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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
The clouds lifted and the sun appeared fitfully as the hackney coach lumbered the last thirty kilometers through a rich land of yellow wheat, green belts of clover and sugar beets, apple orchards, and lush meadows with grazing cattle. Eugénie’s spirits revived and she recounted gaily how she had washed her two handkerchiefs and ironed them by pasting them on a windowpane. “When there is no necessity to move us,” she said, “we little suspect our own cleverness or ability to do things.” And an admiring biographer comments: “Luxury and power had not corrupted her.”
Threading the valleys of the Auge and Touques rivers, passing quickly through Pont l’Evêque, they entered Trouville, crossed the bridge to stop at last near the Deauville race course. Dr. Evans walked into town and located Mrs. Evans at the Hôtel Casino. He looked pale and shaken as he told her that the deposed Empress of the French was outside under his protection. With relief he heard from her that no one knew where Eugénie was. Concealing his charge with an umbrella, he took her to Mrs. Evans’ apartment, and she sank into a chair exclaiming, “Saved!”
The next step was to find passage to England. The two doctors, Evans and Crane, sauntered along the Quay de la Marine. There they saw a pretty craft called the Gazelle , owned, they learned from a sailor, by a Briton, Sir John Burgoyne. Dr. Evans presented his card to Sir John and asked if he could inspect the yacht. The owner obligingly showed the doctors around the sixty-foot, forty-two-ton cutter. Dr. Evans then revealed that he wanted the Gazelle to take the Empress to England, appealing to Burgoyne as a chivalrous English gentleman. Burgoyne threw up various objections but finally agreed to submit the question to Lady Burgoyne. She knew Paris well, had heard of Dr. Evans and his connection with the Imperial Court, and said, “Well, why not?” So the matter was decided. With preparations made for the departure, Sir John began to worry that word might have somehow got out; he decided it would be wise to appear at the casino that evening, circulate a bit, and dance a set of Lancers. Later a police agent appeared and searched the yacht, finding nothing amiss. Fortunately, the Empress had not yet come aboard. What information the detective acted upon is not known, and this curious affair has never been satisfactorily explained.
As the doctor escorted the Empress to the cutter, he reflected again upon the drama of Her Majesty’s life, the fall from the pinnacle of power, from ladies in waiting, chamberlains, cavalry escorts drawn from the Cent-Gardes, cheering crowds, sedulous journals reporting every detail of her charming hats, her gowns, and jewels, her white shoes worn once, then sent to an orphan asylum for the girls taking their first communion. And now she walked unsteadily, guided by a man raised under a wholly different political system, past brilliantly lighted cafés where the dangerous classes shouted, sang, and clicked glasses, enjoying at once the heady exhilaration of Calvados, disorder, and war, uncaring that the Emperor of the French nation and sixty thousand men were prisoners and their country already defeated.
At six-thirty in the morning Dr. Crane departed for Paris with confidential messages and to prepare the field hospital to receive the wounded from Sedan. At seven the Gazelle sailed for Southampton. It was a wild day and night. The sturdy little craft rolled and pitched in a great storm but reached Rye Roads, Isle of Wight, and let go her anchor about four A.M. Lady Burgoyne proved to be a cheerful, nervy, accomplished hostess, and at the happy ending Eugénie’s health was drunk in champagne.
“They tell of Roman matrons,” said Eugénie in recalling that roaring night at sea, “but nothing is more wonderful to me than the sight of an English lady moving about a yacht cabin in a storm….”
Dr. Evans quickly discovered that the Prince Imperial was safe in England, at Hastings. Eugénie hurried to join him. Meanwhile the doctor found a suitable house for her, a country seat not unlike a French château, known as Camden Place. It was at Chislehurst, only twenty minutes from Charing Cross Station in London, yet quiet and secluded. Evans’ discretion may be put in evidence at this point. He did not mention to Her Majesty that the estate at Chislehurst was rented to him by a former protector of the wealthy Miss Howard who had been Napoleon Ill’s mistress and had financed his coup d’état of 1851.