TEXIER found that he had not miscalculated on the character of the relation with whom he had sought refuge. It was a worthy man of the name of Corday, by trade a gingerbread-maker; in his sentiments a thorough loyalist; but, through the necessities of the times, passing as a very decently-disposed citizen. He willingly agreed to give his cousin lodging; and--it ought in justice to be said--would have done so had Texier had nothing to pay. As it was, he still had the hundred louis d'or which had been given him by De Beaurepaire; and an agreement, advantageous to both parties, was soon made between him and Corday. Texier's one great desire was still, if it were possible, to serve M. de Beaurepaire or his daughter, and he resolved not to leave Paris till it should too sadly appear that all hope of serving them was at an end for ever. As lists of those who perished by the guillotine were officially published, there was no difficulty in obtaining a correct knowledge of the victims; and for three or four days Texier perused these with the deepest interest, but with the comfort, at least, that none of those with whom he was connected had as yet suffered.
At the end of that time he resolved, come what would, to pay another visit to the S. Lazare, and learn in what state his master was. Telling Corday that if he never returned there would be nothing remarkable, he walked one afternoon to the prison in question; and, after stating his business, was, as usual, shown into the portico room, and told to wait.
The turnkey was not long absent; and, on returning, said, "You may follow me." With a feeling of something like terror, Texier descended the steps that led to the Souricière; and, on the door being thrown open, found De Beaurepaire chained like the meanest felon in a place to which a common dungeon would have seemed liberty. His horror and surprise were so great that he could at first scarcely speak; and De Beaurepaire said, "I thought I should see you again, Texier, if it were possible. Tell me, before I hear anything else, where is Madame Duchenier?"
The sad story was then related to De Beaurepaire, as far as his informant knew it; and it seemed to the unfortunate father as if his only comfort had been snatched from him. "While I thought," said he, "that she was safe, it mattered very little what they did with me. But now--well, it will soon be over for both of us. My turn comes to-morrow, they tell me; and so sure as I go to trial, I shall go to the guillotine."
Texier inquired still further, and learnt that Rose Le Grand, with her father, who had been sent in a prisoner from Mirebeau, were to be tried at the same time by the revolutionary tribunal. There did not seem the slightest ground for hope that any one of the three would by any chance be saved.
"Well, monsieur," said Texier, at length, when his visit had been extended to nearly half-an-hour, "never give up hope as long as you have life. I may be able to do something for you,--at all events, I will try; and if it can be done, it shall be."
"You, Texier!" said De Beaurepaire; "you must be deceiving yourself. For myself I care not one doit; the pain, they tell me, is nothing, and as for the rest I must run the risk. But when I think of my daughter, I own that I should wish for a few days' longer life. If I knew her fate, I should care nothing for my own. And poor Mademoiselle Le Grand, too! Old men like her father and I ought to care very little about the matter; but it must be a hard thing to go just as life is opening."
"Be on the look-out, monsieur," said Texier. "I will risk everything for you.--Here comes the turnkey--I will wish you good-evening, monsieur."
"Do you think I could see M. Le Grand?" he inquired of the turnkey as they ascended the stairs of La Souriciere.
"Oh, yes!" replied the other, "if he likes it. What is your name? Texier? I will go and ask him." And in consequence of the message Texier was in a few moments ushered into the salon.
The three weeks which had elapsed since we last visited that drawing-room had made a fearful change in its inmates. Voices that had then been gay were now hushed in death; places that had then been occupied by the beauty or manliness of aristocratical France were now vacant; the room seemed half empty; instead of the cheerful buzz of general conversation, there was a desultory hum from five or six scattered knots; several of the prisoners leant their heads on their hands, and seemed to shun the conversation of their neighbours. Rose and her father were seated together on a sofa, and were conversing in a low voice.
When Texier approached them he was quite overwhelmed with their questions. Where was Madame Duchenier? How was she? Had any intelligence been received of her husband? or from La Vendée? and a thousand inquiries of a similar kind. Texier answered to the best of his ability; and then said, "They tell me, monsieur, that your trial comes on to-morrow?"
"Parbleu! they tell you truly," said the ex-mayor; "and it would have been still more true to have said our murder."
