Little Dauphin - George Upton

The End of Sorrows

The removal of Simon released the Dauphin from actual physical abuse, but on the whole there was not much change for the better in his situation. The leaders of the Revolution felt no pity for the royal child; and instead of appointing a successor to the cobbler, they doomed him to solitary confinement. The door of communication between his prison and the anteroom was securely fastened with nails and screws, and crossed from top to bottom with iron bars. Three or four feet from the floor there was a small opening over a little shelf, covered by a movable iron grating, which was secured by a padlock. Through this opening or wicket little Capet was supplied with food and water, and when he had eaten he replaced the empty vessels on the shelf. They allowed him neither light nor fire. His room was heated only by the flue from a stove in the antechamber, and lighted only by a lamp which hung opposite the wicket. Here the poor child spent the terrible days and nights, his only way of reckoning time; for years, months, weeks, days, were all one in his confused brain. Time, like a stagnant pool, had ceased to flow for him. There was nothing but suffering to mark the hours, hence they were indistinguishable.

We will pass quickly over this period—one long monotonous round of misery and wretchedness, that lasted without intermission for more than six months. During all that time the air of heaven did not once penetrate to this barred cell, and only a faint glimmer of daylight pierced the grating and the close, heavy shutters. The little prisoner never saw the guards who thrust his scanty meals to him through the wicket; he heard no sound but the creaking of bolts and a harsh voice, which at the close of day ordered him to go to bed, since there was no light for him. The solitude and loneliness lay upon his spirit like a leaden weight. Without work, without play, without diversion or occupation of any kind, how endless must the days have been! And then the night and darkness, with its vague phantoms, its indefinable terrors, chilling the child's blood with fear!

Many such days and nights passed, but no word, no sound of complaint, escaped from the dark cell. The wicket was opened every day, but the little Prince never sought for pity or compassion. He had given up all hope of human sympathy, and trusted only to the mercy of God; hoped only for a speedy death and for everlasting peace beyond.

The deputies, whose duty it was to guard the Dauphin, were cruel and unfeeling—if not naturally so, then because they feared to be otherwise. At nightfall they would go up to the den of the "young wolf" to assure themselves that he was alive and had not escaped. If he did not answer their harsh summons at once, they would open the wicket with a great clattering and shout:

"Capet, Capet! Are you asleep? Where are you? Get up, viper!"

The child, so rudely aroused, would drag himself with trembling limbs from his wretched bed to the grating, his feet colder than the damp floor on which he trod, to answer gently:

"Here I am!"

"Come nearer, then, so we can see you!" they would cry, holding up a lantern to light the cell.

"Very good! Go to bed again!"

Two hours later there would be another rattling of bolts, other deputies would appear, and again the Prince would be roused from his sleep and compelled, half-naked and shivering with cold and terror, to answer the questions of his jailers. This persecution soon exhausted him mentally and physically. The lack of fresh air, the darkness and solitude, benumbed all his faculties. He no longer wept. His feeble hands could scarcely lift the earthen plate or jug in which his food and water were brought. He had ceased to try to clean his room; he no longer had even the strength to shake up the sack of straw that formed his bed, or to turn the mattress. The bedclothes were never changed, and his pillow was in tatters; he could not get clean linen or mend his ragged clothes; he had not resolution enough to wash and clean himself, but lay patiently on his bed most of the time, his dull eyes staring into vacancy.

How often must he have prayed to God, "When, oh! when, will my sufferings end?" How long—how long it must have seemed before the Almighty listened to the feeble voice and sent the blessed release of death. But at last the petition was heard, and a gleam of human pity brightened the last days of this innocent victim of man's cruelty.

After the execution of Robespierre and his associates in the Reign of Terror, better days dawned for the little Prince. The new government sent him a jailer named Laurent, who was kind and humane, and dared to show his pity for his prisoner. He had the barred door opened, and, horror-stricken at the sight disclosed, at once took measures to relieve the poor child, whom he found cowering on a filthy bed, clothed in rags, his back bent as if with age, his little body covered with sores. The once lovely child showed scarcely a trace of his former beauty. His face was yellow and emaciated, his eyes dim and sunken; he was ill, and the bright and vigorous mind was no longer active. I want to die! I want to die!" were the only words Laurent was able to draw from him at his first visit.

