Story of the French Revolution - Alice Birkhead

From Versailles

The King had spent the day shooting and was noting his bag in a little book with the keen interest that national affairs could never rouse in his slow nature. He was vexed to be disturbed by a courier riding at full speed to announce the arrival of a number of tattered viragoes, come to Versailles for food, and perhaps blood, if their first quest failed.

Through the pouring rain the King galloped, anxious for the safety of his wife. She had gone to Trianon to spend the day, and was wandering in her beloved gardens. Did some voice warn her that she was never to see the place again when the messenger summoned her to the palace, representing the danger of the mob who were bent on addressing royalty? She took a mute farewell and hurried to the room where her ladies gathered in alarm. She saw for the first time a sea of faces threatening and angry. She had looked indifferently upon a cheering crowd too often; she had walked proudly through subjects who were silent and morose. She went into the King's council-room when he came back from his day's sport wet and weary. She was accustomed to discuss all public business with the Ministers of State. They could not shut her out on this occasion, pleading any weakness on her part. She showed a wonderful serenity in the face of danger. She was abler than the baffled sportsman to assume the reins of authority. In the evening she requested her women to leave her. She had no fears and meant to sleep alone. Fortunately, they refused to obey her orders. The night did not pass without an invasion of the palace.

The sentinels were startled to see a rabble bursting through an unlocked gate in the private gardens of Versailles. A shot fired on the crowd excited them to murder, and the marble court re-echoed to the noisy steps of men with sinister intentions.

The foot of the Grand Staircase was guarded by two soldiers of the Body-Guard. They made a brave defence, but were stabbed at their posts and done to death, while the mob scaled the stairs and came face to face with the second sentinels. One of these, Miomandre de Sainte Marie, was heroic in his attempt to send back the desperadoes. He tried to appeal to their old loyalty, but there was a hostile charge and he found himself saved by the Body-Guard from the clutches of his assailants. The dainty, fragile doors were shut, but it was plain that they could not long keep out the multitude who clamoured for the Queen.

In the Grand Hall, Du Repaire played a noble part, holding himself upright and soldierly before the entrance to the Queen's apartments. He heard abuse of "the Austrian" issuing from vengeful lips, and realized that the life of his mistress was in jeopardy. There was a grim struggle, in which Du Repaire seemed likely to go under, but he managed to wrench a pike from the hands of an adversary and wielded it right skilfully. Miomandre de Sainte Marie rushed to the Queen's rooms, meanwhile, and shouted to her attendants that it was time to escape. They must remove her quickly for he stood alone against two thousand men.

Marie Antoinette was awakened. It was early dawn and there was just light enough for her to see the terrified faces by her bed. There was no time for an elaborate toilet. The Queen hastily put on a cloak and petticoat and fled to the King's apartments in the Bull's Eye, while her women bolted doors behind her and covered her retreat.

The little Dauphin was brought to his mother by the royal governess. They all admired the Queen's courage, for she was tranquil before the danger of awful humiliation and possibly more awful death. There were only the valiant men of the Body-Guard to keep out the invaders from the Bull's Eye. Soon they might burst into the room and drag the Queen from her family. She anticipated this fate for herself, but was quite absorbed in fears for her husband and the children. She listened calmly to the baffled fury of Paris as it stabbed her bed in the room which was found empty, and pierced an imaginary queen with pikes.

Stools and benches were heaped up to defend the Bull's Eye. Muffled knocking sounded on the doors and voices that sounded friendly. "We are the Centre Grenadiers, once the French Guards. We have come to save you." It was long before a brigadier would advance to open to possible traitors. There were military embraces when the Grenadiers entered. "Let us be brothers," they cried in the arms of the Body-Guard. All differences were forgotten since they had come not to kill but to save the Queen.

The French Guards were driving from the palace the disorderly plunderers who wandered at their pleasure. They carried their wounded fellow-soldiers to an infirmary, where they were disguised as pauper-patients. It was not easy for the new-comers to undo the mischief that had been wrought on the fifth night of October.

Lafayette had slept when he ought to have watched, according to the belief of indignant Royalists. He had been worn out by his fatiguing journey from the capital, and had not expected that danger would come so soon. He was roused from a short rest to discover that the attack on the palace had been made. He blamed himself on seeing the ejected crowd outside Versailles, and spoke to them loftily of loyalty and the wisdom of restraint.

In the Bull's Eye, the King urged Lafayette to ensure the safety of his Body-Guard. Some had assumed the tricolour, but others were reluctant. Louis declared that they should be the first care of any who truly cared for him. The people called for their King to appear before them on the balcony. He was loudly cheered as he stepped through the window to accede to this request, and when they demanded his return to Paris, he satisfied them by agreeing to this also. He had bitter memories of his former entrance to that city on July 17th, but he could offer no alternative. He came back into the room to find Lafayette entreating the Queen to show herself.

She was naturally afraid of the menacing furies who had clamoured for her life a few hours before. She shrank from the ordeal, and at length went to the window with her two children. There was a cry of "No children," and she faced the crowd alone with marvellous composure. Lafayette passed to her side and dropped on his knees to salute her. The knightly action pleased fickle Paris, and a lusty shout of approval went up. Now the cry was for the Royal departure from Versailles. The National Assembly had to go too, because Mirabeau had decided that they would not lawfully be separated from the King.

The procession set out with accompaniments so grotesque that they called for laughter. The militia carried loaves on the points of their bayonets. They had seized fifty waggons of corn and flour from Versailles, and were sure that there would be bread enough now that they took with them "the Baker, his wife and the little apprentice."

These last sat in the royal carriage with very little left of the semblance of royalty. They had to endure the hideous cries of the march and the dances of fish-wives at every halt, while they must appear to countenance every degradation of their personal retainers, disarmed and bareheaded, carrying the accoutrements of their conquerors. All the pride of Versailles was in the dust. It was for Paris to triumph now. The Parisian soldiers were the heroes of the day. They had saved the King and Queen to adorn this return march. They deserved the congratulations of the women, who had also got their way.

It was drizzling and there was no attempt to make a fine appearance. The draggled women would have shorn the glory from the smartest regiment, and, indeed, Lafayette did not show to advantage. The Frenchman, who had a share of vanity, was tired by his long vigil and the consequences of his brief slumbers.

They arrived at Paris to be welcomed by Mayor Bailly, as unfortunate as ever in his speech to monarchy. He described the dismal 6th day of October as glorious, forgetting the pain of that early dawn and the grave dangers of the palace. The King was entering the capital to do the will of his subjects. Marie Antoinette might wince, but the time had gone by when she might have turned the tiresome functionary's speech to ridicule.

The King and Queen would have sought their own palace of the Tuileries, but the Mayor would not hear of it. They must visit the Town Hall and do honor to the rulers of Paris, now the Commune. They must sit on the royal dais and enjoy a solemn ceremony. They were very tired, but the King, at least, must speak to his people.

It was nine o'clock and darkness had long fallen over Paris, but the glare of torches would light up the triumphant spectacle of the royal captives if they would appear at the windows of the Town Hall. They had gone through too much to protest against this proceeding. They saluted in the usual way from sheer force of habit. The old cheers rent the air, but to-day they had a new meaning. The people of France rejoiced to see the sovereigns of the country and rejoiced to feel that they were captives. Paris would sleep after long watching and rest secure since Louis Seize and Marie Antoinette were sleeping in the Tuileries.