Blakeney led Anne Mie towards the Luxembourg Gardens, the great devastated pleasure-ground of the ci-devant tyrants of the people. The beautiful Anne of Austria, and the Medici before her, Louis XIII, and his gallant musketeers—all have given place to the great cannon-forging industry of this besieged Republic. France, attacked on every side, is forcing her sons to defend her: persecuted, martyrised, done to death by her, she is still their Mother: La Patrie, who needs their arms against the foreign foe. England is threatening the north, Prussia and Austria the east. Admiral Hood’s flag is flying on Toulon Arsenal.
The siege of the Republic!
And the Republic is fighting for dear life. The Tuileries and Luxembourg Gardens are transformed into a township of gigantic smithies; and Anne Mie, with scared eyes, and clinging to Blakeney’s arm, cast furtive, terrified glances at the huge furnaces and the begrimed, darkly scowling faces of the workers within.
“The people of France in arms against tyranny!” Great placards, bearing these inspiriting words, are affixed to gallows-shaped posts, and flutter in the evening breeze, rendered scorching by the heat of the furnaces all around.
Farther on, a group of older men, squatting on the ground, are busy making tents, and some women—the same Megaeras who daily shriek round the guillotine—are plying their needles and scissors for the purpose of making clothes for the soldiers.
The soldiers are the entire able-bodied male population of France.
“The people of France in arms against tyranny!”
That is their sign, their trade-mark; one of these placards, fitfully illumined by a torch of resin, towers above a group of children busy tearing up scraps of old linen—their mothers’, their sisters’ linen —in order to make lint for the wounded.
Loud curses and suppressed mutterings fill the smoke-laden air.
The people of France, in arms against tyranny, is bending its broad back before the most cruel, the most absolute and brutish slave-driving ever exercised over mankind.
Not even mediaeval Christianity has ever dared such wholesale enforcements of its doctrines, as this constitution of Liberty and Fraternity.
Merlin’s “Law of the Suspect” has just been formulated. From now onward each and every citizen of France must watch his words, his looks, his gestures, lest they be suspect. Of what—of treason to the Republic, to the people? Nay, worse! lest they be suspect of being suspect to the great era of Liberty.
Therefore in the smithies and among the groups of tent-makers a moment’s negligence, a careless attention to the work, might lead to a brief trial on the morrow and the inevitable guillotine. Negligence is treason to the higher interests of the Republic.
Blakeney dragged Anne Mie away from the sight. These roaring furnaces frightened her; he took her down the Place St Michel, towards the river. It was quieter here.