The kindly jailer lost no time in bettering his situation as far as he could. The barred door with the wicket was removed, the shutters taken down from the windows to admit the light and air freely, and the cell thoroughly cleaned. One of his first cares was to have the boy bathed, cleaned, and placed in another bed. He also sent for a physician, and ordered a tailor to make some new clothes for his charge. At first the poor little Prince could not understand these expressions of sympathy and kindness. He had suffered so much and so deeply from the inhumanity of men, that his crushed sensibilities were slow in starting to life again.

"Why do you trouble yourself about me?" he asked one day, and when Laurent made some kindly answer, added, with a swelling heart, "I thought no one cared for me any more!" while he tried to hide his tears.

Simon had introduced the custom of addressing the Prince simply as "Capet"; Laurent changed this, and called him by his first name, "M. Charles." He also obtained permission for him to walk on the platform of the Tower whenever he chose, and enjoy the blue sky and the sunshine again after his long, sad imprisonment. Here, one day, he found some little yellow flowers that were trying to live in the seams and crevices of the crumbling stone. He gathered them eagerly, and tied them into a little nosegay, recalling, perhaps, the sunny days of his early childhood.

On the ninth of November, 1794, a second jailer arrived—a man named Gomin, who, like Laurent, was kind and tender-hearted. It was settled between them that they should share the same room, an arrangement which suited Laurent very well, since it gave him more freedom; and both men exerted themselves to make their little captive's dull days as cheerful as possible. They would have done even more for him had they not been restrained by the presence of a deputy, who was required to share their guard over the Dauphin. These deputies were frequently changed. If the choice of their superiors happened to fall on a man who was friendly and obliging, Laurent and Gomin could usually obtain small favors from him. Thus, on the third day after his arrival in the Temple, Gomin made use of the goodwill of a deputy named Bresson to obtain for the Prince four plants in pots, all in full bloom. The sight of these flowers was a most wonderful surprise to the poor child, and his eyes filled with tears of joy and happiness. He went around and around them, as if intoxicated with delight, clasped them in his arms, and inhaled their fragrance. He devoured them with his eyes, examined every blossom, and finally picked one. Then he looked at Gomin with a troubled expression; an innocent, childish memory trembled in his heart. He thought of his mother! Alas, poor child! For her no more should earthly flowers bloom, nor wert thou ever to be permitted to lay a blossom on her grave!

Soon after this, a deputy named Delboy came to the Temple. He was coarse and uncouth in appearance, and had a gruff, harsh voice. With an air of brutality, he opened all the prison doors, and behaved in a rude and boorish manner; but under this rough exterior was concealed a softness of heart and high-mindedness that greatly surprised the little prisoner.

"Why this miserable food?" he said one day, glancing at the Dauphin's scanty meal. "If he were in the Tuileries, we might question what he had to eat but here in our hands! We should be merciful to him; the nation is magnanimous! What are these shutters for? Under the government of the people, the sun shines for all, and this child is entitled to his share of it. Why should a brother be prevented from seeing his sister? Our watchword is fraternity!"

The Prince gazed at him in open-eyed astonishment, and followed every movement of this rough stranger, whose friendly words were such a contrast to his forbidding aspect.

"Is it not so, my boy," continued the deputy; "would you not be very happy if you could play with your sister? I do not see why the nation should remember your origin if you forget it."

Then, turning to Laurent and Gomin, he added: "It is not his fault that he is the son of a King. He is only a child—an unfortunate one, too—and should not be treated so harshly. He is, at least, a human being; and is not France the mother of all her children?"

After his departure, Gomin hastened to procure more comforts for the Prince, and took pains to see that he had a light in his room at night, for which the poor child was very grateful. He was not allowed to see his sister, Marie Therese, however, as the government had strictly forbidden it. But all the care and attention of his jailers could not save him from being attacked by a bad fever, and unfortunately the deputies were not all so considerate as the rough but kindly Delboy. Some of them terrified him by harsh threats and insults, which by no means improved his condition. One man, named Careaux, to whom Gomin applied for permission to send for a physician for the sick child, had the heartless insolence to reply:

"Pah! never mind him. There are plenty of children dying all the time who are of more consequence than he!"

