(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-be-forgotten 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.
Constitutum est, ut quisquis eum HOMINEM dixisset fuisse, capitalem penderet poenam. —St. Augustine, "Of the God Serapis," l. 18, "de Civ. Dei," c. 5.
(It was decreed, that whoso should say that he had been a MAN, should suffer the punishment of a capital offence.)
Robespierre was reclining languidly in his fauteuil, his cadaverous countenance more jaded and fatigued than usual. He to whom Catherine Theot assured immortal life, looked, indeed, like a man at death's door. On the table before him was a dish heaped with oranges, with the juice of which it is said that he could alone assuage the acrid bile that overflowed his system; and an old woman, richly dressed (she had been a Marquise in the old regime) was employed in peeling the Hesperian fruits for the sick Dragon, with delicate fingers covered with jewels. I have before said that Robespierre was the idol of the women. Strange certainly!—but then they were French women! The old Marquise, who, like Catherine Theot, called him "son," really seemed to love him piously and disinterestedly as a mother; and as she peeled the oranges, and heaped on him the most caressing and soothing expressions, the livid ghost of a smile fluttered about his meagre lips. At a distance, Payan and Couthon, seated at another table, were writing rapidly, and occasionally pausing from their work to consult with each other in brief whispers.
Suddenly one of the Jacobins opened the door, and, approaching Robespierre, whispered to him the name of Guerin. (See for the espionage on which Guerin was employed, "Les Papiers inedits," etc., volume i. page 366, No. xxviii.) At that word the sick man started up, as if new life were in the sound.
"My kind friend," he said to the Marquise, "forgive me; I must dispense with thy tender cares. France demands me. I am never ill when I can serve my country!"
The old Marquise lifted up her eyes to heaven and murmured, "Quel ange!"
Robespierre waved his hand impatiently; and the old woman, with a sigh, patted his pale cheek, kissed his forehead, and submissively withdrew. The next moment, the smiling, sober man we have before described, stood, bending low, before the tyrant. And well might Robespierre welcome one of the subtlest agents of his power,—one on whom he relied more than the clubs of his Jacobins, the tongues of his orators, the bayonets of his armies; Guerin, the most renowned of his ecouteurs,—the searching, prying, universal, omnipresent spy, who glided like a sunbeam through chink and crevice, and brought to him intelligence not only of the deeds, but the hearts of men!
"Well, citizen, well!—and what of Tallien?"
"This morning, early, two minutes after eight, he went out."
"He passed Rue des Quatre Fils, Rue de Temple, Rue de la Reunion, au Marais, Rue Martin; nothing observable, except that—"
"He amused himself at a stall in bargaining for some books."
"Bargaining for books! Aha, the charlatan!—he would cloak the intriguant under the savant! Well!"
"At last, in the Rue des Fosses Montmartre, an individual in a blue surtout (unknown) accosted him. They walked together about the street some minutes, and were joined by Legendre."
"Legendre! approach, Payan! Legendre, thou hearest!"
"I went into a fruit-stall, and hired two little girls to go and play at ball within hearing. They heard Legendre say, 'I believe his power is wearing itself out.' And Tallien answered, 'And HIMSELF too. I would not give three months' purchase for his life.' I do not know, citizen, if they meant THEE?"
"Nor I, citizen," answered Robespierre, with a fell smile, succeeded by an expression of gloomy thought. "Ha!" he muttered; "I am young yet,—in the prime of life. I commit no excess. No; my constitution is sound, sound. Anything farther of Tallien?"
"Yes. The woman whom he loves—Teresa de Fontenai—who lies in prison, still continues to correspond with him; to urge him to save her by thy destruction: this my listeners overheard. His servant is the messenger between the prisoner and himself."
"So! The servant shall be seized in the open streets of Paris. The Reign of Terror is not over yet. With the letters found on him, if such their context, I will pluck Tallien from his benches in the Convention."
Robespierre rose, and after walking a few moments to and fro the room in thought, opened the door and summoned one of the Jacobins without. To him he gave his orders for the watch and arrest of Tallien's servant, and then threw himself again into his chair. As the Jacobin departed, Guerin whispered,—
"Is not that the Citizen Aristides?"
"Yes; a faithful fellow, if he would wash himself, and not swear so much."
"Didst thou not guillotine his brother?"
"But Aristides denounced him."
"Nevertheless, are such men safe about thy person?"
"Humph! that is true." And Robespierre, drawing out his pocketbook, wrote a memorandum in it, replaced it in his vest, and resumed,—
"What else of Tallien?"
"Nothing more. He and Legendre, with the unknown, walked to the Jardin Egalite, and there parted. I saw Tallien to his house. But I have other news. Thou badest me watch for those who threaten thee in secret letters."
"Guerin! hast thou detected them? Hast thou—hast thou—"
And the tyrant, as he spoke, opened and shut both his hands, as if already grasping the lives of the writers, and one of those convulsive grimaces that seemed like an epileptic affection, to which he was subject, distorted his features.
"Citizen, I think I have found one. Thou must know that amongst those most disaffected is the painter Nicot."
"Stay, stay!" said Robespierre, opening a manuscript book, bound in red morocco (for Robespierre was neat and precise, even in his death-lists), and turning to an alphabetical index,—"Nicot!—I have him,—atheist, sans-culotte (I hate slovens), friend of Hebert! Aha! N.B.—Rene Dumas knows of his early career and crimes. Proceed!"
"This Nicot has been suspected of diffusing tracts and pamphlets against thyself and the Comite. Yesterday evening, when he was out, his porter admitted me into his apartment, Rue Beau Repaire. With my master-key I opened his desk and escritoire. I found herein a drawing of thyself at the guillotine; and underneath was written, 'Bourreau de ton pays, lis l'arret de ton chatiment!' (Executioner of thy country, read the decree of thy punishment!) I compared the words with the fragments of the various letters thou gavest me: the handwriting tallies with one. See, I tore off the writing."
Robespierre looked, smiled, and, as if his vengeance were already satisfied, threw himself on his chair. "It is well! I feared it was a more powerful enemy. This man must be arrested at once."
"And he waits below. I brushed by him as I ascended the stairs."
"Does he so?—admit!—nay,—hold! hold! Guerin, withdraw into the inner chamber till I summon thee again. Dear Payan, see that this Nicot conceals no weapons."
Payan, who was as brave as Robespierre was pusillanimous, repressed the smile of disdain that quivered on his lips a moment, and left the room.
