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 cafès of the smallest
villages, full of tradesmen in uniform, resembled barracks or field
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
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
"Long live the Republic! Long live the Republic! Long live the
Then he dropped into his armchair weak with emotion.
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
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 republic, stupid;"
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
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 three men arrived together. They were in their working clothes.
The commander, who had expected to see them in uniform, had a fit
"You know nothing, then? The Emperor has been taken prisoner. A
republic is proclaimed. My position is delicate, not to say
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
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
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 country soldiers.
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 refused.
"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
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
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 commander returned to his troops. But before explaining
anything, measuring Lieutenant Picard from head to foot, he said:
"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 pocket, said:
"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
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 buildings empty.
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 his speed.
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
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
"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
"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
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 line!"
But no emotion was manifested. The doctor tried again. "The people
are free! You are free and independent! Do you understand? Be proud
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 straw-bottomed chair.
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
"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
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
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
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."
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