Sivut kuvina

their lips.

fortress, passed by him shyly and nervously, and often with subdued curses

upon • Then there appeared suddenly at a corner of the road which had been hidden by projecting bushes, a division of cuirassiers, coming towards the Emperor at a slow pace and riding in the direction of Sedan.

"The Emperor reined in his horse, and stood still in astonishment, looking on this small group, which rode along the deserted road in the midst of the raging conflict as though in the profoundest peace.

' The appearance of these splendid, fine cavaliers in their shining helmets, on their strong dark horses, was sorrowful and dark. When they observed the Emperor, who had halted in the middle of the road and awaited their arrival, the foremost troop opened itself, and in the midst of the small procession there appeared a wooden stretcher borne by soldiers, on which there lay stretched a man, with a gold-laced kepi covered with a cloak, with the upper part of his body raised and resting on his arm.

“ My God!” cried the Prince de la Moskowa, in a tone of the greatest horror, “it is Marshal MacMahon-he is wounded—what a misfortune !"

* The Emperor also had recognised the Marshal; his eye directed a look of sorrowful reproof towards heaven-he touched the flanks of his horse with the spurs, and with two bounds of the noble beast he was beside the bier.

6. What a heavy blow!” he cried, bending down to the wounded man, who was supported by the Colonel Marquis d'Abzac, the adjutant of the Marshal, who lay his arm about his shoulder; "what a heavy blow, my dear duke! but by all appearances there is no danger."

The interview between the wounded Marshal and the broken-down Emperor, who had so often stood side by side in prosperity, amid the splendour and glory of camp and court, was necessarily a painful one to both. They separated with a touching but despairing farewell; the Marshal was borne along on his stretcher to Sedan, while the Emperor turned his horse in the opposite direction towards Balan.

• Napoleon approached nearer and nearer to the troops who were engaged in fighting. He was almost arrived at the village of Balan, when out of the nearest houses of this place the French troops came in flight, with terror on their countenances, the greater part without arms, and rushing along with faces streaming with blood.

* The Prince de la Moskowa leapt forward and reined in his horse with a sudden check before a group of fugitives, so that they were compelled to stop themselves before the hoofs of the rearing steed.

"“Whence came you? What has happened ? ” cried the General.

6 " All is lost,” replied the soldiers, speaking and screeching wildly all together. “Bazeilles is taken-our corps is defeated—the enemy will soon be here—they are too strong in artillery. There is no resisting their cannon, they mow down whole bodies of us at once.”

* The Emperor looked steadily and silently forwards. The noise of

the battle drew continually nearer towards Balan, the clattering of the fire of musketry, and the thud of the heavy cannon.

"“Hold !” exclaimed the Prince de la Moskowa; “shall French soldiers abandon victory in hasty, cowardly flight because the enemy has pressed forward for a moment. Halt? back to your corps, it is important to defend this village."

. But his words were in vain. The fugitives passed by bis horse, through the group of the generals, through the foot guards, on the way towards Sedan with the cry,

«“Everyone for himself ! All is lost ! All is finished ! Down with the Emperor-down with the generals who have betrayed us ! On, on!”

* The cent gardes rode up. The generals surrounded the Emperor, who sat bowed down upon his horse, with his hand lightly weighing on the pummel of the saddle, and looking stedfastly with an expressionless stare on the fugitives who shouted curses at him.'

We pass over the rest of the details of this unexampled rout: the vain attempts to rally the French soldiers, the interview with General Wimpfen, who now took the command, the return of the Emperor to Sedan, the hoisting of the white flag at his command within the fortress, the Emperor's vain attempt on the next morning by a personal visit to Count Bismarck to obtain better terms of capitulation for his officers and troops, and, as a last example of the dramatic power of the author, give the description of the interview between the Emperor and the King of Prussia.

The interview took place in the modest maison de campagne of a manufacturer of the name of Amour, in which the Emperor, now a prisoner of war, had been lodged by the care of Count Bismarck; and here the King of Prussia visited him with his staff.

* The Emperor stepped out of the salon and advanced towards the King. He wore the blue undress coat of a French general's uniform, the red military forage cap, and, as on yesterday's field of battle, the medal for the Italian campaign and the sword of the Swedish Order of the Sword, by the side of the star of the Legion of Honour.

' As soon as the Emperor had reached the King he took off his military cap, the King stretched out his right hand towards him. The Emperor, who held his cap in his right hand, seized the hand of the King with his left, and stood for a moment in agitation and lightly shuddering; then he greeted the Crown Prince, who remained behind in an ante-room, while he went alone with the Emperor into an inner apartment, of which the Crown Prince shut the door.

The two monarchs, the victorious King and the vanquished, captive Emperor, remained for a moment opposite in silence.

I am sorry, Sire,” said the King softly, without any harshness in his voice, “ that it has come to this point, that we stand thus face to


[ocr errors]

face. God has given me the victory in the war which bas been declared against me."

““ It was not I,” interrupted the Emperor, “who desired war; public opinion in France has forced me to begin war."

““I am convinced of it," answered the King. “Your Majesty has declared war in order to give satisfaction to public opinion ; but your ministers made this public opinion-artificially produced it.'

• The Emperor sighed.
· A little pause succeeded.

• “The French army, Sire," said the King, “has fought, I must confess with admiration, with great bravery, and made the victory difficult for us."

6." Yes, they are brave soldiers," answered the Emperor sadly; " but their discipline was in a bad state. Your Majesty's troops are astonishing for discipline."