Meanwhile Robespierre, with his head buried in his bosom, seemed plunged in deep thought. "Life is a melancholy thing, Couthon!" said he, suddenly.
"Begging your pardon, I think death worse," answered the philanthropist, gently.
Robespierre made no rejoinder, but took from his portefeuille that singular letter, which was found afterwards amongst his papers, and is marked LXI. in the published collection. ("Papiers inedits,' etc., volume ii. page 156.)
"Without doubt," it began, "you are uneasy at not having earlier received news from me. Be not alarmed; you know that I ought only to reply by our ordinary courier; and as he has been interrupted, dans sa derniere course, that is the cause of my delay. When you receive this, employ all diligence to fly a theatre where you are about to appear and disappear for the last time. It were idle to recall to you all the reasons that expose you to peril. The last step that should place you sur le sopha de la presidence, but brings you to the scaffold; and the mob will spit on your face as it has spat on those whom you have judged. Since, then, you have accumulated here a sufficient treasure for existence, I await you with great impatience, to laugh with you at the part you have played in the troubles of a nation as credulous as it is avid of novelties. Take your part according to our arrangements,—all is prepared. I conclude,—our courier waits. I expect your reply."
Musingly and slowly the Dictator devoured the contents of this epistle. "No," he said to himself,—"no; he who has tasted power can no longer enjoy repose. Yet, Danton, Danton! thou wert right; better to be a poor fisherman than to govern men." ("Il vaudrait mieux," said Danton, in his dungeon, "etre un pauvre pecheur que de gouverner les hommes.")
The door opened, and Payan reappeared and whispered Robespierre, "All is safe! See the man."
The Dictator, satisfied, summoned his attendant Jacobin to conduct Nicot to his presence. The painter entered with a fearless expression in his deformed features, and stood erect before Robespierre, who scanned him with a sidelong eye.
It is remarkable that most of the principal actors of the Revolution were singularly hideous in appearance,—from the colossal ugliness of Mirabeau and Danton, or the villanous ferocity in the countenances of David and Simon, to the filthy squalor of Marat, the sinister and bilious meanness of the Dictator's features. But Robespierre, who was said to resemble a cat, had also a cat's cleanness; and his prim and dainty dress, his shaven smoothness, the womanly whiteness of his lean hands, made yet more remarkable the disorderly ruffianism that characterised the attire and mien of the painter-sans-culotte.
"And so, citizen," said Robespierre, mildly, "thou wouldst speak with me? I know thy merits and civism have been overlooked too long. Thou wouldst ask some suitable provision in the state? Scruple not—say on!"
"Virtuous Robespierre, toi qui eclaires l'univers (Thou who enlightenest the world.), I come not to ask a favour, but to render service to the state. I have discovered a correspondence that lays open a conspiracy of which many of the actors are yet unsuspected." And he placed the papers on the table. Robespierre seized, and ran his eye over them rapidly and eagerly.
"Good!—good!" he muttered to himself: "this is all I wanted. Barrere, Legendre! I have them! Camille Desmoulins was but their dupe. I loved him once; I never loved them! Citizen Nicot, I thank thee. I observe these letters are addressed to an Englishman. What Frenchman but must distrust these English wolves in sheep's clothing! France wants no longer citizens of the world; that farce ended with Anarcharsis Clootz. I beg pardon, Citizen Nicot; but Clootz and Hebert were THY friends."
"Nay," said Nicot, apologetically, "we are all liable to be deceived. I ceased to honour them whom thou didst declare against; for I disown my own senses rather than thy justice."
"Yes, I pretend to justice; that IS the virtue I affect," said Robespierre, meekly; and with his feline propensities he enjoyed, even in that critical hour of vast schemes, of imminent danger, of meditated revenge, the pleasure of playing with a solitary victim. (The most detestable anecdote of this peculiar hypocrisy in Robespierre is that in which he is recorded to have tenderly pressed the hand of his old school-friend, Camille Desmoulins, the day that he signed the warrant for his arrest.) "And my justice shall no longer be blind to thy services, good Nicot. Thou knowest this Glyndon?"
"Yes, well,—intimately. He WAS my friend, but I would give up my brother if he were one of the 'indulgents.' I am not ashamed to say that I have received favours from this man."
"Aha!—and thou dost honestly hold the doctrine that where a man threatens my life all personal favours are to be forgotten?"
"Good citizen!—kind Nicot!—oblige me by writing the address of this Glyndon."
Nicot stooped to the table; and suddenly when the pen was in his hand, a thought flashed across him, and he paused, embarrassed and confused.
"Write on, KIND Nicot!"
The painter slowly obeyed.
"Who are the other familiars of Glyndon?"
"It was on that point I was about to speak to thee, Representant," said Nicot. "He visits daily a woman, a foreigner, who knows all his secrets; she affects to be poor, and to support her child by industry. But she is the wife of an Italian of immense wealth, and there is no doubt that she has moneys which are spent in corrupting the citizens. She should be seized and arrested."
"Write down her name also."
"But no time is to be lost; for I know that both have a design to escape from Paris this very night."
"Our government is prompt, good Nicot,—never fear. Humph!—humph!" and Robespierre took the paper on which Nicot had written, and stooping over it—for he was near-sighted—added, smilingly, "Dost thou always write the same hand, citizen? This seems almost like a disguised character."
"I should not like them to know who denounced them, Representant."
"Good! good! Thy virtue shall be rewarded, trust me. Salut et fraternite!"
Robespierre half rose as he spoke, and Nicot withdrew.
"Ho, there!—without!" cried the Dictator, ringing his bell; and as the ready Jacobin attended the summons, "Follow that man, Jean Nicot. The instant he has cleared the house seize him. At once to the Conciergerie with him. Stay!—nothing against the law; there is thy warrant. The public accuser shall have my instruction. Away!—quick!"
The Jacobin vanished. All trace of illness, of infirmity, had gone from the valetudinarian; he stood erect on the floor, his face twitching convulsively, and his arms folded. "Ho! Guerin!" the spy reappeared—"take these addresses! Within an hour this Englishman and his woman must be in prison; their revelations will aid me against worthier foes. They shall die: they shall perish with the rest on the 10th,—the third day from this. There!" and he wrote hastily,—"there, also, is thy warrant! Off!
