The Downfall eBook

Émile Gaboriau
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 721 pages of information about The Downfall.
on this road that he had his encounter with Bismarck, who came hurrying to meet him in an old cap and coarse, greased boots, with the sole object of keeping him occupied and preventing him from seeing the King until the capitulation should have been signed.  The King was still at Vendresse, some nine miles away.  Where was he to go?  What roof would afford him shelter while he waited?  In his own country, so far away, the Palace of the Tuileries had disappeared from his sight, swallowed up in the bosom of a storm-cloud, and he was never to see it more.  Sedan seemed already to have receded into the distance, leagues and leagues, and to be parted from him by a river of blood.  In France there were no longer imperial chateaus, nor official residences, nor even a chimney-nook in the house of the humblest functionary, where he would have dared to enter and claim hospitality.  And it was in the house of the weaver that he determined to seek shelter, the squalid cottage that stood close to the roadside, with its scanty kitchen-garden inclosed by a hedge and its front of a single story with little forbidding windows.  The room above-stairs was simply whitewashed and had a tiled floor; the only furniture was a common pine table and two straw-bottomed chairs.  He spent two hours there, at first in company with Bismarck, who smiled to hear him speak of generosity, after that alone in silent misery, flattening his ashy face against the panes, taking his last look at French soil and at the Meuse, winding in and out, so beautiful, among the broad fertile fields.

Then the next day and the days that came after were other wretched stages of that journey; the Chateau of Bellevue, a pretty bourgeois retreat overlooking the river, where he rested that night, where he shed tears after his interview with King William; the sorrowful departure, that most miserable flight in a hired caleche over remote roads to the north of the city, which he avoided, not caring to face the wrath of the vanquished troops and the starving citizens, making a wide circuit over cross-roads by Floing, Fleigneux, and Illy and crossing the stream on a bridge of boats, laid down by the Prussians at Iges; the tragic encounter, the story of which has been so often told, that occurred on the corpse-cumbered plateau of Illy:  the miserable Emperor, whose state was such that his horse could not be allowed to trot, had sunk under some more than usually violent attack of his complaint, mechanically smoking, perhaps, his everlasting cigarette, when a band of haggard, dusty, blood-stained prisoners, who were being conducted from Fleigneux to Sedan, were forced to leave the road to let the carriage pass and stood watching it from the ditch; those who were at the head of the line merely eyed him in silence; presently a hoarse, sullen murmur began to make itself heard, and finally, as the caleche proceeded down the line, the men burst out with a storm of yells and cat-calls, shaking their fists and calling down

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The Downfall from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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