"You must hope the best, monsieur."
"Ay," said Le Grand; "I think there's a verse in the Bible--or if it is not there, it's somewhere else--'the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.' We must hope for the best of them, I suppose."
"I fear, good Texier," said the sweet voice of Rose, "that we must not flatter ourselves. GOD'S will be done. After all, we are in His hands, and not in theirs."
She spoke very calmly; but her face was pale, and bore the appearance of great suffering. Her hair, which she had hitherto worn after the then Poitevin fashion over her shoulders, was now dressed à la guillotine, as the phrase went; that is, turned up very tightly and short from the neck, the female sufferers being naturally anxious, as much as possible, to escape all interference of the executioner on the scaffold.
"An effort will be made to-morrow," said Texier, speaking low, "to set you free, if you are condemned, on your way to the Place de la Revolution. All I can now tell you is that you must be on the look-out; the success is not in our hands."
"You are a good fellow, Texier; you are a very good fellow," replied Le Grand. "Depend upon it, we will not be wanting to ourselves."
"Thank you, Texier; thank you," said Rose; "but it will be in vain. Don't throw away your own life to no purpose."
"Time's up," said one of the officials, entering the room, with a manifest decrease of respect from what had at first been paid to the prisoners j and Texier and another visitor left the S. Lazare.
On leaving the S. Lazare, Texier, whose natural shrewdness had been very much fostered by the force of circumstances, and especially by the peculiar character of Vendean warfare, walked down to the Rue S. Honoré. He well knew that the fatal tumbril passed down that street daily on its way to the Place de la Revolution; he had never yet had the heart to mingle among the crowd which followed its progress; and he was desirous of becoming acquainted with the prinicipal features of the street before coming to a decision on his plan. He had almost reached the lower end, when, as he was looking at the houses on the right-hand side, which stand by the Rue Dupliot, he was astonished at seeing the man Dreux leaning against the wall at the opening of a very narrow and, truth to say, very filthy passage leading from that street. The recognition was mutual.
"Ah, M. Texier," said Dreux, "how in the world came you here? Why, you seem rather melancholy."
"I may well be melancholy," said Texier, "for I am afraid that to-morrow I shall lose the best and kindest master that ever man had."
"What, so?" asked Dreux, and he drew his ringer across the back of his neck.
Texier nodded assent.
"I wonder," said Dreux, "that you are not afraid of it yourself. You'll burn your wings at last."
"I care not a straw," said Texier, "what they do to me, so I only knew how to get my master out of their clutches."
"The same old gentleman," inquired the actor, "that I spoke to your young lady about?"
"The same," answered Texier.
"Why, what can you do for him?" said the other.
"I don't know," said Texier, "and that's the plain truth; but if I don't do something my name's not Pierre Texier."
"Well, come," said Dreux, "here's a bargain; I'll help you, and you shall help me."
"Why, how can that be?" said Texier, somewhat suspiciously.
"Just thus," said Dreux. "I haven't a single sou, and, for aught I see, am not like to have one. You shall give me enough to get a good supper to-night and a good breakfast to-morrow; and if I can help you in saving your master, you or he shall make me a present of twenty louis d'or. If I don't play my part well, off will go my head; and then, you know, I shall not want anything more to eat."
"But are you not afraid of the risk?" asked Texier.
"Risk! Not I; my life is something like M. Sinbad's shoes, it sticks to me pretty tight. But the plain truth is, I don't care a single snap either for this world or the next; and men who are in that way somehow contrive to get out of scrapes wonderfully. Nought's never in harm's way, you know."
"Well," said Texier, "as to this world, I care as little for it as most men; and you, my good friend, would fare none the worse for taking a little more care about the next. But as to my part of the bargain, I am ready enough to make it. What is yours to be?"
"There's a snug little cafe on the other side of the Place Vendôme, where I sometimes go: let us walk that way, and I will tell you. Why, I have often thought how very easy a thing it would be if a few determined fellows made a rush at any one in the tumbril, to get him clear off, before the officers could look about them. There are never more than eight or ten of the city troops that ride before, and one or two more that sit in the cart; and as to the people, they are pretty well tired of the sight now, and I think would just as soon see a man get off as not."
