My Ten Years' Imprisonment/Chapter 19
The jailer at that moment passed under our windows, and ordered us to be silent.
What can he mean by the unfortunate duke of Normandy? thought I, musing to myself. Ah! is not that the title said to be assumed by the son of Louis XVI.? but that unhappy child is indisputably no more. Then my neighbour must be one of those unlucky adventurers who have undertaken to bring him to life again. Not a few had already taken upon themselves to personate this Louis XVII., and were proved to be impostors; how is my new acquaintance entitled to greater credit for his pains?
Although I tried to give him the advantage of a doubt, I felt an insurmountable incredulity upon the subject, which was not subsequently removed. At the same time, I determined not to mortify the unhappy man, whatever sort of absurdity he might please to hazard before my face.
A few minutes afterwards he began again to sing, and we soon renewed our conversation. In answer to my inquiry, "What is your real name?" he replied, "I am no other than Louis XVII." And he then launched into very severe invectives against his uncle, Louis XVIII., the usurper of his just and natural rights.
"But why," said I, "did you not prefer your claims at the period of the restoration?"
"I was unable, from extreme illness, to quit the city of Bologna. The moment I was better I hastened to Paris; I presented myself to the allied monarchs, but the work was done. The good Prince of Conde knew, and received me with open arms, but his friendship availed me not. One evening, passing through a lonely street, I was suddenly attacked by assassins, and escaped with difficulty. After wandering through Normandy, I returned into Italy, and stopped some time at Modena. Thence I wrote to the allied powers, in particular to the Emperor Alexander, who replied to my letter with expressions of the greatest kindness. I did not then despair of obtaining justice, or, at all events, if my rights were to be sacrificed, of being allowed a decent provision, becoming a prince. But I was arrested, and handed over to the Austrian government. During eight months I have been here buried alive, and God knows when I shall regain my freedom."
I begged him to give me a brief sketch of his life. He told me very minutely what I already knew relating to Louis XVII. and the cruel Simon, and of the infamous calumnies that wretch was induced to utter respecting the unfortunate queen, &c. Finally he said, that while in prison, some persons came with an idiot boy of the name of Mathurin, who was substituted for him, while he himself was carried off. A coach and four was in readiness; one of the horses was merely a wooden-machine, in the interior of which he was concealed. Fortunately, they reached the confines, and the General (he gave me the name, which has escaped me) who effected his release, educated him for some time with the attention of a father, and subsequently sent, or accompanied him, to America. There the young king, without a sceptre, had room to indulge his wandering disposition; he was half famished in the forests; became at length a soldier, and resided some time, in good credit, at the court of the Brazils. There, too, he was pursued and persecuted, till compelled to make his escape. He returned to Europe towards the close of Napoleon's career, was kept a close prisoner at Naples by Murat; and, at last, when he was liberated, and in full preparation to reclaim the throne of France, he was seized with that unlucky illness at Bologna, during which Louis XVIII. was permitted to assume his nephew's crown.