(Essentials of European Literature)

In the days following the fall of the Bastille, King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were forcibly escorted to Paris by troops under the command of General Lafayette. With the king were his most trusted aides, Count Olivier de Charny, the Marquis de Favras, and a commoner but also a close and trusted friend of the king, Dr. Gilbert. During the commotion of the king’s return, an agent of the powerful and mysterious Cagliostro learned from the king’s locksmith, Gamain, of the construction of a secret door in the quarters in Paris where the king was to be confined. He immediately reported this information to Cagliostro. It was suspected by Cagliostro that the secret door would be used in the future to allow the king’s escape with his family.

Meanwhile, young Sebastian Gilbert, disturbed by reports of riots in Paris, left his foster home in the country in order to seek his father, for whose safety he feared. In Paris, Sebastian met the Countess Andree de Charny, whom he immediately felt was his mother. She, in turn, recognized him as her own long-lost son. What Sebastian did not know, however, was that he had been born out of wedlock when the countess, then known as Mademoiselle de Taverney, had been attacked by Dr. Gilbert, at that time only a humble peasant, fifteen years before. Later, when she became the wife of Count de Charny and gained the favor of Queen Marie Antoinette, she procured from the queen a lettre de cachet and had Dr. Gilbert locked in the Bastille where he stayed until it was captured by the rioting populace.

Years had brought a philosophic calm to Dr. Gilbert, and he now sought to expiate his early crime by doing deeds of charity to all who would accept his services.

Sebastian, sensing his mother’s hatred for his own father, ran away and was run over by a carriage in the streets of Paris soon after leaving the countess’ apartment. Arriving soon after in search of his son, Dr. Gilbert quickly traced the boy to a small house where Sebastian had been taken after the accident. Dr. Gilbert administered to him, and he recovered.

Count de Charny, knowing nothing of his wife’s early misfortune, could not understand why their relationship had remained so distant throughout their married life; the countess had been fearful that her husband would discover the story of her earlier life. Now, however, the count had little time to think of his own affairs because of the rapid movements of events and the dangers facing the king and his family.

Soon after the royal family’s arrival in Paris, King Louis summoned de Charny and asked him to go on a mission to the Marquis de Bouille and procure his aid in securing troops to cover the king’s escape. Meanwhile, Dr. Gilbert tried to convince King Louis to put his trust in Honore Mirabeau, who was then the man...

(The entire section is 1157 words.)