Little Dauphin - George Upton

Separation from His Mother

After the sad parting, the Queen had scarcely strength enough left to undress her children, and as soon as they were asleep she flung herself, dressed, upon her bed, where she passed the night shivering with cold and trembling with apprehension. The Princess and Madame Elisabeth slept in the same room on a mattress.

The next morning the royal family arose before daybreak, waiting for a last sight of him whom, alas! they were never to see again. In all quarters of Paris the drums were beating, and the noise penetrated even into the Tower. At a quarter-past six the door opened, and some one came in to get a book, which was wanted for the mass about to be read to the King. The anxious women regarded this trifling occurrence as a hopeful sign, and expected a speedy summons to the promised interview. But they were soon undeceived. Each moment seemed an hour, and still the time slipped by without bringing the fulfilment of their last sorrowful hope.

Suddenly a louder roll of drums announced the moment of the King's departure. No words can describe the scene that followed. The heart-broken women, with tears and sobs, made fruitless attempts to excite the compassion of their pitiless jailers. The little Prince sprang from his mother's arms, and, beside himself with grief and terror, ran from one to another of the guards, clasping their knees, pressing their hands, and crying wildly:

"Let me go, messieurs! Let me go!"

"Where do you wish to go?" they asked him.

"To my father! I will speak to the people—I will beg them not to kill my papa! In the name of God, messieurs, let me go!"

The guards were deaf to his childish appeals; fear for their own heads compelled them to be, but history does not tell us that they were inhuman enough to jeer at the child or make sport of his innocent prayer for his father's life. Even harder hearts must have been touched by the sight of such sorrow.

About ten o'clock the Queen wished the children to have some breakfast; but they could not eat, and the food was sent away untouched. A moment later cries and yells were heard, mingled with the discharge of firearms. Madame Elisabeth raised her eyes to heaven, and, carried away by the bitterness of her grief, exclaimed:

"Oh, the monsters! They are glad!. . . ."

At these words the Princess Marie Therese uttered a piercing scream; the little Dauphin burst into tears; while the Queen, with drooping head and staring eyes, seemed sunk in a stupor almost like death. The shouts of a crier in the street soon informed them yet more plainly that all was over.

For the rest of the day, the poor little Prince hardly stirred from his mother's side. He kissed her hands, often wet with his tears, and overwhelmed her with sweet childish caresses, which he seemed to feel would comfort her more than words.

"Alas! the tears of an innocent child, they may never cease to flow!" said the Queen, bitterly. "Death is harder for those who survive than for the ones who are gone!"

During the afternoon she asked permission to see Clery, who had remained with his royal master in the Tower till the last moment. She felt that she must hear the last words and farewells of her martyred husband and treasure them as a precious legacy, and for more than an hour the faithful valet was with her, both absorbed in sorrowful discourse.

The long day passed in tears and wretchedness, and night brought no respite. The prisoners had been placed in charge of two jailers, a married couple named Tison, coarse creatures, from whose intrusions they were never free. Thus the inflexible hate of an infuriated populace pursued them even in the sanctity of their grief.

It was two o'clock at night, and more than an hour since the tearfully ended prayers had announced the time for rest; but rest was still far from the three unhappy women. In obedience to the Queen's wishes, the Princess Marie Therese had indeed gone to bed, but she could not close her eyes. Her royal mother and her aunt, who were sitting near the bed of the Dauphin, talked of their sorrow and wept together in uncontrollable anguish. The sleeping child smiled, and there was such an expression of angelic sweetness and purity on his innocent face that the Queen could not refrain from saying sadly:

"He is now just as old as his brother was when he died at Meudon. Happy are those of our family who have been the first to go; at least they have not lived to see the downfall of our house!"

Madame Tison, who had been listening at the door, heard these words, or at least the sound of the Queen's voice. Devoid of respect for a sorrow that must find relief in words or become unbearable, the heartless woman knocked on the door and harshly demanded the cause of this nocturnal conversation. As if this were not enough, her husband and some municipal guards even opened the door and attempted to, force their way into the room, when Madame Elisabeth, turning her pale face toward them, said with quiet dignity:

"I pray you, allow us at least to weep in peace!"

