Story type: Essay
It was in the time of the Second Empire. To be exact, it was the night of the 18th of June, 1868; I remember the date, because, contrary to the astronomical theory of short nights at this season, this was the longest night I ever saw. It was the loveliest time of the year in Paris, when one was tempted to lounge all day in the gardens and to give to sleep none of the balmy nights in this gay capital, where the night was illuminated like the day, and some new pleasure or delight always led along the sparkling hours. Any day the Garden of the Tuileries was a microcosm repaying study. There idle Paris sunned itself; through it the promenaders flowed from the Rue de Rivoli gate by the palace to the entrance on the Place de la Concorde, out to the Champs-Elysees and back again; here in the north grove gathered thousands to hear the regimental band in the afternoon; children chased butterflies about the flower-beds and amid the tubs of orange-trees; travelers, guide-book in hand, stood resolutely and incredulously before the groups of statuary, wondering what that Infant was doing with, the snakes and why the recumbent figure of the Nile should have so many children climbing over him; or watched the long facade of the palace hour after hour, in the hope of catching at some window the flutter of a royal robe; and swarthy, turbaned Zouaves, erect, lithe, insouciant, with the firm, springy step of the tiger, lounged along the allees.
Napoleon was at home–a fact attested by a reversal of the hospitable rule of democracy, no visitors being admitted to the palace when he was at home. The private garden, close to the imperial residence, was also closed to the public, who in vain looked across the sunken fence to the parterres, fountains, and statues, in the hope that the mysterious man would come out there and publicly enjoy himself. But he never came, though I have no doubt that he looked out of the windows upon the beautiful garden and his happy Parisians, upon the groves of horse-chestnuts, the needle-like fountain beyond, the Column of Luxor, up the famous and shining vista terminated by the Arch of the Star, and reflected with Christian complacency upon the greatness of a monarch who was the lord of such splendors and the goodness of a ruler who opened them all to his children. Especially when the western sunshine streamed down over it all, turning even the dust of the atmosphere into gold and emblazoning the windows of the Tuileries with a sort of historic glory, his heart must have swelled within him in throbs of imperial exaltation. It is the fashion nowadays not to consider him a great man, but no one pretends to measure his goodness.
The public garden of the Tuileries was closed at dusk, no one being permitted to remain in it after dark. I suppose it was not safe to trust the Parisians in the covert of its shades after nightfall, and no one could tell what foreign fanatics and assassins might do if they were permitted to pass the night so near the imperial residence. At any rate, everybody was drummed out before the twilight fairly began, and at the most fascinating hour for dreaming in the ancient garden. After sundown the great door of the Pavilion de l’Horloge swung open and there issued from it a drum-corps, which marched across the private garden and down the broad allee of the public garden, drumming as if the judgment-day were at hand, straight to the great gate of the Place de la Concorde, and returning by a side allee, beating up every covert and filling all the air with clamor until it disappeared, still thumping, into the court of the palace; and all the square seemed to ache with the sound. Never was there such pounding since Thackeray’s old Pierre, who, “just to keep up his drumming, one day drummed down the Bastile”:
At midnight I beat the tattoo,
And woke up the Pikemen of Paris
To follow the bold Barbaroux.
On the waves of this drumming the people poured out from every gate of the garden, until the last loiterer passed and the gendarmes closed the portals for the night. Before the lamps were lighted along the Rue de Rivoli and in the great square of the Revolution, the garden was left to the silence of its statues and its thousand memories. I often used to wonder, as I looked through the iron railing at nightfall, what might go on there and whether historic shades might not flit about in the ghostly walks.
Late in the afternoon of the 18th of June, after a long walk through the galleries of the Louvre, and excessively weary, I sat down to rest on a secluded bench in the southern grove of the garden; hidden from view by the tree-trunks. Where I sat I could see the old men and children in that sunny flower-garden, La Petite Provence, and I could see the great fountain-basin facing the Porte du Pont-Tournant. I must have heard the evening drumming, which was the signal for me to quit the garden; for I suppose even the dead in Paris hear that and are sensitive to the throb of the glory-calling drum. But if I did hear it,–it was only like an echo of the past, and I did not heed it any more than Napoleon in his tomb at the Invalides heeds, through the drawn curtain, the chanting of the daily mass. Overcome with fatigue, I must have slept soundly.
