The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 3

Count Fersen.

Royalty, in fact, should, by this time, be far on with its preparations. Unhappily much preparation is needful: could a Hereditary Representative be carried in leather vache, how easy were it! But it is not so.

New clothes are needed, as usual, in all Epic transactions, were it in the grimmest iron ages; consider ‘Queen Chrimhilde, with her sixty semstresses,’ in that iron Nibelungen Song! No Queen can stir without new clothes. Therefore, now, Dame Campan whisks assiduous to this mantua-maker and to that: and there is clipping of frocks and gowns, upper clothes and under, great and small; such a clipping and sewing, as might have been dispensed with. Moreover, her Majesty cannot go a step anywhither without her Necessaire; dear Necessaire, of inlaid ivory and rosewood; cunningly devised; which holds perfumes, toilet-implements, infinite small queenlike furnitures: Necessary to terrestrial life. Not without a cost of some five hundred louis, of much precious time, and difficult hoodwinking which does not blind, can this same Necessary of life be forwarded by the Flanders Carriers, — never to get to hand. (Campan, ii. c. 18.) All which, you would say, augurs ill for the prospering of the enterprise. But the whims of women and queens must be humoured.

Bouille, on his side, is making a fortified Camp at Montmedi; gathering Royal–Allemand, and all manner of other German and true French Troops thither, ‘to watch the Austrians.’ His Majesty will not cross the Frontiers, unless on compulsion. Neither shall the Emigrants be much employed, hateful as they are to all people. (Bouille, Memoires, ii. c. 10.) Nor shall old war-god Broglie have any hand in the business; but solely our brave Bouille; to whom, on the day of meeting, a Marshal’s Baton shall be delivered, by a rescued King, amid the shouting of all the troops. In the meanwhile, Paris being so suspicious, were it not perhaps good to write your Foreign Ambassadors an ostensible Constitutional Letter; desiring all Kings and men to take heed that King Louis loves the Constitution, that he has voluntarily sworn, and does again swear, to maintain the same, and will reckon those his enemies who affect to say otherwise? Such a Constitutional circular is despatched by Couriers, is communicated confidentially to the Assembly, and printed in all Newspapers; with the finest effect. (Moniteur, Seance du 23 Avril, 1791.) Simulation and dissimulation mingle extensively in human affairs.

We observe, however, that Count Fersen is often using his Ticket of Entry; which surely he has clear right to do. A gallant Soldier and Swede, devoted to this fair Queen; — as indeed the Highest Swede now is. Has not King Gustav, famed fiery Chevalier du Nord, sworn himself, by the old laws of chivalry, her Knight? He will descend on fire-wings, of Swedish musketry, and deliver her from these foul dragons, — if, alas, the assassin’s pistol intervene not!

But, in fact, Count Fersen does seem a likely young soldier, of alert decisive ways: he circulates widely, seen, unseen; and has business on hand. Also Colonel the Duke de Choiseul, nephew of Choiseul the great, of Choiseul the now deceased; he and Engineer Goguelat are passing and repassing between Metz and the Tuileries; and Letters go in cipher, — one of them, a most important one, hard to decipher; Fersen having ciphered it in haste. (Choiseul, Relation du Depart de Louis XVI. (Paris, 1822), p. 39.) As for Duke de Villequier, he is gone ever since the Day of Poniards; but his Apartment is useful for her Majesty.

On the other side, poor Commandment Gouvion, watching at the Tuileries, second in National Command, sees several things hard to interpret. It is the same Gouvion who sat, long months ago, at the Townhall, gazing helpless into that Insurrection of Women; motionless, as the brave stabled steed when conflagration rises, till Usher Maillard snatched his drum. Sincerer Patriot there is not; but many a shiftier. He, if Dame Campan gossip credibly, is paying some similitude of love-court to a certain false Chambermaid of the Palace, who betrays much to him: the Necessaire, the clothes, the packing of the jewels, (Campan, ii. 141.) — could he understand it when betrayed. Helpless Gouvion gazes with sincere glassy eyes into it; stirs up his sentries to vigilence; walks restless to and fro; and hopes the best.

But, on the whole, one finds that, in the second week of June, Colonel de Choiseul is privately in Paris; having come ‘to see his children.’ Also that Fersen has got a stupendous new Coach built, of the kind named Berline; done by the first artists; according to a model: they bring it home to him, in Choiseul’s presence; the two friends take a proof-drive in it, along the streets; in meditative mood; then send it up to ‘Madame Sullivan’s, in the Rue de Clichy,’ far North, to wait there till wanted. Apparently a certain Russian Baroness de Korff, with Waiting-woman, Valet, and two Children, will travel homewards with some state: in whom these young military gentlemen take interest? A Passport has been procured for her; and much assistance shewn, with Coach-builders and such like; — so helpful polite are young military men. Fersen has likewise purchased a Chaise fit for two, at least for two waiting-maids; further, certain necessary horses: one would say, he is himself quitting France, not without outlay? We observe finally that their Majesties, Heaven willing, will assist at Corpus–Christi Day, this blessed Summer Solstice, in Assumption Church, here at Paris, to the joy of all the world. For which same day, moreover, brave Bouille, at Metz, as we find, has invited a party of friends to dinner; but indeed is gone from home, in the interim, over to Montmedi.

