IT was about sunset on the 29th of May; the day had been cloudless, and Paris had been intensely hot. Now, though the sultriness had somewhat passed over, houses, pavé wall, all glowed like an oven; and the few inhabitants of that devoted city whom the possible refreshment of an evening breeze had lured out, found themselves disappointed in their hopes. Indeed, there were not many persons about; the shops were being closed early; and there were various signals, but too familiar to the citizens, that some new movement was expected. Various and uncertain rumours were propagated among the knots that clustered in the corners of the principal streets: now it was that the Convention were resolved on crushing the rising spirit of the Jacobins; now that the section of La Buttedes-Moulins, the wealthiest in Paris, had displayed the white cockade, and declared for the Bourbons; now that Marat and Robespierre had been heard to declare that a hundred thousand victims were claimed as a sacrifice by public justice. Everywhere there was doubt, fear, mistrust, and suspicion; and well there might be,--the Reign of Terror was about to begin.
Two persons, on that eventful evening, were walking slowly along the Boulevard Poissonniere. The elder of the two seemed a substantial citizen, who had seen a few more than fifty years; the other might be a servant, or a dependent, or even perhaps a poor relation; for while his personal appearance led to the former conclusion, the conversation carried on between him and his companion would seem to justify the latter belief. The citizen, however, appeared less at home in the knowledge of his locality than might have been expected. He once or twice looked round him, as if inclined to ask the way; he turned up the Rue Poissonniere, and after taking a few steps turned again, saying, "No, we had better keep straight on; "and at last, apparently to his better satisfaction, he went up the Rue Hauteville.
"They have so altered these streets, Texier," he said, "that I can hardly find the way; but I don't want to ask it, if it can be avoided."
"Better go a little wrong, than do that, monsieur," said Texier; for it was none other than our old friend. "A few steps more or less will not make much difference."
"You will come in with me," said M. de Beaurepaire--for it was he that spoke--" if we can get admission for love or money."
"And if I may ask, monsieur, what do you mean to do?"
"Nothing directly, Texier; but I shall learn what her situation is--that will be one thing; and whether anything can be done for her--that is another; and we may perhaps have the means of making the gaoler more attentive to her than he otherwise would be."
A tumultuous rabble of men, boys, and women--the very offcasts of the most abandoned in that great city--approached them. They were laughing, shouting, and screaming, while chiming-in, after a fashion, in the Marseillaise, which some of the mob were chanting. To look at them was enough to make the blood run cold. The long tangled hair of the men--their bloodshot eyes-their brutal gestures--their mingled rags and finery--their caps of liberty--their tricoloured cockades--their utter recklessness, abundantly apparent in their mien, for life, property, honour, and everything else that man, till that time, had held valuable or sacred--caused De Beaurepaire and his companion almost involuntarily to stand aside.
"Beg your pardon, citizen," cried one of the ringleaders, knocking off De Beaurepaire's hat, which another kicked from under his hand, just as he was about to pick it up, to Texier's intense rage; "pray are you from the Palais Royal?"
"No, citoyen," replied De Beaurepaire, determined to treat the matter as a good joke--"from the Quai de la Cité. But pray, is it your good pleasure that no one from the Palais Royal shall wear their hats?"
"They shall not wear their heads much longer," returned the party who had first spoken; "the white cockade is up there, and we are just going to pull it down."
"That's right--that's right!" cried De Beaurepaire; "mind you are not too late, though; I met another body of citizens coming along the Boulevard Montmartre."
"We won't be late, anyhow," cried one or two voices; and De Beaurepaire and Texier were allowed to proceed in safety. Turning to the right they came presently out in front of the Prison S. Lazare. A gloomy place it was in the best of times; but now, while De Beaurepaire looked on its vast extent of walls, and thought of the misery they girded in, his very heart sank within him; and nothing but his determined purpose to save his child, at whatever sacrifice, could have prevented his even then turning back. He rang the bell; and while! waiting for a reply to his summons, said quietly to "Texier, "Now, my good friend, I am going to put my head into the lion's mouth; but there is no reason why you should do so, unless you like. If my daughter recognises me openly, there is no doubt of my fate; and none, I should think, about yours. Come with me, if you like; stay outside, if you like: I am determined to see her, cost what it may."