When I awoke it was dark under the trees. I started up and went into the broad promenade. The garden was deserted; I could hear the plash of the fountains, but no other sound therein. Lights were gleaming from the windows of the Tuileries, lights blazed along the Rue de Rivoli, dotted the great Square, and glowed for miles up the Champs Elysees. There were the steady roar of wheels and the tramping of feet without, but within was the stillness of death.
What should I do? I am not naturally nervous, but to be caught lurking in the Tuileries Garden in the night would involve me in the gravest peril. The simple way would have been to have gone to the gate nearest the Pavillon de Marsan, and said to the policeman on duty there that I had inadvertently fallen asleep, that I was usually a wide-awake citizen of the land that Lafayette went to save, that I wanted my dinner, and would like to get out. I walked down near enough to the gate to see the policeman, but my courage failed. Before I could stammer out half that explanation to him in his trifling language (which foreigners are mockingly told is the best in the world for conversation), he would either have slipped his hateful rapier through my body, or have raised an alarm and called out the guards of the palace to hunt me down like a rabbit.
A man in the Tuileries Garden at night! an assassin! a conspirator! one of the Carbonari, perhaps a dozen of them–who knows?–Orsini bombs, gunpowder, Greek-fire, Polish refugees, murder, emeutes, REVOLUTION!
No, I’m not going to speak to that person in the cocked hat and dress-coat under these circumstances. Conversation with him out of the best phrase-books would be uninteresting. Diplomatic row between the two countries would be the least dreaded result of it. A suspected conspirator against the life of Napoleon, without a chance for explanation, I saw myself clubbed, gagged, bound, searched (my minute notes of the Tuileries confiscated), and trundled off to the Conciergerie, and hung up to the ceiling in an iron cage there, like Ravaillac.
I drew back into the shade and rapidly walked to the western gate. It was closed, of course. On the gate-piers stand the winged steeds of Marly, never less admired than by me at that moment. They interested me less than a group of the Corps d’Afrique, who lounged outside, guarding the entrance from the square, and unsuspicious that any assassin was trying to get out. I could see the gleam of the lamps on their bayonets and hear their soft tread. Ask them to let me out? How nimbly they would have scaled the fence and transfixed me! They like to do such things. No, no–whatever I do, I must keep away from the clutches of these cats of Africa.
And enough there was to do, if I had been in a mind to do it. All the seats to sit in, all the statuary to inspect, all the flowers to smell. The southern terrace overlooking the Seine was closed, or I might have amused myself with the toy railway of the Prince Imperial that ran nearly the whole length of it, with its switches and turnouts and houses; or I might have passed delightful hours there watching the lights along the river and the blazing illumination on the amusement halls. But I ascended the familiar northern terrace and wandered amid its bowers, in company with Hercules, Meleager, and other worthies I knew only by sight, smelling the orange-blossoms, and trying to fix the site of the old riding-school where the National Assembly sat in 1789.
It must have been eleven o’clock when I found myself down by the private garden next the palace. Many of the lights in the offices of the household had been extinguished, but the private apartments of the Emperor in the wing south of the central pavilion were still illuminated. The Emperor evidently had not so much desire to go to bed as I had. I knew the windows of his petits appartements–as what good American did not?–and I wondered if he was just then taking a little supper, if he had bidden good-night to Eugenie, if he was alone in his room, reflecting upon his grandeur and thinking what suit he should wear on the morrow in his ride to the Bois. Perhaps he was dictating an editorial for the official journal; perhaps he was according an interview to the correspondent of the London Glorifier; perhaps one of the Abbotts was with him. Or was he composing one of those important love-letters of state to Madame Blank which have since delighted the lovers of literature? I am not a spy, and I scorn to look into people’s windows late at night, but I was lonesome and hungry, and all that square round about swarmed with imperial guards, policemen, keen-scented Zouaves, and nobody knows what other suspicious folk. If Napoleon had known that there was a
MAN IN THE GARDEN!
