Paris had just heard of the disaster of Sedan.
The Republic was proclaimed. All France was panting from a madness
that lasted until the time of the commonwealth. Everybody was
playing at soldier from one end of the country to the other.
Capmakers became colonels, assuming the duties
of generals; revolvers and daggers were displayed on large rotund
bodies enveloped in red sashes; common citizens turned warriors,
commanding battalions of noisy volunteers and swearing like troopers
to emphasize their importance.
The very fact of bearing arms and handling guns
with a system excited a people who hitherto had only handled scales
and measures and made them formidable to the first comer, without
reason. They even executed a few innocent people to prove that they
knew how to kill, and in roaming through virgin fields still
belonging to the Prussians they shot stray dogs, cows chewing the
cud in peace or sick horses put out to pasture. Each believed
himself called upon to play a great role in military affairs. The
cafes of the smallest villages, full of tradesmen in uniform,
resembled barracks or field hospitals.
Now the town of Canneville did not yet know the
exciting news of the army and the capital. It had, however, been
greatly agitated for a month over an encounter between the rival
political parties. The mayor, Viscount de Varnetot, a small thin
man, already old, remained true to the Empire, especially since he
saw rising up against him a powerful adversary in the great,
sanguine form of Dr Massarel, head of the Republican party in the
district, venerable chief of the Masonic lodge, president of the
Society of Agriculture and the Fire Department and organizer of the
rural militia designed to save the country.
In two weeks he had induced sixty-three men to
volunteer in defense of their country--married men, fathers of
families, prudent farmers and merchants of the town. These he
drilled every morning in front of the mayor's window.
Whenever the mayor happened to appear Commander
Massarel, covered with pistols, passing proudly up and down in front
of his troops, would make them shout, "Long live our country!" And
this, they noticed, disturbed the little viscount, who no doubt
heard in it menace and defiance and perhaps some odious recollection
of the great Revolution.
On the morning of the fifth of September, in
uniform, his revolver on the table, the doctor gave consultation to
an old peasant couple. The husband had suffered with a varicose vein
for seven years but had waited until his wife had one too, so that
they might go and hunt up a physician together, guided by the
postman when he should come with the newspaper.
Dr Massarel opened the door, grew pale,
straightened himself abruptly and, raising his arms to heaven in a
gesture of exaltation, cried out with all his might, in the face of
the amazed rustics:
"Long live the Republic! Long live the Republic!
Long live the Republic!"
Then he dropped into his armchair weak with
When the peasant explained that this sickness
commenced with a feeling as if ants were running up and down his
legs the doctor exclaimed: "Hold your peace. I have spent too much
time with you stupid people. The Republic is proclaimed! The Emperor
is a prisoner! France is saved! Long live the Republic!" And,
running to the door, he bellowed: "Celeste! Quick! Celeste!"
The frightened maid hastened in. He stuttered,
so rapidly did he try to speak" "My boots, my saber--my cartridge
box--and--the Spanish dagger which is on my night table. Hurry now!"
The obstinate peasant, taking advantage of the
moment's silence, began again: "This seemed like some cysts that
hurt me when I walked."
The exasperated physician shouted: "Hold your
peace! For heaven's sake! If you had washed your feet oftener, it
would not have happened." Then, seizing him by the neck, he hissed
in his face: "Can you not comprehend that we are living in a
But the professional sentiment calmed him
suddenly, and he let the astonished old couple out of the house,
repeating all the time:
"Return tomorrow, return tomorrow, my friends; I
have no more time today."
While equipping himself from head to foot he
gave another series of urgent orders to the maid:
"Run to Lieutenant Picard's and to Sublieutenant
Pommel's and say to them that I want them here immediately. Send
Torcheboeuf to me too, with his drum. Quick now! Quick!" And when
Celeste was gone he collected his thoughts and prepared to surmount
the difficulties of the situation.
The three men arrived together. They were in
their working clothes. The commander, who had expected to see them
in uniform, had a fit of surprise.
"You know nothing, then? The Emperor has been
taken prisoner. A republic is proclaimed. My position is delicate,
not to say perilous."
