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p93 My joy at having escaped from my prison — a joy which d'Avaray sincerely shared, — turned all our thoughts towards gaiety. And, accordingly, our first impulse, after crossing the threshold, was to sing a verse of the parody of the Opera of Penelope —
Ca prend bien,
Ils ne se doutent de rien."44
We met several people in the streets, and a patrole of the national guard. Nobody, however, thought of even looking to see whether there was any one in the carriage. Near the Pont Neuf d'Avaray told the coachman to drive to the Quatre Nations.45 We found our carriage waiting for us between the Mint and the Quatre Nations, in a kind of little street which is formed by the angles of these buildings. The coachman, who had already set down d'Avaray in the same place that morning, thought that we were going there, and was about to stop; but d'Avaray told him to drive to the front of the college, and it was there we alighted. The coachman p95 asked us whether we were satisfied with him? "So much so," replied d'Avaray, "that I shall probably employ you again the day after to‑morrow."
We then proceeded on foot to the travelling carriage, d'Avaray warning me to take care not to waddle46 as I walked. At last we reached it: I got in first, then Sayer, then d'Avaray; Peronnet got on horseback. We assumed an English accent, desired to be driven to the Bourget,47 and we set out. On reaching the Pont-Neuf, two post-carriages passed us, which had the immediate effect of making d'Avaray uneasy; but it was much worse when, after having changed our road to avoid them, they passed us again at the p96 Porte St. Martin; and it was clear that they were taking the same road as ourselves.
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Day overtook us near Nanteuil; then Sayer got on horseback, and Peronnet took his place in the carriage. He produced my diamonds, which he had brought away in his pockets, and we hid them between the lining and the p98 back of the carriage, pasting the lining again in its place. I took also the cork, which I mentioned before, and which d'Avaray had taken care to blacken, and I coloured my eyebrows with it, without caricature, but so as to disguise me perfectly. I moreover determined to appear48 asleep at all the posts, at least till we had got a good distance from Paris. I affected — and, in truth, I did not once fail — to foretell at our departure from each poste, from the look of the postillions, whether they would drive us well or ill. We had come admirably as far as Vertfeuil; but there I predicted that we should be driven very ill to Soissons, and I was not mistaken.
During this stage d'Avaray spoke to me of his intention to resign his regiment. I was not quite of his opinion; but I submitted to his reasons. He then told me that he had a mind to forward his resignation to Monsieur p99 du Portail49 from Soissons. I laughed at him about the place he had chosen, asking whether he thought he was to have more leisure there than at the other stages: nor did I approve his addressing Monsieur du Portail, knowing that it was the King's intention to dismiss all his ministers at the moment of his departure; but as d'Avaray added, that he intended to date his resignation on the 18th June, I had nothing more to object.
This postillion justified but too well the inference which I had drawn from his countenance; for nothing could drive worse. We agreed that he could be no other than the president of the jacobin society of Soissons. But although I seemed to make light of this, I felt, in truth, a real anxiety: I had within the last few miles discovered that I had forgotten p100 at Paris the image which my sister had given me; and, without being more devout than my neighbours, this loss really disturbed me, and gave me a great deal more anxiety than that of my cane and snuff-box.
On our arrival at Soissons, we found that one of the tires of the left front wheel was broken. This vexed us extremely; but it was much worse a moment after, when, on examining the wheel more closely, we found that the felly was broken also. D'Avaray showed no emotion; but then I saw perfectly what was passing in his mind. Not less uneasy than he, I endeavoured also to command myself. It seems that I succeeded; for he afterwards assured me that my serenity had restored his. They proposed that we should have a new felly made. We asked how long that would take: they answered, about two hours and a half. Being but an indifferent wheelwright, and ignorant, consequently, of any other mode of remedying p101 the accident, I looked at this loss of time with the greater anxiety, because it was now half-past eight o'clock. Our flight must be now known at Paris, and every moment of delay lost us some of the start which the night had given us; but d'Avaray, who, as I said, had recovered his coolness, thought of another expedient, which was, to bind the felly with a double clip of iron, and this the people agreed to adopt.
Whilst this work was going on, he first wrote his letter to Monsieur du Portail, which he inclosed in another to his brother-in‑law, Monsieur de Sourdis; he then went to hasten the smith. Thus left alone, I thought of looking into his portefeuille, which he had forgotten in the carriage; and there, with equal wonder and joy, I found the image which I thought I had left at Paris. But what completed my surprise was, that d'Avaray has since assured me, that in opening his portfolio, he had not been less surprised than p102 I was in finding the image; for he had not the least recollection of having put it there. The postmaster was standing near the carriage, and confiding, as I safely might, in my English accent, I chatted a good while with him, without observing any thing to lead me to fear that he even suspected who I was.