"But where can one get four or five men?" asked Texier.
"I know of one or two," returned Dreux; "but that won't be enough in itself. If we could contrive to upset the cart, it would add vastly to the confusion, and give us a better chance of getting any one off."
"If we could," said Texier; "but how is that to be done?"
"I think I could manage that," said Dreux; "but we must have a long talk to-night Where shall it be?"
"I am lodging," said Texier, "in the Barriere du Trône; will you come down there?"
"The Barriere du Trône!" said Dreux; "that is a long way off. No, you had better come to me. My lodgings are in the passage where you saw me first. It looks like a cul-de-sac, but it is not; and, by the way, that will be very much to our purpose."
"I must go back first," said Texier; "what time shall I be with you?"
"To-morrow morning will do just as well as to-night. Come down to me at nine o'clock; I will take care to have arranged matters."
"Very well," said Texier.
"Here we are at the café," said Dreux. "Now I will bid you good-bye, when you have given me the wherewithal to get a supper."
"I have only this with me," returned Texier, taking out a louis d'or and a five-franc piece; "will that be sufficient for to-night?"
"I should rather think so," answered Dreux; and the two parted.
It was nearly ten before Texier reached the Barrière du Trône,and he found that his worthy cousin was in great perturbation as to his fate. "Before you go to bed," said Texier, "I should like to speak to you for a quarter of an hour; "and Corday said, "Very well."
Supper over, and the family and apprentices sent to bed, the gingerbread-factor prepared for the conference by .unlocking a certain cupboard, of which he kept the key, and producing therefrom a bottle of cherry-brandy and some glasses. Having tasted it with his usual preface, "Not so bad, is it?" he continued, "Well, what now?"
Texier related his whole design, and the tradesman was sorely aghast when he heard it. He called it madness, frenzy, absurdity, and many other names of a similar kind; but Texier stuck to his colours. "Never you be afraid," said he. "I should be a villain indeed, supposing I am taken, to say anything which could get you into a scrape. There is only one thing I want you to do for me: if I don't come back, write a letter to M. de Lescure, and tell him what I have told you. Then if you take it to the Vieil Coq, Rue du Cherche Midi, and mention my name to the landlord,--he is called Dommette,--he will forward it for you. Will you promise me this?"
"I will," returned Corday; "but I wish, Pierre, you would be persuaded into something like reason."
"You cannot do it," said Texier smiling. "Now go to bed; it is late. I shall be off to-morrow before you are up."
"At least," said Corday, "take another glass of this before you go."
"No, no," said Texier, "no Dutch courage for me. Besides, I have a good deal to think about. So good-night."
Punctual to his agreement, Texier was in the Rue Du-pliot as the distant chime of Notre Dame de Lorette told the quarter to nine, and found his worthy friend in pretty near the same position in which he had first seen him.
"Rather before your time, Maitre Texier," said he. "However, come in." And he led the way down the passage we have mentioned, and, opening the door of a most disreputable-looking house, he mounted a crazy staircase au second, which he said he preferred as more airy. The furniture of the room consisted of a dirty deal table and three chairs, one of which appeared to be there in honour of the occasion; and a kind of mat or rug, with a couple of things which might originally have been blankets stowed away into one corner, and which had doubtless formed the actor's bed on the preceding night. Standing by the fire-place was a tall, well-made and fine-looking man, though bearing very much the appearance of a practised thief, which, indeed, he seemed to make no scruple in confessing he was. Dreux introduced him by the name of the Marquis de Vertot, observing that that would do as well as any other. We should observe that breakfast, of a character far superior to the room, was on the table; and the actor, begging his friends to be seated, proceeded to the business of the meal.
"We have been talking over this little business, M. Texier," began Vertot, "and I think it shows a very great degree of good judgment in my friend here. It's rather a reputable thing to be engaged in. My price, monsieur, would be fifty louis d'or, succeed or not."
"Well," said Texier, "if you succeed, I will pay them gladly; and if not," he added with hesitation, "I suppose the want of success will not be your own fault."