He reflected for some minutes before the
astonished faces of his subordinates and then continued:
"It is necessary to act, not to hesitate.
Minutes now are worth hours at other times. Everything depends upon
promptness of decision. You, Picard, go and find the curate and get
him to ring the bell to bring the people together, while I get ahead
of them. You, Torcheboeuf, beat the call to assemble the militia in
arms, in the square, from even as far as the hamlets of Gerisaie and
Salmare. You, Pommel, put on your uniform at once, that is, the
jacket and cap. We, together, are going to take possession of the
mairie and summon Monsieur de Varnetot to transfer his authority to
me. Do you understand?"
"Act, then, and promptly. I will accompany you
to your house, Pommel, Since we are to work together."
Five minutes later the commander and his
subaltern, armed to the teeth, appeared in the square just at the
moment when the little Viscount de Varnetot, with hunting gaiters on
and his rifle on his shoulder, appeared by another street, walking
rapidly and followed by three guards in green jackets, each carrying
a knife at his side and a gun over his shoulder.
While the doctor slapped, half stupefied, the
four men entered the mayor's house and the door closed behind them.
"We are forestalled," murmured the doctor; "it
will be necessary now to wait for reinforcements; nothing can be
done for a quarter of an hour."
Here Lieutenant Picard appeared. "The curate
refuses to obey," said he; "he has even shut himself up in the
church with the beadle and the porter."
On the other side of the square, opposite the
white closed front of the mairie, the church, mute and black, showed
its great oak door with the wrought-iron trimmings.
Then, as the puzzled inhabitants put their noses
out of the windows or came out upon the steps of their houses, the
rolling of a drum was heard, and Torcheboeuf suddenly appeared,
beating with fury the three quick strokes of the call to arms. He
crossed the square with disciplined step and then disappeared on a
road leading to the country.
The commander drew his sword, advanced alone to
the middle distance between the two buildings where the enemy was
barricaded and, waving his weapon above his head, roared at the top
of his lungs: "Long live the Republic! Death to traitors!" Then he
fell back where his officers were. The butcher, the baker and the
apothecary, feeling a little uncertain, put up their shutters and
closed their shops. The grocery alone remained open.
Meanwhile the men of the militia were arriving
little by little, variously clothed but all wearing caps, the cap
constituting the whole uniform of the corps. They were armed with
their old rusty guns, guns that had hung on chimney pieces in
kitchens for thirty years, and looked quite like a detachment of
When there were about thirty around him the
commander explained in a few words the state of affairs. Then,
turning toward his major, he said: "Now we must act."
While the inhabitants collected, talked over and
discussed the matter the doctor quickly formed his plan of campaign.
"Lieutenant Picard, you advance to the windows
of the mayor's house and order Monsieur de Varnetot to turn over the
town hall to me in the name of the Republic."
But the lieutenant was a master mason and
"You are a scamp, you are. Trying to make a
target of me! Those fellows in there are good shots, you know that.
No, thanks! Execute your commissions yourself!"
The commander turned red. "I order you to go in
the name of discipline," said he.
"I am not spoiling my features without knowing
why," the lieutenant returned.
Men of influence, in a group near by, were heard
laughing. One of them called out: "You are right, Picard, it is not
the proper time." The doctor, under his breath, muttered: "Cowards!
" And placing his sword and his revolver in the hands of a soldier,
he advanced with measured step, his eye fixed on the windows as if
he expected to see a gun or a cannon pointed at him.
When he was within a few steps of the building
the doors at the two extremities, affording an entrance to two
schools, opened, and a flood of little creatures, boys on one side,
girls on the other, poured out and began playing in the open space,
chattering around the doctor like a flock of birds. He scarcely knew
what to make of it.
As soon as the last were out the doors closed.
The greater part of the little monkeys finally scattered, and then
the commander called out in a loud voice:
"Monsieur de Varnetot?" A window in the first
story opened and M. de Varnetot appeared.
The commander began: "Monsieur, you are aware of
the great events which have changed the system of government. The
party you represent no longer exists. The side I represent now comes
into power. Under these sad but decisive circumstances I come to
demand you, in the name of the Republic, to put in my hand the
authority vested in you by the outgoing power."
