It was late that night, and Rene-Francois Dumas, President of the Revolutionary Tribunal, had re-entered his cabinet, on his return from the Jacobin Club. With him were two men who might be said to represent, the one the moral, the other the physical force of the Reign of Terror: Fouquier-Tinville, the Public Accuser, and Francois Henriot, the General of the Parisian National Guard. This formidable triumvirate were assembled to debate on the proceedings of the next day; and the three sister-witches over their hellish caldron were scarcely animated by a more fiend-like spirit, or engaged in more execrable designs, than these three heroes of the Revolution in their premeditated massacre of the morrow.
Dumas was but little altered in appearance since, in the earlier part of this narrative, he was presented to the reader, except that his manner was somewhat more short and severe, and his eye yet more restless. But he seemed almost a superior being by the side of his associates. Rene Dumas, born of respectable parents, and well educated, despite his ferocity, was not without a certain refinement, which perhaps rendered him the more acceptable to the precise and formal Robespierre. (Dumas was a beau in his way. His gala-dress was a blood-red coat, with the finest ruffles.) But Henriot had been a lackey, a thief, a spy of the police; he had drunk the blood of Madame de Lamballe, and had risen to his present rank for no quality but his ruffianism; and Fouquier-Tinville, the son of a provincial agriculturist, and afterwards a clerk at the Bureau of the Police, was little less base in his manners, and yet more, from a certain loathsome buffoonery, revolting in his speech,—bull-headed, with black, sleek hair, with a narrow and livid forehead, with small eyes, that twinkled with a sinister malice; strongly and coarsely built, he looked what he was, the audacious bully of a lawless and relentless Bar.
Dumas trimmed the candles, and bent over the list of the victims for the morrow.
“It is a long catalogue,” said the president; “eighty trials for one day! And Robespierre’s orders to despatch the whole fournee are unequivocal.”
“Pooh!” said Fouquier, with a coarse, loud laugh; “we must try them en masse. I know how to deal with our jury. ’Je pense, citoyens, que vous etes convaincus du crime des accuses?’ (I think, citizens, that you are convinced of the crime of the accused.) Ha! ha!—the longer the list, the shorter the work.”
“Oh, yes,” growled out Henriot, with an oath,—as usual, half-drunk, and lolling on his chair, with his spurred heels on the table,—“little Tinville is the man for despatch.”
“Citizen Henriot,” said Dumas, gravely, “permit me to request thee to select another footstool; and for the rest, let me warn thee that to-morrow is a critical and important day; one that will decide the fate of France.”
“A fig for little France! Vive le Vertueux Robespierre, la Colonne de la Republique! (Long life to the virtuous Robespierre, the pillar of the Republic!) Plague on this talking; it is dry work. Hast thou no eau de vie in that little cupboard?”