"I am never angry," said Vertot, "with a man for doubting me till he has proved me, or else your question might be rather personal. But come, to show you that I am in earnest, will you say seventy if you succeed, and thirty if we fail?"
"That will be a better arrangement," said Texier, who had been attentively watching his new companion and making his own observations. He knew well that the ordinary rogues of the metropolis were the only persons who were totally indifferent to all political questions, and that they pursued their profession under the republic just as they had done under a monarchy. He rightly conjectured Vertot to be one of these, and was rather disposed to judge, from his general demeanour, that he was an example of honour among thieves.
"Well, then, monsieur," said the gentleman whom he had been mentally criticising, "my plan is this:--You must let us know, when the tumbril gets opposite this lane, whether the gentleman in whom you are interested is on board it or no; though, to be sure, there's not much doubt about that, if he goes before the tribunal to-day; they've been as fierce as tigers lately. If he is, M. Dreux, here, will take care that a wheel comes off, just in the proper place; I have taught him the trick of that; I'll get a friend of mine to kick up a row in front, without knowing anything further of the business; and then you and I will make a pounce upon monsieur, and carry him down this passage, and through the back door of this house. Then you must have a cabriolet waiting; and the man must be paid to go like the wind in exactly the opposite direction to which you want monsieur to get."
"Well," said Texier, "all that arrangement I had better leave to you. The best place I can think of is in the Barriere du Trône; I know that he would be safe there for the present; and we might get him off by night into the country."
"Very well," returned Vertot. "I will put the man up to what he has to do."
"One thing more," said Texier. "There is another person I should like, if possible, to save; and that is a young lady."
"It makes no odds to me," said Vertot; "but I can tell you, you preciously lessen their chance. I advise you to make sure of one; and be guided by circumstances about the other."
"Well said, marquis," cried Dreux. "Another cup of chocolate?"
"If it must be so, it must," said Texier, finding that he must at least leave Le Grand to his fate. "What time does the cart usually pass?"
"About three," replied Dreux, "or a little later. Therefore, I propose that you treat us here to dinner at half-past one."
"Order it," said Texier, "as you like. But you will not forget to arrange about the cabriolet, M. Vertot?"
"Depend upon me," answered that gentleman. And breakfast now being pretty well concluded, he departed, as he said, on that errand.
When he was gone, "Do you think," inquired Texier, "that I could get into the tribunal? I should very much like to hear what's going on."
"Oh, easily," replied the actor. "I'll go with you, if you like; only let's order dinner first."
The two accordingly sallied out to the nearest cafe"; and Dreux gave orders for such a dinner as his taste approved. This done, they proceeded to the revolutionary tribunal, which at that time happened to be sitting in the Luxembourg; its more ordinary place of assembly being then under repair. The approach to the room in which the business of the commission was going on was not so much crowded, Dreux said, as it had been at first; the popular taste for such spectacles having somewhat declined. The chamber itself was a handsome one, the ceiling being decorated with various allegorical figures; among which, as if in mockery of the scene, Justice and Mercy were prominent. The upper end was raised by a kind of platform; the six judges sat round a table in its centre; the two assessors a little below them; and the jury on two forms, arranged against one of the side walls. The prisoners were brought in by a side door, under a strong guard, and placed, one by one, in a dock erected for their reception in the centre of the room.
" Please to buy a list, gentlemen," said a miserable-looking woman, as Texier and Dreux entered the passage leading to the hall. "Sixteen prisoners this morning, gentlemen; and one of them an officer in the Vendean army."
" Give it here," said Dreux; and, tossing the vendor a couple of centimes, he took the paper. Texier glanced his eye over it, and saw, in alphabetical order, Beaure-paire, Claude, late officer in the Vendean army; Le Grand, Pierre, late Mayor of Mirebeau; Le Grand, Rose.
"They are here, sure enough," he said; and they passed on.
Just as they entered the room one of the assessors was demanding, after the English fashion, which was professedly followed, "How say you, gentlemen, Guilty, or not guilty?" And the foreman of the jury, which was entirely composed of government stipendiaries, and hardly ever took the trouble of retiring to consult, replied instantly, "Guilty;" and immediately proceeded with the conversation which he had broken off to pronounce the verdict.
