“And you, Citizen Merlin,” queried Lenoir, “will you help the Republic to the best of your ability to be rid of a traitor?”
“My services to the cause of our great Revolution are too well known -” began Merlin.
But Lenoir interrupted him with impatience.
“Pardi!but we’ll have no rhetoric now, Citizen Merlin. We all know that you have blundered, and that the Republic cares little for those of her sons who have failed, but whilst you are still Minister of Justice the people of France have need of you—for bringing other traitors to the guillotine.”
He spoke this last phrase slowly and significantly, lingering on the word “other,” as if he wished its whole awesome meaning to penetrate well into Merlin’s brain.
“What is your advice then, Citizen Lenoir?”
Apparently, by unanimous consent, the coalheaver, from some obscure province of France, had been tacitly acknowledged the leader of the band. Merlin, still in terror for himself, looked to him for advice; even Tinville was ready to be guided by him. All were at one in their desire to rid themselves of Deroulede, who by his clean living, his aloofness from their own hideous orgies and deadly hates, seemed a living reproach to them all; and they all felt that in Lenoir there must exist some secret dislike of the popular Citizen-Deputy, which would give him a clear insight of how best to bring about his downfall.
“What is your advice?” had been Merlin’s query, and everyone there listened eagerly for what was to come.
“We are all agreed,” commenced Lenoir quietly, “that just at this moment it would be unwise to arraign the Citizen-Deputy without material proof. The mob of Paris worship him, and would turn against those who had tried to dethrone their idol. Now, Citizen Merlin failed to furnish us with proofs of Deroulede’s guilt. For the moment he is a free man, and I imagine a wise one; within two days he will have quitted this country, well knowing that, if he stayed long enough to see his popularity wane, he would also outstay his welcome on earth altogether.”
“Ay! Ay! said some of the men approvingly, whilst others laughed hoarsely at the weird jest.
“I propose, therefore,” continued Lenoir after a slight pause, “that it shall be Citizen-Deputy Deroulede himself who shall furnish to the people of France proofs of his own treason against the Republic.”
“But how? But how?” rapid, loud and excited queries greeted this extraordinary suggestion from the provincial giant.
“By the simplest means imaginable,” retorted Lenoir with imperturbable calm. “Isn’t there a good proverb which our grandmothers used to quote, that if you only give a man a sufficient length of rope, he is sure to hang himself? We’ll give our aristocratic Citizen-Deputy plenty of rope, I’ll warrant, if only our present Minister of Justice,” he added, indicating Merlin, “will help us in the little comedy which I propose that we should play.”