CHAPTER IX. THE TWILIGHT OF THE BOURBON KINGS
At the Little Trianon, Madame Vigee Lebrun made, in 1787, the painting of Marie Antoinette with her children, which the Queen's intimates counted the truest likeness among all her portraits. Two years later, on the fifth day of October, the Queen was at Trianon when news came of the approach of the mob of starving, angry women that stormed the road from Paris, swept across the Place d'Armes, and surged about the doors of the despised palace. On that day, Marie Antoinette left her "little house," never to see it again.
For many months the clouds had been gathering on the horizon of the Bourbon King, whose extravagance and weak will were matched by the childish indiscretions of his Austrian consort.
In November, 1787, the Notables assembled at Versailles in the grand hall of the palace guards. In May, 1789, the Salon of Hercules witnessed the presentation of the twelve hundred deputies elected by the people in all parts of France to the States-General. The Assembly, "the true era of the birth of the French people," opened on May fifth in the immense Salle des Menus, on the Paris Avenue, outside the gates of the palace. During the thirty days that the deputies sat inactive under the oratory of the King, of Necker, Mirabeau and Robespierre, work ceased throughout the kingdom. "He who had but his hands, his daily labor, to supply the day, went to look for work, found none, begged, got nothing, robbed. Starving gangs over-ran the country; wherever they found any resistance, they became furious, killed, and burned. Horror spread far and near; communications ceased, and famine went on increasing." At last the Assembly was founded, but the nation remained in tumult, the King vacillating, the Queen in retirement, mourning the death of the little Dauphin. On June twentieth, the people's representatives gathered, in spite of the King, in the bare tennis-court, without the walls of the chateau, and made oath as citizens of France never to adjourn until they had given their country a constitution. On the same day Marie Antoinette inscribed a letter from Versailles whose import was in piteous contrast to the prattling epistles of her girlhood. "The Chambre Nationale is declared," she wrote. "They are deliberating, but I am in despair to see nothing come of their deliberations; every one is greatly alarmed. The nobility may be wiped out forever. But the kingdom will be calm; if not, one cannot estimate the evils by which we shall be menaced. . . . Not far away civil war exists, and, besides, bread is lacking. God give us courage!" Three days later the King read to the deputies an arbitrary declaration that had been composed by interested advisers. He commanded the assembly to disperse, and met a calm and silent resistance. Workmen entered to demolish the amphitheater, but laid down their tools on the declaration of Mirabeau that "whoever laid hands on a deputy was a traitor, infamous and worthy of death." At last the King, wearied and confused, commanded, "Let them alone."
The parterres, the courts, even the salons of the palace swarmed with ruffians that had marched out from Paris to menace Versailles. By June 25th there was open revolt in the capital. "A stormy, heavy, gloomy time, like a feverish, painful dream," prefaced the furious deeds of the 14th of July. Every day witnessed some new outbreak. July was a month of insurrections and murders. The Bastille was assailed by rioters. News came to the King that the ancient fortress had fallen. "Sire," announced the Duke of Orleans to the sleepy Monarch in his bedchamber, "it is a Revolution!"
Lafayette, back from the war across the sea, became the unwilling leader of the National Guard. On the evening of the first of October occurred the fatal banquet of the King's guard, held, not in the Orangery or in some other informal hall, but in the palace theater, where no fete had been given since the visit of the Emperor Joseph II of Austria. A French writer describes the scene. "The doors open. Behold the King and the Queen! The King has been prevailed on to visit them on his return from the chase. The Queen walks round to every table, looking beautiful, and adorned with the child she bears in her arms.
"So beautiful and yet so unfortunate! As she was departing with the King, the band played the affecting air: 'O Richard, O my King, abandoned by the whole world!' Every heart melted at that appeal. Several tore off their cockades, and took that of the Queen, the black Austrian cockade, devoting themselves to her service. . . .
"On the 3rd of October, another dinner; they grow more daring, their tongues are untied, and the counter-revolution showed itself boldly. In the long gallery, and in the apartments, the ladies no longer allow the tricolor cockade to circulate. With their handkerchiefs and ribands they make white cockades, and tie them themselves."
Stories of royalist revels and open insults to the cockade of the Revolutionists still further inflamed starving Paris. On the fifth of October there were thousands of inhabitants that had tasted no food for thirty hours. And then the ravenous women of Paris arose - mothers, shop-girls, courtesans - and, gathering recruits as they swept through the restless city streets, they rolled like an angry flood out the eleven-mile road to Versailles. The King was hunting at Meudon; a courier was sent for him. The Queen Consort was in her retreat at Trianon. The messenger found her, sad and contemplative, seated in her grotto. Hastily she was brought back to the palace. Later, she and the King would have fled the anger of the crowd whose shouts of "Bread! Bread!" echoed across the Marble Court to the windows of the royal apartments. But their decision, put off from moment to moment, came too late. The gates were closed. They were prisoners within the walls of Versailles.