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CHAPTER II
The makers of the Revolution—Fête à la Nature—Tallien—Dangerous times—An inharmonious marriage—Colonel la Mothe—A Terrorist—The beginning of the emigration—A sinister prophecy.
Capital letter A

AS M. Arsène Houssaye truly remarks, the French Revolution was not made by the people. They imagine that they made it, but the real authors were Voltaire, Condorcet, Chamfort, the two Mirabeau, La Fayette and his friends, Necker, Talleyrand, Barras, Saint-Just, &c., nearly all gentlemen, mostly nobles; by Philippe-égalité, Duke of Orléans and prince of the blood; by Louis XVI. himself.
MARIE DE VICHY-CHAMBRON, MARQUISE DU DEFFAND

The new ideas were the fashion, people, especially young people, believed with enthusiastic fervour in the absurd and impracticable state of things they imagined they were about to establish, but meanwhile, though they talked of the rights of man and the sufferings of the people, they went on just the same, lavishing enormous sums upon dress, luxury, and costly entertainments.

The stately order, the devotion and charity which filled the lives of the sisters de Noailles; the absorbing passion for her art which made the happiness, [282] the safety, and the renown of Louise Vigée, were not for Térèzia. Her very talents were an additional danger and temptation, for they increased the attraction of her extraordinary beauty; and in the set of which her friends were composed there could be no principles of right and wrong, because there was no authority to determine them. For if God did not exist at all, or only as a colourless abstraction, then the words “right” and “wrong” meant nothing, and what, in that case, was to regulate people’s lives? Why not injure their neighbours if it were convenient to themselves to do so? Why should they tell the truth if they preferred to tell lies? To some it would seem noble to forgive their enemies; to others it would seem silly. To some, family affection and respect for parents would appear an indispensable virtue; to others an exploded superstition. It was all a matter of opinion; who was to decide when one man’s opinion was as good as another? But, however such theories might serve to regulate the lives of a few dreamy, cold-blooded philosophers occupied entirely with their studies and speculations, it seems difficult to understand that any one could really believe in the possibility of their controlling the average mass of human beings; who, if not restrained by the fear of a supernatural power which they believe able to protect, reward, or punish them, are not likely to be influenced by the exhortations of those who can offer them no such inducements. Nevertheless, these ideas were very prevalent until Napoleon, who regarded them with contempt, declared that without religion no [283] government was possible, and, whether he believed in it or not, re-established Christianity.

Meanwhile, those who could not believe in God, set up as their guide the abstraction they called Nature, which, if they had followed to the logical consequences, would have led them back to the state of savages. There were, in fact, some who proposed to live out of doors with very scanty clothing, and who had begun to cut down a tree and light a fire when their plans of life were suddenly frustrated by the appearance of the police.

But these were not the directions in which the guidance of Nature led most of her followers. It was not to a life of primitive simplicity and discomfort that Térèzia and her friends felt themselves directed; no, the h?tel de Fontenay, in the rue de Paradis, and the chateau of the same name in the country were the scene of ceaseless gaiety and amusement. La Rochefoucauld, Rivarol, Chamfort, La Fayette, the three brothers de Lameth, all of whom were in love with their fascinating hostess; Mirabeau, Barnave, Vergniaud, Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins—all the leaders of the radical party were to be met at her parties, and most of them were present at a splendid entertainment given by the Marquis and Marquise de Fontenay to the Constituants at their chateau, and called, after the fashion of Rousseau, a fête à la Nature.

The guests were met at the park gates by young girls dressed in white, who gave them bouquets of flowers; they dined out of doors under the shade of chestnut-trees, while a band played airs from “Richard C?ur-de-Lion,” “Castor et Pollux,” etc.; [284] the only contretemps being a sudden gust of wind which took off the wigs of some of the guests: Robespierre amongst the number. Many beautiful women were present, but none could rival their lovely hostess. Toasts were drunk to her beauty, verses improvised to her Spanish eyes, her French esprit; she was declared the goddess of the fête, queen being no longer a popular word.

In all her life she never lost the recollection of the enchantment of that day, and many years later, in her altered surroundings, would say to her children, “Ah! that day was the fête de ma jeunesse!”
FRAN?OIS MARIE AROUET DE VOLTAIRE

The first meeting of Térèzia with the man who was to play the most important part in her life took place in the studio of Mme. Le Brun, to be painted by whom was then the height of fashion. Mme. Le Brun, enraptured with her beauty and dissatisfied with her own representation of it, was a long time altering and retouching, and every day saw some new improvement to make.