"And now, Couthon, Payan, we will dally no longer with Tallien and his crew. I have information that the Convention will NOT attend the Fete on the 10th. We must trust only to the sword of the law. I must compose my thoughts,—prepare my harangue. To-morrow, I will reappear at the Convention; to-morrow, bold St. Just joins us, fresh from our victorious armies; to-morrow, from the tribune, I will dart the thunderbolt on the masked enemies of France; to-morrow, I will demand, in the face of the country, the heads of the conspirators."
Le glaive est contre toi tourne de toutes parties. La Harpe, "Jeanne de Naples," Act iv. sc. 4.
(The sword is raised against you on all sides.)
In the mean time Glyndon, after an audience of some length with C—, in which the final preparations were arranged, sanguine of safety, and foreseeing no obstacle to escape, bent his way back to Fillide. Suddenly, in the midst of his cheerful thoughts, he fancied he heard a voice too well and too terribly recognised, hissing in his ear, "What! thou wouldst defy and escape me! thou wouldst go back to virtue and content. It is in vain,—it is too late. No, I will not haunt thee; HUMAN footsteps, no less inexorable, dog thee now. Me thou shalt not see again till in the dungeon, at midnight, before thy doom! Behold—"
And Glyndon, mechanically turning his head, saw, close behind him, the stealthy figure of a man whom he had observed before, but with little heed, pass and repass him, as he quitted the house of Citizen C—. Instantly and instinctively he knew that he was watched,—that he was pursued. The street he was in was obscure and deserted, for the day was oppressively sultry, and it was the hour when few were abroad, either on business or pleasure. Bold as he was, an icy chill shot through his heart, he knew too well the tremendous system that then reigned in Paris not to be aware of his danger. As the sight of the first plague-boil to the victim of the pestilence, was the first sight of the shadowy spy to that of the Revolution: the watch, the arrest, the trial, the guillotine,—these made the regular and rapid steps of the monster that the anarchists called Law! He breathed hard, he heard distinctly the loud beating of his heart. And so he paused, still and motionless, gazing upon the shadow that halted also behind him.
Presently, the absence of all allies to the spy, the solitude of the streets, reanimated his courage; he made a step towards his pursuer, who retreated as he advanced. "Citizen, thou followest me," he said. "Thy business?"
"Surely," answered the man, with a deprecating smile, "the streets are broad enough for both? Thou art not so bad a republican as to arrogate all Paris to thyself!"
"Go on first, then. I make way for thee."
The man bowed, doffed his hat politely, and passed forward. The next moment Glyndon plunged into a winding lane, and fled fast through a labyrinth of streets, passages, and alleys. By degrees he composed himself, and, looking behind, imagined that he had baffled the pursuer; he then, by a circuitous route, bent his way once more to his home. As he emerged into one of the broader streets, a passenger, wrapped in a mantle, brushing so quickly by him that he did not observe his countenance, whispered, "Clarence Glyndon, you are dogged,—follow me!" and the stranger walked quickly before him. Clarence turned, and sickened once more to see at his heels, with the same servile smile on his face, the pursuer he fancied he had escaped. He forgot the injunction of the stranger to follow him, and perceiving a crowd gathered close at hand, round a caricature-shop, dived amidst them, and, gaining another street, altered the direction he had before taken, and, after a long and breathless course, gained without once more seeing the spy, a distant quartier of the city.
Here, indeed, all seemed so serene and fair that his artist eye, even in that imminent hour, rested with pleasure on the scene. It was a comparatively broad space, formed by one of the noble quays. The Seine flowed majestically along, with boats and craft resting on its surface. The sun gilt a thousand spires and domes, and gleamed on the white palaces of a fallen chivalry. Here fatigued and panting, he paused an instant, and a cooler air from the river fanned his brow. "Awhile, at least, I am safe here," he murmured; and as he spoke, some thirty paces behind him, he beheld the spy. He stood rooted to the spot; wearied and spent as he was, escape seemed no longer possible,—the river on one side (no bridge at hand), and the long row of mansions closing up the other. As he halted, he heard laughter and obscene songs from a house a little in his rear, between himself and the spy. It was a cafe fearfully known in that quarter. Hither often resorted the black troop of Henriot,—the minions and huissiers of Robespierre. The spy, then, had hunted the victim within the jaws of the hounds. The man slowly advanced, and, pausing before the open window of the cafe, put his head through the aperture, as to address and summon forth its armed inmates.
At that very instant, and while the spy's head was thus turned from him, standing in the half-open gateway of the house immediately before him, he perceived the stranger who had warned; the figure, scarcely distinguishable through the mantle that wrapped it, motioned to him to enter. He sprang noiselessly through the friendly opening: the door closed; breathlessly he followed the stranger up a flight of broad stairs and through a suite of empty rooms, until, having gained a small cabinet, his conductor doffed the large hat and the long mantle that had hitherto concealed his shape and features, and Glyndon beheld Zanoni!
Think not my magic wonders wrought by aid Of Stygian angels summoned up from hell; Scorned and accursed be those who have essayed Her gloomy Dives and Afrites to compel. But by perception of the secret powers Of mineral springs in Nature's inmost cell, Of herbs in curtain of her greenest bowers, And of the moving stars o'er mountain tops and towers. Wiffen's "Translation of Tasso," cant. xiv. xliii.
"You are safe here, young Englishman!" said Zanoni, motioning Glyndon to a seat. "Fortunate for you that I come on your track at last!"
"Far happier had it been if we had never met! Yet even in these last hours of my fate, I rejoice to look once more on the face of that ominous and mysterious being to whom I can ascribe all the sufferings I have known. Here, then, thou shalt not palter with or elude me. Here, before we part, thou shalt unravel to me the dark enigma, if not of thy life, of my own!"
"Hast thou suffered? Poor neophyte!" said Zanoni, pityingly. "Yes; I see it on thy brow. But wherefore wouldst thou blame me? Did I not warn thee against the whispers of thy spirit; did I not warn thee to forbear? Did I not tell thee that the ordeal was one of awful hazard and tremendous fears,—nay, did I not offer to resign to thee the heart that was mighty enough, while mine, Glyndon, to content me? Was it not thine own daring and resolute choice to brave the initiation! Of thine own free will didst thou make Mejnour thy master, and his lore thy study!"
"But whence came the irresistible desires of that wild and unholy knowledge? I knew them not till thine evil eye fell upon me, and I was drawn into the magic atmosphere of thy being!"