A day or two afterward, Gomin was painfully surprised to hear the poor boy, muttering to himself, repeat the words, Many children die who are of more consequence!" and from this time he sank into a state of the deepest melancholy and failed rapidly. It was with difficulty that Gomin could induce him to go up to the roof of the Tower, even when he had the strength; and soon, indeed, his feet could no longer support him, and his jailers were obliged to carry him up in their arms. The disease made such terrible progress in a few days that the government finally felt it necessary to send a deputation to the Temple to inquire into the condition of the prisoner. Nothing came of it, however. No physician was summoned, no remedies applied, and the Dauphin was left to sink slowly into the grave. It was plain that his death had been determined on by the government, and disease was allowed to finish the work which that unspeakable wretch, the cobbler Simon, had begun so well.

Gomin still had hope, nevertheless, and used every means in his power to add to the child's small pleasures and recreations. He found some books, which the Prince read eagerly; and, through an acquaintance named Debierne, obtained a turtle-dove for him, but it did not live long. They often played draughts together; the Prince did not understand the game very well, but the kind-hearted jailer always contrived to let his small opponent win. Shuttlecock, too, was a favorite amusement when the child's strength permitted, and at this he proved very skilful. His eye was sure, his hand quick, and he always rested the left one lightly on his hip while the right was busy with the battledore.

On the twenty-ninth of March, 1795, Laurent left the Temple, and was replaced by Etienne Lasne, a house painter and soldier of the Guard. The Prince thereby lost one friend, but gained another, for Lasne from the beginning showed the heartiest goodwill toward him, and soon learned how to win his affection. He would spend hours playing with him, sing lively songs while Gomin joined in with his violin, or entertain him with humorous fancies; and his devotion so won the child's love and confidence that the Dauphin always used the familiar "thou" in speaking to him, although such had never been his custom.

All this time the condition of the little Dauphin had been growing worse so steadily that finally, at the urgent demands of the jailers, a physician was sent for. M. Desault treated him and prescribed some remedies, though he gave Gomin to understand from the first that he had little hope of the boy's recovery. They moved him into a room that was more light and sunny, but he was very weak, and the change did little to check the progress of the disease. Though his kind friend often carried him up to the platform on the Tower, the slight improvement wrought by breathing the fresh air scarcely compensated for the fatigue the effort cost him.

In the course of centuries, the rain had hollowed out a sort of little basin on the battlements of the platform, where the water would remain for several days, and as there were frequent rains in the spring of 1795, this reservoir was never empty. Every time the Prince was carried to the roof, he saw a number of sparrows that came daily to the little pool to drink and bathe in it. At first they would fly away at his approach, but after a time they became accustomed to seeing him, and only took flight when he came too close. They were always the same ones, and he learned to know them. Perhaps they, like himself, had grown familiar with the old Tower. He called them his birds. As soon as the door was opened, his first glance would be toward the little basin, and the sparrows were always there. When he approached, they would all rise in the air, fluttering and chirping; but after he had passed, they would settle down again at once. Supported by his jailer's arm and leaning against the wall, he would often stand perfectly motionless for a long time, watching the birds alight and dip their little beaks in the water, then their breasts, fluttering their wings and shaking the drops off their feathers, while the poor little invalid would clasp his keeper's arm tightly, as if to say: "Alas! I cannot do that!" Sometimes, with this support, he would take several steps forward, till he was so near he could almost touch them with his outstretched arm. This was his greatest pleasure; he loved their cheerful twittering and quick, alert motions.

The physician, M. Desault, came every morning at nine o'clock to see his patient, and often remained with him for some time. The Prince was very fond of the good old man, and showed his gratitude both in words and looks. Suddenly, however, his visits ceased, and they learned that he had died unexpectedly on the thirty-first of May. The little Prince wept when he was told of it, and mourned sincerely for his kind friend. The chief surgeon, M. Pelletan, took his place; but he, too, had no hope of being able to prolong the life of the child, who, like a delicate plant deprived of light and air, gradually drooped and faded. Yet he bore his sufferings without a murmur or complaint. The plant was dying; its bright colors were gone, but its sweet fragrance remained to the last.