"I will go with you, monsieur; GOD will protect us," replied Texier.
While they are thus waiting at the gate, we must briefly explain by what means it came to pass that they were at this time in Paris. Texier had slept late on the morning following the capture of Duchenier and Marie,--late for him, that is,--for it was past six o'clock before he awoke. He roused his companions, and somewhat surprised at the unusual silence that prevailed in the house, they went forth to the stables, for the purpose of attending to their horses. Here, to their intense astonishment, they found the door broken open, and two of the horses gone; and returned to the house to give the alarm. On entering the hall, they found the great door left open; and Texier, exceedingly terrified, proceeded up-stairs, crying out for M. Duchenier. The first room he entered was the winter-parlour, and there he found a candle burnt out in the socket, and no other sign of occupation. He went up-stairs, knocking at and opening every door; and finding no room that had been slept in, till he arrived at that which had been appropriated to Madame Duchenier. As soon as he opened it, Madame Le Brun, who had passed the night in that extremity of terror as now hardly to be in the possession of her senses, overcome with joy at finding that the unexpected visitor was a friend, went off into a succession of hysterics, which Texier knew much better how to execrate than to manage. However, he saw that something very terrible had happened; and rushing to the top of the stairs, he shouted loudly for his companions. In process of time, and with the use of the proper restoratives, Madame Le Brun was enabled to give something like a connected account of the whole affair.
Recommending the housekeeper to take refuge with Father Laval, and calling on his companions to saddle their horses and follow him, Texier ran to the stables, mounted his horse, who had just finished his morning feed of corn, rode like a madman down the avenue, and never drew rein till the town of La Chateignerie rose clearly before him. The Vendeans were just on the point of evacuating it; M. de Beaurepaire was talking to Lescure at the head of his troops, in the Place Ste. Marguerite, and most of the other chiefs were within hearing, when Texier, as well as agitation would let him, told his tale. The indignation of the leaders was only to be equalled by their surprise. That any number of the Blues could thus have ventured to penetrate into the heart of their own territory, seemed incomprehensible; and it was only the exclamation of the wretched father which at last discovered to them the way in which it had been accomplished.
"I see it all!--I see it all!" he cried. "It is that villain La Force. He has been missing since the night before last. I guessed he must have changed his mind; but I could not see how. Gentlemen all, you will excuse me; I must ride to Cerisay instantly."
"Would," said Lescure, "that the very urgent situation of our affairs did not render it wrong for me to think of accompanying you; though I fear that I could give you little real assistance! But be assured that if our advancing in any particular manner can further your designs, you may command us."
"I am sure I may," said De Beaurepaire, hastily.--"Texier, you will go with me?"
"Undoubtedly, monsieur." For such was the curious state of the Vendean army, that a soldier by no means considered it necessary to ask leave of absence from his officer, even on the eve of an important expedition, like that on which the Catholic army was now about to be engaged.
Arrived at Cerisay, M. de Beaurepaire had no great difficulty in learning that his daughter had been taken to Santerre at Angers: and that Father Laval had never been seen since he left the cottage where the sick child lay, whom he had proposed to visit, as we have seen. That cottage was situated at the side of-the Nantes road. The bereaved father made his way to Chatillon that night; learned that the story of the messenger despatched by Madame de Lescure was a mere fabrication; and stayed at La Boulaye one day, till he could provide himself and Texier with clothes that would not excite suspicion. On the second night he arrived in Paris, and took up his abode at an obscure inn in the Rue du Cherche Midi, supposing that he should find his daughter either in the Luxembourg, or in the Rue des Sevres; nor, till after a long series of inquiries, did he learn that all the recent prisoners from the south-west had been transferred to the Saint Lazare; and that, without doubt, he would find her there.
After waiting for some five minutes at the gate, as we have related, the heavy bars were drawn back, and a turnkey made his appearance, who, in his air and general behaviour, agreeably disappointed the preconceived ideas of De Beaurepaire.