"Thou errest!—the desires were in thee; and, whether in one direction or the other, would have forced their way! Man! thou askest me the enigma of thy fate and my own! Look round all being, is there not mystery everywhere? Can thine eye trace the ripening of the grain beneath the earth? In the moral and the physical world alike, lie dark portents, far more wondrous than the powers thou wouldst ascribe to me!"
"Dost thou disown those powers; dost thou confess thyself an imposter?—or wilt thou dare to tell me that thou art indeed sold to the Evil one,—a magician whose familiar has haunted me night and day?"
"It matters not what I am," returned Zanoni; "it matters only whether I can aid thee to exorcise thy dismal phantom, and return once more to the wholesome air of this common life. Something, however, will I tell thee, not to vindicate myself, but the Heaven and the Nature that thy doubts malign."
Zanoni paused a moment, and resumed with a slight smile,—
"In thy younger days thou hast doubtless read with delight the great Christian poet, whose muse, like the morning it celebrated, came to earth, 'crowned with flowers culled in Paradise.' ('L'aurea testa Di rose colte in Paradiso infiora.' Tasso, "Ger. Lib." iv. l.)
"No spirit was more imbued with the knightly superstitions of the time; and surely the Poet of Jerusalem hath sufficiently, to satisfy even the Inquisitor he consulted, execrated all the practitioners of the unlawful spells invoked,—
'Per isforzar Cocito o Flegetonte.' (To constrain Cocytus or Phlegethon.)
"But in his sorrows and his wrongs, in the prison of his madhouse, know you not that Tasso himself found his solace, his escape, in the recognition of a holy and spiritual Theurgia,—of a magic that could summon the Angel, or the Good Genius, not the Fiend? And do you not remember how he, deeply versed as he was for his age, in the mysteries of the nobler Platonism, which hints at the secrets of all the starry brotherhoods, from the Chaldean to the later Rosicrucian, discriminates in his lovely verse, between the black art of Ismeno and the glorious lore of the Enchanter who counsels and guides upon their errand the champions of the Holy Land? HIS, not the charms wrought by the aid of the Stygian Rebels (See this remarkable passage, which does indeed not unfaithfully represent the doctrine of the Pythagorean and the Platonist, in Tasso, cant. xiv. stanzas xli. to xlvii. ("Ger. Lib.") They are beautifully translated by Wiffen.), but the perception of the secret powers of the fountain and the herb,—the Arcana of the unknown nature and the various motions of the stars. His, the holy haunts of Lebanon and Carmel,—beneath his feet he saw the clouds, the snows, the hues of Iris, the generations of the rains and dews. Did the Christian Hermit who converted that Enchanter (no fabulous being, but the type of all spirit that would aspire through Nature up to God) command him to lay aside these sublime studies, 'Le solite arte e l' uso mio'? No! but to cherish and direct them to worthy ends. And in this grand conception of the poet lies the secret of the true Theurgia, which startles your ignorance in a more learned day with puerile apprehensions, and the nightmares of a sick man's dreams."
Again Zanoni paused, and again resumed:—
"In ages far remote,—of a civilisation far different from that which now merges the individual in the state,—there existed men of ardent minds, and an intense desire of knowledge. In the mighty and solemn kingdoms in which they dwelt, there were no turbulent and earthly channels to work off the fever of their minds. Set in the antique mould of casts through which no intellect could pierce, no valour could force its way, the thirst for wisdom alone reigned in the hearts of those who received its study as a heritage from sire to son. Hence, even in your imperfect records of the progress of human knowledge, you find that, in the earliest ages, Philosophy descended not to the business and homes of men. It dwelt amidst the wonders of the loftier creation; it sought to analyse the formation of matter,—the essentials of the prevailing soul; to read the mysteries of the starry orbs; to dive into those depths of Nature in which Zoroaster is said by the schoolmen first to have discovered the arts which your ignorance classes under the name of magic. In such an age, then, arose some men, who, amidst the vanities and delusions of their class, imagined that they detected gleams of a brighter and steadier lore. They fancied an affinity existing among all the works of Nature, and that in the lowliest lay the secret attraction that might conduct them upward to the loftiest. (Agreeably, it would seem, to the notion of Iamblichus and Plotinus, that the universe is as an animal; so that there is sympathy and communication between one part and the other; in the smallest part may be the subtlest nerve. And hence the universal magnetism of Nature. But man contemplates the universe as an animalcule would an elephant. The animalcule, seeing scarcely the tip of the hoof, would be incapable of comprehending that the trunk belonged to the same creature,—that the effect produced upon one extremity would be felt in an instant by the other.) Centuries passed, and lives were wasted in these discoveries; but step after step was chronicled and marked, and became the guide to the few who alone had the hereditary privilege to track their path.
"At last from this dimness upon some eyes the light broke; but think not, young visionary, that to those who nursed unholy thoughts, over whom the Origin of Evil held a sway, that dawning was vouchsafed. It could be given then, as now, only to the purest ecstasies of imagination and intellect, undistracted by the cares of a vulgar life, or the appetites of the common clay. Far from descending to the assistance of a fiend, theirs was but the august ambition to approach nearer to the Fount of Good; the more they emancipated themselves from this limbo of the planets, the more they were penetrated by the splendour and beneficence of God. And if they sought, and at last discovered, how to the eye of the Spirit all the subtler modifications of being and of matter might be made apparent; if they discovered how, for the wings of the Spirit, all space might be annihilated, and while the body stood heavy and solid here, as a deserted tomb, the freed IDEA might wander from star to star,—if such discoveries became in truth their own, the sublimest luxury of their knowledge was but this, to wonder, to venerate, and adore! For, as one not unlearned in these high matters has expressed it, 'There is a principle of the soul superior to all external nature, and through this principle we are capable of surpassing the order and systems of the world, and participating the immortal life and the energy of the Sublime Celestials. When the soul is elevated to natures above itself, it deserts the order to which it is awhile compelled, and by a religious magnetism is attracted to another and a loftier, with which it blends and mingles.' (From Iamblichus, "On the Mysteries," c. 7, sect. 7.) Grant, then, that such beings found at last the secret to arrest death; to fascinate danger and the foe; to walk the revolutions of the earth unharmed,—think you that this life could teach them other desire than to yearn the more for the Immortal, and to fit their intellect the better for the higher being to which they might, when Time and Death exist no longer, be transferred? Away with your gloomy fantasies of sorcerer and demon!—the soul can aspire only to the light; and even the error of our lofty knowledge was but the forgetfulness of the weakness, the passions, and the bonds which the death we so vainly conquered only can purge away!"
