So gasp out the prisoners, each to each. Day wanes—evening closes; still they press their white faces to the bars, and still from window and from house-top they see the smiles of friends,—the waving signals! “Hurrah!” at last,—“Hurrah! Robespierre is fallen! The Reign of Terror is no more! God hath permitted us to live!”
Yes; cast thine eyes into the hall where the tyrant and his conclave hearkened to the roar without! Fulfilling the prophecy of Dumas, Henriot, drunk with blood and alcohol, reels within, and chucks his gory sabre on the floor. “All is lost!”
“Wretch! thy cowardice hath destroyed us!” yelled the fierce Coffinhal, as he hurled the coward from the window.
Calm as despair stands the stern St. Just; the palsied Couthon crawls, grovelling, beneath table; a shot,—an explosion! Robespierre would destroy himself! The trembling hand has mangled, and failed to kill! The clock of the Hotel de Ville strikes the third hour. Through the battered door, along the gloomy passages, into the Death-hall, burst the crowd. Mangled, livid, blood-stained, speechless but not unconscious, sits haughty yet, in his seat erect, the Master-Murderer! Around him they throng; they hoot,—they execrate, their faces gleaming in the tossing torches! He, and not the starry Magian, the real Sorcerer! And round his last hours gather the Fiends he raised!
They drag him forth! Open thy gates, inexorable prison! The Conciergerie receives its prey! Never a word again on earth spoke Maximilien Robespierre! Pour forth thy thousands, and tens of thousands, emancipated Paris! To the Place de la Revolution rolls the tumbril of the King of Terror,—St. Just, Dumas, Couthon, his companions to the grave! A woman—a childless woman, with hoary hair—springs to his side, “Thy death makes me drunk with joy!” He opened his bloodshot eyes,—“Descend to hell with the curses of wives and mothers!”
The headsmen wrench the rag from the shattered jaw; a shriek, and the crowd laugh, and the axe descends amidst the shout of the countless thousands, and blackness rushes on thy soul, Maximilien Robespierre! So ended the Reign of Terror.
Daylight in the prison. From cell to cell they hurry with the news,—crowd upon crowd; the joyous captives mingled with the very jailers, who, for fear, would fain seem joyous too; they stream through the dens and alleys of the grim house they will shortly leave. They burst into a cell, forgotten since the previous morning. They found there a young female, sitting upon her wretched bed; her arms crossed upon her bosom, her face raised upward; the eyes unclosed, and a smile of more than serenity—of bliss—upon her lips. Even in the riot of their joy, they drew back in astonishment and awe. Never had they seen life so beautiful; and as they crept nearer, and with noiseless feet, they saw that the lips breathed not, that the repose was of marble, that the beauty and the ecstasy were of death. They gathered round in silence; and lo! at her feet there was a young infant, who, wakened by their tread, looked at them steadfastly, and with its rosy fingers played with its dead mother’s robe. An orphan there in a dungeon vault!