Project Canterbury

Duchenier; or, the Revolt of La Vendée

By John Mason Neale

London: SPCK, 1905.
First published London: J. Masters, 1848.

Chapter XI.

WE must shift the scene to the terrible Hall of Convention. It was already full, though the great clock had not yet struck ten, when M. de Beaurepaire pushed his way, not without difficulty, into the lower end of it. It was a long lofty room: the President's rostrum at the upper end; seats for the members down each side; and a table, covered with green cloth, and pens and paper, below the President's seat. To the right of that seat the Girondist party placed themselves,--men who had been playing at making a fancied republic, till their theoretical democracy was on the point of vanishing into the law of the strongest. The only noble countenances in the hall were on those benches; and Lanjuinais, its pillar of strength, had come down to his post, pale and thoughtful, yet evidently having collected all his energies, and with a determination like that of Dryden's hero;

"Past hope of safety, 'twas his latest care,
Like falling Caesar, decently to die."

At the lower end of the hall, occupying both the right and left benches, sat the party of the Plain,--the miserable and vacillating section who knew what was right, and voted what was safe. Barrere was evidently extremely anxious. He stretched his long, crane-like neck to those who were sitting nearest to him, asking a question here--insinuating a doubt there--waiting for an opinion from this deputy--seeking to enforce his own sentiments on that; while the painful movement of his lower jaw would, to a physiognomist, have sufficiently expressed the vehemence of the doubts by which he was tortured.
The Jacobins alone, who held the left of the President, had not as yet mustered strongly; yet many of the leaders were there. Couthon, that miserable caricature of humanity, with his paralysed extremities and distorted face, sat caressing his silky-haired spaniel; Chaumette and Billaud Varennes were deep in their consultations of blood, and eagerly scanning the features and the numbers of their opponents; Tallien, Legendre, Barras, Fouche", David, Saint Just, Collot d'Herbois, and monsters of a similar character, sat there in gloomy silence; but the great leaders had not yet appeared. It was evident to all that a very large mob had collected on the outside: as some noxious or popular member entered there were cheers or groans; and such cries as "Vive Robespierre!"--"A bas la Convention!"--"Death to the two-and-twenty!" could give no room for doubt that the assembly was, in fact, immured in a prison. At last Robespierre entered, shortly after followed by Danton. The President ascended the rostrum, and rang his bell to command silence, and the deliberations began.

"M. le President," said Robespierre, ascending the tribunal, "I am here this day as the representative of the victorious, the enlightened, the glorious people, from whom this Convention derives its authority, and for whose benefit we are to construct or reconstruct the laws." Here there was a loud yell in the Place du Carrousel; and presently Vergniaud, the most eloquent of the Girondists, entered, covered with blood, and endeavoured to address himself to the President.

"Robespierre has the tribunal! Robespierre has the tribunal!" shouted the Jacobin party.

"I demand a hearing--I am on a point of order--I appeal to the President--I will be heard!"--shouted Vergniaud, but in vain. Robespierre maintained his place; and the President, rising, said, or was thought, in the confusion, to say, that Robespierre had the right of speech.

"Yes, gentlemen," he continued, "I stand before you as one of the representatives of that great and invincible people, who alone, of all the nations of the world, have dared to proclaim the sacred principles of liberty, equality, and universal brotherhood."

A loud cheer followed at the bottom of the hall, into which armed men were now rapidly pouring.

Lanjuinais rose. "M. le President," he began,--but shouts rose both from the Mountain and the Plain, of "Sit down! sit down! Robespierre, Robespierre!"--and a still more fearful cry at the bottom, "Lanjuinais to the guillotine!" However, the Girondist made up by gesticulations what was denied him in the power of utterance. He pointed to the intruders, he raised his hand to the sky, till he was fairly roared down.