This address was so different from what Glyndon had anticipated, that he remained for some moments speechless, and at length faltered out,—
"But why, then, to me—"
"Why," added Zanoni,—"why to thee have been only the penance and the terror,—the Threshold and the Phantom? Vain man! look to the commonest elements of the common learning. Can every tyro at his mere wish and will become the master; can the student, when he has bought his Euclid, become a Newton; can the youth whom the Muses haunt, say, 'I will equal Homer;' yea, can yon pale tyrant, with all the parchment laws of a hundred system-shapers, and the pikes of his dauntless multitude, carve, at his will, a constitution not more vicious than the one which the madness of a mob could overthrow? When, in that far time to which I have referred, the student aspired to the heights to which thou wouldst have sprung at a single bound, he was trained from his very cradle to the career he was to run. The internal and the outward nature were made clear to his eyes, year after year, as they opened on the day. He was not admitted to the practical initiation till not one earthly wish chained that sublimest faculty which you call the IMAGINATION, one carnal desire clouded the penetrative essence that you call the INTELLECT. And even then, and at the best, how few attained to the last mystery! Happier inasmuch as they attained the earlier to the holy glories for which Death is the heavenliest gate."
Zanoni paused, and a shade of thought and sorrow darkened his celestial beauty.
"And are there, indeed, others, besides thee and Mejnour, who lay claim to thine attributes, and have attained to thy secrets?"
"Others there have been before us, but we two now are alone on earth."
"Imposter, thou betrayest thyself! If they could conquer Death, why live they not yet?" (Glyndon appears to forget that Mejnour had before answered the very question which his doubts here a second time suggest.)
"Child of a day!" answered Zanoni, mournfully, "have I not told thee the error of our knowledge was the forgetfulness of the desires and passions which the spirit never can wholly and permanently conquer while this matter cloaks it? Canst thou think that it is no sorrow, either to reject all human ties, all friendship, and all love, or to see, day after day, friendship and love wither from our life, as blossoms from the stem? Canst thou wonder how, with the power to live while the world shall last, ere even our ordinary date be finished we yet may prefer to die? Wonder rather that there are two who have clung so faithfully to earth! Me, I confess, that earth can enamour yet. Attaining to the last secret while youth was in its bloom, youth still colours all around me with its own luxuriant beauty; to me, yet, to breathe is to enjoy. The freshness has not faded from the face of Nature, and not an herb in which I cannot discover a new charm,—an undetected wonder.
"As with my youth, so with Mejnour's age: he will tell you that life to him is but a power to examine; and not till he has exhausted all the marvels which the Creator has sown on earth, would he desire new habitations for the renewed Spirit to explore. We are the types of the two essences of what is imperishable,—'ART, that enjoys; and SCIENCE, that contemplates!' And now, that thou mayest be contented that the secrets are not vouchsafed to thee, learn that so utterly must the idea detach itself from what makes up the occupation and excitement of men; so must it be void of whatever would covet, or love, or hate,—that for the ambitious man, for the lover, the hater, the power avails not. And I, at last, bound and blinded by the most common of household ties; I, darkened and helpless, adjure thee, the baffled and discontented,—I adjure thee to direct, to guide me; where are they? Oh, tell me,—speak! My wife,—my child? Silent!—oh, thou knowest now that I am no sorcerer, no enemy. I cannot give thee what thy faculties deny,—I cannot achieve what the passionless Mejnour failed to accomplish; but I can give thee the next-best boon, perhaps the fairest,—I can reconcile thee to the daily world, and place peace between thy conscience and thyself."
"Wilt thou promise?"
"By their sweet lives, I promise!"
Glyndon looked and believed. He whispered the address to the house whither his fatal step already had brought woe and doom.
"Bless thee for this," exclaimed Zanoni, passionately, "and thou shalt be blessed! What! couldst thou not perceive that at the entrance to all the grander worlds dwell the race that intimidate and awe? Who in thy daily world ever left the old regions of Custom and Prescription, and felt not the first seizure of the shapeless and nameless Fear? Everywhere around thee where men aspire and labour, though they see it not,—in the closet of the sage, in the council of the demagogue, in the camp of the warrior,—everywhere cowers and darkens the Unutterable Horror. But there, where thou hast ventured, alone is the Phantom VISIBLE; and never will it cease to haunt, till thou canst pass to the Infinite, as the seraph; or return to the Familiar, as a child! But answer me this: when, seeking to adhere to some calm resolve of virtue, the Phantom hath stalked suddenly to thy side; when its voice hath whispered thee despair; when its ghastly eyes would scare thee back to those scenes of earthly craft or riotous excitement from which, as it leaves thee to worse foes to the soul, its presence is ever absent,—hast thou never bravely resisted the spectre and thine own horror; hast thou never said, 'Come what may, to Virtue I will cling?'"
"Alas!" answered Glyndon, "only of late have I dared to do so."
"And thou hast felt then that the Phantom grew more dim and its power more faint?"
"It is true."
"Rejoice, then!—thou hast overcome the true terror and mystery of the ordeal. Resolve is the first success. Rejoice, for the exorcism is sure! Thou art not of those who, denying a life to come, are the victims of the Inexorable Horror. Oh, when shall men learn, at last, that if the Great Religion inculcates so rigidly the necessity of FAITH, it is not alone that FAITH leads to the world to be; but that without faith there is no excellence in this,—faith in something wiser, happier, diviner, than we see on earth!—the artist calls it the Ideal,—the priest, Faith. The Ideal and Faith are one and the same. Return, O wanderer, return! Feel what beauty and holiness dwell in the Customary and the Old. Back to thy gateway glide, thou Horror! and calm, on the childlike heart, smile again, O azure Heaven, with thy night and thy morning star but as one, though under its double name of Memory and Hope!"
