The Glass-Blowers | Chapter 17 of 39

Author: Daphne du Maurier | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2078 Views | Add a Review

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8

My first instinct was to take Jacques away from the unrest of Paris and home with me to le Chesne-Bidault, but Robert, after the first shock of Cathie’s death, said he could not bear to part with the boy, and that the pair of them would lodge for the time with Monsieur and Madame Fiat, Cathie’s parents, who now lived in the rue Petits Piliers in les Halles, within easy distance of the boutique at the Palais-Royal. The Fiats, having complained originally that they were too old to care for their grandchild during Cathie’s confinement, were now bowed down by remorse, and as anxious to have Jacques with them now as they had been reluctant before. Nevertheless, it was with a heavy heart that I bade goodbye to the little fellow, and to my brother too, who still hardly realized the loss that had come upon him.

“I shall work hard,” he told me, when he saw me to the diligence. “There is no other cure for grief.” But I could not help wondering whether it was some ploy in the affairs of the duc d’Orléans that concerned him, rather than the creation of glass and porcelain in his laboratory.

As I journeyed southwest from the capital, the talk in the diligence was all of the Réveillon riots, and how curiously they had arisen. Not one of the manufacturer’s own men had joined the riot, apparently—they were all workmen from rival foundries, along with men from other trades, locksmiths, joiners, and dockers, while two had been arrested from the royal glass factory in the rue de Reuilly, only a short distance from my brother’s laboratory in the rue Traversière.

I kept silent, but was all ears for information, especially when one fellow traveler, well dressed and with an air of authority, said he had had it from a cousin employed as an official in the Châtelet that many of those arrested were carrying coins with the effigy of the duc d’Orléans upon them.

“One does not know what to believe,” echoed the traveler opposite me. “My brother-in-law tells me that members of the clergy, disguised as ordinary citizens, were bribing onlookers to join the riots.”

This, I thought grimly, should be recounted to Michel…

The diligence put me down at la Ferté-Bernard, where I had an uncomfortable wait for a half hour or so at the Petit Chapeau Rouge, as my conveyance had been ahead of time. This small hostelry was the meeting place of all the vagabonds in our part of the country: hawkers, tinkers, peddlers and mountebanks of all description, who used to earn a precarious living by knocking on farmhouse doors and selling worthless articles—trinkets, almanacs, and so on.

I waited in the small room set aside for passengers on the diligence, but I could catch some of the talk behind, where the drinks were served, and it seemed that Paris had not been alone in having riots. There had been insurrections at Nogent too, and at Bellême. I caught a glimpse of one fellow who appeared to be blind—until he raised his black patch and I perceived that he could see as well as anyone else, but they would disguise themselves thus to win sympathy when begging. He kept hammering the floor with his stick and shouting, “They should seize all the grain carts and hang the drivers; in that way we wouldn’t starve.”

I could not bear to think of good Durocher, and others of our workmen, being misled by men like these.

Presently François and Michel arrived to fetch me, and, like all stay-at-homes when a traveler returns, they were more interested in giving me their news than in hearing mine. Cathie’s death, the Paris riots, these, after quick expressions of sympathy, were soon brushed aside, and I had to hear how many seasonal farm laborers in outlying districts had been told there was no work for them, and were now going about in bands terrorizing the neighborhood. Farm animals were being mutilated in revenge, and early crops uprooted, and the wandering marauders were being joined by others from further west, from Brittany and the coast, as destitute as themselves.

“These men are brigands,” declared François, “who think nothing of coming by night and rousing the entire household to obtain money. We shall soon have to establish a militia in every parish.”

“Unless we j-join the brigands,” said Michel. “Most of our fellows would d-do so, if I gave the word.”

So I was back again to privation and distress and the poor state of trade; perhaps it was as well I had not brought young Jacques with me after all. Yet as I leaned out of my window that night, and breathed the good sweet air, fragrant with blossom from the orchard below, I was thankful to be home again, under my own roof, and away from the fearful murmur of that Paris crowd, the memory of which would haunt me night after night during the months to come.

My brother Robert, when he wrote, said little of his own feelings, or of his son’s; once more it was the political pulse in the capital that preoccupied him. He had managed by some means or other to be on the fringe of the crowd when the States General assembled at Versailles on May the 5th, and so heard the first reports from eyewitnesses within. What troubled him most was that the deputies of the Third Estate were all dressed soberly in black, and, according to him, made a sorry showing beside the high dignitaries of the Church and the lavish costumes of the aristocracy.