"Why am I here?" said Robespierre; "why are these citizens pouring into the hall? why does virtue arm them for their work? Why, but that they and I,--they by my mouth, and we by their hands,--call for justice on traitors! Justice, so long and so vainly demanded. Sublime emotion! I behold arms stretched out to strike the blow: I beheld, as I came hither, lines and lines of our brave fellow-citizens eager to assert their rights." Waiting to allow the cheering to subside, which was taken up by the crowd without, though they knew nothing but that Robespierre was speaking, he proceeded:--"I am here, M. le President, to demand a decree of death for the twenty-two traitors whose names the two thousand petitioners laid before you. I demand their death, because they are accomplices of Dumouriez; because they are allies of England; because they are enemies of the city of Paris; because they desire a federative instead of an indivisible republic. M. le Pr6sident, the citizens cry for their blood, and they must have it!" He sat down, and the cheers without the building rose loud and long, and were heard from the Northern Boulevards as far as the Luxembourg.
For some moments there was no reply. The principal Girondists, all of whom were included in the proscription, gazed in terror at one another, or interchanged a few hurried whispers. There was a low buzz of expectation in the hall, when Barrere, the leader of the Plain, ascended the tribunal. His party had influence enough to turn the scale either way; and De Beaurepaire listened with intense eagerness for his sentiments, knowing that he would incline to the party of the strongest, and by so doing, make it the strongest indeed.

"M. le President," he began, "I find myself--and I am sure all the members must find themselves--in a very painful situation. On the one hand, the eloquent demand of him, whom Paris has so honourably distinguished by the name of the Incorruptible, seems to have struck a responding chord in the hearts of its citizens. On the other, the gentlemen on the other side of the house have had, I am sure, and still have, the purest intentions for the public good. Still, it cannot be denied that they have been unhappy enough to fall under the suspicion of the people. We must not now inquire by what conjunction of circumstances this has happened. So it is: and the members of whom I speak are, I am sure, too honourable to deny it. I see but one remedy; and though it demands a sacrifice from them, it is such a sacrifice as every good citizen must be prepared to make for the welfare of his country. Let them resign their places as deputies; then the power of giving offence ceases, and with that the right of taking it. Then the Convention will throw its aegis over them; then it will menace with its displeasure those who shall venture to do them wrong by word or deed. It is the only way to restore peace: we must yield so far, or we shall be entirely crushed."

The Plain applauded vehemently: and there were some symptoms of approbation among the more moderate Jacobins. But the mob, inside and out of the hall, gave no signs of concurring in the motion; and Danton was observed to speak in an .excited manner to those around him, as if urging them to resist it. But, on a few words from Robespierre, he seemed better satisfied, and a pause ensued, as if it were expected that some leader of the Girondists should signify their approval or disapproval of the plan.

Isnard, a man whose maxim throughout his life had been, everything for peace, mounted the tribunal. "For my own part," said he, "and I believe I am speaking the sentiments of many of my friends, I am for adopting the proposition which we have just heard. No one can have laboured more strenuously for the people's good than I have done; if they are dissatisfied with my efforts, I resign to them my commission."

There were cheers and cries of Bravo! mingled with a few hisses, at the lower end of the hall. Before they had subsided, Lanjuinais had risen. "It may sound well," he said, "to talk of self-devotion to the public good; it may sound well to speak of resigning to the people a commission which they repent of having intrusted; but there are two questions to be answered, and which, as honest men, the Convention can but answer one way. Can a deputy's commission be resigned at all, till those who gave it him authorise his desertion of his post? Can you, M. le President, receive a resignation thus made? Are you not guilty of treason to the Tiers Etat, in allowing those whom they have constituted their representatives, to unconstitute themselves? And why should we do this? Who calls for the sacrifice? Who demands the victims? Is it the majority of the nation? GOD forbid! Is it the majority of this Convention? Let your own consciences, gentlemen, speak for me. No, it is demanded without these walls, by a tumultuous rabble, whom thus to have congregated I make bold to call an act of high treason, and the man that did it, a traitor"--and he fixed his eyes on Robespierre. "It is demanded within them "--here the confusion became extreme; eight or ten of the principal Jacobins started to their feet at once; the cry arose in the mob of "Vive Robespierre! Vive Danton! A bas les vingt-deux!" Barrere and his party maintained silence; and the Girondists seemed endeavouring to gather resolution from despair, and to second the courageous opposition of their leader. In the midst of the confusion, Legendre and Chabot, two of the lowest tools of the Jacobin party, passed from their places to the tribunal and attempted by main force to pull Lanjuinais down from it. A violent scuffle took place before the very eyes of the President, whose bell rang ceaselessly but vainly.

