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- The Reign Of Terror - 10/50 -
Harry had read in a book in the library of the chateau an account of the frightful excesses perpetrated by the Jacquerie. That dreadful insurrection had been crushed out by the armour-clad knights of France; but who was to undertake the task should such a flame again burst out? The nobles no longer wore armour, they had no armed retainers; they would be a mere handful among a multitude. The army had already shown its sympathy with the popular movement, and could not be relied upon. That the marquis himself should face out any danger which might come seemed to Harry right and natural; but he thought that he was wrong not to send his wife and daughters, and at any rate Jules, across the Rhine until the dangers were passed.
But the marquis had no fears. Some one had mentioned the Jacquerie in one of their conversations, but the marquis had put it aside as being altogether apart from the question.
"The Jacquerie took place," he said, "hundreds of years ago. The people then were serfs and little more than savages. Can we imagine it possible that at this day the people would be capable of such excesses?"
The answer of the gentleman he addressed had weighed little with the marquis, but Harry thought over it seriously.
"Civilization has increased, marquis, since the days of the Jacquerie, but the condition of the people has improved but little. Even now the feudal usages are scarce extinct. The lower class have been regarded as animals rather than men; and the increase of civilization which you speak of, and from which they have received no benefit, makes them hate even more bitterly than of old those in position above them.
"I am a reformer; I desire to see sweeping changes; I want a good, wise, and honest government; and I desire these things because I fear that, if they do not come peacefully they will come in a tempest of lawlessness and vengeance."
"Well, they are getting all they want," the marquis said peevishly. "They are passing every law, however absurd, that comes into their hands. No one is opposing them. They have got the reins in their own hands. What on earth can they want more? There might have been an excuse for rebellion and riot two years since - there can be none now. What say you, abbe?"
The abbe seldom took part in conversations on politics, but, being now appealed to, he said mildly:
"We must allow for human nature, monsieur. The slave who finds himself free, with arms in his hands, is not likely to settle down at once into a peaceful citizen. Men's heads are turned with the changes the last two years have brought about. They are drunk with their own success, and who can say where they will stop? So far they find no benefit from the changes. Bread is as dear as ever, men's pockets are as empty. They thought to gain everything - they find they have got nothing; and so they will cry for more and more change, their fury will run higher and higher with each disappointment, and who can say to what lengths they will go? They have already confiscated the property of the church, next will come that of the laity."
"I had no idea you were such a prophet of evil, abbe," the marquis said with an uneasy laugh, while feelings of gloom and anxiety fell over the others who heard the abbe's words.
"God forbid that I should be a prophet!" the old man said gravely. "I hope and trust that I am mistaken, and that He has not reserved this terrible punishment for France. But you asked me for my opinion, marquis, and I have given it to you."
Despite these forebodings the winter of 1790 passed without disturbance at the chateau.
In the spring came news of disorder, pillage, and acts of ruffianism in various parts. Chateaux and convents were burned and destroyed, and people refused to pay either their taxes or rents to their landlords. In the south the popular excitement was greater than in other parts. In Burgundy there was for the most part tranquility; and the marquis, who had always been regarded as an indulgent seigneur by the people of his estate, still maintained that these troubles only occurred where the proprietors had abused their privileges and ground down the people.
CHAPTER IV The Clouds Gather
Occasionally and at considerable intervals Harry received letters from his father. The latter said that there was great excitement in England over the events which had taken place in France, and that his mother was rendered extremely anxious by the news of the attacks upon chateaux, and the state of tumult and lawlessness which prevailed. They thought he had better resign his situation and return home.
Harry in his replies made light of the danger, and said that after having been treated so kindly it would be most ungrateful of him to break the engagement he had made for three years, and leave his friends at the present moment. Indeed, he, like all around him, was filled with the excitement of the time. In spite of the almost universal confusion and disorder, life went on quietly and calmly at the chateau. The establishment was greatly reduced, for few of the tenants paid their rents; but the absence of ceremonial brought the family closer together, and the marquis and his wife agreed that they had never spent a happier time than the spring and summer of 1791.