These simple words, spoken in such a tone, disarmed even these wretches. They drew back in confusion, and did not venture again to intrude on the sanctity of so profound a grief. The next morning the Queen took her son in her arms and said to him:

"My child, we must put our trust in the dear God!"

"Oh, yes, mamma," answered the little Prince, "I do trust the dear God, but whenever I fold my hands and try to pray, the image of my father comes before my eyes."

Sadly and wearily the days passed. Weakened by sorrow and exhausted by sleepless nights, the Queen almost succumbed to her troubles, and seemed to be indifferent whether she lived or died. Sometimes her companions would find her eyes fixed on them with such an expression of profound pity, it almost made them shudder. A deathly stillness prevailed; they all seemed to be holding their breaths, save when their grief found vent in half-smothered sobs or paroxysms of tears. It was almost a boon to the wretched women when the Princess Marie Therese really fell ill. In the duties of a mother, Marie Antoinette found some mitigation of her grief for the loss of her husband. She spent all her time at her daughter's bedside, and the care and anxiety afforded her a wholesome distraction and roused her benumbed faculties. The Princess soon recovered from her illness, and from that time the Queen devoted herself wholly to her children.

The little Dauphin sang very sweetly, and his mother found much pleasure in teaching him little songs, but especially in having him continue the studies he had begun. Thus absorbed, she even thanked Heaven for the peace granted her by her enemies, which enabled her to perform these maternal tasks. Madame Elisabeth was her devoted assistant, and their love for the children afforded them some relief from sorrows which were constantly being sharpened by fresh trials. But even this last faint semblance of happiness was at last taken from them.

Some faithful friends of the Queen and the royal house, brave, noble hearts who gladly risked their lives in the hope of rescuing the prisoners from the shameful brutalities of their jailers, had devised a plan for their escape. Owing to an unlucky combination of circumstances, the attempt failed, and the tyrants of the Convention, who then held despotic sway over wretched France, issued the following decree:

"The Committee of Public Safety orders that the son of Capet shall be separated from his mother and delivered into the hands of a governor, the choice of whom shall rest with the General Council of the Commune."

On the third of July, 1793, this cruel and infamous order was put into execution.

It was almost ten o'clock on that evening; the little Prince was in bed and sleeping peacefully and soundly, with a smile on his pale but still lovely face. The bed had no curtains, but his mother had ingeniously arranged a shawl to keep the light from falling on his closed eyelids and disturbing his rest.

The Queen, Madame Elisabeth, and the Princess Marie Therese were sitting up somewhat later than usual, the elder ladies busy with some mending and the Princess reading aloud to them. She had finished several chapters from some historical work, and now had a book of devotions called "Passion Week," which Madame Elisabeth had succeeded in obtaining only a short time before. Whenever the Princess paused to turn a page, or at the end of a chapter in the history or of a psalm in the book of prayers, the Queen would raise her head, let her work fall in her lap, and gaze lovingly at the sleeping boy or listen to his quiet breathing. Suddenly the sound of heavy footsteps was heard on the stairs. The bolts were drawn with a rattle, the door opened, and six municipal guards entered.

"We come," said one of them roughly to the terrified Princesses, "to inform you that the Committee of Public Safety has ordered the son of Capet to be separated from his mother and his family."

The Queen started to her feet, struck to the heart by the suddenness of this blow.

"Take my child away from me?" she cried, white with terror,—"no—no—it cannot be possible!"

Marie Therese stood beside her mother trembling, while Madame Elisabeth, with both hands on the prayer-book, listened and looked on, paralyzed with terror and unable to stir.

"Messieurs," continued the Queen in a tremulous voice, and struggling to control the ague fit that shook her from head to foot, "it is impossible; the Council cannot think of such a thing as to separate me from my son! He is so young, he is so delicate—my care is so necessary to him! No—no it cannot be!"

"It is the decree of the Committee," replied the officer harshly, unmoved by the deadly pallor of the Queen; "the Convention has decided on the measure, and we are sent to carry it into immediate execution."

"Oh, I can never submit to it!" cried the unhappy mother. In the name of Heaven, I beseech you, do not demand this cruel sacrifice of me!"

