Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

The Queen Parted from her Children

You may have been wondering what had become of poor Marie Antoinette, whom we left in prison, just after learning that her husband was dead. This fatal news plunged the queen into such a state of stony grief, that only the sudden and severe illness of her little fourteen-year-old daughter saved her from becoming insane. This poor girl—"the little Madam" as some of the more compassionate guards sometimes ventured to call her, although the majority used only the rough "citizeness" of the times—did not die, however, but recovered to help her aunt amuse poor little Louis. They two played with him, gave him his lessons, waited upon Marie Antoinette, and kept their rooms tidy, for they now had no attendant to undertake that care.

Marie Antoinette never doubted at this time that help would soon be forthcoming, and that her son would yet reign over France, for, since his father was dead, she naturally considered him king. The Royalists were, meantime, most anxious to secure possession of their monarch, and, knowing the mob's ferocity and hatred, longed to rescue the queen also. They therefore devised many plots to rescue the royal captives, but were always baffled. Besides, the queen did not wish to escape without her children, or to let them go without her, for she now felt it unsafe to trust any one.

Mainly because Marie Antoinette viewed her son as the King of France, the Convention decreed that he should be taken from her, and intrusted to the care of a "tutor" of their own selection. One night, therefore, after Marie Antoinette had tenderly put her little son to bed, officers suddenly appeared, demanding his custody. The mother, frantic with grief, stood before the bed, defending him fiercely, and it was only when the officers seriously threatened to kill both her children, that she finally yielded in despair.

The good aunt and the poor little sister had to dress the weeping and frightened child. Then Marie Antoinette, herself, handed him over to the officers, after bidding the poor little fellow: "Always remember, my son, a mother who loves you. Be good, gentle, and true!" He was never to see his beloved mother again.

Louis was at once committed to the care of a rough shoemaker named Simon, who, though well paid, resented being locked up in the Temple to watch him, and who sometimes vented his spite upon this innocent lad by ill-treating him. Sworn at, beaten, and kicked because he cried for his mother, often roused by some rough order when he fell asleep, badgered even when trying to say his prayers, and forced to learn oaths and ribald songs in self-defense, the poor little boy suffered actual martyrdom. He was only eight years old, remember, and had hitherto been treated with the utmost love and consideration. His poor mother had foreseen that he might fall into very brutal hands, but fortunately she never knew just how much he had to suffer, nor could she even imagine that Simon and his friends would force a child to drink bad liquor—as they sometimes did, knowing it was only when drunk that he could be made to sing the coarse songs they delighted to hear.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


Throughout all this torture the little prince proved patient, gentle, and obedient, pathetically trying by small attentions and services to placate Simon and his coarse wife. He so constantly remembered his father's last words that once when his jailer, after taunting him to the utmost, curiously asked what he would do if he were free and king, the boy promptly and firmly replied, "I would forgive you!" Taken up daily to the top of the tower for air, Louis always paused at his mother's door, pleading vainly with eloquent glances—for he no longer dared ask—to be allowed to see her. Two or three times, through cracks in the wall, the poor mother had a glimpse of this idolized son, before the officers again appeared in the middle of the night, this time to lead her away!

There was no resistance now. After dressing herself quietly in the presence of the men who refused to leave her room even for a minute, Marie Antoinette bade her daughter and sister-in-law farewell, imploring the latter to watch over the children in her stead. The queen was then led to another prison (the Conciergerie), where she was conducted along a narrow corridor, so low and dark that we are told she struck her head a terrible blow. One officer, a trifle more humane than the rest, inquiring whether she had hurt herself, then received the broken-hearted reply, "Oh, no, nothing can hurt me any more!" From the end of July until the middle of October, Marie Antoinette was kept here in a cell, so damp and unwholesome that her clothes rotted, and that her one pair of shoes was always covered with mildew. Besides, lest any attempt should be made to rescue her, she was constantly guarded. Toward the last three men stayed in her cell night and day, drinking, smoking, swearing, playing cards, and constantly prying upon her every motion. With no tidings of her children, no means of occupation, and only one small book of devotion, the poor queen, who was always polite and gentle, and who never uttered a word of complaint, suffered, and was still.

While she was there, one attempt was made to rescue her, but as it was discovered, it only served to redouble the watchfulness and cruelty of her guards, thus making her situation worse instead of better.