I suppose he would have called up his family, waked the drum-corps, sent for the Prefect of Police, put on the alert the ‘sergents de ville,’ ordered under arms a regiment of the Imperial Guards, and made it unpleasant for the Man.
All these thoughts passed through my mind, not with the rapidity of lightning, as is usual in such cases, but with the slowness of conviction. If I should be discovered, death would only stare me in the face about a minute. If he waited five minutes, who would believe my story of going to sleep and not hearing the drums? And if it were true, why didn’t I go at once to the gate, and not lurk round there all night like another Clement? And then I wondered if it was not the disagreeable habit of some night-patrol or other to beat round the garden before the Sire went to bed for good, to find just such characters as I was gradually getting to feel myself to be.
But nobody came. Twelve o’clock, one o’clock sounded from the tower of the church of St. Germain l’Auxerrois, from whose belfry the signal was given for the beginning of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew–the same bells that tolled all that dreadful night while the slaughter went on, while the effeminate Charles IX fired from the windows of the Louvre upon stray fugitives on the quay–bells the reminiscent sound of which, a legend (which I fear is not true) says, at length drove Catharine de Medici from the Tuileries.
One o’clock! The lights were going out in the Tuileries, had nearly all gone out. I wondered if the suspicious and timid and wasteful Emperor would keep the gas burning all night in his room. The night-roar of Paris still went on, sounding always to foreign ears like the beginning of a revolution. As I stood there, looking at the window that interested me most, the curtains were drawn, the window was opened, and a form appeared in a white robe. I had never seen the Emperor before in a night-gown, but I should have known him among a thousand. The Man of Destiny had on a white cotton night-cap, with a peaked top and no tassel. It was the most natural thing in the land; he was taking a last look over his restless Paris before he turned in. What if he should see me! I respected that last look and withdrew into the shadow. Tired and hungry, I sat down to reflect upon the pleasures of the gay capital.
One o’clock and a half! I had presence of mind enough to wind my watch; indeed, I was not likely to forget that, for time hung heavily on my hands. It was a gay capital. Would it never put out its lights, and cease its uproar, and leave me to my reflections? In less than an hour the country legions would invade the city, the market-wagons would rumble down the streets, the vegetable-man and the strawberry-woman, the fishmongers and the greens-venders would begin their melodious cries, and there would be no repose for a man even in a public garden. It is secluded enough, with the gates locked, and there is plenty of room to turn over and change position; but it is a wakeful situation at the best, a haunting sort of place, and I was not sure it was not haunted.
I had often wondered as I strolled about the place in the daytime or peered through the iron fence at dusk, if strange things did not go on here at night, with this crowd of effigies of persons historical and more or less mythological, in this garden peopled with the representatives of the dead, and no doubt by the shades of kings and queens and courtiers, ‘intrigantes’ and panders, priests and soldiers, who live once in this old pile–real shades, which are always invisible in the sunlight. They have local attachments, I suppose. Can science tell when they depart forever from the scenes of their objective intrusion into the affairs of this world, or how long they are permitted to revisit them? Is it true that in certain spiritual states, say of isolation or intense nervous alertness, we can see them as they can see each other? There was I–the I catalogued in the police description–present in that garden, yet so earnestly longing to be somewhere else that would it be wonderful if my ‘eidolon’ was somewhere else and could be seen?–though not by a policeman, for policemen have no spiritual vision.
There were no policemen in the garden, that I was certain of; but a little after half-past one I saw a Man, not a man I had ever seen before, clad in doublet and hose, with a short cloak and a felt cap with a white plume, come out of the Pavillon de Flore and turn down the quay towards the house I had seen that afternoon where it stood–of the beautiful Gabrielle d’Estrees. I might have been mistaken but for the fact that, just at this moment, a window opened in the wing of the same pavilion, and an effeminate, boyish face, weak and cruel, with a crown on its head, appeared and looked down into the shadow of the building as if its owner saw what I had seen. And there was nothing remarkable in this, except that nowadays kings do not wear crowns at night. It occurred to me that there was a masquerade going on in the Tuileries, though I heard no music, except the tinkle of, it might be, a harp, or “the lascivious pleasing of a lute,” and I walked along down towards the central pavilion. I was just in time to see two ladies emerge from it and disappear, whispering together, in the shrubbery; the one old, tall, and dark, with the Italian complexion, in a black robe, and the other young, petite, extraordinarily handsome, and clad in light and bridal stuffs, yet both with the same wily look that set me thinking on poisons, and with a grace and a subtle carriage of deceit that could be common only to mother and daughter. I didn’t choose to walk any farther in the part of the garden they had chosen for a night promenade, and turned off abruptly.