"Cruel men!" cried Lanjuinais; "of old they crowned their victims with garlands; you load them with blows and insults! M. le Président, I will be heard: I claim my deputy's right; I am in possession of the tribunal: gentlemen, if not for your own conscience' sake, if not for the sake of natural right and justice, at least for shame, hear me!"

One or two of the boldest among the Girondists advanced to the relief of their leader; and Chabot and Legendre slunk back. The uproar subsided a little.

"If you sacrifice us to that bloodthirsty and vengeful minority," proceeded Lanjuinais,--"if you surrender your brethren to that murderous multitude without, you are sacrificing yourselves at no distant period. The clamour you now hear against us will one day be directed against you: others will mete to you the measure you have given to us: you will have cut away the ground from under your own feet. No I let us perish, if we must; but let it be honourably. Let us go forth to these men; let us command them, on their peril, to retire; if they disobey us, let us adjourn. Never be it said that the Convention was dictated to by the rabble of Paris!--never that they murdered their brethren, because the poniard was at their own throats."

"Let us go! let us go!" shouted many a voice, even from the Plain. And the President, when silence was a little restored, put the motion.

"Let them go!" said Robespierre to those who stood by him; "they will soon come back!"

Thus, standing as it were at bay, and deriving courage from despair, the whole of the members, except the Jacobins, moved in procession from the hall, and sallied out into the gardens of the Tuilleries; De Beaurepaire, and almost all who were in the lower part of the hall, followed, fully perceiving that the crisis was at hand. When the enormous sea of heads burst on the view of the astonished and bewildered deputies, when the whole open space as far as the Etoile des Champs Elysées, and right down to the river-side, and the Quai de la Conference, seemed alive with the sanguinary mob, the little remaining courage of the Convention failed.

"We can do nothing," said the President to Lanjuinais.

"We can die," replied the Girondist.

At the same time a yell of rage broke forth from the people; the Rue de Rivoli rang again with it. "A bas les vingt-deux!" "A bas la Convention!" intermingled with howls, hisses, roars, shrieks, and groans; as if they were--and they might almost as well have been--a legion of fiends that surrounded them.

"What is your will, gentlemen?" said Henriot, riding up on a powerful horse, a well-armed body of troops advancing at his signal.

"That you retire!" replied the President, assuming a virtue that he had not, and speaking calmly, and, to all appearance, courageously. "The Convention will not be dictated to; they will judge for themselves who are traitors, and who are not; and in the meantime, none bear so much their appearance as those who think, by brute force, to crush the freedom of deliberation."

"Shall I pass my sword through him?" said Lanjuinais.

Had he done it, instead of asking the question, the Girondists might have triumphed.

"No! for Heaven's sake, no!" cried the President. "It is useless righting against circumstances."

But Henriot had seen the motion of Lanjuinais, and guessed what was passing in his mind; and, being a thorough coward at heart, reined back his horse. Marat advanced at the head of a hundred ruffians, whose ragged clothes, matted hair, grimy faces, and strange weapons, were more terrible than the regular array of the troops.

"Go back, M. le President," said he. "Give up the traitors; deliberate if you will on the demands of the people, but let your deliberation end in obedience."

The President turned without saying another word; and the return of the Convention almost resembled a flight. The troops drew close round the doors; and, amidst the deepest silence, the retiring members took their seats.

"M. le President," said Couthon, in his place, his natural infirmity rendering him unable to rise--"I beg leave to propose an amendment on the motion of my excellent friend M. Robespierre. He denounced twenty-two persons as traitors; during your absence I have been considering whether that number were sufficiently complete: and I now beg to propose an addition of eight names more. I will read them."

He did so: and the infamy of the act they were about to perpetrate seemed to awe the Convention into silence. The fall of a pin might have been heard.

"I second that amendment," said Collot d'Herbois.