At last our wheel was mended, and they assured us that it would still go •twelve or fifteen leagues: that was, however, very far under our mark, for we were still •two-and‑thirty leagues from Mons; but, trusting a little to good luck, we gave ourselves no great uneasiness on this point, and set off again. But before we go further, I must mention a danger which we escaped without knowing it, and which certainly was the greatest that we ran.
M. de Tourzel had left Paris on the Thursday or Friday, and, to avoid creating suspicion, he had gone to spend two days at the house of the Archbishop of Narbonne at p103 Haute-Fontaine. His servant, who had no desire to leave France, went, in a moment of intoxication, to inform against him at the jacobin club at Attichy, near Haute-Fontaine, as an aristocrate who was going abroad to effect a counter-revolution. The club immediately sent a notice to those of the neighbouring towns, and amongst others to that of Soissons, for the arrest of all travellers; and the leaders of the club, placing themselves at the head of about sixty national guards, proceeded to Haute-Fontaine to secure M. de Tourzel: but finding that he was only a young man, with a boyish appearance, and that he was travelling in a simple cabriolet, they made light of the servant's information, and allowed the master to depart. It is probable that they also sent counter-orders to the neighbouring clubs, as we should otherwise inevitably have been stopped. I am not mistaken, however, in affirming that this was the greatest danger to which we p104 were exposed; and had I known the circumstance, we should certainly have taken another road.
The poste of Vaurains, between Soissons and Laon, is a solitary house, where there are no other persons than those attached to the poste, who were all busy with their horses. This seemed to me so good an opportunity of alighting, and relieving the stiffness in my legs, that I proposed doing so; but it was so firmly opposed by d'Avaray, that I was obliged to yield. I then proposed breakfasting. We had a pie and some claret, but we had forgotten bread; and whilst we eat the crust with the pie, we thought of Queen50 Maria Theresa, who hearing one day the poor people pitied for being in want of bread, replied, "But, dear me, why do they not eat pie-crust?"
D'Avaray then had a very bright thought, namely, to take Sayer again with us, and to p105 send Peronnet forward with the measure of our felly, to have a similar one made in case the iron band should not be sufficient, and by that means to avoid the danger of waiting two hours, from which we had just escaped.
Sayer informed us, by the way, that every body were persuaded we were really English, which gave us great pleasure: and he added, that he was every where told that we were going to Bruxelles; an idea which would have been very unpleasant if we had been taken for Frenchmen, but which, as we were thought Englishmen, became a matter of indifference. D'Avaray seeing him in a talking humour, led him to speak on the affairs of the times,51 upon which he spoke very freely; and, amongst other things, he said one which has much struck me since, which was, that they began p106 to consider the King as mad — fou. (I must observe that Sayer speaks French ill, and that the English word fool, which he must certainly have meant, has a very different signification from mad.) He also made an observation, with the truth of which I was struck; it was, that it cannot be said that there are really either aristocrats or democrats, because the man who has but a sixpence, to use his own expression, calls the possessor of a shilling an aristocrat.
In the mean time Peronnet had arrived at Laon, full three-quarters of an hour before us; but the wheelwright was gone to the upper town, and was not yet returned when we arrived. We had our wheel carefully examined, and having ascertained that it was in good condition, which were continued our journey, without thinking any more of having a new felly made.
