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One of the worst features of my domicile was the vicinity to it, right opposite, though separated by a wall, of the women's court, whence, from eight in the morning till seven at night, issued a perfect torrent of stunning vociferation, couched in the lowest and coarsest and most depraved terms to be found in our own or any language, and sounds of riot, which the jailers were often obliged to rush in to quell. On this same court, be it remembered, had looked out the two windows of the prison of the unfortunate Queen Marie Antoinette ! This chamber, which I had daily to pass through during my sojourn, was a large waste place, divided by a sort of pillar forming two arches, with a brick floor whose obsolete designs indicated extreme antiquity. How often did I walk up and down this prison when about to become a prey to despondency! How often did I blush there for complaining of a lot which, be it what it might, could not transcend in horror that endured by a queen of France !
I had denied myself, since my imprisonment, the visits of my daughter, now nearly fourteen, from the dread of deepening her sorrows by the sad realities of a dungeon. But my wife having sent her to receive my blessing on the eve of her first communion, it was in vain that í strove to keep within bounds my long-repressed affections. On seeing before me my only child, adorned with all the charms of youth, first drowned in tears in my arms, and then stretched in a deep swoon at my feet, my heart was torn with inexpressible parental anguish, and for the first time awakened to the full extent of my misfortunes. I was wholly unable to control my grief; my silent tears mingled with the sobs of my child; and when I laid my hands on her head, the words of blessing died away on my lips.
'This scene, as I have said, first roused me to a true sense of my situation, and my kind and zealous legal defenders drew aside, in their consultations, a part at least of the veil which had hitherto blinded me to it. My chief adviser, Monsieur Tripier, a clear, logical-headed man, prepared for my defence by first attacking me on every vulnerable point of my case. “ What business had I at the post-office? Why had I gone thither so early? Why did I despatch a courier to meet the emperor? Why take upon me to stop the royal proclamation, while accelerating by the same posts the bulletin of Napoleon ?” My answers appeared to him candid and straightforward, but insufficient to secure my acquittal. Yet up to the eve of my sentence, his opinion was, that I should be condemned to five years' imprisonment for my unauthorised resumption of office. What, however, engrossed far more of my thoughts than even my trial, was the situation of my wife, whose new-born infant—the long-wished-for son on whom I reckoned to console her in the event of my loss, and her cares for whom might reconcile her to survive me—had been taken from her suddenly, after an illness
of a few short hours. My anxieties on her account, in the event of my condemnation, grew quite dreadful—the calamities attendant on revolutions having deprived her of nearly all her near relatives. Her father, indeed, survived, and had returned to France, but bringing with him a second wife and family; and residing, as he did, at à distance from Paris, could offer little in the way of present protection.
'It was amid these dismal reflections that my trial began, the first day of which was marked by animosity, and was stormy and unfavourable; though towards its close, prejudices seemed giving way, and on the second, matters appeared taking a more favourable turn. Just as the jury, about six in the evening, were going to retire to consider their verdict, a question arose, on which its fate turned, between my counsel and that for the crown, as to the order of putting the questions : ‘Was I guilty of conspiracy, or only of a usurpation of power?' If put in this order, and separately, no act of conspiracy having been proved, the capital offence and consequent penalty fell to the ground, and the misdemeanour, carrying imprisonment, alone remained. But this was not the aim of my prosecutors, and they prevailed to have the questions joined in one; and thus working partly on the timidity and partly on the humanity of the jury, by assuring them that an example of clemency was alone now wanted by the government, and an opportunity of pardoning in my person (Ney being already executed) the third great state offender.