"Is it your pleasure, gentlemen, that the amendment pass?" said the President in a trembling voice.

There was one effort of expiring shame. The "No! no!" that burst from the Girondists, and from many of the Plain, overpowered for a moment the "Ay! ay!" of the Jacobins and the more complete time-servers. But it was but for a moment; and when the President called for a show of hands, there could be no doubt that the amendment was carried.

Then all was confusion. Some of the proscribed deputies made their escape; the greater part were arrested by Henriot, who entered while the question was being put; the members who had any sense of honour slunk away to meditate on their own infamy; and the voice of the President was scarcely heard when he put the motion, that the Convention do adjourn.

De Beaurepaire, though fearfully interested in this debate, had not lost sight of Robespierre, nor forgotten his own errand. That personage remained talking with a few of his intimate friends, when the President and the rest of the members had retired. At length they all left the hall together. As Robespierre descended the steps, De Beaurepaire caught his eye.

"Ah, M. de Brissac," he said, "I remember your errand. Come back with me to my lodgings, and I will give you the paper you wish for. Well, we have had a fair morning's work--have we not? and the way to perfect liberty lies open before us."

"It does, M. Robespierre," returned M. de Beaurepaire. "Your plans had been laid well."

"Yes, I think they had," said the other, looking as safe to approach as he ever could be, for he was in high good-humour at the morning's work. "Have you the paper you spoke of?"

"Yes, monsieur," said De Beaurepaire. "Here is a letter from De Beaurepaire, inquiring whether his own person would be accepted for that of his daughter." And he produced one which he had written that morning.

"Ah, well," said Robespierre, "that will do." And they walked on in silence till they turned into the Rue de la Sourdiere. Opening the door by a pass-key, Robespierre led the way into a small room opening out of the drawing-room, which seemed to be his study. "Sit down a moment," he said. "I could not, of course, give you the document, because I have no authority. I am but a poor citizen, M. de Brissac--simple lover of my nation--but I got one from the secretary this morning--poor fellow, he is in prison now." And he took it out of an escritoire. "Read it, M. de Brissac."

De Beaurepaire read it. "M. Naudet is directed to liberate Madame Duchenier nee Beaurepaire, now in confinement at S. Lazare, as soon as he shall be in possession of the person of M. de Beaurepaire, if he shall surrender himself within ten days from this time. June 2, 1793."--The document was properly signed, countersigned, and sealed.

"I am obliged to you, M. Robespierre," said De Beaurepaire, rising. "I will forward this to De Beaurepaire; and I doubt not he will present himself within as short a time as possible."--At this moment there was a knock at the door.

"Good-morning, M. de Brissac," said Robespierre; "that, I guess, is General Santerre. I expect him here this morning. He will be pleased to learn that his old enemy is in our hands."

De Beaurepaire made his exit with the utmost speed--to describe his horror at the intelligence is impossible. Just as he had succeeded beyond his utmost hopes, he felt that to meet Santerre would undo all he had done. He hurried down-stairs, intending to step into the parlour which opened from the hall; but just as he had his foot on the lowest step, the door opened, and Santerre entered. De Beaurepaire endeavoured to pass him unnoticed.

"Halloo!" said the general. "Halloo, monsieur!"

"Monsieur!" said De Beaurepaire, disguising his voice, and speaking in a surprised and angry tone.

"M. de Beaurepaire!" gasped Santerre in a tone half of fury, half of astonishment.

"My name is De Brissac, monsieur," replied he, passing rapidly on--while the ex-brewer had not presence of mind to stop him--and making his escape from the door. Santerre looked for a moment disposed to stop him-- hesitated--and then hurried up-stairs.

"Why, M. Robespierre," he called out, "do you know what De Beaurepaire did to me?"

"Yes, general; and I hope that in a few days he will be safe enough. What's the matter? you look put out."

"In a few days safe enough! Why, I met him going down your stairs!"

"Met De Beaurepaire going down-stairs! That man's De Brissac."

"Do you take me for a fool?" cried Santerre. "I tell you it was De Beaurepaire. I spoke to him myself."