The prisoner, a lady, with an infant in her arms, was removed into the guard-house. The next name called by the usher was that of De Beaurepaire, who came forward with great alacrity
"A fine morning, gentlemen," he said to some of the bystanders, "and pleasantly cool for the time of year."
"Claude de Beaurepaire," said the president.
"And your very obedient servant," he answered.
"You were an officer in the Vendean army?"
"You are misinformed, monsieur."
"Well, then, you served in the Vendean army?"
"So did better men than I, monsieur."
"You confess, then, that you did?"
"Gentlemen," to the jury, "you hear what the prisoner says. I do not think we need trouble you by going further in the business."
"Oh, by no means," replied the foreman; "our minds are quite made up."
"How say you, then, Guilty, or not guilty?"
De Beaurepaire made a polite bow to the president, another to the jury, shrugged his shoulders, and said, "There's nothing like expedition in these little matters;" and was then handed off to the guard-house.
"Dreux," whispered Texier, "I have had enough of this; let us get out as soon as we can."
"As you please," replied the actor; and the two companions walked slowly back to his lodgings.
They remained quietly there till the time named for dinner approached; and then Vertot, true to his promise, returned. "Well," said he, "I have done all that can be done. I have engaged the cabriolet to be in waiting at the end of the Boulevard de la Madeleine; I have spoken to a friend or two to be ready to raise a disturbance at the right time; and now, if we cannot make something out of this, we deserve to look out of the little window.--Ah, Dreux, my boy! dinner ready?"
"Here it comes, marquis," replied Dreux. "Let us fall to; for we have not too much time."
The meal was eaten with as much speed as was consistent with taking ample care to satisfy the appetite; and by the time it was finished there was still another hour to wait. Texier could not conceal his agitation; he walked hurriedly up and down the room; and neither the jests of the actor, nor the relations of various adventures in which he had been engaged with which Vertot endeavoured to amuse him, could divert his mind for one instant from the great stake which he was about to throw.
When the chimes told a quarter to three, Vertot said, "I think we may as well be going down, Dreux."
"I am ready," cried the actor, starting up:
"'Donnez Heraclius au peuple qui l'attend!'"
"You have taken care that the back door is left open?"
"Yes; and I will hasp back the lock of this,"--for they were now in the hall.
"Come, then, with me, M. Texier," said Vertot, "and I will show you the exact place where the cabriolet is."
We must pause a moment to describe the position of the house. The Rue Duphot, the Boulevard de la Madeleine and the Rue de Luxembourg form a right-angled triangle; the right angle touching the great church of La Madeleine. The southern point of this triangle is just truncated by the Rue S. Honoré; and the passage in which Dreux had thought fit to take lodgings opened on its right side, ran through the triangular mass of buildings parallel to the Rue de Luxembourg, and almost extended to the Boulevard de la Madeleine. The back door of the house in which the actor lived opened on another cul-de-sac which led right on to that Boulevard. New buildings have now usurped the site of these houses; but we describe them as they were fifty years ago.
The cabriolet was found waiting; the driver seemed perfectly to understand; and, as Texier and Vertot walked back again, the latter said: "You see, M. Texier, that if you get off both Monsieur and Madame, there will be no room for you; so that you must take care of yourself. And now, as we shall probably miss each other in the confusion, where can I go for the little sum I named?"
"If we fail," replied Texier, "you will not have occasion to go anywhere; for here are the thirty louis d'or;"--and he put them into his hand. "If we succeed, come to M. Corday, Barrière du Trône. I have acquainted him with my intentions; only, as he does not know you, you had better bring M. Dreux with you, in case anything happens."
"Bien obligé, monsieur," said the marquis, pocketing the fee. "Now it is high time."
"How long you have been!" cried Dreux, who had been waiting for them in the hall. "We ought to be out of doors."
The three accordingly issued forth, and presently were in the Rue S. Honoré. People were already at the windows, and at the doors, to see the tumbril pass by; and, when it struck three, eyes began to be cast up the street in expectation of its making its appearance. The accomplices, who each had a good thick oak-stick--the most serviceable weapon, Vertot said--stood coolly leaning against the corner of the Rue Duphot; and two other men stationed themselves at the opposite side of the street. "Those are our friends," said Vertot quietly to Texier.