"Pray," said he," is it permitted to the prisoners to see their friends?"
"Oh yes, monsieur," answered the man; "from nine o'clock till eight: it is very near eight o'clock now."
"There is a young lady of the name of Duchenier here, whom I am anxious to see--as she is a distant relation of mine--she is from La Vendée, and they tell me that you have had a good number from that part of the country lately."
"Step in, monsieur; is the young man coming in?"
Texier replied by following his master; and the two accompanied the guide across a gravel court, paved in the middle with broad flag-stones, and shaded by one or two miserable elm-trees, that seemed to droop in the confinement of the prison. From this they ascended the steps of a small projecting portico; and the turnkey ushered them into a waiting-room at the side.
"Stay here," said he," till I go and let the governor know."
Accordingly De Beaurepaire and Texier entered as directed; the former seated himself on a wooden bench, the only article of furniture in the apartment, except a high standing desk, with drawers, and with pen and ink on the top ledge; and Texier found such amusement as he could in looking out of the grated windows, at the smoky chimneys of the Rue des Petites Ecuries. The waiting-room was paved with stone, and matted in the middle; and if the adventurers had waited ten years instead of ten minutes, they would have found no other subject for their contemplation besides those that we have mentioned.
At length Naudet, the governor of the prison, whose name is never mentioned without an eulogium on his kindness, and who eventually suffered for it, presented himself with a long folio book under his arm. After making a low bow to De Beaurepaire, "You are late, monsieur," he said; "but I will stretch a point for once, and you shall see the lady you are inquiring for, if she be here. What is her name?"
"Duchenier,--Marie Duchenier. I am much obliged, monsieur, by your kindness."
"B, C, D," said the gaoler, turning over the leaves of his book. "Delaune, Deffand, Delasse--I cannot see the name, monsieur--Dutinge--Duchenier, Marie, nee De Beaurepaire--is that it, monsieur?"
"That is it," replied the father. "I may see her, then, to-night?"
"Immediately, if you follow me. The young man can stop here till you return. Ah," he continued, as he led the way to the end of a long passage, and then up a massy staircase, "it is a sad tale, I understand: she was but just married, poor girl; and' her father is with the insurgents in La Vendée, and has contrived to render himself peculiarly obnoxious to the government. I think we shall find her in the salon "--and he opened a large handsome door, leading into a lofty, well-aired, and well-furnished apartment. De Beaurepaire summoned all his presence of mind, and followed Naudet. The room was occupied by eighty or ninety ladies and gentlemen, dressed, for the most part, and engaged, as they would have been in an evening party. Various knots were discussing so much of the news of the day as had been permitted to penetrate into the prison; at one corner of the room a lady, seated at a piano, was collecting around her a numerous circle of auditors and admirers; and there was conversation, and merriment, and amusement, to a degree which led De Beaurepaire to doubt the evidence of his senses.
"I beg pardon, ladies and gentlemen," said Naudet to those who stood nearest to him, "for presuming to intrude upon you; but this gentleman is desirous of speaking to Madame Duchenier, if she is in the room."
Marie had been too lately domiciled in the prison to be known by name to many among its tenants; and as she was sitting at a remote corner of the apartment, she did not at first perceive that the gaoler had entered it, nor did she notice the slight confusion which the passing on his question had occasioned. She was at the moment discussing with Rose the arrangement of their time during the period of their confinement within those walls,--a confinement which neither of them expected to be terminated but by the guillotine.
"Look! look! Madame Duchenier!" cried Rose.
Marie looked up, and saw her father slowly passing down the room, and examining the various groups with which it was occupied, as if in search of some one. She turned very pale, and felt disposed to faint; but by a strong exertion she controlled her emotions, and guessing, as if by instinct, that M. de Beaurepaire must be there in a feigned character (which, indeed, the disguise of his dress sufficiently showed) she resolved to take her part from him, and to recognise him no further than he should seem to intend.
"Rose," she said in a whisper, "take no notice of my father till you see further; sit quietly here." And she herself rose and walked as if to meet Naudet.