It is impossible to be worse driven than we were from Vaurains, but particularly from p107 Laon to La Capelle. I began to fear that we should not arrive at Avesnes before the gates were shut, and I was thinking of going by Landrecy, where the poste is out of the town: this would, it is true, have lengthened our journey •four leagues; but this was a slight inconvenience compared to that of being stopped altogether: the uneasiness, however, which the slowness of the drivers occasioned to me, was soon absorbed in one of a more cruel description. D'Avaray, who had for some time become serious and taciturn, from having, in all former part of the journey, been lively and talkative, at last acknowledged to me, between Marle and Vervins, that he was spitting blood; and I saw but too much proof of it on his handkerchief, which I had seized by a kind of mechanical motion as soon as he had made that confession. Conceive what passed across my mind! I could not doubt that this accident was owing to the mental and bodily fatigues which he had p108 undergone in preparing for our departure, joined to the sleeplessº night which he had passed, and to the fatigue of the journey. I know that when this occurred to him it usually lasted several days, and I know enough of medicine to be aware that, in such cases, entire rest is the first and most indispensable remedy. Heaven knows that had he not been exposed, in case of arrest, to still greater dangers than myself, nothing on earth should have made me go on another step: but of that I was but too certain; so that every way I felt myself the assassin of one to whom I was attached by friendship, before I was bound to him by gratitude, and who, at that very moment, was giving me a proof of a faithful and courageous attachment. Notwithstanding the efforts I made, the impression on my mind showed itself too plainly in my countenance; he perceived it, and forgetting what he suffered, as well as overcoming the uneasy sensation excited by accident so that nature, he thought p109 only of consoling me, and of removing my fears on his account; telling me that it was of no consequence, that it was caused only by his being a little heated, and that he felt it was going off. I was no longer listening to what he said; I had turned towards Heaven, and I was praying with a fervency which I should certainly never have felt in praying for myself. I dare not believe that it was granted to my prayers; but certain it is, that the spitting of blood ceased, and did not occur again. I should be ill able to describe what I felt at first beholding saliva entirely white in his handkerchief, which I was examining every moment. These details will no doubt appear low, and even disgusting, to persons whose hearts are cold and unfeeling; but it is not for such that I write, and those who have any sensibility will feel differently.
On our arrival at La Capelle, we asked of the mistress of the poste, on her word of p110 honour and her oath, whether we might expect to reach Avesnes before the shutting of the gates? She assured us that we should not only be able to reach that place, but also to leave it, which afforded us much pleasure, as we were pretty certain it was the only place where we had any thing to fear. Presently after I heard a dispute between the woman and Peronnet, who alighted at every poste to pay; and this was the subject of it: we travelled with three horses, and paid generously thirty sous for them. She maintained (and, indeed, with justice), that as we were three in the carriage, we ought to pay for four horses. Peronnet maintained the contrary, and she threatened to make us take four horses and two drivers. We thought it somewhat whimsical to be staking for one moment our lives against ten sous, the difference between the charge for three horses at thirty sous each, and that for four horses at twenty-five sous each. D'Avaray told her p111 that she treated us in that manner because we were foreigners. "No," she said, "I should have a right to put six, if I pleased." "Well," I answered in bad French (convinced, by the laughing which my accent caused amongst all the postillions to whom I had spoken, that I was taken for a true Englishman, "put six horses; I only pay for five." She laughed. And then addressing Peronnet very seriously, I said to him, "Monsieur Perron, pay what madame demands: it shall not be said that Michael Foster has had a dispute with a lady about money matters." The tone I assumed, the gravity, the gestures, the accent, a thousand things, in short, which cannot be described in writing, rendered this the most comical scene in the world; but we knew better than to laugh.
We inquired what regiment was in garrison at Avesnes, and were told the regiment of Vintimille. This information was not p112 agreeable to d'Avaray, who had, two years before, given a dinner to the officers of this regiment. It was settled, however, that he should sit as back as possible in the carriage, and we set off. On the way the sun, which had not shone during any part of the day, showed itself sufficiently to oblige me to put up the blind; a circumstance which appears unimportant, but of which the consequences will soon be seen.
At the gate of Avesnes we were asked, as usual, our names, and whether we were to stop in the town? We answered, that we were two Englishmen, and that we should continue our journey. We presented our passports, which were not even looked at, and we reached the poste; but Sayer, who was much fatigued, and who had been told by everybody, and particularly by an Englishman who chanced to be there, that it was ridiculous for us to go further, as we could not expect to get in at Maubeuge, had yielded p113 to these representations, and had not ordered horses. We called for them immediately; but we had to wait for them a long quarter of an hour, just between the poste and the military coffee-house, which was full of officers. Fortunately the blind, which I mentioned before, protected us on the side of the coffee-house; and the officers even showed us the attention to prevent some town's-people from looking into the carriage. I observed, however, the uneasiness of d'Avaray, divided between the alarm which our situation caused him, and his anger with Sayer, by whom we had been placed in it: I endeavoured to quiet him, and easily succeeded. We set off at last; and as soon as we were out of the town, sang heartily "Victory is ours."
