* The Three Deaths of Uncle Antoine *
by Josephine de Harne Jones

 

Between the years of 1793 and 1815, great-grand uncle Antoine experienced two of his three deaths. The following is his story as told by Emil de Harne to Josephine de Harne Jones.

"Every Sunday, when the whole family was going to high Mass, they used to meet a shabbily-dressed old man who was generally followed by a band of gamins or street boys singing in a sing-song tone, ‘Bearelle, Bearelle, go the hell, rike a tike a tik, met the kilhen on ye rick’, which is Flemish patois and means, ‘Bearelle, Bearelle, go to hell, rick a tick a tick, with the bells on your back’. This was an allusion to the fact that Bearelle had, during the French Revolution, bought many church bells for a song, melted them down, and sold them for a good price."

"The poor wretch always followed us saying, ‘Mr. de Haerne, in God’s name give me something. I saved your uncle’s life at the risk of my own!"

"The latter always answered: ‘I know - and you know where I live’."

"Still the beggar insisted, and he always gave him such an alm that we were astonished. He promised to give the key to the enigma which I am now going to relate."

"Before the invasion of Belgium by the sanscullottes (without breeches--an allusion to the wearing of the pantaloon by the revolutionaries), Uncle Antoine, a young nobleman not burdened by earthly riches like many younger scions of illustrious families, was ‘Roeveur de la Chatelaine’ of Ypres and had the repairing of public edifices among his functions. He had, consequently, often furnished work to a man by the name of Bearelle. As this poor neighbor, who was a plumber and tinsmith by trade, had a very numerous family, it was really charity to give him work, and the man was so grateful that he was willing to risk his life for Uncle Antoine."

"When the sanscullottes invaded Belgium, Bearelle espoused eagerness for the revolutionary ideas and was soon appointed judge of the ‘Comite de Salute Publique’ (Committee of Public Safety)."

"Uncle Antoine, on the other hand, was arrested and brought over to the citadel of Lille to be judged for having hidden tracked priests and for being ‘roi-devant’ (one belonging to the former regime of noble families). But in those terrible days, to be accused was to be condemned."

"As soon as the sentence of death was pronounced, Judge Bearelle got up and came to the prisoner, insulting him--yes, even striking him with his fist, but the blow was accompanied by a wink that Uncle Antoine understood as he took the scrap of paper that the Judge had thrust into his hand."

"Alone in his cell, Uncle Antoine expected to be executed, but the paper given him by Bearelle had a surprising message, ‘Under mattress uniform of National Guard--turnkey bribed--word of pass ‘Casselle’--swallow paper!’"

"Shaking with excitement, Uncle Antoine stood for a minute motionless, but hope soon revived him. He fell on his knees, and after a short fervent prayer, donned his uniform, went to the door, and found it unlocked! When the sentry had his back turned, he stole out of his cell and carefully searched about until he found the gate that opened at the magic password ‘Casselle’. Once again outside the prison, Uncle Antoine breathed the sweet air of freedom again. Deeming the republican atmosphere unhealthy for him, he lost no time in setting the boundaries of Holland between himself and the revolutionaries. There he lived a miserable life until Napoleon allowed the ‘emigres’ (emigrants--mostly nobles and priests) to return to France."

"But let us see in the meantime, how Judge Bearelle arranged matters to cover up Uncle Antoine’s escape. Since he presided at the execution, Bearelle had a simple plan in mind. He had the roll call of over two hundred condemned and it was he who marked off the names of the executed. When he came to the name of Antoine de Haerne, he did not call it out, but he did mark it to signify that Antoine was present. Nobody would notice the absence of one person among hundreds. Consequently, Antoine de Haerne was listed as ‘Etat Civil, shot in the Citadelle of Lille’. This was Uncle Antoine’s FIRST DEATH."

"When Napoleon allowed the nobles and priests to return to his dominions, Uncle Antoine’s heart was filled with joy and hope. Imagine his shock when he realized that his brother, who now owned his beloved home, could not restore it--however sincerely he wished to--to a man legally dead. Uncle Antoine could neither buy nor sell, nor vote, nor marry, and his situation after a long absence was an unbearable one. Vainly did Bearelle and many old friends testify in his favor. The government required two reliable witnesses to resurrect a dead man, and unhappily for him, the turnkey who had helped in his escape had fallen on the battlefields of Spain."

"Napoleon, however, being short of ‘chair a cannon’ (flesh for cannons) was willing to resurrect Uncle Antoine on condition that he enlist in the Gardes d’Honneur--his body guard. Uncle Antoine felt little inclination to serve the ‘parvenu’ upstart and stand the fatigue and dangers of bloody campaigns, but he did join the army and don the Gardes d’Honneur uniform. The bodyguard was not engaged in battle until the Leipzig battle was fought. On that memorable day, at the beginning of the battle, Antoine received a flesh wound in the thigh, and after considerable loss of blood, tumbled off of his horse."

"When the battle was over, the order was given to bury the fallen gardes d’Honneur separately. Among broken swords, rifles and gore, Uncle Antoine was found and thrown into a wagon to be buried in a common trench. This was his SECOND DEATH."

"Happily, when he was taken from the gory cart, his uniform of the Gardes d’Honneur brought him special attention and a surgeon noticed that life was not extinct. The surgeon nursed him back to health."

"Uncle Antoine settled in his birthplace, Ypres, living an uneventful life. When an old man, but wonderfully active for his age, he used to go to the Club de la Chatelaine every afternoon to play chess with a friend. Returning home one winter evening through the ill-lit streets, he was knocked down by a carriage that he had not heard and broke a rib. From the complications of the accident, he died."

"THIRD DEATH--and final one."

 

 

Some Related Links
The Counts of Harnes
      Michel of Harnes, the Knight-Trouvere
      The Last Count of Harnes
Descendants of the Counts of Harnes
      The Three Deaths of Uncle Antoine
Harnes Through the Ages

 

 



Copyright © Michael S. Clark, Ph.D., 1998-2017 - All rights reserved.