Eugenie - Empress of the French - George Upton

Eugenie's Flight to England

The Empress mean while was still at the Tuileries. One of the palace prefects had returned from the Assembly with news of what had passed, but she refused to desert her post even though the mob was already at the gates of the palace and a dull roar penetrated the deserted halls. Eugenie's question as to whether it would be possible to defend the Tuileries without bloodshed was answered in the negative by the governor of the palace, General Mellinet, and she still refused to have a drop of blood shed in her behalf. Nearer and nearer sounded the uproar, and the trampling of feet was now distinctly audible. Shouts were heard: "She will escape!" "Long live the Republic!" "Down with the Spaniard!" "Forward! Into the palace—forward!"

Prince Metternich and the Italian ambassador, Count Nigra, who had hastened to the side of the Empress, urged her to flee, as every moment that passed made escape more difficult. But to run away from danger was foreign to Eugenie's nature, and she could not bring herself to believe it necessary, in spite of the raging mob without trampling on one another, swaying now forward, now back, striving with shrieks and blows to make room and force open the gates of the palace, all animated by a single impulse—hatred for the imperial house. At length sounds of tumult were heard on the great staircase, and the Empress's attendants implored her to leave the palace and not expose their lives to danger.

"Is there no other way?" she asked in despair. "Is there nothing we can do to defend ourselves? At least, you can say I have done my duty to the last."

Deeply moved, they kissed her hand without replying; but the Prince urged them to hurry, as there was no time to lose. A dark cloak was thrown around the Empress, and, accompanied by her reader, Madame Lebreton, with the two ambassadors, Minister Chevreau, and a few members of her court, she consented at last to go. Escape was impossible through the palace courtyard; for the Place du Carrousel, from which it was separated only by a slender railing, was packed with people. Some other way must be found; but before leaving her rooms Eugenie went to the window and stood looking down for a moment on the seething mass below.

"Alas!" she cried, "what folly to spend their strength in this way, when the enemy is at the gates!" Then, as she turned to go, she added with emotion:

"Unhappy palace! fate seems to have ordained that all crowned heads shall leave you in this way."

By this time her escort was reduced to the two ambassadors and Madame Lebreton. The others had already fled to seek their own safety. She took Count Nigra's arm, and Madame Lebreton followed with Prince Metternich. Through the Flora Pavilion of the Tuileries they hurried to the Louvre, the galleries of which they must traverse at full length to reach an exit on the side toward St. Germain. But here, too, the street was crowded with people shouting, "Long live the Republic!" "Down with the Emperor!"

The little party halted before the door, but behind them also sounded the roar of the mob. To turn back would be inevitably to fall into their hands. The risk must be taken; there was nothing to do but go on. Even at this critical point the Empress's courage did not forsake her; indeed, she had never given clearer proof of it than now.

"You are holding my arm," she said to Nigra; "do you feel it tremble?"

"Not in the least, Madame," replied the Count.

The gentlemen opened the doors. The ladies passed out, and Eugenie found herself face to face with the populace who were inflamed with hatred against her. She was within a hair's-breadth of sharing the fate of Marie Antoinette, or perhaps being torn to pieces by the rabble. The excitement was so great, there is no knowing what terrible scene might have been enacted had she been recognized.

Luckily a closed carriage happened to be standing near by, and with great presence of mind she rushed toward it. A street urchin spied her and shouted, "Look, look! the Empress!" but no one heeded the words. Nigra stopped and spoke to the boy to divert his attention while Eugenie threw herself into the carriage, followed by Madame Lebreton. Prince Metternich shouted an imaginary address to the driver, and off they went, safe at least for the time being. But their troubles were not yet ended. In her haste, Eugenie had forgotten her purse; and when her companion drew hers from her pocket she found to her horror that it contained only three francs in all, scarcely enough to pay for the carriage. To avoid a discussion with the driver, they determined to continue on foot, but whither, they had not yet considered. At the Boulevard Haussmann, therefore, they alighted, and while Madame Lebreton paid the coachman, Eugenie stepped into the shadow of a doorway.

It is said that the Empress knocked in vain at many doors before she succeeded in finding a temporary asylum in her own capital; but at length the happy thought occurred to her of applying to Dr. Evans, a well-known American dentist whom she had known for years and often received at the Tuileries. Arrived at his office, she had to wait with other patients in the anteroom till her turn came; but at last Madame Lebreton was able to gain admittance to the dentist and told him that the Empress was without, hoping to find a refuge under his roof until she could make her escape from Paris.

Evans's astonishment was beyond words. Unaware as yet of the sudden change in affairs, he could not believe it possible that the Empress should have cause to fear for her safety. Nevertheless he begged the ladies to wait while he went out into the street to convince himself of the true condition of things. In a short time he returned, convinced that they had not left the Tuileries a moment too soon; and without a thought of his own danger or the possible detriment to his business, he promised to aid them to the full extent of his power. His wife was away at the time, and as luck would have it, he was expecting the arrival that day of two patients who were unknown to his servants. He now introduced the Empress and Madame Lebreton as these persons. His own bedchamber was prepared for Eugenie and an improvised couch placed in it for her companion.

While the Empress was thus being harbored in the house of the chivalrous American, and full of anxiety as to what the morrow would bring forth, all Paris was mad with joy. Men, women, and children marched up and down the streets all night, singing and shouting, oblivious of the disaster of Sedan and the country's danger, and rejoicing that the Empire was no more.