Dauphin, Louis XVII


M. Pelletan, who realized only too well his dangerous condition, had requested from the government the advice and assistance of another physician, and on the seventh of June M. Dumaugin was sent to accompany him to the Temple. The Prince's weakness had increased alarmingly, and that morning, after having taken his medicine and been rubbed as usual, he had sunk into a sort of swoon, which made the jailers fear the end was near. He revived a little, however, when the physicians arrived; but they saw plainly it was useless to attempt to check the malady. They ordered a glass of sweetened water to be given to him, to cool his dry, parched mouth, if he should wish to drink, and withdrew with a painful sense of their helplessness. M. Pelletan was of the opinion that the little Prince would not live through another day, but his colleague did not think the end would come so soon. It was agreed that M. Pelletan should make his visit at eight o'clock the next morning, and M. Dumaugin was to come at eleven.

When Gomin entered the room that evening with the Dauphin's supper, he was pleasantly surprised to find the sick child a little improved. His color was better, his eyes brighter, his voice stronger.

"Oh, it is you!" he said at once to his jailer, with evident pleasure at seeing him.

"You are not suffering so much now?" asked Gomin.

"Not so much," answered the Prince softly.

"You must thank this room for that," said Gomin. "Here there is at least fresh air to breathe, and plenty of light; the good doctors come to see you, and you should find a little comfort in all this."

At these words the Prince looked up at his jailer with an expression of deepest sadness. His eyes grew dim, then shone suddenly bright again, as a tear trickled through his lashes and rolled down his cheek.

"Alone—always alone!" was his answer. "And my mother has been over there, in that other Tower, all this time!"

He did not know that she, as well as his aunt, Madame Elisabeth, had long since been dragged to the guillotine, and all the warmth and tenderness of which the poor child's heart was still capable of feeling were fixed on the mother from whose arms he had been so cruelly torn. This childish affection had survived through everything; it was as strong as his will, as deep as his nature. "Love," says the Holy Scriptures, "is stronger than death," and this child confirmed the saying. Now, when his mind was dwelling on memories of the past and the recollection of his sufferings, every other thought was forgotten, and his tried and tortured heart had room for no other image than that of his dearly and tenderly beloved mother.

"It is true you are often alone here, and that is sad, to be sure," continued Gomin; "but then you no longer have the sight of so many bad men around you, or the example of so many wicked actions."

"Oh, I have seen enough of them," murmured the child; "but," he added in a gentler tone, laying his hand on the arm of his kindly jailer and raising his eyes to his face, I see good people also, and they keep me from being angry with those who are not."

At this, Gomin said suddenly: "That wicked Careaux you have seen here so often, as deputy, has been arrested, and is now in prison himself."

The Prince started.

"Careaux?" he repeated. "He did not treat me well. But I am sorry. Is he here?"

"No, in La Force, in the Quartier St. Antoine."

An ordinary nature would have harbored some feeling of revenge, but this royal child had the greatness of soul to pity his persecutor.

"I am very sorry for him; he is more unhappy than we, for he deserves his misfortunes!"

Words so simple and yet so noble, on the lips of a child scarcely ten years old, may be wondered at; nevertheless, they were actually spoken by the Dauphin, and the words themselves did not impress Gomin so much as the sincere and touching tone in which they were spoken. Without doubt, misfortune and suffering had matured the child's mind prematurely, and he may have been inspired by some invisible presence from above, such as God often sends to the bedside of the suffering and dying.

Night came on—the last night the poor little prisoner was to spend in solitude and loneliness, with only those old companions, misery of mind and body. He had always been left alone at night, even during his illness; and not until eight o'clock in the morning were his jailers allowed to go to him. We do not know how the Prince passed that last night, or whether he waked or slept; but in either case death was hovering close beside his pillow. The next morning, Monday, the eighth of June, Lasne entered the room between seven and eight o'clock, Gomin not daring to go first for fear he should not find their charge alive. But by the time M. Pelletan arrived the Prince was sitting up, and Lasne thought he had even improved somewhat since the day before, though the physician's more experienced eye told him there was no change for the better. Indeed, the poor little invalid, whose feet felt strangely heavy, soon wanted to lie down again.

