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BY DUDLEY COSTELLO, ESQ.
CHAP. XXVIII. THE HOSTLER OF BONDY-ARRIVAL AT PARIS—THE ORDONNANCES OF
JULY—PALPITATIONS OF THE HEART-FROSINE AND JACQUES. In nine cases out of ten the endeavours to get a place in a diligence, except at the office from which it first sets out, is unsuccessful ; but on this occasion I had more luck than usual, for there was one of the passengers who did not go on to Paris. His place in the coupé I was able to secure, and I had every prospect of speedily executing the commission with which I had been intrusted by Monsieur de Courtine. But the adage that “ L'homme propose, et Dieu dispose," was true in this as in so many other cases.
It was very early in the morning when we reached Bondy—the last stage to Paris — but there was an unusual stir in the place, notwithstanding. People were moving about hurriedly, and at the Poste a large knot of persons had assembled, discussing some question with so much earnestness, that scarcely a head was turned in the direction of the diligence, and the postillion flourished and cracked his whip in vain. This was rather an ignominious entry, but it betokened something unu
nusual, and every body's curiosity was at once excited to learn the cause. The conducteur knew nothing; indeed, he was as anxious as any of the rest to discover what had made so much commotion in the quiet village of Bondy, especially at that early hour.
“ Mais, qu'est-ce qu'il y a donc ?" was his eager question, and it was repeated by every one of the seventeen passengers, as they hurried out of the various compartments of the diligence, and joined the gesticulating crowd.
“Ce qu'il y a ?" interrogatively replied an old hostler, who mechanically came forward to undo the traces, though his ears were bent backwards, like a hare's, to catch every sound that came froin the circle of speakers ;—“Dam ! Il y a de quoi vou-zempêcher d'entrée dans Paris pour aujourd'hui, à moins que vous n'alliez vous battre ! C'est quelq' chose d’fameux qu'on joue là-bas."
“ But what is it - what is it ?” cried we all, some forcing their way into the crowd, others surrounding the old hostler, who found himself suddenly a personage of much greater importance than he had been for many a long day. He appeared to think so too, for his answers were desperately oracular.
"Voyez-vous, messieurs,” said he, "c'est qu'il y a eu de-zordonnances, —sur quoi le peuple s'est mi-zen avant,- et p'is, v'là des barricades qu'on fait à c'tt' heure. Vient la mitraille, -on riposte avec de pierres, de coups de fusils, je ne sais quoi-on arbore le drapeau tricolor,-enfin, c'est une révolution !"
This was as misty an explanation as could well have been offered, but incomplete as it was, it laid the foundation for the reception of a more coherent account of the events which had just occurred in Paris, and we were soon in possession of the fact that the ordinances against the liberty of the press had made their appearance ; that the people had resisted; that recourse to arms was expected, or had been had, and that at the moment at which we were listening to this startling news the fortunes of France were at issue.
One very conclusive intimation was given to ourselves—the assurance that all ingress to Paris for public carriages was stopped, and whoever wanted to enter must do so at his own risk.
Whatever the nature of the business which took them to the capital, the greater part of the passengers, my fellow travellers, had little desire to peril life or limb to transact it; as there was no revolution in Bondy itself, they seemed to prefer remaining there till they could learn something more satisfactory of the state of public affairs, all except two or three of a highly nervous temperament, who forthwith entered into a combination to take post-horses and whatever carriage was available, and increase the distance between themselves and danger as rapidly as it could be accomplished.
With those who lingered, (or with those who fled, I had no interest in common, my object being to get into Paris as quickly as possible. The very fact of there being a popular commotion was in itself a strong attraction, and the peril with which it was environed served but to heighten the charm. The question was how to get there! This, after a little discussion, was solved by one of the bystanders, the son of the old hostler, and the proprietor of a cabriolet from Paris, who had been the first to communicate the intelligence of the events of the 27th of July to the inhabitants of his native commune. For the first half hour this youth had been the great man of his fellow parishioners, but later accounts, varying all in their exaggerated details, had eclipsed his narrative, and reduced him once more to the level of the hostler's son.
It was as much to recover his lost importance as to enact the hero in the eyes of a pretty girl, who answered to the bewitching name of Melusina, and whom he addressed by her nom de baptême, that Aimé Martin declared his readiness to conduct any of the messieurs as far as the Barrière de Pantin, or as much further as it was possible to go. There was only one person besides myself who expressed any anxiety on the subject; he was a tall, military-looking man, to whom the atmosphere of warfare seemed a natural element. With him, therefore, as a companion, I squeezed myself into the middle of Monsieur Martin's cabriolet, and we set off in the direction of Paris, amidst the acclamations of the brave bourgeois of Bondy, who remained behind to defend their hearths and altars.