"No! by all the devils!" cried Robespierre, catching at the bell. "Or, stay! run yourself, general. I will send some soldiers. Get into a hackney-coach, and ride to the Saint Lazare."

"Why? why?" cried the officer.

"He has cajoled me," cried Robespierre: "do as I tell you, or he will succeed; he will be at the Saint Lazare. I will be there nearly as soon as you." And Santerre, not above half understanding his errand, ran down-stairs, and hurried to the nearest stand.

In the meantime, De Beaurepaire felt that all depended on his speed. He had scarcely any hope of succeeding; but he resolved to use every effort. Running down the street, he was fortunate enough to find a hackney-coach by the opera-house, with its head in the right direction.

"Two louis-d'or," he cried, "if you set me down at the Saint Lazare in ten minutes!"

The coachman, urged by such an offer to unwonted speed, performed the distance under the given time; and De Beaurepaire, throwing himself from the carriage, and ringing the bell of the prison, awaited with considerable anxiety the arrival of the turnkey. In every carriage which he heard in the neighbouring streets he fancied the arrival of General Santerre; but at length steps were heard approaching along the avenue we have already described, the bolts were drawn back, the door was opened, and De Beaurepaire, with an eagerness which he could not disguise, demanded immediately to see Naudet. The turnkey accordingly led him into the little room which opened from the portico; and desiring him to wait there for a moment, proceeded in search of his superior officer. Every minute seemed an age to the anxious father; every minute he expected to hear the bell, which he himself had just rung, announce the arrival of General Santerre. Nor were his apprehensions at all groundless; at that very moment, the general having procured a hackney-coach at the nearest stand, was hurrying along the least frequented streets, and had urged his coachman also by the promise of a handsome present. He was, however, fortunately detained, first by there being no coach at the opera-house stand; and then by a stoppage in the Rue Cadet. Naudet, who guessed that the business might require his immediate attention, came at once to De Beaurepaire. "I have procured the order, M. Naudet," said the latter; "you will observe that this document"--and he produced it from his pocket--"is properly signed and sealed; and that it requires you to liberate Madame Duchenier as soon as M. de Beaurepaire shall have surrendered himself."

Naudet looked at the paper: and then said, "Am I to understand, M. de Beaurepaire, that you now wish to surrender yourself to my custody? because if so, I must call in one of the turnkeys, that the thing may be done in an official manner."

"Do what you like," replied M. de Beaurepaire; "only be quick; every moment is of importance to me."

"I understand," said Naudet; and, opening the door.

he desired the man who had given admission to M. de Beaurepaire to step in.

"Pierre," he said, "this gentleman, who has been proscribed by the Convention, wishes to surrender himself, and to take his trial. Bring me the prison register, and be quick."

As soon as the .turnkey was gone, "I will go upstairs," said Naudet, "and acquaint your daughter that you are here; and also that she is at liberty to go when and where she will."

"Whatever you do," answered De Beaurepaire, "take care not to give her a hint that I am a prisoner; I will manage all that myself."

"I will take care," said Naudet; and he left the room.

Almost at the same moment, the turnkey made his appearance with the register; and the gaoler came back. "She will be here in a moment," he said; "and now, with your permission, we will make the entry." He accordingly seated himself at the high desk we have already mentioned; and, dipping his pen in the ink, inquired:

"Your Christian and sirname?"

"Claude de Beaurepaire," replied that gentleman.

"Your residence?"

"Cerisay," was the answer.

"Your age?"

"Fifty-five," replied the prisoner.

"Very well," said Naudet; "and you surrender yourself this second day of June, 1793- That is all correct. Take away the book, Pierre."

Almost as soon as the turnkey had gone, the door again opened, and Marie Duchenier hurried in. She threw herself into her father's arms, and would have asked him a thousand questions as to the method by which he had procured the order for her liberation; but he stopped her by speaking at once quickly and decidedly.

"My dear child," he said," all this must be for another time; now if you wish the order to be of any use, you must put on your bonnet and shawl, and leave the prison at once. There; run up-stairs directly, and be back again as quickly as possible. And do not mind about taking anything with you; we can send for whatever you may want."