"Ah, Madame Duchenier," said De Beaurepaire, "I am sorry to find that your father's principles have brought you here. I have obtained leave from the excellent governor, however, to see you, and to learn if I can in any way be of service to you."
"I am much obliged, monsieur," said Marie, with a great effort at self-command. "It is very kind in you to have found us out here."
"Well, monsieur," said Naudet,--"I beg pardon--I really have not the honour of knowing your name------"
"De Brissac," said the other.
"Well, Monsieur de Brissac," proceeded the gaoler, "I will leave you here for ten minutes; to-night I really cannot allow you any more time; but to-morrow, if you like, at any time after nine, you are very welcome to come."
He turned and went out of the room. "Oh, my dear, dear father," cried Marie, throwing herself into his arms without any fear of the bystanders, "how could you venture to do this?"
"Because," replied he, "I am determined to save you, and I will do it. But I was afraid you would recognise me, and betray all."
The allotted ten minutes slipped away before Marie and her father seemed to have said anything to each other. The former, however, learnt that her husband had been sent to Nantes; and the latter saw that his daughter's condition was not, for the present, so miserable as his fears had fancied it. His plan of liberating her he would not explain, because he felt that it must be at the sacrifice of his own life; but he comforted her to a very considerable degree, and assured her that he would either see her himself, or communicate with her, the next day. Rose joined in the latter part of the conversation, which was only concluded by the reappearance of Naudet.
"I am sorry to seem uncivil, M. de Brissac, but I fear I cannot allow you to stay longer. Our orders are strict."
"I will come at once," replied De Beaurepaire. "Goodnight, Mademoiselle Le Grand; good-night, Madame Duchenier." And he followed the gaoler down-stairs. He had made up his mind as to the course he was to pursue; for Marie had related several little incidents of Naudet, which convinced him that he was a man of honour; and he accordingly requested one moment's private conversation with him as they were descending the stairs. Naudet led him into a small room at the other side of the hall, and setting down his candle on the table prepared to listen, not without some fear that he was about to be insulted by the offer of a bribe.
"I am going, M. Naudet," said De Beaurepaire, "to throw myself entirely on your generosity. I am sure you would not betray an unfortunate man, who is in the wretched circumstances in which I now find myself,"
" Make yourself perfectly easy, monsieur," said Naudet; "I believe I am acquainted with the confession you wish to make."
"It is impossible," said De Beaurepaire.
"I think not," replied the gaoler, smiling. "I believe that I have the honour of addressing M. de Beaurepaire."
"Well," said De Beaurepaire, "I certainly shall not attempt to deny the charge--for, as I said, I had just made up my mind to confess it. But how you discovered it, I cannot think."
"Oh," replied Naudet, "we are unfortunately compelled to look on a great deal of anxiety as displayed by our visitors, and I can never mistake a parent's. But, however, I must not take credit to myself for much knowledge of character in the present case. The truth is, you had not settled with your servant what name he was to give you, and the M. de Brissac of the salon was changed into M. de Saintonge in the hall."
De Beaurepaire looked half vexed--and I had almost said half amused--at his own forgetfulness; but then he said hurriedly to Naudet, "I am sure I may trust your honour."
"Make yourself perfectly easy, M. de Beaurepaire," returned the gaoler. "But you probably had some end in making this confession to me. Is there anything I can do for you?"
"I am only going to ask you for your advice, and for that I shall be most truly thankful. The facts of the case you see: my daughter is in confinement here, with, I fear, very small chance of escape in the ordinary way. Is it not so?"
"Well, monsieur," said Naudet, "you take a gloomy view of the case; but I will not deny that she is in considerable danger."
"At the same time, as you see, I, who am an aristocrat by principles, and who have actually joined the Catholic army, and who must be a much greater object to government than a poor harmless girl, am free. The question is, Do you think that by giving up myself I could procure her liberty?"
Naudet paused for more than a minute, and then said, "Well, monsieur, it is clear you are a bold man, or you never would have ventured here. If you choose to lay down your head on the guillotine for the sake of preserving your daughter from a great chance of doing so, I think the scheme is practicable. But you are bound to take care lest you destroy yourself without saving her."
