There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact. — Mark Twain

Marie Antoinette - Alice Birkhead




"The King to Paris!"

While the National Assembly debated the affairs of State there were children starving in Saint Antoine, that poor quarter of the town where nearly all the women had to work. In humble stalls and shops there was much talk of bread or the lack of it. The washer-women found that they could utter plaints quite freely with other women knitting at their doors, but the summer wore away and brought no better fortune to their homes. Then came the story of a great banquet at Versailles given to the regiment of Flanders by the Gentlemen of the Guard.

Each soldier had been presented with two bottles of wine and the daintiest fare that could be provided by the State for the guests of royalty. The dinner had begun quite early in the afternoon, and was still being served when the King returned from hunting in the woods. He had gone to the Opera House where the banquet was toward and the Queen had gone with him, holding aloft the Dauphin in her arms. The whole company had risen at the sight, and the band had played "O Richard, O my King," till many a patriot had been maddened by the strains and sworn loyalty there and then. White cockades, thrown by fair women from the boxes, had been seized by the regiments. The Austrian favours too were donned, and women's faces darkened when they spoke of this. It must have been the Queen's beauty which had won over men, otherwise good citizens enough. On a September evening that regiment of Flanders, famous in song for ragged clothing and light loves, had been entertained. It was in October that a woman, bolder than the rest, led the way to Versailles to have audience with the King.

The Assembly met at Versailles still, but there was solemn conclave in the Town-Hall of Paris, visited by the band of women who had left Saint Antoine and its gossip to bear themselves like men. Bailly, the new Mayor, was too fond of words. It was their part to act and show the King how hard life had become.

There would have been lawlessness along the twelve miles' march if Maillard had not led the women and maintained some discipline. He was out of place among the motley crowd of enraged women, being a stiff man neatly dressed in black. Drums beat wildly, and more than one fine lady was made to walk in step, dragged from her carriage to join them in walking through the mud. Hunger suggested robbery of the bakers' shops when the town of Sevres was reached, but Maillard checked the women and paid for all the food they seized. His control only ceased when Versailles excited them to riotous deeds. The National Assembly rose indignant to behold a disordered mass of weary figures clamouring to be heard.

"Not so much speaking. Give us bread." The audacity tried the patience of the President, whose chair was taken by a burly fish-wife who resisted all attempts to turn her out. He was thankful to see a deputation march to the palace, led by the prettiest—Louison Chabray. These came back well satisfied with their visit, for Louis had promised all they asked, and kissed the trembling spokeswoman on the cheek. There was some doubt expressed that he might not keep his word, but most of the party settled down by camp fires, devouring food and oblivious of wind and rain.

Within the palace Marie Antoinette lay upon soft pillows in the luxurious chamber where she never slept again. She had been summoned from Trianon by the news of the menacing crowd about the palace gates, and had entered the King's Council, full of anxious fears. Louis had been shooting when the strange procession came.

In the stillness of the night one of the Queen's women wakened her and bade her fly to the King's room that she might be safe. There were ominous sounds at Versailles, where the people wandered, seeking the object of their hate—the "Austrian." The cry of "Save the Queen!" had been uttered by a guard, who defended the Queen's door and risked his life.

Wrapped in a shawl, Marie Antoinette fled along the echoing passages to the Oeil-de-Boeuf, where the Royal Family had assembled, barricading the entrance with furniture piled high. There were men hi the palace determined to pierce her body with their pikes. They could be heard in the distance crying out as they stabbed the bed where she had lain. All those about the Queen marvelled to see her calm, even when she realized the meaning of the cries outside.

Lafayette arrived in panic, fearing peril to the Royal Family, now in his care. He had slept through utter weariness on the night of the attack, and realized when he saw the palace that his sleep had cost him dear. The angry crowd was without the windows, demanding that the Queen should show herself. He begged that she would gratify the people's wish, and knelt to pay her homage as they gazed at her. Harm might have cone to her if his chivalry had not made its appeal. The royal children had been sent within, while more than one threatening weapon was pointed at the Queen, who faced the mob alone.

The King must come to Paris. They would have their King. Louis yielded, realizing that his Guards had been made prisoners, his palace had been invaded by the mob. He took his place silently in the great carriage when it was brought for him. Marie Antoinette sat by him, and the two children, with the royal governess, Madame de Tourzel, were in the carriage too. The Princesse Elizabeth had dressed herself in haste to accompany the party which was reluctant to leave Versailles, the scene of former pleasures. She knew that the King was doing what his people wished.

The carriage went slowly along the road that bright October afternoon, when the autumn foliage was hardly stirred by a breeze. The women who had marched so boldly were now tired, and gave shrill utterance to their pain as they tramped the twelve miles with their captives, and now and again a musket was discharged, startling the unhappy Queen.

From the place where she sat she could see two pikes surmounted by the heads of Guardsmen who had died to save her; curses assailed her name, but she did not blench. She longed secretly for the journey's end as twilight came and they passed the city gates. Sixty wagons of flour rolled through with the royal carriage—a fine prize.

A ceremony took place at the entrance to the capital, where Mayor Bailly made clumsy speeches to the conquered King. How unnecessary, it seemed, to prate of Henri Quatre when the children were so tired and they all needed food

It would give the citizens great pleasure—so said Bailly—to see the Royal Family in the Town-Hall before they entered the Tuileries, and it was nearly ten o'clock before the palace could be reached. The short drive from Versailles had occupied eight hours.