A Kentuckian's Share in the Coup d'État

IT was the 9th of February, and Rochefort had been arrested the night before.

The pulse of Paris beat high with excitement, strains of the Marseillaise were hummed in the streets, the squares were full of marching platoons of foot-soldiers, and the boulevards were scoured by squads of horse. The gay uniforms of the Garde de Paris glittered among the grave blue and silver of the Sergeants de Ville, and now and then a company of white-buskined chasseurs flashed their gleaming bayonets before the eyes of the curious populace. There was here and there a slight disturbance, as a disorderly student was marched off to cool his political enthusiasm at the dépôt de la Préfecture; but the philosophical crowd shrugged its shoulders as who would say: “ What will you have ? Our time has not yet come.”

“We sha’n’t see a revolution, after all, I’m afraid,” said Stuart.

“ Not much danger,” I said, “ either of that, or of a fair verdict on Prince Pierre. Of course they ’ll pack the jury.”

“It’s a villanous business,” said Stuart. “ Let us go to the Consulate and hear what they have to say there.”

We found no one, however, at headquarters, except the minor officials, who could tell us nothing new, and we were descending the steps in some disappointment, I leading the way, when we encountered a carelessly dressed man of medium height, with full brown beard and bushy hair, who scanned us with a pair of kindly soft brown eyes. He drew aside to let me pass, and I caught Stuart’s glance, who uttered a shout of delight, and then embraced him, Continental fashion, ejaculating, “ So it is you, by all that is lucky !”

“ Yours truly, Benborough,” said the stranger, with a pleasant accent. “ Howare you, Squire ? ”

“ First - rate,” replied my friend. “This is Clarke. We were just talking about you.”

“ I am glad to see you in Paris, Mr. Clarke. The extra good Americans come here before they die,” said Mr. Benborough.

“ And stay, apparently very well contented,” I answered, returning his friendly clasp.

“ Well, we have to submit to separation from the great body of the free and enlightened,” he replied ; “ but then there are compensations for everything, even for the want of a vote.”

“ Come with us,” said Stuart, taking him by the arm. I want you to show Paris to Clarke.”

“ You tempt me in my weakest point but three,” replied Mr. Benborough, “ yet I am a St. Anthony of heroic virtue. This is my letter day, and the Gotham Grumbler has a pecuniary claim upon the services of its Paris correspondent. But why can't you come to tea in my apartment, at eight?” asked Benborough, “and bring Mr. Clarke with you. My work will be done then, and I shall need relaxation. When I ask ladies, I request them to bring their teacups in their pockets, but I will lend you my beer-mug. Say you will ? That ’s right ! Remember, sharp eight; the kettle always gets impatient if folks are behind time. Au revoir.”

Eight o’clock found us climbing the three high flights of stairs that led to Benborough’s apartments in the Rue Chaptal. At the head of the last flight a door stood open into a sleeping-room, and hearing voices not far off, we advanced and rapped. Benborough came flying out and received us cordially.

“ This is my antechamber,” he said, laughing, as he led us through the bedroom, which was the only way of access to the parlor ; “and these are my household gods,” pointing to the photographs of sundry American journalists which hung upon the walls. In the corner of the room was a door through which we were ushered into the salon, a most inviting apartment, eminently characteristic of its owner. It was a square room, with a great chintz - covered sofa on one side of it, and several comfortable lounging - chairs covered with leather, scattered about. In the middle of the waxed floor stood a writing-table littered with a dire confusion of papers ; and on another table in a corner were spread the tea-things, in a helter-skelter masculine fashion ; the cream-jug hob-nobbing with a black bottle, and the sugar-bowl arm in arm with a decanter, while cups and tumblers and wineglasses seemed to be having a general all hands round.

Across the corner of the room was a fireplace where a queer little grate had been inserted, before whose glowing coals was singing a bouillotte of beaten white metal, with its stout little cover bobbing up and down, and its fat round sides shaking with the energy of its ebullition. On the tipsy mantel stood a clock, with two candlesticks in which long tallow dips were burning ; and the room was further lighted by a large shaded lamp that stood in the centre of the writing-table. Above the chimneypiece was a quaint collection of weapons interspersed with every variety of pipe, and the other spaces against the wall were occupied with low bookshelves crowded with volumes, many of them rare and valuable editions picked up at auctions or on the quais. Over the shelves every inch of wall was covered with pictures, in frames and out of frames; little and big, square, oblong, oval, or round ; landscapes, heads, tableaux de genre, sketches, etchings, prints,—a wilderness of color and form.