"I know there will be danger," returned De Beaurepaire, "but it must be risked anyhow; her case cannot be worse off than it is. What I wanted your advice upon is, the best means of making the offer."
"The best advice," replied Naudet, "that I can give you is this, deal with principals only. If you trust the matter to subalterns, you will infallibly be lost."
"Whom do you mean by principals?" inquired De Beaurepaire.
"Whom should I mean," replied Naudet, with a smile, "but our three leading men, "Robespierre, Danton, and Marat? If you take my counsel you will see one of them in person, your own genius must do the rest."
"I am so completely a stranger in Paris," said De Beaurepaire, "that I really know not where to go for the purpose of applying to any one of the triumvirate."
"If you wish to see Robespierre--and it would be your best chance--he at present lives at No. 67, Rue de la Sourdiere; it runs, you know, out of the Rue S. Honore". You had better seek him there; and I would advise you to lose no time, for, depend upon it, your place of abode and your person will soon be known."
"I thank you, monsieur," replied De Beaurepaire, "with all my heart. If I do not see you again (as it is probable I never shall), I trust you will, so far as you can, alleviate the misfortunes of my poor daughter, and of the young lady who is her companion."
"Depend upon me, monsieur," said Naudet. "I have the honour to wish you good-night."
De Beaurepaire went out at the gate, and was followed by Texier, who, as soon as they were out of the precincts, and De Beaurepaire had given a five-franc piece to the turnkey, said, "Oh, monsieur! I never expected to see you alive out of this place! They asked me what your name was, when M. Naudet came down after he had been up with you; and, you know, we had never settled that. So I said M. de Saintonge, for I once knew a gentleman of that name, and it was the first that came into my head--and then M. Naudet laughed."
"He well might," replied De Beaurepaire, "for I had called myself M. de Brissac. But I told him the whole story."
Poor Texier stared at his master with an expression of astonishment and horror which almost provoked a smile.
"Yes, Texier," he said, "I knew I might trust him, and I asked his advice in our present business; and, what is more, I shall take it."
"Well, monsieur, well," sighed Texier, "you know best; and I hope it will be for the best. But how is madame, and the other young lady?"
"Quite as cheerful as I could hope to find them," returned De Beaurepaire. "The place is far less like a prison than I thought. There were ladies and gentlemen in the drawing-room, much as there might have been at Cerisay."
This seemed to puzzle Texier still more; for he had no idea of imprisonment without bolts, and bars, and dungeons. However, he swallowed down his surprise, and walked on by the side of De Beaurepaire. At the Place S. Denis the latter called a hackney-coach, and directed the coachman to drive to the Place du Palais Royal.
"Now, Texier," he said, when they both had got in (for Texier's dress was not one which rendered it singular for him to do so), "I am going myself to this terrible Robespierre, of whom you have heard so much. I shall send you home in the coach, for I doubt you could not find your way on foot. I am determined, if it be possible, to save my daughter at any sacrifice; and, from what I have heard, I think I can. If you hear nothing of me to-night or to-morrow, go about six to S. Lazare, where we have just been. If Madame Duchenier is set at liberty, try to find where she is, and see what you can do for her. If she is not, ask to speak to M. Naudet alone--say you come from M. Brissac--tell him I went to Robespierre, and ask him if he has received any intelligence on the subject of which we spoke. He will tell you whether there is any hope of my daughter's being set free. If there is, you will then be better able to judge what you should do than I can tell you now. If not, take care of yourself, and get back to La Vendée as soon as you can. Do you understand what I have been saying to you?"
"Yes, monsieur," said Texier, in a half-crying voice.
"Very well. Take this purse; there are ten louis-d'or in it--and, if I do not return, you will find a hundred more in my writing-desk; pay your lodgings, and take the rest for yourself."
"Oh, oh, monsieur," cried Texier, and he fairly began to cry.
"Come, come," said De Beaurepaire, kindly, "that will not mend the matter. Perhaps I shall get my head out of the lion's mouth again. Anyhow, I mean to try, I assure you."