"If I were disposed to guess," said Naudet, when she had obeyed her father's orders--"I say," he repeated with a smile, "if I were disposed to guess, I should be likely to believe, M. de Beaurepaire, that the manner in which you have obtained this order will not bear looking into. However, that is no concern of mine; I have done my duty, and the Convention may blame me for it if they like. For aught I know, you may have procured the paper in the most straightforward method imaginable."

"I see," said De Beaurepaire, "that the report which I have always heard of you, M. Naudet, has only done you justice. It is a comfort to think that among the many prisons in this unfortunate city, there is one at least where the governor is a kind and generous man."

"Oh, I hope there are more than that," began Naudet; but he was interrupted by Marie Duchenier, whose anxiety to be free and to obey the wishes of her father had rendered her quicker than he could have expected. But she was not alone; for the pang she felt at her separation, necessary though it were, from the friend who had hitherto shared her dangers and her imprisonment, was fully sympathised with by Rose Le Grand. De Beaurepaire, with his natural politeness, shook hands with and inquired after the health of the latter before he said, "Now, Marie, you must go at once; and, what is more, you must go by yourself. Here is the direction to which you are to drive,"--he put a card into her hands,--"and you will find a hackney-coach waiting for you outside the gate."

"But father," said Marie, "when are you coming yourself? I do not at all like leaving you alone here."

"Oh, never mind about me," replied De Beaurepaire,

"I shall come by and by! All I want now is that you should take yourself off."

"Rose," said Marie, throwing herself into her friend's arms, "I hardly think I could bear to leave you, were it not that I know how much more we can do for you when I am once out of this place than we can while I am in it. I will never leave off-----"

"Yes, yes," said De Beaurepaire, in great agitation (for he thought that he heard the sound of some vehicle rattling furiously along the street which skirted the prison wall), "I will say all that for you when you are gone; but now every moment's delay may be worth your life."

Almost by force he separated the two friends; and Marie Duchenier, entrusted to the care of the turnkey, walked down the avenue towards the prison-gate. Her father, in company with Rose Le Grand and Naudet, watched her as she went; but before she could reach the gate itself the coach which M. de Beaurepaire had fancied that he heard drove up, and the prison-bell was rung with great violence. De Beaurepaire retired into the little room where he had surrendered himself; Rose followed him; and Naudet merely saying, "Why, what's in the wind now?" took a few steps towards the gate.

"Now, Mademoiselle Le Grand," said De Beaurepaire, "you will soon know the reason why I was obliged to hurry poor Marie away from you so fast."

While he spoke his heart was almost bursting with anxiety to know whether, after all, his daughter would have made her escape; or whether Santerre might have discovered the trick in time to prevent its success. However, he was soon relieved from his terror; for in a minute or two Santerre's voice was heard outside the portico. That officer, who had been unacquainted, as we have seen, with the nature of the deception practised by De Beaurepaire, had seen nothing extraordinary in a lady's leaving the prison, where she might have been visiting one of her friends; nor had he taken time to examine her features; nor perhaps, if he had, would he have recognised his former prisoner under another dress. When, however (which was not at once), from the inquiries he made of Naudet, as well as from the confession of De Beaurepaire himself, he discovered the trick, the republican general gave way to one of those bursts of fury for which he was notorious. He swore--he blasphemed--he threatened to deprive Naudet of his place--he vowed that he would bring De Beaurepaire to trial before he was a week older; and all this while Marie Duchenier was getting further from the scene of danger, and her father was therefore well pleased that the time which might have been occupied in her pursuit was wasted by Santerre in impotent expressions of fury.

De Beaurepaire had taken care to lay his scheme well. He had left a letter at his lodgings explaining to Marie that he had sacrificed his own life for hers; that she was bound to make the best use of the liberty he had given her, and, instead of wasting time in useless endeavours for him, to follow his directions implicitly; that Texier would make every arrangement for her immediate flight from Paris; and that she should take up her abode for the present with the royalist army, until its leaders should have provided some secure and settled place of refuge for the ladies and other women who were connected with the revolt.

Whether she obeyed these injunctions of M. de Beaurepaire the course of the history will show.

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