In poppa quella
Che guidar gli dovea, fatal Donsella.
“Ger. Lib.” cant. xv. 3.
(By the prow was the fatal lady ordained to be the guide.)
The Italian did not overrate that craft of simulation proverbial with her country and her sex. Not a word, not a look, that day revealed to Glyndon the deadly change that had converted devotion into hate. He himself, indeed, absorbed in his own schemes, and in reflections on his own strange destiny, was no nice observer. But her manner, milder and more subdued than usual, produced a softening effect upon his meditations towards the evening; and he then began to converse with her on the certain hope of escape, and on the future that would await them in less unhallowed lands.
“And thy fair friend,” said Fillide, with an averted eye and a false smile, “who was to be our companion? — thou hast resigned her, Nicot tells me, in favour of one in whom he is interested. Is it so?”
“He told thee this!” returned Glyndon, evasively. “Well! does the change content thee?”
“Traitor!” muttered Fillide; and she rose suddenly, approached him, parted the long hair from his forehead caressingly, and pressed her lips convulsively on his brow.
“This were too fair a head for the doomsman,” said she, with a slight laugh, and, turning away, appeared occupied in preparations for their departure.
The next morning, when he rose, Glyndon did not see the Italian; she was absent from the house when he left it. It was necessary that he should once more visit C— before his final Departure, not only to arrange for Nicot’s participation in the flight, but lest any suspicion should have arisen to thwart or endanger the plan he had adopted. C — though not one of the immediate coterie of Robespierre, and indeed secretly hostile to him, had possessed the art of keeping well with each faction as it rose to power. Sprung from the dregs of the populace, he had, nevertheless, the grace and vivacity so often found impartially amongst every class in France. He had contrived to enrich himself — none knew how — in the course of his rapid career. He became, indeed, ultimately one of the wealthiest proprietors of Paris, and at that time kept a splendid and hospitable mansion. He was one of those whom, from various reasons, Robespierre deigned to favour; and he had often saved the proscribed and suspected, by procuring them passports under disguised names, and advising their method of escape. But C— was a man who took this trouble only for the rich. “The incorruptible Maximilien,” who did not want the tyrant’s faculty of penetration, probably saw through all his manoeuvres, and the avarice which he cloaked beneath his charity. But it was noticeable that Robespierre frequently seemed to wink at — nay, partially to encourage — such vice in men whom he meant hereafter to destroy, as would tend to lower them in the public estimation, and to contrast with his own austere and unassailable integrity and PURISM. And, doubtless, he often grimly smiled in his sleeve at the sumptuous mansion and the griping covetousness of the worthy Citizen C—.
To this personage, then, Glyndon musingly bent his way. It was true, as he had darkly said to Viola, that in proportion as he had resisted the spectre, its terrors had lost their influence. The time had come at last, when, seeing crime and vice in all their hideousness, and in so vast a theatre, he had found that in vice and crime there are deadlier horrors than in the eyes of a phantom-fear. His native nobleness began to return to him. As he passed the streets, he revolved in his mind projects of future repentance and reformation. He even meditated, as a just return for Fillide’s devotion, the sacrifice of all the reasonings of his birth and education. He would repair whatever errors he had committed against her, by the self-immolation of marriage with one little congenial with himself. He who had once revolted from marriage with the noble and gentle Viola! — he had learned in that world of wrong to know that right is right, and that Heaven did not make the one sex to be the victim of the other. The young visions of the Beautiful and the Good rose once more before him; and along the dark ocean of his mind lay the smile of reawakening virtue, as a path of moonlight. Never, perhaps, had the condition of his soul been so elevated and unselfish.
In the meanwhile Jean Nicot, equally absorbed in dreams of the future, and already in his own mind laying out to the best advantage the gold of the friend he was about to betray, took his way to the house honoured by the residence of Robespierre. He had no intention to comply with the relenting prayer of Fillide, that the life of Glyndon should be spared. He thought with Barrere, “Il n’y a que les morts qui ne revient pas.” In all men who have devoted themselves to any study, or any art, with sufficient pains to attain a certain degree of excellence, there must be a fund of energy immeasurably above that of the ordinary herd. Usually this energy is concentrated on the objects of their professional ambition, and leaves them, therefore, apathetic to the other pursuits of men. But where those objects are denied, where the stream has not its legitimate vent, the energy, irritated and aroused, possesses the whole being, and if not wasted on desultory schemes, or if not purified by conscience and principle, becomes a dangerous and destructive element in the social system, through which it wanders in riot and disorder. Hence, in all wise monarchies — nay, in all well-constituted states — the peculiar care with which channels are opened for every art and every science; hence the honour paid to their cultivators by subtle and thoughtful statesmen, who, perhaps, for themselves, see nothing in a picture but coloured canvas — nothing in a problem but an ingenious puzzle. No state is ever more in danger than when the talent that should be consecrated to peace has no occupation but political intrigue or personal advancement. Talent unhonoured is talent at war with men. And here it is noticeable, that the class of actors having been the most degraded by the public opinion of the old regime, their very dust deprived of Christian burial, no men (with certain exceptions in the company especially favoured by the Court) were more relentless and revengeful among the scourges of the Revolution. In the savage Collot d’Herbois, mauvais comedien, were embodied the wrongs and the vengeance of a class.