As we drew near the village of Pantin, with its long line of ginguettes and cabarets, the bustle on the road manifestly increased: there was more alarm in the looks of the women, more determination in the countenances of the men; groups were assembling and arraying themselves into something like military order, some armed with muskets, others with such weapons as first came to hand; here and there from a window was thrust forth a tri-coloured flag; cries of “ A bas les Ordonnances,” “ A bas les Bourbons,” and “Vive la Republique,” might be heard ; but above all rose the loud, though distant, shouts of the busy masses in Paris, broken by the occasional rattle of musketry, or the deep roar of artillery. At every discharge, at the sight of every flag that waved, my tall companion set his teeth and breathed hard, but he uttered no words to indicate the direction of his sympathies. If they were against the popular cause, it would hardly have been wise to show them, for the demonstration in favouring resistance grew stronger at every step we advanced, the whole of the banlieue of La Villette being up in arms and hurrying towards the gates.
There could be no question about the political tendencies of Aimé Martin. At every cut of his whip, and he was by no means sparing of them, he insulted the wretched horse which he goaded along the road, by giving it the name of some one or other of the obnoxious ministers. As, for instance:
“Allons donc, sacré animal de Polignac! En avant, bête de Chantelauze! Canaille de Ranville, que tu te crèves! Marche, farceur de Capelle !" &c.
Nor were loftier names spared, though they were not so openly uttered, for Monsieur Martin either suspected the politics of the military-looking traveller, or did not like the expression of his countenance.
All minor considerations, however, merged in the general excitement, as we got close up to the Barrière de Pantin. The gates, both here and at La Villette, were still held by the troops of the line, who at this early period of the Revolution had not begun to fraternise with the people; and admission, though loudly demanded by the menacing crowd outside, was literally impossible. As the cabriolet, therefore, had rendered us all the service of which it was capable, we jumped out, and resolved to pursue the rest of our way on foot.
“ Are you well acquainted with Paris ?" inquired my tall companion.
“ Not with this part of it,” I replied, “ I am more used to the other side of the river.”
“ Well, then, as you seem anxious to get in, I think I can show you a safe way. What quarter do you want to reach ?”
I named a street in the neighbourhood of the Rue de la Paix. “ So much the better, for it is there that I am also bound. Follow me.”
He turned as he spoke, and, striking into the road beneath the walls on the north side of the city, pushed on at a quick pace past the Barrière des Vertus (an out-of-the-way place for the Virtues to reside in, but, perhaps, the only safe one for them in Paris), and continued in the same direction till he reached the Barrière de St. Denis, where he paused to reconnoitre the guichet.
He found there, what he appeared to have expected, a party of soldiers on duty, to whom he was known. One of them, with a grizzled moustache, saluted him by the title of colonel, and immediately opened the gate; perceiving that I was in the company of the officer, he allowed me, also, to enter. The serjeant of the guard then made his appearance, and was eagerly questioned by the colonel as to the actual state of things in Paris; his answers were brief, but full of importance, and described the course which events had taken since the manifestation of public opinion had become general.
“ We had some slight affairs last night in the Faubourg," he said, “and from what I am able to judge, we shall have our hands full this evening.”
“And the regiment?" “ It bivouacked last night in the Place du Carrousel.” “I must join it as quickly as possible. What a cursed chance that I
array, as if
should have been sent from Paris at such a time as this. It is lucky, however, that I returned as I did. Young man,” continued the colonel, addressing me, you are going, you say, to the Rue de la Paix ; I will be your escort so far; after that, you must shift for yourself.”
I thought to myself that, considering all things, I stood a better chance of getting there in safety without the colonel's protection than with it ; however, I made no opposition, and we immediately set out.