“What is more, they were all penned up in an enclosure by themselves like a lot of cattle,” he wrote, “while the aristocracy and the clergy surrounded the King. It was a deliberate affront to the bourgeoisie. The duc d’Orléans received a tumultuous welcome, and the King and Necker had a big ovation too, but the Queen was almost ignored, and they say she looked very pale and never smiled once. As to the speeches, they were disappointing. The Archbishop of Aix, speaking for the clergy, made a good impression, and even produced a wretched piece of black bread to show what appalling stuff the poorest people had to eat. But he was quite eclipsed by one of the deputies of the Third Estate, a young lawyer called Robespierre—I wonder if Pierre has heard of him?—who suggested that the Archbishop would do better if he told his fellow clergy to join forces with the patriots who were friends to the people, and that if they wanted to help they might set an example by giving up some of their own luxurious way of living, and returning to the simple ways of the founder of their faith.

“I can imagine how Pierre would have applauded this speech! Depend upon it, we shall hear more of this fellow.”

Meanwhile, we had the furnace going again, but not more than three days during the week, and some of our younger workmen took themselves off to look for employment elsewhere until trade should improve. I hated to see them drift away, for there was little likelihood of their finding anything beyond casual work on the land, haymaking and so on, and they would only add to the numbers of vagrants wandering the countryside.

The agonies of the winter were over, thank heaven, and our small community was not so sorely tried, but every day came news of more unrest and disturbance from all parts of the country, and it seemed to me that the meeting of the States General in Versailles had so far achieved nothing. Pierre, as usual, was full of optimism when he came to see us at the end of June. He brought with him his good-natured wife and his two boys, whom he was bringing up à la Jean-Jacques. They did not know their alphabet, ate with their fingers, and were as wild as hawks, but lovable enough.

I remember we were taking advantage of the weather that day, and carrying the hay to the barns beside the master’s house.

“Agreed, there is deadlock at the moment,” said Pierre, whistling to his boys to cease tumbling down the shocks of hay which had been so carefully stacked, “but the Third Estate have at least formed themselves into a National Assembly, a show of force has failed to disband them, and the King will be obliged to agree to a new Constitution. None of the deputies will return until this is achieved. You have heard the oath they swore on the twenty-third? ‘Never to separate until such time as the Constitution be firmly established.’ What I would have given to have been there! This is the voice of the true France.”

He went on whistling to his boys, and they continued to ignore him.

“The King is ill advised, more’s the pity,” said François. “If it were he alone, the Assembly would have no trouble. It’s the Court party who do the damage, and the Queen especially.”

“B-b-bitch,” exploded Michel.

How many other families, I wondered, were discussing this same subject, and echoing the same gossip, throughout the country this same day.

“Call her what you will,” I said to Michel. “Do not forget she lost her little boy barely three weeks ago.”

It was true. I, like the rest of the women at the glass-house, had been shocked to hear of the Dauphin’s death on the 2nd of June, a child only a few months younger than my nephew Jacques.

“If you think,” I went on, “that a mother cares about politics at such a moment…”

“Then why doesn’t she s-stop interfering,” said Michel, “and let this c-country govern itself?”

I could not match his arguments, nor Pierre’s either, when he began to side with Michel. It seemed to me presumption on our part to think we knew anything of what went on in high places. Here was Pierre laying down the law about what the King should say to the Assembly, or what the Assembly should say to the King, and yet he could not order his own unruly boys to come down from off the hay-shocks. My mother would have done so and boxed the ears of the pair of them.

Another letter came from Robert in the first week in July. There had been great excitement at the Palais-Royal. Supporters of the duc d’Orléans (who, incidentally, had taken his seat as an ordinary citizen of the Third Estate) had encouraged the crowd to free eleven guardsmen from the Abbaye prison—the guardsmen had been imprisoned in the first place for refusing to fire on demonstrators on the 23rd of June—and in many cafés and restaurants the French Guards were fraternizing with the unruly crowds, telling them, if trouble came, that they would never fire on fellow Frenchmen.

“They say,” continued Robert, “that foreign troops have already entered the country to support the Court party, should they be needed, and many of the bridges are already guarded. The latest rumor is that the King’s brother, the comte d’Artois, and the Queen have had a secret tunnel built under the Bastille which is to admit hundreds of troops and ammunition, and at a given word—if the National Assembly don’t behave themselves—the troops will set light to a mine powerful enough to destroy them and almost all of Paris.”

If this was true, though I could hardly credit it, then there was only one thing to do, and that was for Robert to leave the capital at once, and bring Jacques with him, and the Fiats too, if they were willing to travel.