“ This is my gallery,” said Benborough, in answer to my exclamation of delight. “I am not a connoisseur; I know nothing, in fact, about painting, except what I like. But I ’ve picked up a thing or two that they tell me is worth something. This Jules Dupré, now, it seems just a blotch to you, of course ; splashes of blue and green with a dab of red in the middle ; but look at it ten minutes, and there you have it, a clump of alder-bushes, a sky of infinite depth, a breezy, airy outlook, and God’s own sunlight reddening the little black pool in front with its declining rays. I got that for a song ten years ago; now ten thousand francs would n’t buy it. Then, here’s a little genre affair of Boughton’s, just perfect in its way ; a Bretonne girl spinning by an open window, with the sunlight falling on her hair. That picture is very touching to me, it is so innocent, so simple, so pure ; it reminds me of some one I knew long ago.”

Here a wonderfully sad expression settled for a moment upon his mobile face, but in an instant it was gone and a twinkle of humor lit the large brown eyes.

“ Enough of my works of art, — you shall come and see them by daylight; now for the triumphs of nature, which Stuart, with the instincts of his kind, has already discovered.” And so I was made known to all the pleasant company: Messrs. Lowbridge and Marston, compatriots ; and Mr. Cranshaw, born an Englishman and bred a Parisian, and therefore as near an approach to a true cosmopolite as the British subject seems capable of becoming.

“Now, gentlemen,” said Benborough, “ I have given your biographies to Mr. Clarke, and the best I can do for him is to say, as Squire Mason did when he brought up his platoon of fifty to present to the Emperor, ' My countrymen, your Majesties.’ ” Here the bouillotte boiled over with a merry sizzle.

“ I told you my kettle got impatient, when we were late,” said Benborough, lifting it away. “ There’s nothing like a bouillotte for boiling. She is a ‘ free institooshun,’ not a division in her anywhere, no possibility of secession here, she is all of a piece. Fill her up, set her before the fire, and before you can count five she goes fizgig. Now, Bob,” to Mr. Marston, “ make a place for her, and we ’ll have tea. Two, four, six spoonfuls, one for each of the company, and here’s a heaping one for the teapot. Stuart, just cut that cake by you ; it is one of those from the Rue Royale, worth two francs, and, like the miraculous tent of the fairy Paribanou, only that went outside any number of people and this goes in. I used to attend receptions at the house of a charming woman here, when I was a worldling; the number of the company ranged from eight to eighty, and she never had but a two-franc cake. It always went round. Perhaps because, knowing the ways of the house, the habitués did n’t take any.”

“ We shall never come up to the French in economies,” said Lowbridge. “Yankees think they understand that business, but it is a great mistake ; a Frenchwoman would support a family on what one of ours wastes. This is the true home of thrift and carefulness.”

“ The tea is drawn,” said Benborough. “ Now, gentlemen, who will have milk from the Alderney, and who from the Jamaica cow?” holding out the square black bottle and the creampitcher. “ For my part, I prefer rum to cream ; you ’re more apt to get it genuine, and it is stimulating to the intellect. Some one should recommend it to the Emperor.”

“ We are beginning to penetrate the secret of this man,” observed Cranshaw, “now he is left to his own wits, and has no longer Flahault and De Morny at his elbow with sagacity to devise and courage to execute. Look how he gives up point after point. It is the concession of weakness, not the confidence of power, that has given us the new privileges.”

“ I disagree with you there,” said Mr. Lowbridge ; “he is acting for the interests of the boy, now. He finds himself failing physically, sees that the Empress is incapable of managing a regency, and feels desirous of putting the control of affairs in the hands of a body of reasonable men, who will carry out his ideas until the prince is firm in his seat.”

“ You really think, then,” asked Mr. Marston, “ that he is in favor of establishing a constitutional monarchy ? ”

“ He is in favor of establishing the Napoleonic dynasty,” replied Mr. Lowbridge, “ in any way that he can.”