There, on the bench of the marble hemicycle in the north grove, sat a row of graybeards, old men in the costume of the first Revolution, a sort of serene and benignant Areopagus. In the cleared space before them were a crowd of youths and maidens, spectators and participants in the Floral Games which were about to commence; behind the old men stood attendants who bore chaplets of flowers, the prizes in the games. The young men wore short red tunics with copper belts, formerly worn by Roman lads at the ludi, and the girls tunics of white with loosened girdles, leaving their limbs unrestrained for dancing, leaping, or running; their hair was confined only by a fillet about the head. The pipers began to play and the dancers to move in rhythmic measures, with the slow and languid grace of those full of sweet wine and the new joy of the Spring, according to the habits of the Golden Age, which had come again by decree in Paris. This was the beginning of the classic sports, but it is not possible for a modern pen to describe particularly the Floral Games. I remember that the Convention ordered the placing of these hemicycles in the garden, and they were executed from Robespierre’s designs; but I suppose I am the only person who ever saw the games played that were expected to be played before them. It was a curious coincidence that the little livid-green man was also there, leaning against a tree and looking on with a half sneer. It seemed to me an odd classic revival, but then Paris has spasms of that, at the old Theatre Francais and elsewhere.
Pipes in the garden, lutes in the palace, paganism, Revolution–the situation was becoming mixed, and I should not have been surprised at a ghostly procession from the Place de la Concorde, through the western gates, of the thousands of headless nobility, victims of the axe and the basket; but, thank Heaven, nothing of that sort appeared to add to the wonders of the night; yet, as I turned a moment from the dancers, I thought I saw something move in the shrubbery. The Laocoon? It could not be. The arms moving? Yes. As I drew nearer the arms distinctly moved, putting away at length the coiling serpent, and pushing from the pedestal the old-men boys, his comrades in agony. Laocoon shut his mouth, which had been stretched open for about eighteen centuries, untwisted the last coil of the snake, and stepped down, a free man. After this it did not surprise me to see Spartacus also step down and approach him, and the two ancients square off for fisticuffs, as if they had done it often before, enjoying at night the release from the everlasting pillory of art. It was the hour of releases, and I found myself in a moment in the midst of a “classic revival,” whimsical beyond description. Aeneas hastened to deposit his aged father in a heap on the gravel and ran after the Sylvan Nymphs; Theseus gave the Minotaur a respite; Themistocles was bending over the dying Spartan, who was coming to life; Venus Pudica was waltzing about the diagonal basin with Antinous; Ascanius was playing marbles with the infant Hercules. In this unreal phantasmagoria it was a relief to me to see walking in the area of the private garden two men: the one a stately person with a kingly air, a handsome face, his head covered with a huge wig that fell upon his shoulders; the other a farmer-like man, stout and ungracious, the counterpart of the pictures of the intendant Colbert. He was pointing up to the palace, and seemed to be speaking of some alterations, to which talk the other listened impatiently. I wondered what Napoleon, who by this time was probably dreaming of Mexico, would have said if he had looked out and seen, not one man in the garden, but dozens of men, and all the stir that I saw; if he had known, indeed, that the Great Monarch was walking under his windows.
