The French Revolution, by Thomas Carlyle

Chapter 5

The New Berline.

But scouts all this while and aide-de-camps, have flown forth faster than the leathern Diligences. Young Romoeuf, as we said, was off early towards Valenciennes: distracted Villagers seize him, as a traitor with a finger of his own in the plot; drag him back to the Townhall; to the National Assembly, which speedily grants a new passport. Nay now, that same scarecrow of an Herb-merchant with his ass has bethought him of the grand new Berline seen in the Wood of Bondy; and delivered evidence of it: (Moniteur, &c. in Hist. Parl. x. 244–313.) Romoeuf, furnished with new passport, is sent forth with double speed on a hopefuller track; by Bondy, Claye, and Chalons, towards Metz, to track the new Berline; and gallops a franc etrier.

Miserable new Berline! Why could not Royalty go in some old Berline similar to that of other men? Flying for life, one does not stickle about his vehicle. Monsieur, in a commonplace travelling-carriage is off Northwards; Madame, his Princess, in another, with variation of route: they cross one another while changing horses, without look of recognition; and reach Flanders, no man questioning them. Precisely in the same manner, beautiful Princess de Lamballe set off, about the same hour; and will reach England safe:— would she had continued there! The beautiful, the good, but the unfortunate; reserved for a frightful end!

All runs along, unmolested, speedy, except only the new Berline. Huge leathern vehicle; — huge Argosy, let us say, or Acapulco-ship; with its heavy stern-boat of Chaise-and-pair; with its three yellow Pilot-boats of mounted Bodyguard Couriers, rocking aimless round it and ahead of it, to bewilder, not to guide! It lumbers along, lurchingly with stress, at a snail’s pace; noted of all the world. The Bodyguard Couriers, in their yellow liveries, go prancing and clattering; loyal but stupid; unacquainted with all things. Stoppages occur; and breakages to be repaired at Etoges. King Louis too will dismount, will walk up hills, and enjoy the blessed sunshine:— with eleven horses and double drink money, and all furtherances of Nature and Art, it will be found that Royalty, flying for life, accomplishes Sixty-nine miles in Twenty-two incessant hours. Slow Royalty! And yet not a minute of these hours but is precious: on minutes hang the destinies of Royalty now.

Readers, therefore, can judge in what humour Duke de Choiseul might stand waiting, in the Village of Pont-de-Sommevelle, some leagues beyond Chalons, hour after hour, now when the day bends visibly westward. Choiseul drove out of Paris, in all privity, ten hours before their Majesties’ fixed time; his Hussars, led by Engineer Goguelat, are here duly, come ‘to escort a Treasure that is expected:’ but, hour after hour, is no Baroness de Korff’s Berline. Indeed, over all that North-east Region, on the skirts of Champagne and of Lorraine, where the Great Road runs, the agitation is considerable. For all along, from this Pont-de-Sommevelle Northeastward as far as Montmedi, at Post-villages and Towns, escorts of Hussars and Dragoons do lounge waiting: a train or chain of Military Escorts; at the Montmedi end of it our brave Bouille: an electric thunder-chain; which the invisible Bouille, like a Father Jove, holds in his hand — for wise purposes! Brave Bouille has done what man could; has spread out his electric thunder-chain of Military Escorts, onwards to the threshold of Chalons: it waits but for the new Korff Berline; to receive it, escort it, and, if need be, bear it off in whirlwind of military fire. They lie and lounge there, we say, these fierce Troopers; from Montmedi and Stenai, through Clermont, Sainte–Menehould to utmost Pont-de-Sommevelle, in all Post-villages; for the route shall avoid Verdun and great Towns: they loiter impatient ‘till the Treasure arrive.’