“W-what did I tell you?” said Michel grimly, after I had read the letter aloud to him and François. “That d-damned Court party and the aristocracy will do anything to b-break up the National Assembly. Why don’t the people of P-Paris get out into the streets and f-fight? If it were happening in Le Mans, I’d soon be on the s-streets with the whole of le Chesne-Bidault b-behind me.”

I wrote at once to Robert, imploring him to leave Paris, though I had very little hope of his agreeing to do so. If he was still in the pay of Laclos or others of the duc d’Orléans’s entourage, it would seem as if their supreme moment might be about to strike.

The hideous story of the Queen’s plot to blow up the National Assembly, if not the whole of Paris, had reached Le Mans—Pierre was full of it when Michel and François went into town the following week. It appeared that one of the deputies had confirmed the tale in a letter to an Elector, the Electors being men of authority in every district who had voted for the deputies of the Third Estate. “Paris is surrounded by troops,” Pierre told his brother and my husband, and for once his equanimity seemed shaken. “The wife of a deputy arrived back yesterday who had heard on the best authority that the Prince de Condé has only to give the word and forty thousand troops will occupy the capital, with orders to fire on anyone who supports the Assembly. If this happens there will be a massacre.”

The story in its turn was contradicted by Edmé, whose husband, Monsieur Pomard, in his capacity as contractor to the Abbey of St. Vincent, had attended a dinner at the Oratoire given by the officers of the Dragons de Chartres to welcome back their colonel, the vicomte de Valence. According to the vicomte, morale in the capital had never been higher, and the duc d’Orléans and Necker were still the men of the hour.

“Of course,” Edmé told Michel, “the vicomte de Valence is one of the duc d’Orléans’s supporters. He is married to the daughter of the duke’s ex-mistress, Madame de Genlis, and is the lover of the duke’s stepmother. You can’t be more involved in a family situation than that!”

Edmé had some of Robert’s talent for searching out gossip, and when Michel repeated the tale I felt relieved that we lived in the country and not in Le Mans.

“I don’t give a f-fig for the gossip,” said Michel. “The point is that I trust n-none of the aristocracy, whether they support the d-duc d’Orléans or not. As to that ass P-Pomard, he’d best keep his mouth shut, along with the damned m-monks at St. Vincent.”

My husband and brother returned home to le Chesne-Bidault with these various tales, and a parting shot from Pierre that if trouble broke out in Paris the patriots and Electors in Le Mans would form a committee and take over the municipality, with orders to every able-bodied citizen to enroll at the hôtel de ville and form a people’s militia.

“And there will be no trouble,” he added significantly, “from the Dragons de Chartres.”

Which, I thought to myself, bore out Edmé’s gossip after all.

As it happened, we were more concerned at le Chesne-Bidault with the ripening corn in our farm acres than with the preparations for possible disturbances in Le Mans. The bands of vagrants roaming the countryside were trespassing on the farms by night and cutting the wheat and barley. Whether they intended to eat it or hoard it nobody knew—but we all feared for our crops, for should there be a disaster to this year’s harvest then, without question, next winter we should starve.

Michel and François posted men as sentries every night to guard the fields, but even so we would go to bed uneasy, for the vagrants were said to be armed. They were also raiding timber stacks in the forests, to sell as fuel, no doubt, against the colder weather to come, and this was an equal threat to our livelihood; if our stocks of timber were purloined, we should not be able to keep the furnace fire alight. Already in the forest of Bonnétable this had happened. Pierre’s wife came from Bonnétable; we had the story direct from her.

“There’s n-nothing for it,” said Michel, “but to have patrols of men, d-day and night, keeping watch b-between here and Montmirail.”

He and François would take it in turn to go out on night patrol, and during those first ten days in July I would lie awake, alone and anxious if my husband had gone; but if he were by my side then I would worry about Michel, standing sentinel out there somewhere in the forest, watching and waiting for the brigands who did not come.

It must have been the Monday or Tuesday, the 13th or 14th of July, I forget which, when François brought the news from Mondoubleau that the Court party had persuaded the King to dismiss Necker from his post as Controller of Finance, and the minister had gone into exile. Paris was in a state of siege, customs barriers outside the city were being burned down or overthrown, and the customs officers forced to fly for their lives—the people everywhere were out of control and raiding the ammunition depots for arms.

“The worst of it is,” said François, “that the whole of the underworld of Paris has been let loose upon the countryside. Prisoners, beggars, thieves, murderers—all the unemployed of the capital—they are making south, leaving honest citizens to fight it out with the Court party and the aristocracy.”

François had driven in from Mondoubleau in one of the foundry wagons, and both he and his horses were sweating with heat and exhaustion. In a moment he was surrounded by a group of workmen, with Michel among them.