"We have a great advantage," said Dreux, "in the procession coming the opposite way from what it has lately done. That will confuse them in itself."
"There is something in that," remarked Vertot. "A month ago, M. Texier, there was far more interest excited in Paris by these executions; the streets used to be thronged three-quarters of an hour before the cart passed."
"The Rue S. Honoré is pretty full," said Texier.
"Ay, but nothing to what it was--Hark! that must be it."
Above the buzz and murmur of the voices in the street a low dismal hum was heard to the south-west; and presently, turning the corner from the Rue Royale, a dense mass of the Parisian rabble poured into that of S. Honoré. Windows were thrown up, doors opened, men rushed into the street; and Dreux, merely saying, "I'm off,"--walked up it, as if to get close to the cart. The S. Honoré was now full of a living mass, pouring and struggling onwards to the Place de la Revolution. Texier, and even his more experienced companion, had some difficulty in holding their ground; and it was occasionally only by a great effort of strength that they succeeded in resisting the tide of the mob. Once or twice Vertot--a man of no small eminence in his own way--interchanged a nod with some gentleman of his profession; and once he said to one of them, "Just keep about, and give us a helping hand, if you can." Texier stood gazing eagerly for the tumbril; and his heart beat audibly to himself in the intensity of his excitement.
At length the caps of the national soldiers were seen above the crowd; and, mounted on their sleek steeds, they approached the adventurers. Immediately behind them ought to have come the cart; but a considerable number of the rabble had insinuated themselves between it and the soldiery. Dreux was walking by the side of the car. It was a large open waggon, drawn by two stout horses; the prisoners, each slightly manacled, were seated on a bench, which ran round the whole vehicle, like the seat of an omnibus; and exposed to the jeers and outrages of the people as they passed along.
"That is he! that is he!" whispered Texier; "that gentleman on this side,--close up to this end; there,--he who has just looked round; and that is the young lady next him."
"I see," said Vertot, coolly; "you take her; I'll take him."
"Maheutre of a royalist!" cried Vertot's accomplice in the crowd; "you are picking my pocket!" --And he dealt him a tremendous blow with a cudgel over the head.
"You lie!" said the man, returning it with his fist.
"It's you who are the liar!" cried a second speaker. "I saw him do it, gentlemen; don't let him go."
"Bélître!" cried another, "he did not; I was by him."
"Take that, pendard!" and a battle-royal commenced between the speakers. The guards, who had already passed, tried in vain to rein round their horses--the press was too great; a dead pause in the procession was the consequence, and the tumbril stood quite still. Dreux, who was close to it, passed his hand down to the nave of the great near wheel, felt the linch-pin, and, while amusing the guards behind with the epithets which he bestowed on the wretched victims, pulled it out. They, meanwhile, sat still, apparently resigned to their fate. Le Grand said to his daughter, "This delay is tiresome;" but she made no reply. Next to him sat a little girl, who could not be more than twelve or thirteen; she was crying bitterly: but she was the only one who exhibited much emotion. She seemed quite alone.
"Never mind, my dear," said an old officer kindly, who sat opposite to her; "never mind, my dear; you will soon be in Heaven." And a lady, who had just been separated from her own children, threw her arm round the little innocent and drew her to her side.
"Move on there! Move on!" shouted the guards behind.
Dreux had now made his way back to his companions. "It is all right," he said.
"What are you about there, you fools?" shouted Vertot. "Can't you stand out of the way?"
The uproar was presently a little quieted, the dragoons backing in their horses on the contending parties; and something like order being restored the procession again moved on; though words still ran high in front of the car. Just as it reached the corner of the Rue Duphot, off came the heavy wheel and over rolled the waggon. A shriek burst from the prisoners; as if any fate could be so dreadful as that to which they were going.
"Now," cried Vertot.
In a moment Texier threw himself on Rose, and bearing her off in his left arm, opened a passage with his right for her and himself. He ran up the passage--found the door open--burst through the house--emerged on to the Boulevard--and threw, rather than placed, his prisoner in the cabriolet.
