There was in the man’s look and his tone of voice so much of deep and concentrated malignity, that the idlers drew back, and as the remembrance of the sudden ups and downs of revolutionary life occurred to them, several voices were lifted to assure the squalid and ragged painter that nothing was farther from their thoughts than to offer affront to a citizen whose very appearance proved him to be an exemplary sans-culotte. Nicot received these apologies in sullen silence, and, folding his arms, leaned against the wall, waiting in grim patience for his admission.
The loiterers talked to each other in separate knots of two and three; and through the general hum rang the clear, loud, careless whistle of the tall Jacobin who stood guard by the stairs. Next to Nicot, an old woman and a young virgin were muttering in earnest whispers, and the atheist painter chuckled inly to overhear their discourse.
“I assure thee, my dear,” said the crone, with a mysterious shake of head, “that the divine Catherine Theot, whom the impious now persecute, is really inspired. There can be no doubt that the elect, of whom Dom Gerle and the virtuous Robespierre are destined to be the two grand prophets, will enjoy eternal life here, and exterminate all their enemies. There is no doubt of it,—not the least!”
“How delightful!” said the girl; “ce cher Robespierre!—he does not look very long-lived either!”
“The greater the miracle,” said the old woman. “I am just eighty-one, and I don’t feel a day older since Catherine Theot promised me I should be one of the elect!”
Here the women were jostled aside by some newcomers, who talked loud and eagerly.
“Yes,” cried a brawny man, whose garb denoted him to be a butcher, with bare arms, and a cap of liberty on his head; “I am come to warn Robespierre. They lay a snare for him; they offer him the Palais National. ‘On ne peut etre ami du peuple et habiter un palais.’” ("No one can be a friend of the people, and dwell in a palace.”—“Papiers inedits trouves chez Robespierre,” etc., volume ii. page 132.)
“No, indeed,” answered a cordonnier; “I like him best in his little lodging with the menuisier: it looks like one of us.”
Another rush of the crowd, and a new group were thrown forward in the vicinity of Nicot. And these men gabbled and chattered faster and louder than the rest.
“But my plan is—”
“Au diable with your plan! I tell you my scheme is—”
“Nonsense!” cried a third. “When Robespierre understands my new method of making gunpowder, the enemies of France shall—”
“Bah! who fears foreign enemies?” interrupted a fourth; “the enemies to be feared are at home. My new guillotine takes off fifty heads at a time!”
“But my new Constitution!” exclaimed a fifth.
“My new Religion, citizen!” murmured, complacently, a sixth.