The Dentist And The Empress

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Eugénie had made a wise choice in her moment of peril. Dr. Evans was level-headed, devoted, dependable, chivalric, a safe man, and resourceful. He was deeply touched that this shaken, careworn, but still beautiful woman, so recently wielding the supreme powers of state with courage and decisiveness, had been forced to come to him, an American, for asylum. He responded instantly. But he was human enough also to savor the situation. It was romantic, historic, and possibly dangerous. Evans was probably familiar, as the Empress certainly was, with the fate of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, how they were discovered in their flight from the Tuileries and arrested at Varennes, just as it seemed they had made good their escape, and were ignominiously hauled back to Paris and eventually to the guillotine.

The Empress wished to leave Paris at once and go to England. Orders for her arrest might be issued at any moment, for the opinion was widely and resentfully held that she had instigated the war with Prussia to consolidate the dynasty behind her fourteen-year-old son, the Prince Imperial. Dr. Evans hurriedly explained the situation to Dr. Crane. Dinner guests were expected, active members of the committee concerned with setting up the field hospital. Indeed, while the doctors conferred, the gate bell announced the first arrivals. While Crane received them, made Dr. Evans’ excuses, and acted as host, Evans returned to the library to make plans for the Empress’ escape. Dr. Crane joined the discussion as soon as the guests had departed. Eugénie first suggested that the doctor take her in his carriage to the railroad station at Poissy, some fifteen miles from Paris, to catch a night train arriving at Le Havre the next morning. There she could board the Channel boat to Southampton.

 

But the Empress’ weariness and the risk of recognition of a famous face in a public conveyance enabled Dr. Evans to persuade her to wait until the next morning. He urged travel by carriage and coach rather than by train, aiming for Deauville on the coast of Normandy, a seaside resort where Mrs. Evans was spending the month. At Deauville he hoped to find some means of getting across the English Channel.

Passports. The Prefect of Police, still loyal to the Emperor who had appointed him, had provided Evans with a bona fide visaed document issued by the British Embassy and for some reason never called for. It was issued to a “C. W. Campbell, M.D.,” who was returning to England, and his patient, “Mrs. Burslem.” Doctor Evans recognized this identifying document as the perfect way to explain the trip at checkpoints. There would be some role playing. Dr. Crane would be the British physician, the Empress the patient, Dr. Evans her brother, and Madame Lebreton the nurse. During the evening Dr. Evans scouted in the direction of the Porte Maillot, where they would attempt to leave the city in the morning. He was encouraged when he noted that carriages were passing through the gate without unusual inspection.

At five the next morning, after coffee and rolls, the party entered Dr. Evans’ brown landau, a four-seated, enclosed carriage. All were still in the clothes they wore the night before and carried no articles de voyage except Eugénie’s little purse containing the two handkerchiefs. Eugénie wore the thin mackintosh provided her the day before over her black dress, the veil, and a little round hat belonging to Mrs. Evans. Madame Lebreton took the back seat, right hand. The Empress was on the left. Crane sat opposite Madame Lebreton, Dr. Evans opposite Eugénie. This arrangement kept the fallen sovereign out of the sight of guards stationed on the left side of the gate. With Dr. Evans’ faithful Célestin on the box they were off to Saint-Germain. It was a lovely morning. The city was just awakening. Street cleaners wielded their long-brush brooms. Shopkeepers were taking down their heavy shutters. Market wagons clattered through the streets.

The guard at the Porte Maillot ordered a halt. Dr. Evans let down his window, leaned forward so as to fill the opening, and held a newspaper loosely in his left hand concealing the face of the person sitting opposite him. The doctor explained to the guard that he was going into the country to spend the day with friends, that he was an American, well known to everybody in the Sixteenth Arrondissement. The officer stepped back, looked up at Célestin, and ordered, “Allez. ” With a rumble of wheels the vehicle crossed a drawbridge over the moat, past the sentries at the fortifications.

Spirits rose as the carriage followed the great highway, the route impérial , which led west to the Normandy coast and safety. They passed through Neuilly, crossed the Seine to the left bank, with Courbevoie off to the right, then through Puteaux and Saint-Cloud as the sun illuminated the hills, just beginning to be touched with autumn tints. A few kilometers farther on appeared the church of Rueil where the ashes of the Empress Josephine and the beautiful Queen Hortense (Napoleon Ill’s mother) rested. They skirted the park of Malmaison where Josephine lived after the divorce from the great Napoleon and where he waited after Waterloo to be sent to prison at St. Helena. “Everything was suggestive,” Dr. Evans reflected. “The very road we were traveling had been a via dolorosa in the history of the Bonaparte family.”