"Where is the other?" said the driver.
Where, indeed? Vertot had grasped him by the collar; and, assisted by Dreux, had drawn him off. They rushed up the passage; but could not make their escape so quickly as not to be pursued by a dragoon and one or two of the bystanders. Still they reached the house,--slammed the door in the face of the pursuers,--and, could they have drawn the bolt, they would, in all probability, have been safe. But the coat of Vertot caught in the door, and prevented its hasping; they could not get the bar into the socket; two or three soldiers had come up; the door was forced open; one of the dragoons drew his pistol, and shot Vertot through the head; another attempted to cut down Dreux; and, to save his own life, he was forced to leave go of De Beaurepaire. He leaped through the passage, banged-to the back door, which locked itself--this baffled for a moment the pursuers--reached the Boulevard, and cried, "Off, off!"
"Where's my master?"
The driver struck the horse; Texier stood sullenly back; and the cabriolet hurried along the Boulevard des Malesherbes.
"Vertot is dead; what do you mean to do?"
"It matters very little, since we have failed."
"Let us get round to the Place. Quick! they will never think of looking for us there."
"No go!" cried the soldier, who had collared De Beaurepaire. "A very pretty attempt, though; and does the fellow credit"--kicking, as he spoke, the corpse of Vertot.
"Not quite a failure, neither," said De Beaurepaire, with a smile.
"Morbleu! the girl has gone off!" cried one of the men. "Hold him fast, Epernay;--follow me, mes amis!" With a violent effort they broke open the back door; but, on coming out on the Boulevard, found not a soul in sight. The soldier hurried back to make his report to the officer commanding the escort.
When De Beaurepaire was brought back, the damage had been repaired; the military, with drawn swords, drew close round the cart; and the fate of the prisoners was sealed. None was missing, except Rose.
"I congratulate you, M. Le Grand," said De Beaurepaire, brushing off from his clothes the dust which they had contracted in his fall.
"Is she safe? are you sure of it?"
"Perfectly sure, monsieur; look at the sour faces of these coquins!"
"Hold your tongue, citoyen!" said the officer.
"Permit me first, monsieur, to congratulate you on the vigilance you displayed just now.--Seriously, M. Le Grand, the thing is past a doubt."
"I wish," said the mayor, "you had been equally successful."
"It was a near point," answered De Beaurepaire. '" Whoever managed the business showed a good deal of tact.--Ah! there's the termination!"
As he spoke the car came in sight of the guillotine, and of the dense mass of heads that surrounded it. Its general appearance is so well known that it is almost needless to describe it. Like a gallows, but narrower, the sides of the uprights were grooved, to allow the fatal steel to run up and down in them. The block at the bottom was about two feet thick--a kind of beam, generally rolling on wheels, moved up to it; to this beam the prisoner was attached, so that his head, on being pushed up to the frame, rested on the block. The steel itself was triangular, the lower edge being on- the slope, so that it acted rather as a knife than a hatchet. It is well known that the benevolent inventor of this machine, Dr. Guillotine, whose only aim had been to abbreviate human suffering by rendering certain the blow in which the executioner often failed, died of a broken heart when he saw the atrocities to which it had been perverted.
The sun, which had latterly been under a cloud, burst forth in autumnal splendour as the tumbril drew up at the steps of the scaffold. The buzz of voices ceased; the prisoners were handed up one by one; and, on the platform, Santerre was ready to meet them. It was a favourite amusement of his to attend the scene of death.
"Ah! M. le General!" cried De Beaurepaire, "I was sorry not to be able to notice you when we last met."
"Coquin!" cried Santerre; "you shall pay dearly for that trick now."
"Eh bien!" said De Beaurepaire. "But observe, M. le Gdn6ral, one of the prisoners whom we took from you at La Flêche, and whom you expected to find here, is not in your power."
"What do you mean?" roared Santerre in a fury.
"Ask monsieur." The truth was soon told; and the unfortunate commander of the escort was ordered into custody.