Evans, meanwhile, had instantly set to work. Under pretext of a professional visit, but in reality to prepare for the Empress's escape, he drove out that very day to the Neuilly Bridge where he was stopped and asked to give his name, also his destination and his errand. One of the guards who happened to know him, however, called to his comrade to let the American pass.

"I may be frequently obliged to pass the barriers," remarked the Doctor coolly; "look well at me, my man, so that you will know me again and that I may not be detained unnecessarily."

His plan was already made. On his return he informed the ladies that they would be able to pass the Neuilly Bridge the next day under his protection if Her Majesty would consent to play the part of a mad woman. He would pretend to have a patient with him on her way to an asylum beyond Neuilly, while Madame Lebreton could pass as her attendant. Accompanied by a friend and countryman of Dr. Evans, who was taken into their confidence, they started off the next morning. All went well. The sentry at once recognized the doctor, while the Empress, leaning back in the carriage, her face hidden by a thick veil, passed unnoticed. This danger past, they reached St. Germain in safety, and then Nantes, where they put up at an inn.

"I have a lady with me whom I am taking to a private asylum," Evans explained to the innkeeper, "and I would like a quiet room with shutters on the windows."

His request was complied with without question, and here Eugenie and her companion were able to enjoy a few hours' rest. Evans's colleague returned to Paris with the doctor's carriage which they had used thus far, and a coach was hired for them by the landlord to convey the invalid to the institution where she was to be left in charge. Further to carry out the plan, it was privately arranged that the Empress should appear to protest against being taken there, and make such forcible resistance on the way that they would apparently be forced to take another road. They had driven for scarcely half an hour, therefore, when a loud dispute arose between Eugenie and the doctor, which became so violent that Evans called to the coachman to stop that he might try and induce the patient to go a short distance on foot.

"I will not—I will not!" stormed the Empress, and her screams frightened the horses so that the driver declared he would go no further unless the disturbance was stopped.

"I will never go to that place, I will not!" shrieked Eugenie afresh, and at last there seemed nothing for it but to turn back and drive to the nearest post station, whence the coach was sent back. As a further measure of precaution they changed conveyances at every station, now, however, taking the road to their real destination—the watering-place of Deauville, where Mrs. Evans was then staying.

For many weeks, as we have seen, Eugenie had lived in constant agitation and anxiety—the days full of exhausting labor, the nights without sleep—and had suffered both mentally and physically in consequence. She was no longer able to eat, and had lived for the last four or five days literally on nothing but black coffee and chloral, which she had been in the habit of taking in large quantities to drown her troubles. She wept almost incessantly; and even when sleep lent her a few moments' respite, she would start up suddenly, begin to talk and laugh excitedly, then as quickly burst into tears and relapse again into deepest melancholy.

After two seemingly endless days, the fugitives reached Deauville on the evening of September 6, and Evans took the Empress and her companion at once to his wife. Mrs. Evans was about the same size as Eugenie, and gladly packed up a part of her wardrobe with some necessary articles of toilet for the Empress's use, while the doctor hastened to discover what boats were leaving for England. Two vessels were in the harbor, the larger an American ship, the other a pleasure yacht, the Gazelle, belonging to Lord Burgoyne. Finding the former not sufficiently seaworthy, Evans applied to Lord Burgoyne, who at first flatly refused to take the Empress across, partly for political reasons, partly because a storm was brewing. But Eugenie's protector insisted so urgently that he finally yielded on condition that the ladies should not come aboard till just before the boat sailed, lest the fact that he had passengers should attract attention. Shortly before midnight Eugenie, accompanied by Evans and her faithful Lebreton, hurried on board the yacht, which did not weigh anchor, however, till the next morning.

The dangers by land now lay behind the fugitives, but others still awaited them by sea. Soon a fearful storm arose, and the little craft was tossed about at the mercy of the elements. The crew, little suspecting that an Empress looked to them for rescue, labored on bravely and calmly, as is the way of sailors, who know at any moment they may be called into eternity. Still the storm increased in violence, and the danger grew greater every moment. The ladies were flung about the tiny cabin like bales of merchandise. By nightfall all hope seemed vanished. Pale as death, terror stamped on every line of his countenance, Lord Burgoyne appeared at the door of the cabin, crying that they were lost.

"It is all your fault!" he shouted, glaring wildly at the doctor, then rushed away as suddenly as he had come. The three passengers looked at one another in amazement, and seasick, exhausted, and disheartened as she was, Eugenie could not help laughing at the Englishman's frenzy of terror. Still the brave little Gazelle struggled on against wind and wave until at last the storm began to subside, and about three o'clock the next morning, after what seemed a miraculous escape, they reached the harbor of Ryde on the Isle of Wight.

With what feelings must the ex-Empress have once more beheld this coast! Must she not involuntarily have recalled that first visit with her mother to England so long ago, in her joyous care-free youth? And again, when she took that first important step toward recognition by the European sovereigns, and as the favorite of fortune, gay, courted, and admired, landed amid the enthusiastic shouts of the people, as the honored guest of Queen Victoria? To-day she turned to England for refuge—no longer the beautiful sovereign of a great European power, but a wretched fugitive, an unhappy woman exhausted with fatigue and faint for lack of food. Those shores on which she had once been hailed with triumph now in the gray dawn were sole witnesses of her mute despair.