“ He has an able second in Ollivier,” said Mr. Benborough. “ Émile is a sensible fellow, and an honest one, too, I believe. But it requires some gymnastic training to ride the nags Plébiscite and Free-Speech at the same time. There will have to be a good deal of lashing before they will go well in harness together. But take some more milk, Lowbridge. Don’t be afraid of the quantity ; there ’s a cow in the next room. It is astounding,” continued our host, “ to what point of incredulity some of these Frenchmen wall go. I know a dapper little Professor of the Quartier Latin, who vows that nothing at all happened on the 2d of December, except that two or three rioters were shot down by the police for making a disturbance. ‘ How is it possible otherwise, monsieur?’ he says, with his shoulders up to his ears. ‘ I was in Paris throughout the day. Could there have been an émeute of magnitude, and I not know it ? Bah ! it is all an invention of Victor Hugo ! A dream, monsieur, an imagination ! Consult the Moniteur of the day. You will find no mention of such an occurrence.’ For him there has been no Coup d'État, no Décembriseur, no crowd of victims ; he probably believes in the peaceful election of Louis Napoleon by the grace of God and the will of the people.”

Cranshaw shrugged. “ M. le Professeur must have kept himself carefully at home,” he remarked. “ He certainly could not have taken an airing on the Boulevard Poissonnière for a week. The fronts of the houses in that quarter were scarred and broken, and the window-panes were in ruins ; for two days nobody dared open his doors or take down his shutters. I myself saw three men lying dead, on the morning of the 3d, in a shop in the Rue Poissonnière ; the dead-carts had carried away the others.”

“ Suppose I tell you my story,” said Benborough, shutting up the tea-caddy, “while you all take your ease,

‘ Like Mars,
A smokin’ your poipes and cigyars.’ ”

“ Do, do ! ” we cried. Then summoning his deft and quiet landlady in a white cap, who made a swift and dexterous clearance of the tea-things, Benborough pulled out his tobacco - box and his Havanas, and the rest of us having settled ourselves for a smoke, he began : —

“Of course I am not going into the history of the matter. You have all read Kinglake and Victor Hugo and Tenot and the nine-and-forty other historians of that little affair. You understand how it was. This the boulevard,” arranging the bottles to represent the houses; “these the soldiery,” bringing up a platoon of wineglasses ; “and here,” strewing the cigars beside the bottles, “the populace.

“Jones and I had been dining that day in the Rue de Helder, with Effingham. You remember Effingham, Lowbridge, — that tall Kentuckian who was shot afterwards at Antietam, fighting on the wrong side, poor lad ! but gallantly beyond question. A great fellow, six feet four, used to all sorts of border life, and just married to a sweet, gentle little girl about up to my elbow, — a diamond edition of a woman done up in blue and gold, with a cooing voice and a clinging manner, and eyes that were always asking you to take care of her. She was a Baltimore girl that Effingham had picked up somewhere, and the two had come off to Europe for a wedding trip, and landed in Paris plump in the middle of the Coup d' État. I had found them one morning at Vadette’s, like two lost children ; they were dying to get to Rome, and could n’t get their passports viséd; and Paris was cold and sloppy, and the Louvre and the public buildings were shut up with guards about; and there were troops in all the squares, and Mrs. Effingham was timid, and hoped there would be no fighting. I consoled them as well as I could, and they made me promise to come and dine with them and bring Jones, who was a classmate of Eff’s and mine. So there we all were, at the café in the Rue de Helder, having a tiptop little dinner and drinking Johannisberger at twenty francs a bottle, and champagne of Widow Cliquot’s best brand, — being very lively and forgetting all about the émeutes in talking over old college days.

“ Suddenly Mrs. Effingham says :

‘ My dear, if we had only brought that wine of ours for Mr. Benborough to taste! It is perfect with dessert, and I would like to have him give us his opinion about it. My father raised the grapes himself,’ she went on, in her sweet, childish, explanatory way, ‘and we had a vintage of our own, and everybody came to help us.’ And then she gave a shy little glance at Eff, and we guessed that he had been one of the crowd. She told us a long story about the grapes, and the end of it was that nothing would do but we must taste the wine. So Eff, who was the bestnatured of men, said he would run over and get a bottle from their lodgings in the Rue Louis le Grand ; it was but a step ; he had only to cross the Boulevard, and he would be back in a twinkling ; so he snatched his hat and rushed out.