In a few minutes more, the coach stopped. De Beaurepaire got out, and after giving directions to the coachman to drive to his own lodgings, he walked up the Rue S. Honored It was now nearly dark: a good many of the shops were closed; the miserable lamps scarcely did anything else than expose their own wretchedness; the sweet breath of a May evening was lost and overpowered by the foul scents of the huge and crowded city; but thinking very little of aught save of his expected interview, De Beaurepaire passed on. Still he could not avoid noticing that there was unusual stir and commotion in the streets; the groups which he had seen towards sunset were now rather increased than diminished; once or twice, at a distance, he caught the Marseillaise, chanted, he thought, by a considerable number of men; and scarcely one respectable inhabitant appeared abroad. He was now in the Rue de la Sourdiere; and though, as we have seen, possessed of the greatest possible constitutional insensibility to danger, he could not conceal from himself his own agitation. It was not fear for his own life; it was not so much apprehension for his daughter's, for he had persuaded himself that, in some way or other, she would be saved; it was rather a sensation of horror, much as he would have experienced had he been about to be ushered into the presence of a fiend; for nothing less than a fiend could, he thought, have devised and arranged the massacres of September. However, he was not a man to show any symptoms of irresolution; so he walked steadily on, looking up at the doors he was passing: now it was No. 64--now 65--now 66--and at length he stood before the fatal No 67.
The house was distinguished in no respect from those in the street, except that it was somewhat smaller. There were two stone steps leading up to the door, a brightly polished brass knocker, with painted railings; and the whole aspect of the place was remarkable for nothing but its neatness. A light was burning in what appeared the drawing-room. Without any hesitation he knocked, and waited with patience till the door was opened by a kind of page.
"Is M. Robespierre at home?" he asked.
"He is at home," was the answer; "but he is very particularly engaged."
"Take him up that card," returned De Beaurepaire, writing on one which he took from his pocket, "and say that I have intelligence respecting an important prisoner, whom he might wish to secure."
The page took it, and left him standing in the hall, or rather passage, which was dimly lighted by a tallow candle hanging in a lamp from the ceiling.
He had written on the card, "M. de Brissac, La Flêche;" for his own exploit in that city had made a great sensation, and had been much commented on in the Moniteur, and he thought that Robespierre would feel some interest in anything coming from the place.
Nor was he mistaken. The page presently returned with a request that M. de Brissac would be good enough to walk up-stairs. Following his guide, he was ushered into a small but elegantly-furnished drawing-room, where, at a table in the centre, sat three persons, of sufficient importance to merit a somewhat minute description.
The first of these was a man of about forty, rather under the middle size; his face was remarkable for nothing but its ugliness, and the consummate expression of selfishness which it displayed. The hair was neatly arranged, and powdered; the coat and trousers well made, and well put on; and yet there was a kind of easy vulgarity about this personage's whole demeanour, which sufficiently showed that he had risen to his present position, whatever it might be, from the lower classes. He appeared to be the master of the house, for there was a full-length picture of him, by David, over the chimney-piece; a miniature over the sofa; a bust in a niche between the two windows; and certain medallions were scattered on a side table, bearing the same head. De Beaurepaire knew him at once to be Maximilien Robespierre.
On his left sat an immensely tall man, who had the appearance of being six feet two or three in height; his shoulders were very broad; his arms thick and long; his head of enormous size; his face marked with no other expression than that of the lowest brutality; his hair and whiskers black, uncombed, long, and matted together; and his voice, as De Beaurepaire entered the room, seemed more like the roar of a tiger than human articulation. This was Danton.
The other tenant of that drawing-room was about the same height as Robespierre, but thicker, and somewhat more awkward. His features were wild and squalid; they might well have been taken for, and perhaps really were, those of a madman; his eyes were bloodshot, and rolled restlessly hither and thither; he seemed incapable of sitting quietly in his chair for many minutes together. Such was Marat.
De Beaurepaire made up his mind in a moment, that, could he have had his choice to which of the triumvirate he would have preferred addressing himself, it would have been Danton, whose broad, flabby, huge features seemed capable of expressing a kind of brutal good nature.