Judge what a day this is for brave Bouille: perhaps the first day of a new glorious life; surely the last day of the old! Also, and indeed still more, what a day, beautiful and terrible, for your young full-blooded Captains: your Dandoins, Comte de Damas, Duke de Choiseul, Engineer Goguelat, and the like; entrusted with the secret! — Alas, the day bends ever more westward; and no Korff Berline comes to sight. It is four hours beyond the time, and still no Berline. In all Village-streets, Royalist Captains go lounging, looking often Paris-ward; with face of unconcern, with heart full of black care: rigorous Quartermasters can hardly keep the private dragoons from cafes and dramshops. (Declaration du Sieur La Gache du Regiment Royal–Dragoons in Choiseul, pp. 125–39.) Dawn on our bewilderment, thou new Berline; dawn on us, thou Sun-chariot of a new Berline, with the destinies of France!

It was of His Majesty’s ordering, this military array of Escorts: a thing solacing the Royal imagination with a look of security and rescue; yet, in reality, creating only alarm, and where there was otherwise no danger, danger without end. For each Patriot, in these Post-villages, asks naturally: This clatter of cavalry, and marching and lounging of troops, what means it? To escort a Treasure? Why escort, when no Patriot will steal from the Nation; or where is your Treasure? — There has been such marching and counter-marching: for it is another fatality, that certain of these Military Escorts came out so early as yesterday; the Nineteenth not the Twentieth of the month being the day first appointed, which her Majesty, for some necessity or other, saw good to alter. And now consider the suspicious nature of Patriotism; suspicious, above all, of Bouille the Aristocrat; and how the sour doubting humour has had leave to accumulate and exacerbate for four-and-twenty hours!

At Pont-de-Sommevelle, these Forty foreign Hussars of Goguelat and Duke Choiseul are becoming an unspeakable mystery to all men. They lounged long enough, already, at Sainte–Menehould; lounged and loitered till our National Volunteers there, all risen into hot wrath of doubt, ‘demanded three hundred fusils of their Townhall,’ and got them. At which same moment too, as it chanced, our Captain Dandoins was just coming in, from Clermont with his troop, at the other end of the Village. A fresh troop; alarming enough; though happily they are only Dragoons and French! So that Goguelat with his Hussars had to ride, and even to do it fast; till here at Pont-de-Sommevelle, where Choiseul lay waiting, he found resting-place. Resting-place, as on burning marle. For the rumour of him flies abroad; and men run to and fro in fright and anger: Chalons sends forth exploratory pickets, coming from Sainte–Menehould, on that. What is it, ye whiskered Hussars, men of foreign guttural speech; in the name of Heaven, what is it that brings you? A Treasure? — exploratory pickets shake their heads. The hungry Peasants, however, know too well what Treasure it is: Military seizure for rents, feudalities; which no Bailiff could make us pay! This they know; — and set to jingling their Parish-bell by way of tocsin; with rapid effect! Choiseul and Goguelat, if the whole country is not to take fire, must needs, be there Berline, be there no Berline, saddle and ride.

They mount; and this Parish tocsin happily ceases. They ride slowly Eastward, towards Sainte–Menehould; still hoping the Sun–Chariot of a Berline may overtake them. Ah me, no Berline! And near now is that Sainte–Menehould, which expelled us in the morning, with its ‘three hundred National fusils;’ which looks, belike, not too lovingly on Captain Dandoins and his fresh Dragoons, though only French; — which, in a word, one dare not enter the second time, under pain of explosion! With rather heavy heart, our Hussar Party strikes off to the left; through byways, through pathless hills and woods, they, avoiding Sainte–Menehould and all places which have seen them heretofore, will make direct for the distant Village of Varennes. It is probable they will have a rough evening-ride.

This first military post, therefore, in the long thunder-chain, has gone off with no effect; or with worse, and your chain threatens to entangle itself! — The Great Road, however, is got hushed again into a kind of quietude, though one of the wakefullest. Indolent Dragoons cannot, by any Quartermaster, be kept altogether from the dramshop; where Patriots drink, and will even treat, eager enough for news. Captains, in a state near distraction, beat the dusky highway, with a face of indifference; and no Sun–Chariot appears. Why lingers it? Incredible, that with eleven horses and such yellow Couriers and furtherances, its rate should be under the weightiest dray-rate, some three miles an hour! Alas, one knows not whether it ever even got out of Paris; — and yet also one knows not whether, this very moment, it is not at the Village-end! One’s heart flutters on the verge of unutterabilities.

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