“ We were about three doors from the Boulevard des Italiens, and even along the Rue de Helder people had their shutters up, though it was early in the afternoon. Effingham had but a short distance to go, yet we thought nothing of his being absent some time, supposing that he could not lay his hand upon the wine in an instant; but just as we were beginning to wonder at his delay we heard a curious sound from the direction of the Boulevard. There were few carriages passing, so that we could distinctly hear the rattle of musketry and the tramp of soldiers. Mrs. Effingham caught the sound, and sprang to her feet as white as a sheet. Jones and I looked at each other, and at that very minute the first volley was fired, followed by shrieks and agonized cries that made you shiver.

“ The poor little woman did not cry out. She only caught hold of the back of her chair and got whiter and whiter. People came rushing down our street. The proprietor of the café promptly barred his door, and lowered the lights in the cabinets. The shots continued at irregular intervals, mingled with a terrible tumult of distressing sounds.

“ The dame du comptoir came up to us. ' Madame will do better to come into the back building,’ she said.

' Monsieur was about closing the shop. It was not likely that the fighting would come any nearer, but it was well to be prepared. Madame was naturally terrified, but escape was easy by the rear entrance.’ I briefly explained the case, and the kind Frenchwoman’s face contracted with sympathy.

“'Mon Dieu, Mon Dieu ! poor little lady ! ’ she said, compassionately, and tried to lead Mrs. Effingham away. But the little thing looked up with her woful eyes, and just said, ' O do find John ! O where is John ! ’

“'He must be right here,’ I cried, for I could not resist the glance she gave me; ‘I will go and fetch him, and Jones will stay with you till we come.’

“ I forced my way through the door that the garçon was just barring, and rushed out into the street. People ran wildly by me ; there was a great confusion and tumult. I could see the shining bayonets of the soldiery as they marched by. I urged my way through the crowd of hurrying men, women, and children to the corner of the Boulevard, and there I learned what it meant. Up and down, as far as I could see those rascals were firing on the defenceless crowd ! I just saw a fellow covering me with his carbine in time to duck and run. I ran to the corner of the Chaussée d’Antin, where was a bookseller’s shop, into which I sped ; half a dozen people followed me. It was a little place with a counter on one side, and several of us, seeing that we were pursued, took shelter under it. The shop was almost dark, the shutters being entirely closed. Three or four soldiers came in after us, and, being unable to see clearly, just reached over the counter and jabbed right and left with their bayonets among us. Do you see that scar between those fingers ? The bayonet went through there. It was an ugly cut, but at the time I did not feel it. A poor fellow was killed just beside me, and another desperately wounded, but we were perfectly silent, and the soldiers rushed out as wildly as they had entered, and in three minutes were gone. We scarcely moved for an hour, listening with horror to the sounds outside. My blood boils when I think of that butchery of unarmed people by those cutthroats ! I was distracted at the time with thoughts about Effingham and his poor wife.

“ By and by the noises lulled a little, and I went out and found it was quite dark. Along the Boulevard dead men were lying in heaps. I found my way to the Rue de Helder and tapped on the shutter. The boy Opened the door to the width of a crack. ‘ I have been watching for Monsieur,’he said; ‘madame and the other gentlemen went away by the ruelle into the Rue Taitbout.’

“ ‘ And the husband of madame ? ’ I asked eagerly.

“‘Alas! monsieur, he has not arrived. It is enough to break one’s heart to see cette pauvre petite dame, and she has not once wept.’

“ I went away with caution. The patrol was out, and I heard the heavy rumble of the dead-carts as they went round to pick up the victims of the massacre. As I look my course carefully from street to street in the shadow of the buildings I heard from corner to corner the cry of the guard,

Sentinelle, prenez garde à vous ! ’ but all else was silence and desertion. The Republic was dead, and the funeral guests were slain. It was a glorious holocaust!

“ I found my way to the Rue Louis le Grand. The concierge opened to me with reluctance. ‘ Had Madame Effingham arrived ? ’ I inquired.