The postillion who drove us went at a good pace, and seemed to be what is called a determined fellow; but we observed, with some apprehension, that he frequently looked behind him: at length he stopped, and asked p114 whither we wished him to take us. "To the poste," I said. "Oh," he answered, the poste is a bad inn; I will take you to the Grand Cerf, where you will be in good quarters." "But," I said, "it matters not whether the quarters are good or bad; we do not intend to sleep at Maubeuge." "And where then do you want to go?" he asked. "To Mons," I replied. "To Mons," he said, laughing, "Oh! you will not get there to‑day." "And why not?" I asked. "Because," he answered, "it is quite enough if they open the gates to let us in; they will, most certainly, not open them to let us out again." "But," I said, "what need we care about the gates, open or shut, if the poste is not within the town of Maubeuge?" "It is within the town since the last six months," he answered. "Well," I said, "is there not a way to go round the town?" "Yes, there is," he replied. "Then, my friend," I said, "as we are much p115 pressed for time, and as your horses are good, could you not take us round the town, and double the poste? we will pay you well." "I?" he exclaimed, "I would not do it for the whole world!"
These few words opened upon me all the horrors of our situation; and seeing no further hope, I thought only of resigning myself to the fate which I foresaw but too well. My own sacrifice was easy; but that of d'Avaray cut me to my heart. However, d'Avaray, as calm as if there had not been any danger, began to speak in bad French, but with an eloquence which I shall not attempt to imitate, and said to the postillion that we were in a great hurry to get to Mons, having left his sister, my cousin, a charming girl that we loved excessively, very ill at Soissons; that the only physician in whom she had any confidence was at Mons; that if we lost time in fetching him, his sister would die, and we should be the most unhappy of men; and lastly, that if p116 he carried us through, he would give him one, two, three guineas. This speech, backed by the promise of the three guineas, produced a wonderful effect on the postillion; and after a moment's reflection, he said to us, "Well, I will take you." But, a moment after, he recommended to us not to enter Maubeuge, but to have the horses brought out to us: we observed to him that that would be as difficult; and he then told us that he was not well acquainted with the way through the suburb, but that he would take a guide. We took Sayer again into the carriage, making Peronnet mount on horseback to observe the postillion, and we set off again.
As soon as we got into the suburb, the postillion stopped, and entering a public house for some refreshment, asked for a guide. Some women who were in the house, and to whom he communicated some of the interest which our pretended situation had excited in him, told him that he could not p117 pass. "Why not," he said, "does the Pont Rouge no longer exist?" — "Yes," answered one of the women, "but there are works going on at the new Sambre; they say that three hundred workmen are employed upon them, and there are many trenches you will never get across." — "Only get me a guide, that is all I want." The woman who had spoken went to fetch her brother, who happened to be one of the workmen: he offered to conduct us to the trench, but he confirmed what his sister had said of the impossibility of crossing it. "If it were the devil," exclaimed the postillion, "I will pass: take a lantern, and show me the way." This conversation, as may well be supposed, afforded us no pleasure; but the resolution shown by the postillion gave us hopes.
Thus did we proceed across the fields, within a hundred paces of the ramparts of a fortified town, and tolerably certain of being p118 stopped, if there should be any sentry, who should see our lantern, and who should know his duty: we would willingly have compromised for their firing upon us with grape from the top of the ramparts on condition that they should not come out upon us. Having arrived at the trench, I wished to pass it on foot, but the postillion would not allow it: he alighted, and having reconnoitred the trench, he found a spot, where, although deep, it was not broad; he mounted his horse again, and carried us across as cleverly as possible: the guide conducted as long as we were in the fields, leaving us at last when we were on the high road; and at last we took that of Mons, with a certainty of arriving there without impediment.
44 It must be confessed that the author's mode of expressing his satisfaction was not very noble, nor very suitable to his own circumstances and to those of the rest of his family.
45 Also called the College de Mazarin, now-a‑days l'Institut de France.
46 Dandiner. The gait both of the King and of his brother was so very peculiar, as to render it, in the opinion of their attendants, necessary to convey them away in carriages, although it is evident that this latter mode increased the difficulty of keeping the secret.
47 The first stage out of Paris on the Flanders road.
48 This simple precaution would have saved Louis XVI from detection at St. Menehoud.
49 Monsieur du Portail was an officer of engineers, had served with La Fayette in America, and who was now, through his interest, minister of the war department.
50 The queen of Louis XIV.
51 It must be recollected that this English servant did not know who his master's friend was. The observations which so much struck the author are not very profound.
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