As he thus spoke, Zanoni laid his hand gently on the burning temples of his excited and wondering listener; and presently a sort of trance came over him: he imagined that he was returned to the home of his infancy; that he was in the small chamber where, over his early slumbers, his mother had watched and prayed. There it was,—visible, palpable, solitary, unaltered. In the recess, the homely bed; on the walls, the shelves filled with holy books; the very easel on which he had first sought to call the ideal to the canvas, dust-covered, broken, in the corner. Below the window lay the old churchyard: he saw it green in the distance, the sun glancing through the yew-trees; he saw the tomb where father and mother lay united, and the spire pointing up to heaven, the symbol of the hopes of those who consigned the ashes to the dust; in his ear rang the bells, pealing, as on a Sabbath day. Far fled all the visions of anxiety and awe that had haunted and convulsed; youth, boyhood, childhood came back to him with innocent desires and hopes; he thought he fell upon his knees to pray. He woke,—he woke in delicious tears, he felt that the Phantom was fled forever. He looked round,—Zanoni was gone. On the table lay these lines, the ink yet wet:—
"I will find ways and means for thy escape. At nightfall, as the clock strikes nine, a boat shall wait thee on the river before this house; the boatman will guide thee to a retreat where thou mayst rest in safety till the Reign of Terror, which nears its close, be past. Think no more of the sensual love that lured, and wellnigh lost thee. It betrayed, and would have destroyed. Thou wilt regain thy land in safety,—long years yet spared to thee to muse over the past, and to redeem it. For thy future, be thy dream thy guide, and thy tears thy baptism."
The Englishman obeyed the injunctions of the letter, and found their truth.
Quid mirare meas tot in uno corpore formas? Propert.
(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,—to-morrow 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 to-morrow; 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!"
Le lendemain, 8 Thermidor, Robespierre se decida a prononcer son fameux discours. —Thiers, "Hist. de la Revolution."
(The next day, 8th Thermidor, Robespierre resolved to deliver his celebrated discourse.)
The morning rose,—the 8th of Thermidor (July 26). Robespierre has gone to the Convention. He has gone with his laboured speech; he has gone with his phrases of philanthropy and virtue; he has gone to single out his prey. All his agents are prepared for his reception; the fierce St. Just has arrived from the armies to second his courage and inflame his wrath. His ominous apparition prepares the audience for the crisis. "Citizens!" screeched the shrill voice of Robespierre "others have placed before you flattering pictures; I come to announce to you useful truths.
"And they attribute to me,—to me alone!—whatever of harsh or evil is committed: it is Robespierre who wishes it; it is Robespierre who ordains it. Is there a new tax?—it is Robespierre who ruins you. They call me tyrant!—and why? Because I have acquired some influence; but how?—in speaking truth; and who pretends that truth is to be without force in the mouths of the Representatives of the French people? Doubtless, truth has its power, its rage, its despotism, its accents, touching, terrible, which resound in the pure heart as in the guilty conscience; and which Falsehood can no more imitate than Salmoneus could forge the thunderbolts of Heaven. What am I whom they accuse? A slave of liberty,—a living martyr of the Republic; the victim as the enemy of crime! All ruffianism affronts me, and actions legitimate in others are crimes in me. It is enough to know me to be calumniated. It is in my very zeal that they discover my guilt. Take from me my conscience, and I should be the most miserable of men!"
He paused; and Couthon wiped his eyes, and St. Just murmured applause as with stern looks he gazed on the rebellious Mountain; and there was a dead, mournful, and chilling silence through the audience. The touching sentiment woke no echo.
The orator cast his eyes around. Ho! he will soon arouse that apathy. He proceeds, he praises, he pities himself no more. He denounces,—he accuses. Overflooded with his venom, he vomits it forth on all. At home, abroad, finances, war,—on all! Shriller and sharper rose his voice,—
"A conspiracy exists against the public liberty. It owes its strength to a criminal coalition in the very bosom of the Convention; it has accomplices in the bosom of the Committee of Public Safety...What is the remedy to this evil? To punish the traitors; to purify this committee; to crush all factions by the weight of the National Authority; to raise upon their ruins the power of Liberty and Justice. Such are the principles of that Reform. Must I be ambitious to profess them?—then the principles are proscribed, and Tyranny reigns amongst us! For what can you object to a man who is in the right, and has at least this knowledge,—he knows how to die for his native land! I am made to combat crime, and not to govern it. The time, alas! is not yet arrived when men of worth can serve with impunity their country. So long as the knaves rule, the defenders of liberty will be only the proscribed."
For two hours, through that cold and gloomy audience, shrilled the Death-speech. In silence it began, in silence closed. The enemies of the orator were afraid to express resentment; they knew not yet the exact balance of power. His partisans were afraid to approve; they knew not whom of their own friends and relations the accusations were designed to single forth. "Take care!" whispered each to each; "it is thou whom he threatens." But silent though the audience, it was, at the first, wellnigh subdued. There was still about this terrible man the spell of an overmastering will. Always—though not what is called a great orator—resolute, and sovereign in the use of words; words seemed as things when uttered by one who with a nod moved the troops of Henriot, and influenced the judgment of Rene Dumas, grim President of the Tribunal. Lecointre of Versailles rose, and there was an anxious movement of attention; for Lecointre was one of the fiercest foes of the tyrant. What was the dismay of the Tallien faction; what the complacent smile of Couthon,—when Lecointre demanded only that the oration should be printed! All seemed paralyzed. At length Bourdon de l'Oise, whose name was doubly marked in the black list of the Dictator, stalked to the tribune, and moved the bold counter-resolution, that the speech should be referred to the two committees whom that very speech accused. Still no applause from the conspirators; they sat torpid as frozen men. The shrinking Barrere, ever on the prudent side, looked round before he rose. He rises, and sides with Lecointre! Then Couthon seized the occasion, and from his seat (a privilege permitted only to the paralytic philanthropist) (M. Thiers in his History, volume iv. page 79, makes a curious blunder: he says, "Couthon s'elance a la tribune." (Couthon darted towards the tribune.) Poor Couthon! whose half body was dead, and who was always wheeled in his chair into the Convention, and spoke sitting.), and with his melodious voice sought to convert the crisis into a triumph.