Now the energy of Jean Nicot had never been sufficiently directed to the art he professed. Even in his earliest youth, the political disquisitions of his master, David, had distracted him from the more tedious labours of the easel. The defects of his person had embittered his mind; the atheism of his benefactor had deadened his conscience. For one great excellence of religion — above all, the Religion of the Cross — is, that it raises PATIENCE first into a virtue, and next into a hope. Take away the doctrine of another life, of requital hereafter, of the smile of a Father upon our sufferings and trials in our ordeal here, and what becomes of patience? But without patience, what is man? — and what a people? Without patience, art never can be high; without patience, liberty never can be perfected. By wild throes, and impetuous, aimless struggles, Intellect seeks to soar from Penury, and a nation to struggle into Freedom. And woe, thus unfortified, guideless, and unenduring — woe to both!
Nicot was a villain as a boy. In most criminals, however abandoned, there are touches of humanity — relics of virtue; and the true delineator of mankind often incurs the taunt of bad hearts and dull minds, for showing that even the worst alloy has some particles of gold, and even the best that come stamped from the mint of Nature have some adulteration of the dross. But there are exceptions, though few, to the general rule — exceptions, when the conscience lies utterly dead, and when good or bad are things indifferent but as means to some selfish end. So was it with the protege of the atheist. Envy and hate filled up his whole being, and the consciousness of superior talent only made him curse the more all who passed him in the sunlight with a fairer form or happier fortunes. But, monster though he was, when his murderous fingers griped the throat of his benefactor, Time, and that ferment of all evil passions — the Reign of Blood — had made in the deep hell of his heart a deeper still. Unable to exercise his calling (for even had he dared to make his name prominent, revolutions are no season for painters; and no man — no! not the richest and proudest magnate of the land, has so great an interest in peace and order, has so high and essential a stake in the well being of society, as the poet and the artist), his whole intellect, ever restless and unguided, was left to ponder over the images of guilt most congenial to it. He had no future but in this life; and how in this life had the men of power around him, the great wrestlers for dominion, thriven? All that was good, pure, unselfish — whether among Royalists or Republicans — swept to the shambles, and the deathsmen left alone in the pomp and purple of their victims! Nobler paupers than Jean Nicot would despair; and Poverty would rise in its ghastly multitudes to cut the throat of Wealth, and then gash itself limb by limb, if Patience, the Angel of the Poor, sat not by its side, pointing with solemn finger to the life to come! And now, as Nicot neared the house of the Dictator, he began to meditate a reversal of his plans of the previous day: not that he faltered in his resolution to denounce Glyndon, and Viola would necessarily share his fate, as a companion and accomplice — no, THERE he was resolved! for he hated both (to say nothing of his old but never-to-beforgotten grudge against Zanoni). Viola had scorned him, Glyndon had served, and the thought of gratitude was as intolerable to him as the memory of insult. But why, now, should he fly from France? — he could possess himself of Glyndon’s gold; he doubted not that he could so master Fillide by her wrath and jealousy that he could command her acquiescence in all he proposed. The papers he had purloined — Desmoulins’ correspondence with Glyndon — while it insured the fate of the latter, might be eminently serviceable to Robespierre, might induce the tyrant to forget his own old liaisons with Hebert, and enlist him among the allies and tools of the King of Terror. Hopes of advancement, of wealth, of a career, again rose before him. This correspondence, dated shortly before Camille Desmoulins’ death, was written with that careless and daring imprudence which characterised the spoiled child of Danton. It spoke openly of designs against Robespierre; it named confederates whom the tyrant desired only a popular pretext to crush. It was a new instrument of death in the hands of the Death-compeller. What greater gift could he bestow on Maximilien the Incorruptible?
Nursing these thoughts, he arrived at last before the door of Citizen Dupleix. Around the threshold were grouped, in admired confusion, some eight or ten sturdy Jacobins, the voluntary body-guard of Robespierre — tall fellows, well armed, and insolent with the power that reflects power, mingled with women, young and fair, and gayly dressed, who had come, upon the rumour that Maximilien had had an attack of bile, to inquire tenderly of his health; for Robespierre, strange though it seem, was the idol of the sex!
Through this cortege stationed without the door, and reaching up the stairs to the landing-place — for Robespierre’s apartments were not spacious enough to afford sufficient antechamber for levees so numerous and miscellaneous — Nicot forced his way; and far from friendly or flattering were the expressions that regaled his ears.
“Aha, le joli Polichinelle!” said a comely matron, whose robe his obtrusive and angular elbows cruelly discomposed. “But how could one expect gallantry from such a scarecrow!”