It was no easy matter to force our way through the crowds that thronged the streets, and at every step we took in advance the tumult became greater ; every man was arming, at the corner of every street the paving stones were up, and, in the distance, parties of dragoons might be descried dashing along as to some place of rendezvous, or clearing the way of the mob that impeded them. At length, we reached the Boulevards, where a singular scene presented itself. On either hand, from the Porte St. Denis, as far as the eye could reach, was one enormous black mass of human beings rolling its tide in the direction of the Madeleine, and all moving in comparative silence with one steady impulse. Whoever looked fixedly in the countenances of these men as they raised them on their proud march, must have felt assured that they would never shrink from doing justice to the cause which had brought them from their homes, and that the cause itself was one which involved the question of life or death. The colonel smiled bitterly as he looked upon
their he thought how little their numbers would avail them against the disciplined skill of regular troops. At a later period, the opportunity was afforded him of testing the energies of a determined people ; at present, he was all impatience to proceed towards his destination, and at the first check of the crowd which caused a refoulement, and left a momentary gap in their previously solid ranks, he hastily dashed across the Boulevard, turned for one moment to see that I had followed him, and then, waving his hand in token of farewell, disappeared rapidly down one of the streets leading across the Rue Montmartre in the direction of the Tuileries.
The difficulty of making my way was hardly lessened now that I was within the Boulevards, for, at the intersections of all the principal streets, barricades were being raised, and not without cause, the charges of cavalry, in half-squadrons and heavier masses, becoming every moment more constant. It was a difficult matter for the troopers to keep their ground when once they had gained it, for, from every open window and nearly every house-top, missiles of all descriptions were rained, and as the soldiers retreated from the heavy shower, forth from their houses came the voluntary workmen, and eagerly piled up the stones which were to convert each street into a fortress.
By dint, however, of diverging to the right and left, as narrower streets afforded me the means, I contrived to thread my path, unscathed, until I reached the Rue St. Augustin, the chief object which I had in view being that of getting as speedily as I could to the hotel which M. de Courtine had named to me as the place where I should find Mr. St. John.
It stood in the Rue Louis le Grand, and, just at the moment when I was going to ask my way of the keeper of a cabaret, who stood in his shirt-sleeves, and with bared arms, handling the lock of a musket, no doubt for present use, I saw the name of the street before me, the house I wanted forming the corner where I stood. The porte cochère, like that of every other in the quartier, was closed, but the loud knock which I gave was not unanswered, the cordon was pulled, and the door gently opened, but I had scarcely squeezed myself through, when I heard a sharp voice desiring me to close it behind me directly. The speaker was a little, wizened, red-nosed, old man, whose head alone was visible at the half-opened window of the porter's lodge, wherein he was ensconced. He had on a seal-skin cap, but as I drew nearer to his gîte, I observed that a much more warlike head-gear stood on a table beside him ; it was nothing less than a dragoon's helmet, and beside it lay a sabre, in a rusty steel scabbard, attached to a waist-belt, all ready, apparently, for buckling on when the hour of danger arrived. En attendant that event, their proprietor was busily employed with a long spoon, stirring up some pottage, which simmered in an earthen pot, over a small pan of charcoal, on which—the pottage, not the charcoal—he purposed, no doubt, shortly to breakfast.
“What is your business here?” demanded this formidable concierge, flourishing his spoon with a military sweep, as if he were making a cut at his adversary's right cheek.
“I come," replied I, “from the Marquis de Courtine. I am the bearer of a letter to his friend Mr. St. John. Is he in the hotel, and can I see him?"
“ As to that,” said the concièrge—his name was Jacques—“I am not quite sure ; we will see presently. Diable ! then you belong to Monsieur le Marquis ? Where did he pick you up ?”
“Never mind that,” I returned; "it's too long a story to tell you now. You'll learn it from Bobèche one of these days, if you live long enough.”
“Ah!" ejaculated the old man, “ c'est bien ça ! nobody knows how long he may live in times like these.”
“You seem to be making preparations against the worst," I observed. “ You're getting your night-cap ready."
“ Yes; and when I've got it on, perhaps I shall sleep without rocking. Mais, dites donc; vous connaissez Bobèche ! N'est-ce pas que c'est un brave garçon ? Ah! he'll be sorry not to have been in Paris to-day; the sky will rain bullets before it's over. Tant mieux, he might be killed, and it's better the old should go first.”
With this he fell to stirring his pottage, with an air of abstraction, from which I ventured to rouse him, by repeating the question I had originally put to him.
“ Is Mr. St. John here?" I repeated, “and is he visible ?"
“ Certainly he is in the hotel; he arrived three days ago; a day too soon, I fancy,” continued Jacques, between his teeth; “ but as to being visible, that is another affair. I take it he is not up yet.”
“ Not up!" I exclaimed, “and this tremendous uproar going on in the streets—asleep in the midst of a revolution! You must make a mistake.”
“ Ecoutez, mon ami ; je connais mon homme ; at least, I think so. Just step here ; now look through the archway across the court-yard. Do you see that row of windows under which the grape-vine runs ?
“Yes; of course.”