He demanded, not only that the harangue should be printed, but sent to all the communes and all the armies. It was necessary to soothe a wronged and ulcerated heart. Deputies, the most faithful, had been accused of shedding blood. "Ah! if HE had contributed to the death of one innocent man, he should immolate himself with grief." Beautiful tenderness!—and while he spoke, he fondled the spaniel in his bosom. Bravo, Couthon! Robespierre triumphs! The reign of Terror shall endure! The old submission settles dovelike back in the assembly! They vote the printing of the Death-speech, and its transmission to all the municipalities. From the benches of the Mountain, Tallien, alarmed, dismayed, impatient, and indignant, cast his gaze where sat the strangers admitted to hear the debates; and suddenly he met the eyes of the Unknown who had brought to him the letter from Teresa de Fontenai the preceding day. The eyes fascinated him as he gazed. In aftertimes he often said that their regard, fixed, earnest, half-reproachful, and yet cheering and triumphant, filled him with new life and courage. They spoke to his heart as the trumpet speaks to the war-horse. He moved from his seat; he whispered with his allies: the spirit he had drawn in was contagious; the men whom Robespierre especially had denounced, and who saw the sword over their heads, woke from their torpid trance. Vadier, Cambon, Billaud-Varennes, Panis, Amar, rose at once,—all at once demanded speech. Vadier is first heard, the rest succeed. It burst forth, the Mountain, with its fires and consuming lava; flood upon flood they rush, a legion of Ciceros upon the startled Catiline! Robespierre falters, hesitates,—would qualify, retract. They gather new courage from his new fears; they interrupt him; they drown his voice; they demand the reversal of the motion. Amar moves again that the speech be referred to the Committees, to the Committees,—to his enemies! Confusion and noise and clamour! Robespierre wraps himself in silent and superb disdain. Pale, defeated, but not yet destroyed, he stands,—a storm in the midst of storm!
The motion is carried. All men foresee in that defeat the Dictator's downfall. A solitary cry rose from the galleries; it was caught up; it circled through the hall, the audience: "A bas le tyrant! Vive la republique!" (Down with the tyrant! Hurrah for the republic!)
Aupres d'un corps aussi avili que la Convention, il restait des chances pour que Robespierre sortit vainqueur de cette lutte. Lacretelle, volume xii.
(Amongst a body so debased as the Convention, there still remained some chances that Robespierre would come off victor in the struggle.)
As Robespierre left the hall, there was a dead and ominous silence in the crowd without. The herd, in every country, side with success; and the rats run from the falling tower. But Robespierre, who wanted courage, never wanted pride, and the last often supplied the place of the first; thoughtfully, and with an impenetrable brow, he passed through the throng, leaning on St. Just, Payan and his brother following him.
As they got into the open space, Robespierre abruptly broke the silence.
"How many heads were to fall upon the tenth?"
"Eighty," replied Payan.
"Ah, we must not tarry so long; a day may lose an empire: terrorism must serve us yet!"
He was silent a few moments, and his eyes roved suspiciously through the street.
"St. Just," he said abruptly, "they have not found this Englishman whose revelations, or whose trial, would have crushed the Amars and the Talliens. No, no! my Jacobins themselves are growing dull and blind. But they have seized a woman,—only a woman!"
"A woman's hand stabbed Marat," said St. Just. Robespierre stopped short, and breathed hard.
"St. Just," said he, "when this peril is past, we will found the Reign of Peace. There shall be homes and gardens set apart for the old. David is already designing the porticos. Virtuous men shall be appointed to instruct the young. All vice and disorder shall be NOT exterminated—no, no! only banished! We must not die yet. Posterity cannot judge us till our work is done. We have recalled L'Etre Supreme; we must now remodel this corrupted world. All shall be love and brotherhood; and—ho! Simon! Simon!—hold! Your pencil, St. Just!" And Robespierre wrote hastily. "This to Citizen President Dumas. Go with it quick, Simon. These eighty heads must fall TO-MORROW,—TO-MORROW, Simon. Dumas will advance their trial a day. I will write to Fouquier-Tinville, the public accuser. We meet at the Jacobins to-night, Simon; there we will denounce the Convention itself; there we will rally round us the last friends of liberty and France."
A shout was heard in the distance behind, "Vive la republique!"
The tyrant's eye shot a vindictive gleam. "The republic!—faugh! We did not destroy the throne of a thousand years for that canaille!"
THE TRIAL, THE EXECUTION, OF THE VICTIMS IS ADVANCED A DAY! By the aid of the mysterious intelligence that had guided and animated him hitherto, Zanoni learned that his arts had been in vain. He knew that Viola was safe, if she could but survive an hour the life of the tyrant. He knew that Robespierre's hours were numbered; that the 10th of Thermidor, on which he had originally designed the execution of his last victims, would see himself at the scaffold. Zanoni had toiled, had schemed for the fall of the Butcher and his reign. To what end? A single word from the tyrant had baffled the result of all. The execution of Viola is advanced a day. Vain seer, who wouldst make thyself the instrument of the Eternal, the very dangers that now beset the tyrant but expedite the doom of his victims! To-morrow, eighty heads, and hers whose pillow has been thy heart! To-morrow! and Maximilien is safe to-night!
Erde mag zuruck in Erde stauben; Fliegt der Geist doch aus dem morschen Haus. Seine Asche mag der Sturmwind treiben, Sein Leben dauert ewig aus! Elegie.
(Earth may crumble back into earth; the Spirit will still escape from its frail tenement. The wind of the storm may scatter his ashes; his being endures forever.)
To-morrow!—and it is already twilight. One after one, the gentle stars come smiling through the heaven. The Seine, in its slow waters, yet trembles with the last kiss of the rosy day; and still in the blue sky gleams the spire of Notre Dame; and still in the blue sky looms the guillotine by the Barriere du Trone. Turn to that time-worn building, once the church and the convent of the Freres-Precheurs, known by the then holy name of Jacobins; there the new Jacobins hold their club. There, in that oblong hall, once the library of the peaceful monks, assemble the idolaters of St. Robespierre. Two immense tribunes, raised at either end, contain the lees and dregs of the atrocious populace,—the majority of that audience consisting of the furies of the guillotine (furies de guillotine). In the midst of the hall are the bureau and chair of the president,—the chair long preserved by the piety of the monks as the relic of St. Thomas Aquinas! Above this seat scowls the harsh bust of Brutus. An iron lamp and two branches scatter over the vast room a murky, fuliginous ray, beneath the light of which the fierce faces of that Pandemonium seem more grim and haggard. There, from the orator's tribune, shrieks the shrill wrath of Robespierre!
Meanwhile all is chaos, disorder, half daring and half cowardice, in the Committee of his foes. Rumours fly from street to street, from haunt to haunt, from house to house. The swallows flit low, and the cattle group together before the storm. And above this roar of the lives and things of the little hour, alone in his chamber stood he on whose starry youth—symbol of the imperishable bloom of the calm Ideal amidst the mouldering Actual—the clouds of ages had rolled in vain.
All those exertions which ordinary wit and courage could suggest had been tried in vain. All such exertions WERE in vain, where, in that Saturnalia of death, a life was the object. Nothing but the fall of Robespierre could have saved his victims; now, too late, that fall would only serve to avenge.