Mme. de Fontenay became impatient, for the sittings appeared to be interminable, and at last M. de Fontenay begged several of his friends to go and look at the portrait of his wife and give their opinion while it was still in the studio. It was in consequence more crowded than usual one day when M. de Fontenay, being also present, was joining in a conversation going on about David and his pictures.

“You will see,” said Rivarol, “that these haughty Romans whom M. Louis David has brought into fashion with his cold, hard painting, will bring us [285] through a period of Cato and Brutus. It is the law of contrast. After the solemn airs of Louis XIV., the orgies of Louis XV.; after the suppers of Sardanapalus-Pompadour, the milk and water breakfasts of Titus—Louis XVI. The French nation had too much esprit, they are now going to saturate themselves with stupidity.”

“And do you imagine,” cried Mme. Le Brun, “that it is David who has given the taste for the antique? It is not: it is I! It was my Greek supper, which they turned into a Roman orgy, which set the fashion. Fashion is a woman. It is always a woman who imposes the fashion, as the Comtesse Du Barry said.”

“Apropos,” exclaimed Mme. de Fontenay; “have not you begun her portrait?”

“The poor Countess! I am representing her reading a romance with the arms of the King. She is the only person who holds to the King now.”

The conversation was presently interrupted by a young man whom nobody seemed to know.

As Mme. Le Brun had not many servants, he had found nobody to announce him, but entered without the least shyness, and walking up to M. de Rivarol, said that he wanted to speak to him about a pamphlet of his, now being printed at the establishment in which he was employed. There was a passage in it which they could not read or did not understand, and M. de Rivarol’s servant having told him where his master was to be found, he had come after him.

There had been a sudden silence when he entered; no one saluted him but Mme. Le Brun, who greeted [286] him with a smile, but all regarded him with curiosity. His dress was not like those of the gentlemen present, nor of their class at all; it had a sort of Bohemian picturesqueness which rather suited his handsome, striking, sarcastic face; he was very young, not more than about twenty, but he spoke and moved with perfect unconcern amongst the uncongenial society into which he had fallen. Mme. Le Brun, tired of the stupid, contradictory remarks of the amateurs who then, as now, were eager to criticise what they knew nothing about, and nearly always said the wrong thing, exclaimed impatiently—

“You are all bad judges—
“Détestables flatteurs, présent le plus funeste,
Que puisse faire aux arts la colère céleste!

“I do not believe one word of your opinions. I am like Molière, I would rather appeal to my servant, but as she is not here I will, if you do not object, ask that young man, who does not look like a flatterer: he will tell us the truth.” And turning to him, she said—

“Monsieur, I have just been hearing so much nonsense about this portrait, that really I don’t know whether I have been working like an artist or a sign-painter.”

“I will tell you, Madame,” replied the young man, with an assurance that surprised every one present. They looked at him with astonishment, and he looked at the portrait, and still more earnestly at the Marquise de Fontenay, upon whom his long, ardent gaze made a strange impression. After a few moments’ silence, Mme. Le Brun said—

[287]

“Well, Monsieur, I am waiting for your criticism.”

“My criticism, Madame, is this. It seemed to me just now that they accused you of having made the eyes too small and the mouth too large. Well, if you will believe me, you will slightly lower the upper eyelids and open imperceptibly the corner of the lips. Thus you will have almost the charm of that sculpturesque and expressive face. The eyes will be still brighter when their brilliance shines from between the eyelids like the sun through the branches.”

With a few more words of mingled criticism and compliment, he bowed slightly and turned again to M. Rivarol.

It was Tallien.

The next time they met he was secretary to Alexandre de Lameth. Térèzia was standing on the steps of their h?tel with Mme. Charles de Lameth when he came with his hands full of letters.

Telling him that Alexandre was not in, Mme. de Lameth asked him to gather a bunch of roses for Mme. de Fontenay, which he did, and picking up one that fell, he kept it, bowed silently, and went in.

Térèzia questioned her friend about him, and was told that he was a good secretary, clever but idle, and of so bad a reputation that M. de Lameth was waiting for an opportunity to get rid of him.

Tallien was the acknowledged son of the maitre-d’h?tel of the Marquis de Bercy, but strongly suspected of being the son of the Marquis himself, who was his godfather and paid his expenses at a college from which he ran away when he was [288] fifteen. Already an atheist and a revolutionist, besides being a lazy scoundrel who would not work, he was, after a violent scene with the Marquis, abandoned by him, after which he quarrelled with his reputed father, a worthy man with several other children, who declined to support him in idleness, and threatened him with his curse. “Taisez-vous, mon père, cela ne se fait plus dans le monde,” was the answer of the future septembriseur. His mother, however, interposed, and it was arranged that he should continue to live at home and should study in the office of a procureur. Step by step he rose into notoriety, until he was elected a member of the commune of Paris, where he was soon recognised as one of the most violent of the revolutionists.