“Citizen, I beg to advise thee (The courteous use of the plural was proscribed at Paris. The Societies Populaires had decided that whoever used it should be prosecuted as suspect et adulateur! At the door of the public administrations and popular societies was written up, “Ici on s’honore du Citoyen, et on se tutoye”!!! (“Here they respect the title of Citizen, and they ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ one another.”) Take away Murder from the French Revolution and it becomes the greatest farce ever played before the angels!) that thou art treading on my feet. I beg thy pardon, but now I look at thine, I see the hall is not wide enough for them.”
“Ho! Citizen Nicot,” cried a Jacobin, shouldering his formidable bludgeon, “and what brings thee hither? — thinkest thou that Hebert’s crimes are forgotten already? Off, sport of Nature! and thank the Etre Supreme that he made thee insignificant enough to be forgiven.”
“A pretty face to look out of the National Window” (The Guillotine.), said the woman whose robe the painter had ruffled.
“Citizens,” said Nicot, white with passion, but constraining himself so that his words seemed to come from grinded teeth, “I have the honour to inform you that I seek the Representant upon business of the utmost importance to the public and himself; and,” he added slowly and malignantly, glaring round, “I call all good citizens to be my witnesses when I shall complain to Robespierre of the reception bestowed on me by some amongst you.”
There was in the man’s look and his tone of voice so much of deep and concentrated malignity, that the idlers drew back, and as the remembrance of the sudden ups and downs of revolutionary life occurred to them, several voices were lifted to assure the squalid and ragged painter that nothing was farther from their thoughts than to offer affront to a citizen whose very appearance proved him to be an exemplary sans-culotte. Nicot received these apologies in sullen silence, and, folding his arms, leaned against the wall, waiting in grim patience for his admission.
The loiterers talked to each other in separate knots of two and three; and through the general hum rang the clear, loud, careless whistle of the tall Jacobin who stood guard by the stairs. Next to Nicot, an old woman and a young virgin were muttering in earnest whispers, and the atheist painter chuckled inly to overhear their discourse.
“I assure thee, my dear,” said the crone, with a mysterious shake of head, “that the divine Catherine Theot, whom the impious now persecute, is really inspired. There can be no doubt that the elect, of whom Dom Gerle and the virtuous Robespierre are destined to be the two grand prophets, will enjoy eternal life here, and exterminate all their enemies. There is no doubt of it — not the least!”
“How delightful!” said the girl; “ce cher Robespierre! — he does not look very long-lived either!”
“The greater the miracle,” said the old woman. “I am just eighty-one, and I don’t feel a day older since Catherine Theot promised me I should be one of the elect!”
Here the women were jostled aside by some newcomers, who talked loud and eagerly.
“Yes,” cried a brawny man, whose garb denoted him to be a butcher, with bare arms, and a cap of liberty on his head; “I am come to warn Robespierre. They lay a snare for him; they offer him the Palais National. ‘On ne peut etre ami du peuple et habiter un palais.’” (“No one can be a friend of the people, and dwell in a palace.”—“Papiers inedits trouves chez Robespierre,” etc., volume ii. page 132.)
“No, indeed,” answered a cordonnier; “I like him best in his little lodging with the menuisier: it looks like one of US.”
Another rush of the crowd, and a new group were thrown forward in the vicinity of Nicot. And these men gabbled and chattered faster and louder than the rest.
“But my plan is —”
“Au diable with YOUR plan! I tell you MY scheme is —”
“Nonsense!” cried a third. “When Robespierre understands MY new method of making gunpowder, the enemies of France shall —”
“Bah! who fears foreign enemies?” interrupted a fourth; “the enemies to be feared are at home. MY new guillotine takes off fifty heads at a time!”
“But MY new Constitution!” exclaimed a fifth.
“MY new Religion, citizen!” murmured, complacently, a sixth.
“Sacre mille tonnerres, silence!” roared forth one of the Jacobin guard.
And the crowd suddenly parted as a fierce-looking man, buttoned up to the chin, his sword rattling by his side, his spurs clinking at his heel, descended the stairs — his cheeks swollen and purple with intemperance, his eyes dead and savage as a vulture’s. There was a still pause, as all, with pale cheeks, made way for the relentless Henriot. (Or Hanriot. It is singular how undetermined are not only the characters of the French Revolution, but even the spelling of their names. With the historians it is Vergniaud — with the journalists of the time it is Vorgniaux. With one authority it is Robespierre — with another Roberspierre.) Scarce had this gruff and iron minion of the tyrant stalked through the throng, than a new movement of respect and agitation and fear swayed the increasing crowd, as there glided in, with the noiselessness of a shadow, a smiling, sober citizen, plainly but neatly clad, with a downcast humble eye. A milder, meeker face no pastoral poet could assign to Corydon or Thyrsis — why did the crowd shrink and hold their breath? As the ferret in a burrow crept that slight form amongst the larger and rougher creatures that huddled and pressed back on each other as he passed. A wink of his stealthy eye, and the huge Jacobins left the passage clear, without sound or question. On he went to the apartment of the tyrant, and thither will we follow him.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06