During the deliberation I was taken back to prison, and a kind young friend volunteered to keep me company. After a very melancholy dinner, wishing to keep up his hopes, though my own were at an end, I proposed to him our usual game at chess, and won it, contrary to my custom, as he was more than my match. But indeed, poor fellow ! as the night wore on, his firmness gave way with it, and when, at ten o'clock, obliged to take leave, he fairly melted into tears. I remained alone two endless hours longer, and at midnight was summoned back to hear my sentence. The verdict had been read in my absence, and it was easy for me to gather its tenor from the ominous silence which reigned in the vast hall, whose benches were still occupied, and even by women, among whom I in vain sought for a single compassionate glance. One juryman alone had his face buried in his handkerchief. It was Monsieur Jurien, a returned emigrant, whose nomination I had looked upon as peculiarly disastrous, yet who, I afterwards learned, had for six hours advocated my cause in a jury where eight out of twelve had voted against me.
* The judges returned, for form's sake, for a few moments; but I had read my doom in many a countenance ere the president pronounced aloud the article of the code which involved capital punishment ! I was pronounced guilty, and doomed to death under the guillotine. As I went back to my cell, the turnkey met and questioned me. “ All is up with me !” said I; and the man recoiled as if he had received a shot. Hitherto, and in public, I had kept up; but night and solitude gave full effect to the terrible words : 'Guilty of death !' My first impulse was again an indignant one. I strode rapidly through my cell, appealing to France and the whole world against an iniquitous sentence; but by degrees I grew calm, and exhausted nature found oblivion in sleep.
My earliest care next day was how to break the sad tidings to Madame Lavalette. I wrote to the Princess de Vaudemont and another old female friend, who hastened to her, and whose deep mourning garb made her at once aware of their mission. But the princess, a woman of firm, decided character insisted on dictating a letter to the Duke de Duras, first gentleman of the bedchamber, soliciting an interview with the king. It was granted, contrary to all expectation, Mesdames Ney and Labédoyère having been refused ; but the hopes it gave rise to proved cruelly delusive.
'Led by the hand by Monsieur de Duras through all the assembled courtiers to the king's closet, my wife fell at the feet of Louis XVIII., who said to her : “ Madam, I have at once received you, to give you a mark of my deep interest.” He added no more; but the words had been overheard, and were whispered abroad in the ante-room as Madame Lavalette passed. Her grief, her beauty, the grace and nobleness of her demeanour, notwithstanding her deep dejection, affected all who beheld her. It was remembered that she was the daughter of an emigrant, and no one doubted that a pardon would follow, since the king had granted the audience. It was not, however, thus to be.
"The next day, for the first time during four months, we met, and her paleness, her thinness, her deep depression, shocked mé dreadfully. She fell speechless into my arms, unable during the first hour to articulate a single word. At length she slowly came to herself, and I drew from her the particulars of her interview with the king. For her sake and that of my child I assented to appeal, as I had the right of doing, against my sentence to the Court of Cassation; though my first impulse had been to shrink from the torturing suspense of the month, perhaps, which might intervene before its decision. During this period I strove to familiarise myself, by means of closely interrogating the jailers, with all the horrible minutiæ of the scaffold and its preliminaries; and though at first the very marrow in my bones seemed frozen at their cold circumstantial recitals, by degrees I got wonderfully hardened, and could listen without blenching. The mode of execution alone revolted and disgusted me; and while the jailer, who informed me of poor Ney's fate, and told me he had been shot, thought me mad because I said he was a happy fellow !” I left no stone unturned to procure for myself a similar soldier's death.
'I failed ; and not death itself could be more bitter than the terms in which this was conveyed by some on whose gratitude I had strong claims; while from others, especially the Duke of Ragusa (from whom circumstances had estranged 'me), I received the most unexpected testimonies of devoted interest. He proved it when, on the confirmation of my sentence, and the extinction of all hope, save from the royal clemency, he risked, and actually lost his favour at court, by introducing my poor wife once more to the presence of the monarch. "It was in vain. Repulsed in all directions, she remained sitting for above an hour on the stone steps of the court, without one of the numerous comers and goers venturing to bestow on her the smallest token of recognition or compassion ; and at length, worn out in body and mind, and deprived of all hope from man, she returned, broken-hearted, to my dungeon.