In spite of his friendships with the leaders of the Revolution, his adoption at first of many of their ideas, and the fête Constitutionelle he gave in their honour, M. de Fontenay, like many others, began to see that things were going much further than he expected or wished. He was neither a young, foolish, generous enthusiast like La Fayette, de Ségur, de Noailles, and their set, nor a low ruffian thirsting for plunder and bloodshed, nor a penniless adventurer with everything to gain and nothing to lose; but an elderly man of rank, fortune, and knowledge of the world, who, however he might have tampered with the philosophers and revolutionists, as it was the fashion to do, had no sort of illusions about them, no sympathy whatever with their plans, and the greatest possible objection to being deprived of his title of Marquis, his property, or his life. In fact, he began to consider [289] whether it would not be more prudent to leave the country and join M. Cabarrus in Spain, for he was not separated from his wife, nor was there any open disagreement between them. They simply seem to have taken their own ways, which were not likely to have been the same. Térèzia was then much more inclined to the Revolution than her husband, believing with all the credulity of youth in the happiness and prosperity it was to establish. Of her life during 1791 and the first part of 1792 little or nothing is known with any certainty, though Mme. d’Abrantès relates an anecdote told by a Colonel La Mothe which points to her being in Bordeaux, living or staying with her brother, M. Cabarrus, and an uncle, M. Jalabert, a banker, each of whom watched her with all the jealousy of a Spanish duenna, the brother being at the same time so disagreeable that it was almost impossible to be in his company without quarrelling with him.

Why, in that case, Térèzia should have allowed them to interfere with her appears perplexing, as they would, of course, have had no authority to do so. M. La Mothe proceeded to say that he and a certain M. Edouard de C——, both of whom were in love with her, accompanied them to Bagnères de Bigorre. There he and Edouard de C—— quarrelled and fought a duel, in which he, M. La Mothe, was wounded; whereupon Térèzia, touched by his danger and returning his love for her, remained to nurse him, while his rival departed; and informing her uncle and brother that she declined any further interference on their part, dismissed them. That the uncle returned to his bank in Bayonne, and [290] the brother, with Edouard de C——, to the army; that Cabarrus was killed the following year; and that, after some time, M. La Mothe and Térèzia were separated by circumstances, he having to rejoin his regiment, while she remained at Bordeaux. [91] But however the principles she had adopted may have relaxed her ideas of morality, they never, as will be seen during the history of her life, interfered with the courage, generosity, and kindness of heart which formed so conspicuous a part of her character, and which so often met with such odious ingratitude.

In the latter part of the summer of 1792 she was in Paris, which, in spite of her revolutionary professions, was no safe abode even for her, certainly not for her husband. The slightest sympathy shown to an emigré, a priest, a royalist, or any one marked as a prey by the bloodthirsty monsters who were rapidly showing themselves in their true colours, might be the death-warrant of whoever dared to show it. So would any word or gesture of disapproval of the crimes these miscreants were ordering and perpetrating. Their spies were everywhere, and the least accusation, very often only caused by a private grudge, was enough to bring a person, and perhaps their whole family, to prison and the scaffold. In the early days of the Terror, the well-known actor Talma, hearing an acquaintance named Alexandre, a member of his own profession, giving vent in a benign voice to the most atrocious language of the Terrorists, indignantly reproached him.

[291]

“Que tu es bon!” exclaimed Alexandre, drawing him aside. “Do you think I mean all that?”

“Then why say it?”

“Because that Terrorist is listening.”

“Who do you mean.”

“Who? Why that little Bouchiez,” indicating one of the officials of the theatre. “Whenever he is near me I say the same sort of things. I should say more if I could.”

“And why?”

“Because, if I spoke differently, he would denounce me to the Jacobins and have me guillotined.”

“He! Why, I thought you were friends.”

“We! friends! Allons donc!”

“Vous vous tutoyez.” [92]

“What does that prove? Do not all these brutes say tu nowadays?”

“Well, but you call yourself friends.”