I said it was a relief to me to see two real men, but I had no reason to complain of solitude thereafter till daybreak. That any one saw or noticed me I doubt, and I soon became so reassured that I had more delight than fear in watching the coming and going of personages I had supposed dead a hundred years and more; the appearance at windows of faces lovely, faces sad, faces terror-stricken; the opening of casements and the dropping of billets into the garden; the flutter of disappearing robes; the faint sounds of revels from the interior of the palace; the hurrying of feet, the flashing of lights, the clink of steel, that told of partings and sudden armings, and the presence of a king that will be denied at no doors. I saw through the windows of the long Galerie de Diane the roues of the Regency at supper, and at table with them a dark, semi-barbarian little man in a coat of Russian sable, the coolest head in Europe at a drinking-bout. I saw enter the south pavilion a tall lady in black, with the air of a royal procuress; and presently crossed the garden and disappeared in the pavilion a young Parisian girl, and then another and another, a flock of innocents, and I thought instantly of the dreadful Parc aux Cerfs at Versailles.
So wrought upon was I by the sight of this infamy that I scarcely noticed the incoming of a royal train at the southern end of the palace, and notably in it a lady with light hair and noble mien, and the look in her face of a hunted lioness at bay. I say scarcely, for hardly had the royal cortege passed within, when there arose a great clamor in the inner court, like the roar of an angry multitude, a scuffling of many feet, firing of guns, thrusting of pikes, followed by yells of defiance in mingled French and German, the pitching of Swiss Guards from doorways and windows, and the flashing of flambeaux that ran hither and thither. “Oh!” I said, “Paris has come to call upon its sovereign; the pikemen of Paris, led by the bold Barbaroux.”
The tumult subsided as suddenly as it had risen, hushed, I imagined, by the jarring of cannon from the direction of St. Roch; and in the quiet I saw a little soldier alight at the Rue de Rivoli gate–a little man whom you might mistake for a corporal of the guard–with a wild, coarse-featured Corsican (say, rather, Basque) face, his disordered chestnut hair darkened to black locks by the use of pomatum–a face selfish and false, but determined as fate. So this was the beginning of the Napoleon “legend”; and by-and-by this coarse head will be idealized into the Roman Emperor type, in which I myself might have believed but for the revelations of the night of strange adventure.
What is history? What is this drama and spectacle, that has been put forth as history, but a cover for petty intrigue, and deceit, and selfishness, and cruelty? A man shut into the Tuileries Garden begins to think that it is all an illusion, the trick of a disordered fancy. Who was Grand, who was Well-Beloved, who was Desired, who was the Idol of the French, who was worthy to be called a King of the Citizens? Oh, for the light of day!
And it came, faint and tremulous, touching the terraces of the palace and the Column of Luxor. But what procession was that moving along the southern terrace? A squad of the National Guard on horseback, a score or so of King’s officers, a King on foot, walking with uncertain step, a Queen leaning on his arm, both habited in black, moved out of the western gate. The King and the Queen paused a moment on the very spot where Louis XVI. was beheaded, and then got into a carriage drawn by one horse and were driven rapidly along the quays in the direction of St. Cloud. And again Revolution, on the heels of the fugitives, poured into the old palace and filled it with its tatterdemalions.
Enough for me that daylight began to broaden. “Sleep on,” I said, “O real President, real Emperor (by the grace of coup d’etat) at last, in the midst of the most virtuous court in Europe, loved of good Americans, eternally established in the hearts of your devoted Parisians! Peace to the palace and peace to its lovely garden, of both of which I have had quite enough for one night!”
The sun came up, and, as I looked about, all the shades and concourse of the night had vanished. Day had begun in the vast city, with all its roar and tumult; but the garden gates would not open till seven, and I must not be seen before the early stragglers should enter and give me a chance of escape. In my circumstances I would rather be the first to enter than the first to go out in the morning, past those lynx-eyed gendarmes. From my covert I eagerly watched for my coming deliverers. The first to appear was a ‘chiffonnier,’ who threw his sack and pick down by the basin, bathed his face, and drank from his hand. It seemed to me almost like an act of worship, and I would have embraced that rag-picker as a brother. But I knew that such a proceeding, in the name even of egalite and fraternite would have been misinterpreted; and I waited till two and three and a dozen entered by this gate and that, and I was at full liberty to stretch my limbs and walk out upon the quay as nonchalant as if I had been taking a morning stroll.
I have reason to believe that the police of Paris never knew where I spent the night of the 18th of June. It must have mystified them.