“Sacre mille tonnerres, silence!” roared forth one of the Jacobin guard.
And the crowd suddenly parted as a fierce-looking man, buttoned up to the chin, his sword rattling by his side, his spurs clinking at his heel, descended the stairs,—his cheeks swollen and purple with intemperance, his eyes dead and savage as a vulture’s. There was a still pause, as all, with pale cheeks, made way for the relentless Henriot. (Or H_a_nriot. It is singular how undetermined are not only the characters of the French Revolution, but even the spelling of their names. With the historians it is Vergniau_d_,—with the journalists of the time it is Vorgniau_x_. With one authority it is Robespierre,—with another Robe_r_spierre.) Scarce had this gruff and iron minion of the tyrant stalked through the throng, than a new movement of respect and agitation and fear swayed the increasing crowd, as there glided in, with the noiselessness of a shadow, a smiling, sober citizen, plainly but neatly clad, with a downcast humble eye. A milder, meeker face no pastoral poet could assign to Corydon or Thyrsis,—why did the crowd shrink and hold their breath? As the ferret in a burrow crept that slight form amongst the larger and rougher creatures that huddled and pressed back on each other as he passed. A wink of his stealthy eye, and the huge Jacobins left the passage clear, without sound or question. On he went to the apartment of the tyrant, and thither will we follow him.
Constitutum est, ut
quisquis eum HOMINEM dixisset fuisse,
capitalem penderet poenam.
—St. Augustine, “Of the God Serapis,” l. 18, “de Civ. Dei,” c. 5.
(It was decreed, that
whoso should say that he had been a man,
should suffer the punishment of a capital offence.)
Robespierre was reclining languidly in his fauteuil, his cadaverous countenance more jaded and fatigued than usual. He to whom Catherine Theot assured immortal life, looked, indeed, like a man at death’s door. On the table before him was a dish heaped with oranges, with the juice of which it is said that he could alone assuage the acrid bile that overflowed his system; and an old woman, richly dressed (she had been a Marquise in the old regime) was employed in peeling the Hesperian fruits for the sick Dragon, with delicate fingers covered with jewels. I have before said that Robespierre was the idol of the women. Strange certainly!—but then they were French women! The old Marquise, who, like Catherine Theot, called him “son,” really seemed to love him piously and disinterestedly as a mother; and as she peeled the oranges, and heaped on him the most caressing and soothing expressions, the livid ghost of a smile fluttered about his meagre lips. At a distance, Payan and Couthon, seated at another table, were writing rapidly, and occasionally pausing from their work to consult with each other in brief whispers.