill-served that noble and wealthy travellers were constantly in the habit of taking all necessary articles with them.

"Then serve the lunch," replied the nobleman,

Tall, slim, and even gaunt, the Duke somewhat re-solemnly.

« AnkstesnisTęsti »