Ange Pitou part three
THUS pushing and thus pushed, but still following Monsieur de Beauvau’s aide-de-camp, Gilbert, Billot, and Pitou at length reached the carriage in which the king, accompanied by Messieurs d’Estaing and de Villequier, was slowly advancing amid the crowd, which continually increased.
Extraordinary, unknown, unheard-of spectacle! for it was the first time that such a one had been seen. All those National Guards from the surrounding villages—impromptu soldiers suddenly sprung up—hastened with cries of joy to greet the king in his progress, saluting him with their benedictions, endeavoring to gain a look from him, and then, instead of returning to their homes, taking place in the procession, and accompanying their monarch towards Paris.
And why? No one could have given a reason for it. Were they obeying an instinct? They had seen, but they wished again to see, this well-beloved king.
For it must he acknowledged that at this period Louis XVI. was an adored king, to whom the French would have raised altars, had it not been for the profound contempt with which Voltaire had inspired them for all altars.
Louis XVI. therefore had no altars raised to him, but solely because the thinkers of that day had too high an esteem for him to inflict upon him such a humiliation.
Louis XVI.perceived Gilbert leaning upon the arm of Billot; behind them marched Pitou, still dragging after him his long sabre.
“Ah, Doctor,” cried the king, “what magnificent weather, and what a magnificent people!”
“You see, Sire,” replied Gilbert. Then, turning towards the king: “What did I promise your Majesty?”
“Yes, sir, yes; and you have worthily fulfilled your promise.”
The king raised his head, and with the intention of being heard:—
“We move but slowly,” said he; “and yet it appears to me that we advance but too rapidly for all that we have to see.”
“Sire,” said Monsieur de Beauvau, “and yet, at the pace your Majesty is going, you are travelling about one league in three hours. It would be difficult to go more slowly.”
In fact, the horses were stopped every moment; harangues and replies were interchanged; the National Guards fraternized—the word was only then invented—with the body-guards of his Majesty.
“Ah!” said Gilbert to himself, who contemplated this singular spectacle as a philosopher, “if they fraternize with the body-guards, it was because before being friends they had been enemies.”
“I say, Monsieur Gilbert,” said Billot, in a half-whisper, “I have had a good look at the king; I have listened to him with all my ears. Well, my opinion is that the king is an honest man!”
And the enthusiasm which animated Billot was so overpowering that he raised his voice in uttering these last words to such a pitch that the king and his staff heard him.
The officers laughed outright. The king smiled, and then, nodding his head:—
“That is praise which pleases me,” said he.
These words were spoken loud enough for Billot to hear them.
“Oh, you are right, Sire, for I do not give it to everybody,” replied Billot, entering at once into conversation with his king, as Michaud, the miller, did with Henry IV.
“And that flatters me so much the more,” rejoined the king, much embarrassed at not knowing how to maintain his dignity as a king, and speak graciously as a good patriot.
Alas! the poor prince was not yet accustomed to call himself King of the French.
He thought that he was still called the King of France.
Billot, beside himself with joy, did not give himself the trouble to reflect whether Louis, in a philosophical point of view, had abdicated the title of king to adopt the title of a man. Billot, who felt how much this language resembled rustic plainness,—Billot applauded himself for having comprehended the king, and for having been comprehended by him.
Therefore from that moment Billot became more and more enthusiastic. He drank from the king’s looks, according to the Virgilian expression, deep draughts of love for constitutional royalty, and communicated it to Pitou, who, too full of his own love and the superfluity of Billot’s, overflowed at first in stentorian shouts, then in more squeaking, and finally in less articulate ones of:—
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