"Sit down, M. de Brissac, pray be seated," said Robespierre. "So you are from La Flêche, I find. I hope that town has not suffered from those scourges of my native country, the Vendean army? Ah! I could weep to think of the misery that my beautiful France is at this moment suffering from them. It would melt a heart of stone, how much more one like mine!"
"I am from La Flêche, monsieur," said De Beaurepaire, "and was desirous of informing you that I believe I am able to put into your hands M. de Beaurepaire, who so shamefully eluded the national troops."
"Ah!" growled Marat, "we heard a good deal of that tale; somebody ought to lose their heads for that piece of negligence. However, if we get hold of that aristocra-tical villain, the rest will be easy."
"How? did you say you were able to put him into our hands, M. de Brissac?" demanded Robespierre.
"I said, monsieur, that I know how it could be done, if you will allow me to explain------"
At this moment there was a loud knock at the door. "That is Henriot," said Robespierre. "M. de Brissac, have the kindness to step into the other drawing-room," and he pointed to one which opened out of the apartment where they were sitting; "or stay, nothing will pass which any honest citizen is not perfectly welcome to hear,--eh, Danton?"
"No," said the deep voice of that terrible-looking man. "I suppose there is no doubt that M. de Brissac is an honest citizen; but we have only his own word for it."
"Nay, M. Danton," began De Beaurepaire; but he was interrupted by the appearance of the page, and a short, stout-set butcher-like man, in the uniform of the National Guard, white turned up with blue. This was Henriot, commander of the armed force of Paris.
"Well, Henriot, well?" demanded Marat.
"It will be all right," replied the officer. "I have disposed the force under my command round the hall, so that not a soul can escape, if we are so disposed. They know it, too. You have but to go down and demand what you will."
"Where are the Federates?" asked Robespierre.
"In the Champs Elysées," replied Henriot, "guns harnessed--howitzers ready--grape piled--shot ready for heating. If the fools choose to rush on their fate, let them."
"I will go down early," said Robespierre. "Bring up your troops as near as you can, and take care that they are known to be near. We stick to one thing--the twenty-two members of Convention, and we will have them."
"And you shall have them!" said Henriot, and left the room.
"Now, M. de Brissac," said Danton, "your proposal."
"This, monsieur. You have De Beaurepaire's daughter in prison, in the S. Lazare; her father is doatingly fond of her; he has written to say that, if she be set at liberty, or he can have good assurance that she is to be, he will surrender himself; and as I was, in former times, a friend of the family, I agreed to charge myself with the negotiation, thinking that I should be doing a good service to the government, and, at the same time, saving a girl who certainly has in no way injured the republic."
"Hump!" said Marat. "As to that, by your own confession, she is the daughter of an aristocrat. When we knockawolf on the head, we don't generally save the cubs."
"No," said De Beaurepaire, with great nonchalance; "but then the thing here is, that you can't knock the wolf on the head unless you give up the cub."
"Exactly," said Robespierre; "there is much truth in what M. de Brissac urges. It would be a glorious sacrifice to justice, to shed the blood of one who has so grossly trampled on her as this De Beaurepaire; it would be a salutary spectacle to those priest-led insurgents to find that, even in the very heart of the disturbed provinces, the law and justice are not powerless. Only, my good friend, let me have some substantial proof that the offer is made as you say, and I, for my part, shall be most willing to sign a conditional order to the governor of the S. Lazare for the liberation of the girl, as soon as the father has substituted himself for her."
"I have not the letter with me," replied De Beaurepaire; "I left it, unfortunately, at my lodgings."
"Meet me at ten o'clock, in the hall, to-morrow," said Robespierre, "and the matter may be arranged. Where are you lodging?"
"At the Vieil Coq, Rue du Cherche Midi, monsieur. I will not fail to attend you; and now I will have the honour of wishing you good-night."
With a courteous good-night from Robespierre, and a kind of growl from his two companions, De Beaurepaire left the room.
"Well," said he to himself, as he went out into the street," I scarcely expected to have left that room a free man. It will be but for a few hours."