“ ' No, madame was dining en ville with monsieur, and would not arrive till late ; apparently there was disturbance. It was possible that monsieur and madame would not return until the streets were more tranquil,’ and the cordon twitched impatiently. Then I did not know what to do. I thought it possible that Jones might have taken Mrs. Effingham to the consul’s as a place of security. I found the flag flying out of the window, as a safeguard, but no news of my friends ; the family had heard the firing, but did not know how serious the matter was until I told them. Then, as a last resort, I went to my own lodging, and there before my fire I found Jones.

“ ‘ Mrs. Effingham is with your landlady,’ he said; ‘I wanted to take her home, but there was such confusion, I was afraid to take her across the Boulevard, so I brought her here, thinking you would come here if you found we had gone and were not in the Rue Louis le Grand. You have n’t found him ? ’

“ I shook my head. Then we talked the whole matter over, imagining every possibility.

“‘She is a remarkable little woman,’ said Jones; ‘she has never uttered a word of complaint, or made a fuss. After you went out she stood and listened till I thought she would drop. People came and thundered at the doors, but could not get in ; they were too secure. I did not know what to say to her ; she did not seem at all frightened, only anxious for John. When you did not return and it got late, I suggested that we should come here, as it was possible you had not been able to get back across the Boulevard. She said she would like to go to her own lodgings. I showed her how impossible it would be for her to pass the patrol, without making a longer détour than she had the strength for, and she submitted instantly. Since she came here she has been in a kind of stupor.’

“ Then we went down to see her. She was sitting on my landlady’s sofa with her blue eyes wide open and tearless, just as I had left her. She tried to say something when she saw me, but the words died on her lips.

“ ' Malheureuse ! ’ said good Madame Bonvalet, ' she will lose her reason.’

“ I sat down by the little thing and tried to talk to her, but by Jove ! when she looked at me with those piteous eyes I just broke down and had to give it up. We sat there silent for a long time ; now and then there would be a sound in the street, and the little white face, pinched with agony, would contract for an instant, and the nervous hands clench themselves tighter. Such a look of watching I never saw in a human countenance. I had been reading Landor in the morning, and you know how certain lines will reiterate themselves like bells in your memory, when you would give the world to get rid of the sound of them. And as I waited there in the dim light, and thought of all the horrors of that day, and the stern possibilities of this wretched woman’s future, I could hear nothing but the monotonous tolling of those verses, —

'Quieter is his breath, his breast more cold
Than daisies in the mould,
Where children spell athwart the churchyard gate,
His name and life’s brief date.
Pray for him, gentle souls, whoe'er you be,
And oh ! pray too for me ! ’

“ At last there came a tremendous peal at the bell, the door flew open with a crash, and there was a sound of hurrying feet. Little Mrs. Effingham sprang up like a wild creature.

“'It is he ! O, it is he ! ’ she shrieked, and flew to the staircase crying, ' John ! John ! ’

“And there,sure enough, rushing up three steps at a time, was Effingham, covered with mud, and with his clothes torn and bloody, but full of life as ever. Of course his wife fainted dead away, and cried like a baby when it was all over, which there was no sense in. But I am afraid Jones and I snivelled a little in company, the let-up was so sudden.”

“ But where had he been ? ” burst in Stuart, as the narrator paused to replenish his pipe.

“ That was the best of it,” said Benborough. “ He could n’t find the wine for a good while, so that by the time he got back to the Boulevard the firing was in full blast, and the bullets were whizzing all about him, and the troops were massed directly in his path. Being a Kentuckian, and used to border warfare, he played ’possum, and threw himself on the ground like a dead man, where he lay for three hours with the whole row going on around him, and the crowd trampling over him, till he managed to roll into the gutter. After dark the dead-carts came round, and a chap was just going to pitch him in with the others, when Eff lifted his head cautiously. The patrol was at the other end of his beat, and had his back turned. Effingham made a sign, to which the fellow responded good-naturedly with a wink, ' Va-t'en vite, que je ne te voie pas !

“ And you may imagine that our friend made good use of his legs. He had been hunting us ever since, being obliged to make a very circuitous journey to avoid the watch ; but lie had tracked us at last; and — would you believe it? — he had held on to that precious winebottle through it all, and pulled it out that we might celebrate his escape with a bumper.”

Sydney Hyde.