“What is it? What has happened? Who told you of it?”

He repeated his tale, and almost immediately Michel started giving directions to the men to split into groups—all work at the foundry was to cease until further orders—and these groups were to go to le Plessis-Dorin, Montmirail, St. Avit, le Gault, and west to Vibraye, to inform the people in these communes what was happening in Paris, and to prepare against brigands. Another group would stay at le Chesne-Bidault in charge of the foundry. Either he or François would go to la Ferté-Bernard to seek further news when the change-coach arrived from Paris.

It was my business, naturally, to counsel the families, calling upon all of them in turn, warning them not to stir from the foundry precincts, nor to let the children wander out of earshot. As I repeated my warnings, and saw their anxiety, I myself felt seized with their apprehension; doubt and uncertainty were in the air, we none of us knew what might happen next, and the thought of the brigands penetrating so far south, burning and pillaging as they went, filled all of us with terror.

No more news came to us that night, other than what we had already heard through François from Mondoubleau. Two days passed without direct contact with Paris, save that there had been fighting in the streets and many killed—some said the Bastille had been blown up by gunpowder, others that the English Prime Minister Pitt had sent hundreds of troops into France to support the aristocracy and chase the brigands into the French countryside to disrupt communications.

On Saturday the 18th of July, it was the turn of François to go into la Ferté-Bernard to obtain news from those who might be traveling by the diligence plying from Paris to Le Mans, descending at Bellême and changing coaches to la Ferté. The thought of staying alone at the master’s house, guarded by a small group of workmen, with François away and Michel on patrol in the forest, was more than I could bear.

“I’m coming with you,” I told my husband. “I’d rather face the dangers on the road than wait here, hour after hour, without even the roar of the furnace fire to keep me company.”

He took one of the small covered carrioles, and I climbed up on the seat beside him like a market-woman. If we were stopped by vagrants they would find nothing in the cart but ourselves, and the worst they could do would be to overturn it and force us to walk home.

We found la Ferté-Bernard in an uproar. No one was working, everyone was in the streets. The bells of Notre-Dame-des-Marais were sounding the tocsin. It was the first time in my life I heard church bells peal an alarm instead of a call to prayer, and the incessant sound was far more agitating and conducive to fear than a bugle call or a roll of drums.

We went to the Petit Chapeau Rouge to put up the carriole. Although there were no vagrants there, the crowds were thick in the street outside, and François agreed with me that many of them were not local townsfolk, but strangers.

Suddenly there was a movement among the crowd, which divided, and we saw the change-coach approaching through the town from Bellême. We ran towards it, ourselves part of the crowd, seized with the same passionate hunger for news, and then as the driver reined in his horses, and the coach shuddered to a standstill, the first passengers broke from within, to be immediately surrounded by a mob of questioners.

A slim figure caught my attention as he paused an instant before descending, giving his hand to a child.

“It’s Robert,” I cried, catching at François, “it’s Robert and Jacques.”

We pushed forward towards the coach, and at last succeeded in reaching the passengers beside it. There was my brother, calm, smiling, answering a dozen questions at once, while little Jacques sprang into my arms.

Robert nodded to us. “I’ll be with you directly,” he called. “First I have a letter here from the mayor of Dreux that I must deliver in person to the mayor of la Ferté-Bernard.”

The crowd drew back, eyeing François and myself with a new respect because of our connection with this seemingly important traveler, and we followed in Robert’s train, Jacques clutching my hand, while my brother and a group of men in authority walked to the hôtel de ville.

We could get no sense out of Jacques. There had been fighting in Paris for two days, he said, there were men wounded and killed everywhere, and we had to listen to the news from other passengers, who were now telling the tale to the surrounding crowd.

The Bastille had been stormed and taken by the people of Paris. The Governor had been killed. The King’s brother, the comte d’Artois, had fled, also the King’s cousin, the Prince de Condé, and the de Polignacs, the friends of the Queen. The National Assembly was in control of the capital, with a citizen militia to protect it under the command of General Lafayette, hero of the American wars.

François turned to me, stupefied.

“We’ve beaten them,” he said. “It can’t be possible. We’ve beaten them.”

People around us began shouting and cheering, waving their arms and laughing, and from nowhere, it seemed, the driver of the coach, a great, red-faced fellow, began distributing among the crowd cockades of rose and blue, which he had brought with him from the diligence at Bellême. “Come on,” he was shouting, “help yourselves. These are the colors of the duc d’Orléans, who with the help of the people of Paris has beaten the aristocracy,” and everyone pushed forward to snatch the colors. The enthusiasm took hold of us. François, being tall, reached over the heads of several and secured a cockade, which he gave me, laughing, and I did not know whether to laugh or to cry as someone shouted “Vive le Tiers Etat… Vive l’Assemblée… Vive le duc d’Orléans… Vive le Roi.”