"" The Prussian army has always made it a duty,” remarked the King, “ to adopt all the new and good ideas, and to make use of the experiences of other nations."

" Your artillery, Sire,” said the Emperor, in a livelier tone than he had yet spoken, “is the best in the world-it won the battle. I am personally defeated by your artillery.”

"The King made a bow.

"“ The artillery especially has also devoted itself to learn of the experiences of other nations," he replied.

• “And your cavalry, too, has moved me with much admiration. They surrounded your army as with a veil, which made it impossible to find out their movements."

•“ Prince Frederick Carl," he continued, “ decided the fate of yesterday-his army broke through our most important positions."

““ Prince Frederick Carl ?" asked the King in astonishment. “Your Majesty deceives yourself; the army of my son was before Sedan, and contributed essentially to the gaining of the battle."

"“And where is Prince Frederick Carl ? ” asked the Emperor in surprise.

"" He stands with his corps d'armée before Metz,” repeated the King.

* The almost grey face of the Emperor became still paler, his eyes closed themselves as he grasped spasmodically the arms of his chair.

““ I thought the army of the Prince had also followed our march," he said, as he recovered himself again with difficulty.'

After the King and the Crown Prince had taken leave of the Emperor, the latter gave orders for his journey to Wilhelmshöhe, the place which had been assigned to him for a residence, as though nothing unusual had happened.'

The remainder of the political scenes pass in Paris. The effects of the news of the terrible reverse at Sedan on the

gove ernment and the people, the aspects of the streets, the plottings of the future leaders of the Commune-Delecluze, Varlin, Cluseret, Raoul Rigault, at the back of the Café de Madrid, the disturbed counsels of the Empress, and her flight, form the leading incidents of the last pages. Here we are able to test the fidelity of the writer's narrative in some measure by personal experience, and the result has not been such as to lead us to prize very highly the author's accuracy in his descriptions, either of popular scenes or of the actions of individuals. Those who were present during this period in Paris can assert that the news of the disaster of Sedan was disseminated in the capital in quite a different way, and that its effect upon the population was very different from that which is here related.

In the first place, the popularity of Trochu, whom he here describes as all-powerful even before Sedan, did not commence till after that event. Palikao was then the leading figure in the political arena, and he certainly played his part in throwing dust in the eyes of the Parisians with the art of a consummate comic actor, now inventing wondrous tales of whole corps d'armée of the hostile forces being driven headlong into the Carrières de Jaumont; now informing the Legislative Assembly that if military reasons did not oblige him to maintain silence as to the facts he knew, all Paris would be illuminated; and now escaping from the inconvenient necessity of answering importunate questions by pleading incapacity of speech, on account of the ball which an old soldier had lodged in his breast depuis vingt-cinq ans.'

The news, too, of the defeat of Sedan reached the metropolis in quite a different shape. For days, it is true, there had been, in spite of the assurances of Palikao, vague suspicions that a great disaster was impending, and groups were formed in the streets in which the news of the day was discussed, but that in the quietest fashion; and it is by no means true that curses were pronounced on all sides against the Emperor; on the contrary, people had ceased to occupy themselves about the Imperial family at all. Their talk was of Bazaine and MacMahon, and the communications of the Comte Palikao. The Bonapartist faction was so invisible that it seemed to be utterly extinguished. The streets and the quays and the Champs Elysées could not, when the news of the defeat at Sedan was promulgated, have sounded with men crying, ‘Down • with the Empire: long live the Republic!' for the reason that the Government had taken care that the news of the greatest defeat the French nation ever suffered should only be proclaimed at midnight, when the working classes were asleep. It is true that a crowd of people congregated on the Place de la Concorde; but they were in a great part composed of persons in evening costume, who had come there at that late hour


and chiefly from evening parties and theatres to hear news which it was understood would be given out that evening at the Corps Législatif. Rumours of disaster rapidly spread through this large crowd; but they were discussed calmly among well-dressed groups, and not a cry or shout of any kind was to be heard. It was then reported that the Government despatch which had brought news of the defeat would be read out at the different mairies in the capital, and the assemblage separated. Many went to hear the despatch proclaimed at the mairies in their neighbourhood; we ourselves went to one of them; we heard the despatch read out in solemn silence to the crowd. One man alone uttered a cry of exultation at the words, · The Emperor was taken prisoner ; and he was reproved quietly by the bystanders ; not on account of any sympathy with the Emperor, but because it was thought such a manifestation was unseemly towards one who had been so recently the head of the French nation. The account, too, of the escape of the Empress from Paris is mixed up with a number of romantic details which we believe not to have the slightest foundation. It was reported at the time, and we believe the fact to be true, that she went off quietly and without any difficulty at all in the brougham of a weīl-known American dentist. The imperfect impression which the pages of Herr Meding convey of scenes of which we were eyewitnesses would lead us therefore not to give much historical value to his work, except in those parts in which he may have had exceptional opportunities for making acquaintance with the chief actors in the events with which he deals, as may, doubtless, have been the case with certain of the personages whom he puts upon the scene.

It must, however, be allowed on all sides that he has made a very original and audacious attempt to present history under the guise of fiction, or, it may be, fiction under the guise of history. The extraordinary character of the events he relates and the portraits of living persons, well-known in the society of the present day, give a peculiar interest to these novels; and we do not doubt that to many readers they will seem to convey an accurate picture of the occurrences and the actor's whom they describe.

« EdellinenJatka »