‘My hours, I felt, were now literally numbered, only forty-eight remaining of the three days allowed for the condemned to apply for a pardon. All my friends were in consternation; the jailers themselves avoided my presence; even Eberle, the one employed about my prison, had no longer the heart to address me, but moved silently about the room, scarcely seeming to know what he was doing.
On the Tuesday night I said to him : “It is usually on Friday, is it not, that executions take place ?” “Sometimes on Thursdays," said he, smothering a sigh. “At four o'clock in the afternoon generally ?” asked I. “ Sometimes in the morning,” he replied, hastily running out, without ever remembering to shut the door behind him. A female turnkey from the women's ward happening to pass by, and observing this, slipped into my room, and passionately kissing my cross of the Legion of Honour, rushed out again, drowned in tears; and thus it was to a woman I had scarcely seen, and never spoken to, I owed the certain knowledge of my impending fate.
“My wife came as usual at six o'clock to dine with me, accompanied by a female relation. When we were alone, she said :
There no longer remains a hope for us but in one plan, which I am going to propose. You must leave this at eight o'clock in my clothes, along with my cousin, and go in my sedan-chair to such a street ; Monsieur Baudus will have a cabriolet in waiting, to conduct you to a retreat he has secured for you, where you will remain in safety till you can quit the country." I listened and looked at her in silence. Her voice was so firm, and her aspect so calm, she seemed so persuaded of success, that I hesitated to reply; and yet her project appeared to me sheer madness, and I was obliged at last to tell her so. At the first word she interrupted me. “No objections," said she ; "your death will be mine; so do not reject my proposal. My conviction of its success is deep, for God, I feel, sustains me.”
'In vain did I urge the innumerable jailers who surrounded her
every night when she left, the turnkey who always handed her to her chair, the impossibility of so disguising myself as to deceive them; and, above all, my invincible reluctance to leave her in the hands of miscreants whó, in their first rage at my escape, might actually maltreat her. I was forced to leave off, her increasing paleness and agitation precluding all remonstrance. I could only pacify her by a seeming consent, remarking, however, that if success could be looked for in such a wild scheme, it could only be by stationing the cabriolet much nearer to the prison, as, in the course of nearly an hour's journey, a sedan-chair could not fail to be overtaken, nor could I perform the distance on foot in women's garb without similar danger.
These considerations induced her to agree to defer till next day (the last I had to call my own) the execution of her plan ; and exacting my solemn promise then to make the attempt, she left me, in some degree quieted and comforted.'
ESCAPE FROM PRISON.
The plan of escape proposed by Madam Lavalette was not new in the annals of female devotedness. The same means had been successfully employed by the Countess of Nithsdale to aid the escape of her husband from the Tower of London, on the night preceding that designed for his execution (February 23, 1716).* Whether Madame Lavalette was acquainted with the particulars of this heroic incident, is unknown : they were not at least likely to be remembered on the present occasion by the functionaries of the conciergerie, and hence the plan of escape had all the benefit of being new and unexpected.
Lavalette himself, however, had serious misgivings as to the propriety of so hazardous a project. “The more,' says he, ' I reflected on the scheme suggested for my escape by my wife, the more hopeless did it appear.
Not only was she taller than myself, but her figure was slight and agile ; while I, greatly as confinement had reduced me, was still too much the reverse for the jailers, who saw both daily, to be taken in. And then I was so thoroughly prepared to die! I had so often, and at length so firmly rehearsed the cruel drama, even to the dreary journey in the cart, and the last offices of the executioner; and now I was to mingle a possible burlesque with all this tragedy, most likely to be retaken in my woman's disguise, nay, perhaps exposed in' it to the derision of the public ! But, on the other hand, my poor wife, so happy, so secure in the success of her project, to refuse my concurrence in it would be to kill her.
'While lost in these tormenting conflicts, she arrived, and after communicating to me the distressing results of some other unavail
* See Tract, 'Last Earl of Derwentwater.'