Then we saw Robert come out of the hôtel de ville—he was still surrounded by Electors and other officials—but they none of them responded to the crowd. They were talking anxiously among themselves, and a murmur began to spread from one to the other of us waiting in the place beyond. “The danger isn’t over yet… the fighting continues…”

Then the mayor of la Ferté came forward and held up his hand for silence, and we could just catch his words above the murmur of the crowd: “The National Assembly are in control of Paris, but an army of brigands, six thousand strong, is said to have fled from the capital, fully armed. Every man must make himself available for a citizen’s militia. Women and children and the infirm and elderly are to remain within doors.”

Now joy had turned to panic, and the people strove this way and that to free themselves from the crowd, to offer their services, to go home, to get away—no one knew which—and the tocsin kept ringing from Notre-Dame-des-Marais so that the mayor’s voice was drowned by the sound.

Robert pushed through from the hôtel de ville towards us, and we made our way to the carriole at the Petit Chapeau Rouge. There were others trying to do the same thing, and much confusion, with the horses restless and stamping, and Robert kept calling out to everyone, “Warn the outlying parishes and communes to sound the alarm from the churches. Forewarned is forearmed. Vive la nation… Vive le duc d’Orléans.” His words seemed to increase the confusion rather than allay it, and I heard people asking, “What has happened? Is the duc d’Orléans to be King?”

At last we were safely aboard the carriole, with François urging the horse forward and out of the town, and so down the road to Montmirail and the forest beyond.

By now it was dusk, and the road home seemed dark and forbidding. Poor Jacques, still clutching fast to my hand, kept saying, “What if the brigands come, what shall we do, will they kill us?”

Robert bade his boy be silent—I had never heard him so sharp with the child before—and then he told us how the Bastille had been stormed four days earlier. Some nine hundred persons had taken the fortress, and forced the Governor to surrender. “The people cut off his head with a butcher’s knife later,” whispered my brother. And yes, it was true, there had been a plot by the aristocracy to overthrow the National Assembly, but it had failed, and the comte d’Artois and all his friends and the Prince de Condé had fled to the frontier, “taking with them, so I hear,” said Robert, “all the gold in the kingdom.”

“But the brigands?” I asked, as fearful as Jacques. “What is the truth about the brigands.”

“No one knows,” replied my brother with strange satisfaction. “In Dreux they say that six thousand were on their way from the other side of Paris, and had joined up with Pitt’s mercenaries. That is why I spread the news in every town at which we stopped from Dreux to Bellême. The driver of the diligence has instructions to report it as he continues his journey to Le Mans.”

I thought of Pierre and his wife and children, who might be at Bonnétable, through which the diligence would pass. Pierre would at once leave for Le Mans himself, to offer his services to the municipality, or rather to the committee which had vowed to take it over. Yet surely it was in the forest of Bonnétable that we had first heard of brigands?

“Robert…” I asked, taking my brother’s arm, “what do you see for the future? Where will this all end?”

My brother laughed. “Don’t talk about the end,” he said. “This is only the beginning. This isn’t just another Réveillon riot, you know. What has happened in Paris will happen throughout the country. This is revolution.”

Revolution. I thought of my mother at St. Christophe. She was alone in her small farm property, except for her servants and the cowman and his family nearby. Who would look after my mother?

Robert shrugged aside my fears. “Don’t concern yourself,” he said. “They are all patriots in the Touraine. My mother will be the first to wear the blue and rose cockade.”

“But the brigands?” I persisted.

“Ah yes,” replied my brother, “I had forgotten the brigands…”

By now Jacques had fallen asleep on my shoulder, and I sat stiff and straight to support him during the remaining drive to le Chesne-Bidault. We had passed Montmirail, and were through the forest and nearly home, when a group of men sprang up from the side of the road and surrounded us.

Thank God—it was Michel and his patrol. For a moment we paused for Robert to seize his hand and give him the news; then, as we were about to proceed and turn down the road to the foundry, Michel said, “The brigands have been seen. One of the women was gathering sticks in a clearing, and she heard a movement and saw a dozen men, their faces blacked, crouching in the undergrowth. She ran back to the foundry to give warning. I sent word to the commune to give the alarm.”

Even as he spoke, across the warm night air came the thin high summons from the church bell at le Plessis-Dorin.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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