These are of the Phenomena, or visual Appearances, of this wide-working terrestrial world: which truly is all phenomenal, what they call spectral; and never rests at any moment; one never at any moment can know why.

On Monday night, the Twentieth of June 1791, about eleven o’clock, there is many a hackney-coach, and glass-coach (carrosse de remise), still rumbling, or at rest, on the streets of Paris. But of all Glass-coaches, we recommend this to thee, O Reader, which stands drawn up, in the Rue de l’Echelle, hard by the Carrousel and outgate of the Tuileries; in the Rue de l’Echelle that then was; ‘opposite Ronsin the saddler’s door,’ as if waiting for a fare there! Not long does it wait: a hooded Dame, with two hooded Children has issued from Villequier’s door, where no sentry walks, into the Tuileries Court-of-Princes; into the Carrousel; into the Rue de l’Echelle; where the Glass-coachman readily admits them; and again waits. Not long; another Dame, likewise hooded or shrouded, leaning on a servant, issues in the same manner, by the Glass-coachman, cheerfully admitted. Whither go, so many Dames? ’Tis His Majesty’s Couchee, Majesty just gone to bed, and all the Palace-world is retiring home. But the Glass-coachman still waits; his fare seemingly incomplete.

By and by, we note a thickset Individual, in round hat and peruke, arm-and-arm with some servant, seemingly of the Runner or Courier sort; he also issues through Villequier’s door; starts a shoebuckle as he passes one of the sentries, stoops down to clasp it again; is however, by the Glass-coachman, still more cheerfully admitted. And now, is his fare complete? Not yet; the Glass-coachman still waits. — Alas! and the false Chambermaid has warned Gouvion that she thinks the Royal Family will fly this very night; and Gouvion distrusting his own glazed eyes, has sent express for Lafayette; and Lafayette’s Carriage, flaring with lights, rolls this moment through the inner Arch of the Carrousel, — where a Lady shaded in broad gypsy-hat, and leaning on the arm of a servant, also of the Runner or Courier sort, stands aside to let it pass, and has even the whim to touch a spoke of it with her badine, — light little magic rod which she calls badine, such as the Beautiful then wore. The flare of Lafayette’s Carriage, rolls past: all is found quiet in the Court-of-Princes; sentries at their post; Majesties’ Apartments closed in smooth rest. Your false Chambermaid must have been mistaken? Watch thou, Gouvion, with Argus’ vigilance; for, of a truth, treachery is within these walls.

But where is the Lady that stood aside in gypsy hat, and touched the wheel-spoke with her badine? O Reader, that Lady that touched the wheel-spoke was the Queen of France! She has issued safe through that inner Arch, into the Carrousel itself; but not into the Rue de l’Echelle. Flurried by the rattle and rencounter, she took the right hand not the left; neither she nor her Courier knows Paris; he indeed is no Courier, but a loyal stupid ci-devant Bodyguard disguised as one. They are off, quite wrong, over the Pont Royal and River; roaming disconsolate in the Rue du Bac; far from the Glass-coachman, who still waits. Waits, with flutter of heart; with thoughts — which he must button close up, under his jarvie surtout!

Midnight clangs from all the City-steeples; one precious hour has been spent so; most mortals are asleep. The Glass-coachman waits; and what mood! A brother jarvie drives up, enters into conversation; is answered cheerfully in jarvie dialect: the brothers of the whip exchange a pinch of snuff; (Weber, ii. 340–2; Choiseul, p. 44–56.) decline drinking together; and part with good night. Be the Heavens blest! here at length is the Queen-lady, in gypsy-hat; safe after perils; who has had to inquire her way. She too is admitted; her Courier jumps aloft, as the other, who is also a disguised Bodyguard, has done: and now, O Glass-coachman of a thousand, — Count Fersen, for the Reader sees it is thou, — drive!