Once more, in that last agony of excitement and despair, the seer had plunged into solitude, to invoke again the aid or counsel of those mysterious intermediates between earth and heaven who had renounced the intercourse of the spirit when subjected to the common bondage of the mortal. In the intense desire and anguish of his heart, perhaps, lay a power not yet called forth; for who has not felt that the sharpness of extreme grief cuts and grinds away many of those strongest bonds of infirmity and doubt which bind down the souls of men to the cabined darkness of the hour; and that from the cloud and thunderstorm often swoops the Olympian eagle that can ravish us aloft!
And the invocation was heard,—the bondage of sense was rent away from the visual mind. He looked, and saw,—no, not the being he had called, with its limbs of light and unutterably tranquil smile—not his familiar, Adon-Ai, the Son of Glory and the Star, but the Evil Omen, the dark Chimera, the implacable Foe, with exultation and malice burning in its hell-lit eyes. The Spectre, no longer cowering and retreating into shadow, rose before him, gigantic and erect; the face, whose veil no mortal hand had ever raised, was still concealed, but the form was more distinct, corporeal, and cast from it, as an atmosphere, horror and rage and awe. As an iceberg, the breath of that presence froze the air; as a cloud, it filled the chamber and blackened the stars from heaven.
"Lo!" said its voice, "I am here once more. Thou hast robbed me of a meaner prey. Now exorcise THYSELF from my power! Thy life has left thee, to live in the heart of a daughter of the charnel and the worm. In that life I come to thee with my inexorable tread. Thou art returned to the Threshold,—thou, whose steps have trodden the verges of the Infinite! And as the goblin of its fantasy seizes on a child in the dark,—mighty one, who wouldst conquer Death,—I seize on thee!"
"Back to thy thraldom, slave! If thou art come to the voice that called thee not, it is again not to command, but to obey! Thou, from whose whisper I gained the boons of the lives lovelier and dearer than my own; thou—I command thee, not by spell and charm, but by the force of a soul mightier than the malice of thy being,—thou serve me yet, and speak again the secret that can rescue the lives thou hast, by permission of the Universal Master, permitted me to retain awhile in the temple of the clay!"
Brighter and more devouringly burned the glare from those lurid eyes; more visible and colossal yet rose the dilating shape; a yet fiercer and more disdainful hate spoke in the voice that answered, "Didst thou think that my boon would be other than thy curse? Happy for thee hadst thou mourned over the deaths which come by the gentle hand of Nature,—hadst thou never known how the name of mother consecrates the face of Beauty, and never, bending over thy first-born, felt the imperishable sweetness of a father's love! They are saved, for what?—the mother, for the death of violence and shame and blood, for the doomsman's hand to put aside that shining hair which has entangled thy bridegroom kisses; the child, first and last of thine offspring, in whom thou didst hope to found a race that should hear with thee the music of celestial harps, and float, by the side of thy familiar, Adon-Ai, through the azure rivers of joy,—the child, to live on a few days as a fungus in a burial-vault, a thing of the loathsome dungeon, dying of cruelty and neglect and famine. Ha! ha! thou who wouldst baffle Death, learn how the deathless die if they dare to love the mortal. Now, Chaldean, behold my boons! Now I seize and wrap thee with the pestilence of my presence; now, evermore, till thy long race is run, mine eyes shall glow into thy brain, and mine arms shall clasp thee, when thou wouldst take the wings of the Morning and flee from the embrace of Night!"
"I tell thee, no! And again I compel thee, speak and answer to the lord who can command his slave. I know, though my lore fails me, and the reeds on which I leaned pierce my side,—I know yet that it is written that the life of which I question can be saved from the headsman. Thou wrappest her future in the darkness of thy shadow, but thou canst not shape it. Thou mayest foreshow the antidote; thou canst not effect the bane. From thee I wring the secret, though it torture thee to name it. I approach thee,—I look dauntless into thine eyes. The soul that loves can dare all things. Shadow, I defy thee, and compel!"
The spectre waned and recoiled. Like a vapour that lessens as the sun pierces and pervades it, the form shrank cowering and dwarfed in the dimmer distance, and through the casement again rushed the stars.
"Yes," said the Voice, with a faint and hollow accent, "thou CANST save her from the headsman; for it is written, that sacrifice can save. Ha! ha!" And the shape again suddenly dilated into the gloom of its giant stature, and its ghastly laugh exulted, as if the Foe, a moment baffled, had regained its might. "Ha! ha!—thou canst save her life, if thou wilt sacrifice thine own! Is it for this thou hast lived on through crumbling empires and countless generations of thy race? At last shall Death reclaim thee? Wouldst thou save her?—DIE FOR HER! Fall, O stately column, over which stars yet unformed may gleam,—fall, that the herb at thy base may drink a few hours longer the sunlight and the dews! Silent! Art thou ready for the sacrifice? See, the moon moves up through heaven. Beautiful and wise one, wilt thou bid her smile to-morrow on thy headless clay?"
"Back! for my soul, in answering thee from depths where thou canst not hear it, has regained its glory; and I hear the wings of Adon-Ai gliding musical through the air."
He spoke; and, with a low shriek of baffled rage and hate, the Thing was gone, and through the room rushed, luminous and sudden, the Presence of silvery light.
As the heavenly visitor stood in the atmosphere of his own lustre, and looked upon the face of the Theurgist with an aspect of ineffable tenderness and love, all space seemed lighted from his smile. Along the blue air without, from that chamber in which his wings had halted, to the farthest star in the azure distance, it seemed as if the track of his flight were visible, by a lengthened splendour in the air, like the column of moonlight on the sea. Like the flower that diffuses perfume as the very breath of its life, so the emanation of that presence was joy. Over the world, as a million times swifter than light, than electricity, the Son of Glory had sped his way to the side of love, his wings had scattered delight as the morning scatters dew. For that brief moment, Poverty had ceased to mourn, Disease fled from its prey, and Hope breathed a dream of Heaven into the darkness of Despair.
"Thou art right," said the melodious Voice. "Thy courage has restored thy power. Once more, in the haunts of earth, thy soul charms me to thy side. Wiser now, in the moment when thou comprehendest Death, than when thy unfettered spirit learned the solemn mystery of Life; the human affections that thralled and humbled thee awhile bring to thee, in these last hours of thy mortality, the sublimest heritage of thy race,—the eternity that commences from the grave."