M. de Varnetot replied: "Doctor Massarel, I am
mayor of Canneville, so placed by the proper authorities, and mayor
of Canneville I shall remain until the title is revoked and replaced
by an order from my superiors. As mayor, I am at home in the mairie,
and there I shall stay. Furthermore, just try to put me out." And he
closed the window.
The commander returned to his troops. But before
explaining anything, measuring Lieutenant Picard from head to foot,
"You are a numskull, you are--a goose, the
disgrace of the army. I shall degrade you."
The lieutenant replied: "I'll attend to that
myself." And he went over to a group of muttering civilians.
Then the doctor hesitated. What should he do?
Make an assault? Would his men obey him? And then was he surely in
the right? An idea burst upon him. He ran to the telegraph office on
the other side of the square and hurriedly sent three dispatches:
"To the Members of the Republican Government at Paris"; "To the New
Republican Prefect of the Lower Seine at Rouen"; "To the New
Republican Subprefect of Dieppe."
He exposed the situation fully; told of the
danger run by the commonwealth from remaining in the hands of the
monarchistic mayor, offered his devout services, asked for orders
and signed his name, following it up with all his titles. Then he
returned to his army corps and, drawing ten francs out of his
"Now, my friends, go and eat and drink a little
something. Only leave here a detachment of ten men, so that no one
leaves the mayor's house."
Ex-Lieutenant Picard, chatting with the
watchmaker, overheard this. With a sneer he remarked: "Pardon me,
but if they go out, there will be an opportunity for you to go in.
Otherwise I can't see how you are to get in there!"
The doctor made no reply but went away to
luncheon. In the afternoon he disposed of offices all about town,
having the air of knowing of an impending surprise. Many times he
passed before the doors of the mairie and of the church without
noticing anything suspicious; one could have believed the two
The butcher, the baker and the apothecary
reopened their shops and stood gossiping on the steps. If the
Emperor had been taken prisoner, there must be a traitor somewhere.
They did not feel sure of the revenue of a new republic.
Night came on. Toward nine o'clock the doctor
returned quietly and alone to the mayor's residence, persuaded that
his adversary had retired. And as he was trying to force an entrance
with a few blows of a pickax the loud voice of a guard demanded
suddenly: "Who goes there?" M. Massarel beat a retreat at the top of
Another day dawned without any change in the
situation. The militia in arms occupied the square. The inhabitants
stood around awaiting the solution. People from neighboring villages
came to look on. Finally the doctor, realizing that his reputation
was at stake, resolved to settle the thing in one way or another. He
had just decided that it must be something energetic when the door
of the telegraph office opened and the little servant of the
directress appeared, holding in her hand two papers.
She went directly to the commander and gave him
one of the dispatches; then, crossing the square, intimidated by so
many eyes fixed upon her, with lowered head and mincing steps, she
rapped gently at the door of the barricaded house as if ignorant
that a part of the army was concealed there.
The door opened slightly; the hand of a man
received the message, and the girl returned, blushing and ready to
weep from being stared at.
The doctor demanded with stirring voice: "A
little silence, if you please." And after the populace became quiet
he continued proudly:
Here is a communication which I have received
from the government." And, raising the dispatch, he read:
"Old mayor deposed. Advise us what is most
necessary. Instructions later.
"For the Subprefect,
He had triumphed. His heart was beating with
joy. His hand trembled, when Picard, his old subaltern, cried out to
him from the neighboring group:
"That's all right; but if the others in there
won't go out, your paper hasn't a leg to stand on." The doctor grew
a little pale. If they would not go out--in fact, he must go ahead
now. It was not only his right but his duty. And he looked anxiously
at the house of the mayoralty, hoping that he might see the door
open and his adversary show himself. But the door remained closed.
What was to be done? The crowd was increasing, surrounding the
militia. Some laughed.
One thought, especially, tortured the doctor. If
he should make an assault, he must march at the head of his men; and
as with him dead all contest would cease, it would be at him and at
him alone that M. de Varnetot and the three guards would aim. And
their aim was good, very good! Picard had reminded him of that.