"I have a treat for you, citoyen," he said, producing a copy of the Moniteur from his pocket.--"You little wretch, how dare you make all that noise?" turning fiercely round to the child whom we have mentioned, and whom the lady who had taken charge of her was in vain endeavouring to console.
"And shall I see mamma in Heaven?" she asked.
"Ha! ha!" roared Santerre.
"Be silent, monsieur," said the lady with so much real dignity that the ruffian slunk away abashed.--"Yes, dear little one; you will see her, and she will be so happy--oh, how happy!--to have her little girl again; and nothing can ever take you away from her any more."
"I know it," said the child; "she used to tell me so before these wicked men took her away from me."
"But, my dear child," said a venerable priest who stood by--not a prisoner, but one who, like the Abbé Edgeworth, of pious memory, took his life in his hands to console the victims--"you must forgive these men; else GOD will never take you to live with Him."
"So I do," she answered; "every day I say, Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us."
"Pshaw!" cried Santerre. "Houssain, you may begin with her."
The little sufferer almost involuntarily clung to the dress of her protectress. "My dear child," said the latter, gently removing her hands, "I can do nothing for you now; GOD will take care of you. If He takes care of you, you are just as safe, you know, lying down there, as if you were lying down on your own bed."
"Now, mam'selle," said the official, laying his hand on her shoulder.
"I will do that, monsieur," said the lady.--"Now, my little one, you must let me untie your bonnet." The child made no further resistance; and her friend proceeded to render her the last earthly service by turning up her hair.
"Good-bye, my darling," she said; "and yet it is hardly worth while to say so--we shall meet again in a few moments."
"Kneel down, my daughter," said the good priest. The child obeyed. And he continued--"GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, GOD the HOLY GHOST, bless, preserve, and keep thee--that thou mayest die the death of the righteous, with whom thou shalt live for evermore."
The lady then led her foster-child forward, and stood by her while she was fastened to the wood. "Be as quick as you can," she whispered to the man. The tray was wheeled up to the block; and almost before there was time for thought the spring was touched, the steel rattled down, and the little victim's fear and pain were over for ever.
"Death, after all," said the lady to the priest, "has very little sting!"
"Look to Him, my daughter, Who has plucked it out, and you shall find it to be so."
De Beaurepaire had watched the whole with deep interest. While they were unfastening the body he shuffled up to Santerre, as well as his manacled feet would let him, and said, "Santerre, you villain of a butcher, if I had a dagger, and it were my last act, I would plunge it into your heart. As it is, take that!"--and he struck him a violent blow on the face.
Santerre bellowed with rage and pain, and poured out a volley of oaths. "I'll be revenged," he said. "You, Houssain--you, fellow--look after this villain, and put him down with his face upwards, just as you did that officer the other day." De Beaurepaire was accordingly fastened in that manner to the tray, and wheeled under the guillotine; so that he could see the steel suspended over his throat.
"You absurd fool!" he said; "don't you think I can shut my eyes?"
"But not your ears," said Santerre, with a diabolical grin. "Don't let go till I give the word, Houssain. Keep quiet round there. Now, listen; I am going to read you something from the Moniteur. ' We rejoice in the accounts which we announce of the success which the reinforcement received by the national armies in La Vendée, from the late garrison of Mayence, is obtaining over the brigands.'" And so he proceeded reading, for nearly half-an-hour, the columns of the newspaper, while his victim hung between time and eternity. But he had mistaken the man he had to deal with. When he had concluded, and had replaced the paper in his pocket, "Well, monsieur," he said, "what think you of that?"
"Eh, what?" said De Beaurepaire, opening his eyes. "Why, what a long time the thing takes. I think I must have been asleep!"
Santerre, enraged at being baffled to the last, gave the sign; and De Beaurepaire's head fell on the scaffold.
"Mark my words," said Texier, in the crowd, to Dreux. "If I don't take that man's life, by fair means or foul, and if I don't give up my whole existence to that one end, I hope that I may have my lot with him hereafter. Don't let's stay to see any more."
Before, however, they could leave the crowd, poor M. Le Grand, who wanted very much to address the mob, was cut short in his intended harangue; and consoled himself by saying that he died like Vergniaud.