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The Dentist And The Empress
The mob was at the palace gates; her husband was already a prisoner; the servants were stealing imperial treasures before her eyes; Empress Eugénie turned to the one man in France she could trust—Dr. Thomas W. Evans of Lancaster, Pa.
June/july 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 4
And so on without event through Marly and Le Pecq. Eugénie was calm, composed, wholly without self-pity, and even laughed as she remarked, “Only a few days ago I said I would never leave the Tuileries in a cab, like Louis Philippe—well, that is exactly what I have done.” But sometimes she cried when she looked at a locket containing a miniature of her son. Where was he? A prisoner of the Germans? Dead? Safely over the frontier into Belgium? She did not know.
At Saint-Germain-en-Laye there would be an unavoidable halt at a tollgate for an inspection to determine whether they carried articles subject to the octroi, or city tax. Dr. Evans was ready with an ingenious story, if questioned, but the officers decided the party did not look like peasants smuggling in chickens or cheese and waved them on. At Poissy the road followed the right bank of the Seine, passing through Triel and Meulan toward Mantes-la-jolie. It became clear that the horses needed a rest. A stop was made at a small cabaret where a stout, red-faced old woman produced a bottle of local wine, a loaf of bread, two or three kinds of cheese, a big bologna sausage, and a knife. The repast was shared with the ladies though they did not venture to leave the carriage. So on through wheat fields, orchards, and vineyards, until the party reached Limay, a suburb of Mantes. Here the doctor’s horses reached their limit, and Célestin turned back on the Paris road. From now on Evans and his charges would be in the hands of chance.
At Mantes the doctor was able to hire a landau, two fairly good horses, and a driver to take them as far as Pacy-sur-Eure. Evans was able to buy copies of the Journal Officiel and Le Figaro . He found no references to Eugénie. But General Trochu’s appointment as President of the new government was bitter news to the Empress. She dropped the newspaper. Her voice trembled: “How was it possible for him so to betray me!”
The hamlet of Pacy proved to be a hard place to get out of. Finally the doctor negotiated for an old calash, an ancient chariot that had not been used since the advent of the railways. It was pulled by a good gray mare and an unmatched plow horse, the harness pieced out by strings and ropes, but good enough, from the local point of view, for foreigners. As the coach traversed the chalky hills of Normandy, Dr. Evans made the professional observation to Dr. Crane that the stock of tooth powder in those hills seemed prodigiously in excess of any probable demand.
Evreux. A sleepy provincial town except when there was a fair or a fire. At Cambolle, the coachman stopped at a café to rest and water the horses. Suddenly the sound of the Marseillaise was heard and the now familiar shouts of Vive la République! The Empress turned white. Mme. Lebreton shuddered. But it was only a unit of the Gardes Mobiles returning from a review in Evreux, full of wine and patriotism.
At sunset the coach reached the small village of La Commanderie. There it was possible to hire fresh horses because of Dr. Evans’ well-filled purse, and to push on in the same old rattletrap vehicle. It threatened to collapse, almost did, but after roadside repairs the party arrived at La Rivière de Thibouville in the valley of the Risle at about ten o’clock at night. They entered a primitive inn, Le Soleil d’Or. Madame appeared. She declared with relish that no carriage could be hired and both of her rooms were occupied. Once again Dr. Evans and his supply of francs prevailed. The rooms were had and endured with their hard beds and rough washstands. The Empress laughed nervously, exclaimed that it was “really too funny!”
In the middle of the night, men shouting, horses clattering. Perhaps the cavalry had arrived to make the arrest. Relief—it was a party of gamekeepers looking for poachers.
The next morning Dr. Evans found that the nearest horses were sixteen kilometers away. Why bother with horses, the proprietress pointed out, when la Rivière was on a branch rail line which connected with the Paris-Cherbourg express at Sequigny? An hour on the train had to be risked. Entering the compartment, Eugénie made a mistake and pulled back her veil. The Stationmaster stared as the train moved off. The Empress was frightened and never forgot the incident though it had no sequel. In a little more than an hour they were off the train at Lisieux. Rain was falling. When Dr. Evans arrived with a carriage he found the Empress soaked and mud-stained in the doorway of a carpet factory. His mind traveled back. He saw her as she had been only a year before, honored guest of the Sultan of Turkey, seated on a dais of crimson silk, a diamond tiara on her head, her arms and neck flashing with jewels; gliding across the Golden Horn in the afternoon sun in a forty-oared barge.
At Lisieux, another close call. Eugénie forgot herself when she saw a policeman abusing a man in the street. Rising in the carriage, she commanded, “I am the Empress, and I order you to let that man go. ” A sticky moment; but Dr. Evans was equal to the emergency. He conveyed to the onlookers that the poor lady was mad. One can imagine the gesture by which he made known this information; and it worked.