But an idea shone in upon him, and turning to
Pommel, he said: "Go, quickly, and ask the apothecary to send me a
napkin and a pole."
The lieutenant hurried off. The doctor was going
to make a political banner, a white one, that would, perhaps,
rejoice the heart of that old legitimist, the mayor.
Pommel returned with the required linen and a
broom handle. With some pieces of string they improvised a standard,
which Massarel seized in both hands. Again he advanced toward the
house of mayoralty, bearing the standard before him. When in front
of the door, he called out: "Monsieur de Varnetot!"
The door opened suddenly, and M. de Varnetot and
the three guards appeared on the threshold. The doctor recoiled
instinctively. Then he saluted his enemy courteously and announced,
almost strangled by emotion: "I have come, sir, to communicate to
you the instructions I have just received."
That gentleman, without any salutation whatever,
replied: "I am going to withdraw, sir, but you must understand that
it is not because of fear or in obedience to an odious government
that has usurped the power." And, biting off each word, he declared:
"I do not wish to have the appearance of serving the Republic for a
single day. That is all."
Massarel, amazed, made no reply; and M. de
Varnetot, walking off at a rapid pace, disappeared around the
corner, followed closely by his escort Then the doctor, slightly
dismayed, returned to the crowd. When he was near enough to be heard
he cried: "Hurrah! Hurrah! The Republic triumphs all along the
But no emotion was manifested. The doctor tried
again. "The people are free! You are free and independent! Do you
understand? Be proud of it!"
The listless villagers looked at him with eyes
unlit by glory. In his turn he looked at them, indignant at their
indifference, seeking for some wore that could make a grand
impression, electrify this placid country and make good his mission.
The inspiration came, and turning to Pommel, he said "Lieutenant, go
and gee the bust of the ex-emperor, which is in the Council Hall,
and bring it to me with a chair."
And soon the man reappears, carrying on his
right shoulder Napoleon II in plaster and holding in his left hand a
Massarel met him, took the chair, placed it on
the ground, put the white image upon it, fell back a few steps and
called out in sonorous voice:
"Tyrant! Tyrant! Here do you fall! Fall in the
dust and in the mire. expiring country groans under your feet
Destiny has called you the Avenge, Defeat and shame cling to you.
You fall conquered, a prisoner to the Prussians, and upon the ruins
of the crumbling Empire the young and radian Republic arises,
picking up your broken sword."
He awaited applause. But there was no voice, no
sound. The bewildered peasants remained silent. And the bust, with
its pointed mustaches extending beyond the cheeks on each side, the
bust, so motionless and well groomed as to be fit for a
hairdresser's sign, seemed to be looking at M. Massarel with a
plaster smile, a smile ineffaceable and mocking.
They remained thus face to face, Napoleon on the
chair, the doctor i front of him about three steps away. Suddenly
the commander grew angry.
What was to be done? What was there that would
move this people and bring about a definite victory in opinion? His
hand happened to rest on his hip and to come in contact there with
the butt end of his revolver under his red sash. No inspiration, no
further word would come. But he drew his pistol, advanced two steps
and, taking aim, fired at the late monarch. The ball entered the
forehead, leaving a little black hole like a spot, nothing more.
There was no effect. Then he fired a second shot, which made a
second hole, then a third; and then, without stopping, he emptied
his revolver. The brow of Napoleon disappeared in white powder, but
the eyes, the nose and the fine points of the mustaches remained
intact. Then, exasperated, the doctor overturned the chair with a
blow of his fist and, resting a foot on the remainder of the bust in
a position of triumph, he shouted: "So let all tyrants perish!"
Still no enthusiasm was manifest, and as the
spectators seemed to be in a kind of stupor from astonishment the
commander called to the militiamen:
You may now go to your homes." And he went
toward his own house with great strides, as if he were pursued.
His maid, when he appeared, told him that some
patients had been waiting in his office for three hours. He hastened
in. There were the two varicose-vein patients, who had returned at
daybreak, obstinate but patient.
The old man immediately began his explanation:
"This began by a feeling like ants running up and down the legs."