Dust shall not stick to the hoofs of Fersen: crack! crack! the Glass-coach rattles, and every soul breathes lighter. But is Fersen on the right road? Northeastward, to the Barrier of Saint–Martin and Metz Highway, thither were we bound: and lo, he drives right Northward! The royal Individual, in round hat and peruke, sits astonished; but right or wrong, there is no remedy. Crack, crack, we go incessant, through the slumbering City. Seldom, since Paris rose out of mud, or the Longhaired Kings went in Bullock-carts, was there such a drive. Mortals on each hand of you, close by, stretched out horizontal, dormant; and we alive and quaking! Crack, crack, through the Rue de Grammont; across the Boulevard; up the Rue de la Chaussee d’Antin, — these windows, all silent, of Number 42, were Mirabeau’s. Towards the Barrier not of Saint–Martin, but of Clichy on the utmost North! Patience, ye royal Individuals; Fersen understands what he is about. Passing up the Rue de Clichy, he alights for one moment at Madame Sullivan’s: “Did Count Fersen’s Coachman get the Baroness de Korff’s new Berline?” — “Gone with it an hour-and-half ago,” grumbles responsive the drowsy Porter. — “C’est bien.” Yes, it is well; — though had not such hour-and half been lost, it were still better. Forth therefore, O Fersen, fast, by the Barrier de Clichy; then Eastward along the Outward Boulevard, what horses and whipcord can do!

Thus Fersen drives, through the ambrosial night. Sleeping Paris is now all on the right hand of him; silent except for some snoring hum; and now he is Eastward as far as the Barrier de Saint–Martin; looking earnestly for Baroness de Korff’s Berline. This Heaven’s Berline he at length does descry, drawn up with its six horses, his own German Coachman waiting on the box. Right, thou good German: now haste, whither thou knowest! — And as for us of the Glass-coach, haste too, O haste; much time is already lost! The august Glass-coach fare, six Insides, hastily packs itself into the new Berline; two Bodyguard Couriers behind. The Glass-coach itself is turned adrift, its head towards the City; to wander whither it lists, — and be found next morning tumbled in a ditch. But Fersen is on the new box, with its brave new hammer-cloths; flourishing his whip; he bolts forward towards Bondy. There a third and final Bodyguard Courier of ours ought surely to be, with post-horses ready-ordered. There likewise ought that purchased Chaise, with the two Waiting-maids and their bandboxes to be; whom also her Majesty could not travel without. Swift, thou deft Fersen, and may the Heavens turn it well!

Once more, by Heaven’s blessing, it is all well. Here is the sleeping Hamlet of Bondy; Chaise with Waiting-women; horses all ready, and postillions with their churn-boots, impatient in the dewy dawn. Brief harnessing done, the postillions with their churn-boots vault into the saddles; brandish circularly their little noisy whips. Fersen, under his jarvie-surtout, bends in lowly silent reverence of adieu; royal hands wave speechless in expressible response; Baroness de Korff’s Berline, with the Royalty of France, bounds off: for ever, as it proved. Deft Fersen dashes obliquely Northward, through the country, towards Bougret; gains Bougret, finds his German Coachman and chariot waiting there; cracks off, and drives undiscovered into unknown space. A deft active man, we say; what he undertook to do is nimbly and successfully done.

A so the Royalty of France is actually fled? This precious night, the shortest of the year, it flies and drives! Baroness de Korff is, at bottom, Dame de Tourzel, Governess of the Royal Children: she who came hooded with the two hooded little ones; little Dauphin; little Madame Royale, known long afterwards as Duchess d’Angouleme. Baroness de Korff’s Waiting-maid is the Queen in gypsy-hat. The royal Individual in round hat and peruke, he is Valet, for the time being. That other hooded Dame, styled Travelling-companion, is kind Sister Elizabeth; she had sworn, long since, when the Insurrection of Women was, that only death should part her and them. And so they rush there, not too impetuously, through the Wood of Bondy:— over a Rubicon in their own and France’s History.

Great; though the future is all vague! If we reach Bouille? If we do not reach him? O Louis! and this all round thee is the great slumbering Earth (and overhead, the great watchful Heaven); the slumbering Wood of Bondy, — where Longhaired Childeric Donothing was struck through with iron; (Henault, Abrege Chronologique, p. 36.) not unreasonably. These peaked stone-towers are Raincy; towers of wicked d’Orleans. All slumbers save the multiplex rustle of our new Berline. Loose-skirted scarecrow of an Herb-merchant, with his ass and early greens, toilsomely plodding, seems the only creature we meet. But right ahead the great North–East sends up evermore his gray brindled dawn: from dewy branch, birds here and there, with short deep warble, salute the coming Sun. Stars fade out, and Galaxies; Street-lamps of the City of God. The Universe, O my brothers, is flinging wide its portals for the Levee of the GREAT HIGH KING. Thou, poor King Louis, farest nevertheless, as mortals do, towards Orient lands of Hope; and the Tuileries with its Levees, and France and the Earth itself, is but a larger kind of doghutch, — occasionally going rabid.

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30