“I am not at leisure,” said the orator, impatiently. The servant placed a note on the table. Tallien opened it, and found these words in pencil, “From the prison of Teresa de Fontenai.” He turned pale, started up, and hastened to the anteroom, where he beheld a face entirely strange to him.
“Hope of France!” said the visitor to him, and the very sound of his voice went straight to the heart,—“your servant is arrested in the streets. I have saved your life, and that of your wife who will be. I bring to you this letter from Teresa de Fontenai.”
Tallien, with a trembling hand, opened the letter, and read,—
“Am I forever to implore you in vain? Again and again I say, ’Lose not an hour if you value my life and your own.’ My trial and death are fixed the third day from this,—the 10th Thermidor. Strike while it is yet time,—strike the monster!—you have two days yet. If you fail,—if you procrastinate,—see me for the last time as I pass your windows to the guillotine!”
“Her trial will give proof against you,” said the stranger. “Her death is the herald of your own. Fear not the populace,—the populace would have rescued your servant. Fear not Robespierre,—he gives himself to your hands. To-morrow he comes to the Convention,—to-morrow you must cast the last throw for his head or your own.”
“To-morrow he comes to the Convention! And who are you that know so well what is concealed from me?”
“A man like you, who would save the woman he loves.”
Before Tallien could recover his surprise, the visitor was gone.
Back went the Avenger to his conclave an altered man. “I have heard tidings,—no matter what,” he cried,—“that have changed my purpose. On the 10th we are destined to the guillotine. I revoke my counsel for delay. Robespierre comes to the Convention to-morrow; there we must confront and crush him. From the Mountain shall frown against him the grim shade of Danton,—from the Plain shall rise, in their bloody cerements, the spectres of Vergniaud and Condorcet. Frappons!”
“Frappons!” cried even Barrere, startled into energy by the new daring of his colleague,—“frappons! il n’y a que les morts qui ne reviennent pas.”
It was observable (and the fact may be found in one of the memoirs of the time) that, during that day and night (the 7th Thermidor), a stranger to all the previous events of that stormy time was seen in various parts of the city,—in the cafes, the clubs, the haunts of the various factions; that, to the astonishment and dismay of his hearers, he talked aloud of the crimes of Robespierre, and predicted his coming fall; and, as he spoke, he stirred up the hearts of men, he loosed the bonds of their fear,—he inflamed them with unwonted rage and daring. But what surprised them most was, that no voice replied, no hand was lifted against him, no minion, even of the tyrant, cried, “Arrest the traitor.” In that impunity men read, as in a book, that the populace had deserted the man of blood.