Quid mirare meas tot in uno corpore formas?
(Why wonder that I have so many forms in a single body?)
Zanoni to Mejnour.
. . . . .
“She is in one of their prisons — their inexorable prisons. It is Robespierre’s order — I have tracked the cause to Glyndon. This, then, made that terrible connection between their fates which I could not unravel, but which (till severed as it now is) wrapped Glyndon himself in the same cloud that concealed her. In prison — in prison! — it is the gate of the grave! Her trial, and the inevitable execution that follows such trial, is the third day from this. The tyrant has fixed all his schemes of slaughter for the 10th of Thermidor. While the deaths of the unoffending strike awe to the city, his satellites are to massacre his foes. There is but one hope left — that the Power which now dooms the doomer, may render me an instrument to expedite his fall. But two days left — two days! In all my wealth of time I see but two days; all beyond — darkness, solitude. I may save her yet. The tyrant shall fall the day before that which he has set apart for slaughter! For the first time I mix among the broils and stratagems of men, and my mind leaps up from my despair, armed and eager for the contest.”
. . . .
A crowd had gathered round the Rue St. Honore; a young man was just arrested by the order of Robespierre. He was known to be in the service of Tallien, that hostile leader in the Convention, whom the tyrant had hitherto trembled to attack. This incident had therefore produced a greater excitement than a circumstance so customary as an arrest in the Reign of Terror might be supposed to create. Amongst the crowd were many friends of Tallien, many foes to the tyrant, many weary of beholding the tiger dragging victim after victim to its den. Hoarse, foreboding murmurs were heard; fierce eyes glared upon the officers as they seized their prisoner; and though they did not yet dare openly to resist, those in the rear pressed on those behind, and encumbered the path of the captive and his captors. The young man struggled hard for escape, and, by a violent effort, at last wrenched himself from the grasp. The crowd made way, and closed round to protect him, as he dived and darted through their ranks; but suddenly the trampling of horses was heard at hand — the savage Henriot and his troop were bearing down upon the mob. The crowd gave way in alarm, and the prisoner was again seized by one of the partisans of the Dictator. At that moment a voice whispered the prisoner, “Thou hast a letter which, if found on thee, ruins thy last hope. Give it to me! I will bear it to Tallien.” The prisoner turned in amaze, read something that encouraged him in the eyes of the stranger who thus accosted him. The troop were now on the spot; the Jacobin who had seized the prisoner released hold of him for a moment to escape the hoofs of the horses: in that moment the opportunity was found — the stranger had disappeared.
. . . .
At the house of Tallien the principal foes of the tyrant were assembled. Common danger made common fellowship. All factions laid aside their feuds for the hour to unite against the formidable man who was marching over all factions to his gory throne. There was bold Lecointre, the declared enemy; there, creeping Barrere, who would reconcile all extremes, the hero of the cowards; Barras, calm and collected; Collet d’Herbois, breathing wrath and vengeance, and seeing not that the crimes of Robespierre alone sheltered his own.
The council was agitated and irresolute. The awe which the uniform success and the prodigious energy of Robespierre excited still held the greater part under its control. Tallien, whom the tyrant most feared, and who alone could give head and substance and direction to so many contradictory passions, was too sullied by the memory of his own cruelties not to feel embarrassed by his position as the champion of mercy. “It is true,” he said, after an animating harangue from Lecointre, “that the Usurper menaces us all. But he is still so beloved by his mobs — still so supported by his Jacobins: better delay open hostilities till the hour is more ripe. To attempt and not succeed is to give us, bound hand and foot, to the guillotine. Every day his power must decline. Procrastination is our best ally —” While yet speaking, and while yet producing the effect of water on the fire, it was announced that a stranger demanded to see him instantly on business that brooked no delay.
“I am not at leisure,” said the orator, impatiently. The servant placed a note on the table. Tallien opened it, and found these words in pencil, “From the prison of Teresa de Fontenai.” He turned pale, started up, and hastened to the anteroom, where he beheld a face entirely strange to him.
“Hope of France!” said the visitor to him, and the very sound of his voice went straight to the heart — “your servant is arrested in the streets. I have saved your life, and that of your wife who will be. I bring to you this letter from Teresa de Fontenai.”
Tallien, with a trembling hand, opened the letter, and read —
“Am I forever to implore you in vain? Again and again I say, ‘Lose not an hour if you value my life and your own.’ My trial and death are fixed the third day from this — the 10th Thermidor. Strike while it is yet time — strike the monster! — you have two days yet. If you fail — if you procrastinate — see me for the last time as I pass your windows to the guillotine!”
“Her trial will give proof against you,” said the stranger. “Her death is the herald of your own. Fear not the populace — the populace would have rescued your servant. Fear not Robespierre — he gives himself to your hands. To-morrow he comes to the Convention — tomorrow you must cast the last throw for his head or your own.”
“To-morrow he comes to the Convention! And who are you that know so well what is concealed from me?”
“A man like you, who would save the woman he loves.”
Before Tallien could recover his surprise, the visitor was gone.
Back went the Avenger to his conclave an altered man. “I have heard tidings — no matter what,” he cried — “that have changed my purpose. On the 10th we are destined to the guillotine. I revoke my counsel for delay. Robespierre comes to the Convention tomorrow; THERE we must confront and crush him. From the Mountain shall frown against him the grim shade of Danton — from the Plain shall rise, in their bloody cerements, the spectres of Vergniaud and Condorcet. Frappons!”
“Frappons!” cried even Barrere, startled into energy by the new daring of his colleague — “frappons! il n’y a que les morts qui ne reviennent pas.”
It was observable (and the fact may be found in one of the memoirs of the time) that, during that day and night (the 7th Thermidor), a stranger to all the previous events of that stormy time was seen in various parts of the city — in the cafes, the clubs, the haunts of the various factions; that, to the astonishment and dismay of his hearers, he talked aloud of the crimes of Robespierre, and predicted his coming fall; and, as he spoke, he stirred up the hearts of men, he loosed the bonds of their fear — he inflamed them with unwonted rage and daring. But what surprised them most was, that no voice replied, no hand was lifted against him, no minion, even of the tyrant, cried, “Arrest the traitor.” In that impunity men read, as in a book, that the populace had deserted the man of blood.
Once only a fierce, brawny Jacobin sprang up from the table at which he sat, drinking deep, and, approaching the stranger, said, “I seize thee, in the name of the Republic.”
“Citizen Aristides,” answered the stranger, in a whisper, “go to the lodgings of Robespierre — he is from home; and in the left pocket of the vest which he cast off not an hour since thou wilt find a paper; when thou hast read that, return. I will await thee; and if thou wouldst then seize me, I will go without a struggle. Look round on those lowering brows; touch me NOW, and thou wilt be torn to pieces.”
The Jacobin felt as if compelled to obey against his will. He went forth muttering; he returned — the stranger was still there. “Mille tonnerres,” he said to him, “I thank thee; the poltroon had my name in his list for the guillotine.”
With that the Jacobin Aristides sprang upon the table and shouted, “Death to the Tyrant!”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06