“That’s true; but I don’t like him any the better for that, the wretch! Ah, I hate him! how I hate him! how I hate him! But there he is coming back, so I shall begin again!” And so he did. [93]

To escape from France was now both difficult and dangerous. The first to emigrate had been the Comte and Comtesse d’Artois and their children, the Prince de Condé, Duc de Bourbon, Duc d’Enghien, Mlle. de Condé, Prince de Lambesc, Maréchaux de Broglie et de Castries, Duc de la Vauguyon, Comte de Vaudreuil, and a long string [292] of other great names—Mailly, Bourbon-Busset, d’Aligre, de Mirepoix, all the Polignac and Polastron, the Abbé de Vermont, &c. They left at night under borrowed names. The Queen fainted when she parted from the Duchesse de Polignac, who was carried unconscious to the carriage by the Comte de Vaudreuil. [94]

The grief of the Duchesse de Polignac was aggravated by the recollection of a sinister prophecy which, although at the time it seemed incredible, was apparently being fulfilled in an alarming manner. The circumstances were as follows:—

The Comtesse d’Adhémar, who held a post in the Queen’s household, received one day a note from the Duchesse de Polignac, “Governess of the Children of France,” asking her to go with her to consult a fortune-teller of whom every one was talking. For many persons who declined to believe in God were ready and eager to put confidence in witchcraft, fortune-telling, spiritualism, or any other form of occult proceedings.

Carefully disguising themselves, they set off together—of course, at night—taking only the Duchess’s maid, Mlle. Robert, who, though devoted to her mistress, had been silly enough to persuade her to this folly, and by an old porter belonging to the palace, who knew the way.

Through many little, narrow streets they at last got out into the country, and arrived at the filthy, ruinous cottage where lived the fortune-teller. They gave her each an écu, not wishing by too lavish a payment to betray themselves, and the [293] Comtesse d’Adhémar was the first to place her hand in the dirty, wrinkled one of the old gipsy, who, after telling her that she had had two husbands, and would have no more, added, “You are now in the service of a good mistress, who loves you; but before long she will send you away against her will, but she will no longer be free to do as she chooses.”

Then, taking the hand of Mme. de Polignac she turned it over several times, examining it carefully, and said: “You are, like the other, in the service of the same lady, who loves you so much that she confides to you her most precious jewels. You love her just as much, but still, in a short time you will leave that lady in haste, and what is more, you will not feel tranquil until you have put three great rivers between you and her. She will cry bitterly when you leave her and yet be very glad of the separation.”

Mme. de Polignac shuddered; exclaiming that she would never of her own accord leave her mistress, or if an absence was necessary to her health it should be a short one.

“Oh! for that matter,” said the gipsy, “it will have no limit.”

“What! Shall I never see my mistress again?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because she will die.”

A cry of horror escaped the two friends and Mlle. Robert began to threaten the gipsy.

“Hold your tongue, tête-qui-roule,” she cried angrily. “Your body will be food for dogs.”

[294]

Horror-stricken and frightened they hurried from the cottage, but the prophecies were all fulfilled. Marie Antoinette rejoiced at their parting as they were going to safety. The three rivers were apparently the Seine, Rhine, and Danube which Mme. de Polignac crossed on her way to Vienna. As to Mlle. Robert, she paid with her life for her faithful affection for her mistress. Insisting on remaining in Paris to look after her interests she was arrested on the 10th of August and perished in the September massacres.

The Queen and the Comte d’Artois were the most hated and threatened of the royal family. Now, as always, they urged the miserable Louis to defend himself as his forefathers would have done; the Prince de Condé was of their opinion. Let the King defend himself when his palace was attacked, and, if necessary, sally out at the head of his loyal followers and either save his crown and his life, or, if that could not be, fall gloriously with his sword in his hand like a son of Henri IV., instead of being taken by his own subjects like a rat in a hole.

Such were the exhortations which at one time or another were poured into the King’s ears and to which he would never listen. [95] There was no more [295] to be said. The Comte d’Artois declared he would never leave his brother unless expressly ordered to do so. Louis gave that command, desiring the Prince to escape with his wife and children to their sister Clotilde at Turin; and then with tears and sobs the Comte and Comtesse d’Artois embraced the King and Queen and tore themselves away.

The Comte de Provence did not emigrate so soon. He had been more inclined to liberal ideas and was less unpopular than the Comte d’Artois. It was not until the time of the unfortunate attempt on the royal family that he also resolved to escape, and his plans, being well-arranged and properly carried out, succeeded perfectly.

He was then living in the Luxembourg, and having made all preparations, he went to bed as usual and drew the curtains; the valet-de-chambre, who always slept in a bed rolled into his room, went away to undress. When he was gone, the Comte de Provence got up, passed into his dressing-room, where his devoted friend and confidant, M. d’Avaray, awaited him and helped him to dress. Passing out by a small door that was not guarded, they got into a carriage waiting for them in the courtyard of the Luxembourg and drove away.
 
He met the Comtesse de Provence as they had arranged, having taken the precaution of escaping separately. They arrived at Brussels in safety, and afterwards joined their brother and sister at the court of the Countess’s father at Turin, where they were joyfully received by the Princess Clotilde, and afterwards rejoined by their aunts.


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