The news of the failure of the king's attempt at flight on the 2Oth of June was a great shock to the marquis. "A king should never fly" he said; "above all, he should never make an abortive attempt at flight. It is lamentable that he should be so ill-advised." At the end of September the elections to the Legislative Assembly as it was now to be called, resulted in the return of men even more extreme and violent than those whom they succeeded.
"We must go to Paris," the marquis said one day towards the end of October. "The place for a French nobleman now is beside the king."
"And that of his wife beside the queen," the marquise said quietly.
"I cannot say no," the marquis replied. "I wish you could have stayed with the children, but they need fear no trouble here. Ernest is nearly seventeen, and may well begin, in my absence, to represent me. I think we can leave the chateau without anxiety, but even were it not so it would still be our duty to go."
"There is another thing I want to speak to you about before we start," the marquise said. "Jeanne is no longer a child, although we still regard her as one; she is fifteen, and she is graver and more earnest than most girls of her age. It seems ridiculous to think of such a thing, but it is clear that she has made this English lad her hero. Do you not think it better that he should go? It would be unfortunate in the extreme that she should get to have any serious feelings for him."
"I have noticed it too, Julie," the marquis said, "and have smiled to myself to see how the girl listens gravely to all he says, but I am not disposed to send him away. In the first place, he has done a great deal of good to the boys, more even than I had hoped for. Ernest now thinks and speaks for himself, his ideas are broader, his views wider. He was fitted before for the regime that has passed; he is rapidly becoming fit to take his part in that which is to come.
"In the next place, my dear, you must remember the times have changed. Mademoiselle Jeanne de St. Caux, daughter of a peer and noble of France, was infinitely removed from the son of an English doctor; but we seem to be approaching the end of all things; and although so far the law for the abolition of titles has been disregarded here, you must prepare yourself to find that in Paris you will be no longer addressed by your title, and I shall be Monsieur de St. Caux; or may be they will object both to the de and the St., and I shall find myself plain Monsieur Caux."
"Oh, Edouard!" the marquise exclaimed aghast.
"I am quite in earnest, my dear, I can assure you. You will say she is still the heiress of a portion of our estates, but who can say how long the estates will remain after the title is gone? Just as the gentlemen of the pave object to titles because they have none themselves, so being penniless they will object to property, and for aught I know may decree a general division of lands and goods."
"Not at all impossible, Julie. The beggars are on horseback, and they intend to ride. Last week I called in from my bankers, all the cash at my disposal, about five thousand louis, and to-morrow du Tillet is going to start for Holland. He will hand it over to a banker there to forward to Dr. Sandwith, to whom I have written asking him to undertake the charge. If you will take my advice you will forward at the same time all your jewelry. If things go wrong it will keep us in our old age and furnish a dot for our daughters.
"The jewels of the St. Caux have always been considered as equal to those of any family in France, and are certainly worth half a million francs even to sell. Keep a few small trinkets, and send all the others away. But I have wandered from my subject. Under these circumstances I think it as well that we should not interfere in the matter you speak of. Personally one could not wish for a better husband for one of our daughters than this young Englishman would make.
"His father is a gentleman, and so is he, and in such times as are coming I should be glad to know that one of my girls had such a protector as he would make her; but this is, as you said at first, almost ridiculous. He is two years older than she is, but in some respects she is the elder; he regards her as a pretty child, and all his thoughts are given to his studies and his sports.
"He has something of the English barbarian left in him, and is absolutely indifferent to Jeanne's preference. A French lad at his age would be flattered. This English boy does not notice it, or if he notices it regards it as an exhibition of gratitude, which he could well dispense with, for having saved her life.
"You can leave them with a tranquil heart, my dear. I will answer for it that never in his inmost heart has the idea of his ever making love to Jeanne occurred to this English lad. Lastly I should
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