When M. Dumaugin came at eleven o'clock, the Prince was in bed; but he welcomed him with the unvarying gentleness and sweetness that had never deserted him through all his troubles, and to which the physician himself testified later on. He shrugged his shoulders over the patient's condition, and felt that the end was not far off. After he had taken his leave, Gomin replaced Lasne in the sick room. He seated himself near the bed, but, fearing to rouse or disturb the child, did not speak. The Prince never began a conversation, and was silent likewise, gazing mournfully at his friend.

"How unhappy it makes me to see you suffer so much!" said Gomin at last.

"Never mind," answered the child softly, "I shall not always suffer."

Gomin knelt down by the bed to be nearer him, and the affectionate child seized his keeper's hand and pressed it to his lips. At this Gomin gave way to his emotion, and his heart went out in prayer—the prayer that man in his deepest sorrow sends up to the all-merciful Father; while the Prince, still clasping the faithful hand in his, raised his eyes to heaven with a look of angelic peace and holiness impossible to describe. After a time, Gomin, seeing that he lay quiet and motionless, said to him:

"I hope you do not suffer now?"

"Oh, yes, I still suffer," whispered the Prince, "but much less—the music is so beautiful!"

Now, there was no music in or near the Temple at this solemn moment; no noise of any kind from outside entered the room where the soul of the little martyr was preparing for flight. Gomin, much surprised, therefore, asked him:

"Where does the music come from?"

"From above there!" replied the child.

"Is it long that you have heard it?"

"Since you knelt down by me and prayed. Have you not heard it? Listen—listen now!"

With a quick motion he held up his feeble hand, his blue eyes shining with rapture, while Gomin, not wishing to dispel this last sweet illusion of the dying child, made a pious effort to hear what could not be heard, and pretended to be listening to the music. In a few moments the Prince raised himself suddenly and cried out in an ecstasy of joy:

"Oh! among all those voices I can hear my mother's!" and as this holy name escaped the orphan's lips, all his pain and sorrow seemed to disappear. His eyebrows, drawn with suffering, relaxed and his eyes sparkled with the light of victory and freedom. But the radiance of his glance was soon dimmed; the old worn look came back to his face and he sank back, his hands crossed meekly on his breast. Gomin watched him closely and followed all his movements with anxious eyes. His breathing was not more difficult, but his eyes wandered about vacantly and absently, and were often fixed on the window. Gomin asked if anything troubled him, but he did not seem to hear even when the question was repeated, and made no reply. Lasne came soon after to relieve Gomin, who left his little friend with a heavy heart, although he did not realize the end was so near. Lasne sat by the bed for a long time in silence, the Prince gazing at him sorrowfully; but when he moved a little, Lasne asked him how he felt and whether he wanted anything. Instead of replying, he asked abruptly:

"Do you think my sister could hear the music? It would make her so happy!"

Lasne could not answer this. The yearning eyes of the dying boy, dark with the anguish of death, were turned toward the window. Suddenly a cry of joy escaped him; then, turning to Lasne, he said:

"I have something to tell you."

The jailer took his hand the little head drooped upon his breast he listened, but in vain. The last word had been spoken! God had spared the little Dauphin the last agonizing death-struggle, and in a last dream of joy and rapture had taken him to His loving arms!

Lasne laid his hand gently on the child's heart, but it no longer beat. That troubled heart was quiet now. The little Dauphin had exchanged his sorrowful earthly dwelling for the eternal peace and happiness of Heaven—had found his loved ones and his God.

Only a few more words, gentle reader. I have unrolled a sad picture before you, and, however much it may have excited your sympathy, it could not be softened, for from beginning to end it is the truth and only the truth. The little Dauphin, Louis Charles, the son of a King and a King himself, really bore all these sorrows; he lived, suffered, and died as has been described in these pages. A conscientious and reliable investigator, M. de Beauchesne, has with untold zeal and patience collected all the incidents here recounted; and the facts have been corroborated by Lasne and Gomin, the two worthy men who tried to brighten the last days of the unfortunate little Prince.

And now, should you ask what moral is to be drawn from this true narrative, I would answer: Learn from the perusal of this child's life to be submissive under affliction and trouble. God keep you from pain and sorrow; but, should they one day fall to your lot, then remember the little Dauphin and King of France, and endure, as he endured, suffering and heartbreak with calmness and patience, with humility and submission to the will of the Lord, before whose mysterious and inscrutable decrees weak mortality must bow without repining.