Both her companions joined their entreaties to hers. All three had instinctively placed themselves before the child's bed, as if to defend it against the approach of the officers; they wept, they prayed, they exhausted themselves in the humblest and most touching supplications. Such distress might have softened the hardest heart; but to these pitiless tools of the villanous Convention, they appealed in vain.

"What is the use of all this outburst?" they demanded at length. "Your child is not going to be killed. You had better give him to us without any more trouble, or we shall find other means of getting him."

In fact, they began to use force against the desperate mother. In the struggle, the improvised bed-curtain was torn down and fell on the head of the sleeping Prince. He awoke, saw at a glance what was happening, and flung himself into his mother's arms.

"Mamma, dear mamma!" he cried, shaking with fright, "do not leave me!"

The Queen clasped him close to her breast, as if to protect him, and clung with all her strength to the bedposts.

"Pah! We do not fight with women," said one of the deputies who had not spoken before. "Citizens, let us call up the guard!"

"Do not do that!" said Madame Elisabeth, "in the name of Heaven, do not do that! We must submit to forcible demands, but grant us at least time to prepare ourselves. This poor child needs his sleep, and he will not be able to sleep anywhere but here. Let him at least spend the night in this room, and he shall be delivered into your hands early in the morning."

To this touching appeal there was no reply.

"Promise me, at least," said the Queen in a hollow voice, "that he shall remain within the walls of this Tower, and that I shall be permitted to see him every day, if only at meal times."

"We are not obliged to account to you for what we do," snarled one of the rough fellows, ferociously; "neither is it for you to question the acts of the country. Just because your child is taken from you, why should you act like a fool? Are not our sons marching toward the frontier every day, to have their heads shot off by the enemy you enticed there?"

"Oh, I did not entice them there," replied the Queen; "and you see that my son is much too young to serve his country yet. Some day, God willing, I hope he will be proud to devote his life to France."

The threatening manner of the officers showed the poor mother plainly enough that all her prayers were useless, and she must yield to her cruel fate. With trembling hands she dressed the little Prince, and, although both Princesses assisted her, it took her longer than ever before. Every garment, before it was put on the child, was turned in and out, passed from hand to hand, and wet with bitter tears. In every possible way they strove to defer the dreadful moment of parting, but the officers soon began to lose patience.

"Make haste!" they cried. "We can wait no longer!"

With a breaking heart, the Queen submitted. Summoning all her fortitude, she seated herself on a chair, laid both her thin white hands on the shoulders of the unhappy child, and, forcing herself to be calm, said to him in a solemn, earnest voice:

"My child, we must part. Remember your oath when I am no longer with you to remind you of it. Never forget the dear God who has sent you this trial, nor the dear mother who loves you. Be prudent, brave, and patient, and your father will look down from Heaven and bless you."

So speaking, she pressed a last kiss on his forehead, clasped him once more to her tortured heart, and gave him to his jailers. The poor child sprang away from them, rushed to his mother again, and clung desperately to her dress, clasping her knees. She tried to soothe his distress,

"You must obey, my child, you must!" she said.

"Yes, and I hope you have no more instructions to give him," added one of the deputies. "You have abused our patience enough already."

"As it is, you might have saved yourself the trouble of giving him any," said another, dragging the Prince forcibly out of the room.

A third, somewhat more humane than the others, added, "You need not have any further anxiety; the great and generous country will care for him."

Heaven was witness what tears of anguish, what cries of despair, followed this distressing scene. In the extremity of her sufferings, the unfortunate mother writhed upon the bed where her son had just been sleeping. She had succeeded in maintaining her courage and a feigned composure in the presence of the merciless wretches who had robbed her of her child, but this unnatural strength, this superhuman exertion, had exhausted all the powers of her being and almost deprived her of reason. Never was there a greater despair than that of this most unhappy Queen and her companions. The three prisoners gazed at one another in speechless agony, and could find no words of consolation. The only comfort of their wretched life was gone. The little Dauphin had been the one ray of sunlight in the darkness of their imprisonment, and that now had been extinguished. What more could follow? Alas! even worse was yet to come, for the resources of inhumanity are boundless!