Therefore Sir Percy only smiled, and said quietly:
“Well, I’ll do my best.”
The day had been an unusually busy one.
Five and thirty prisoners, arraigned before the bar of the Committee of Public Safety, had been tried in the last eight hours—an average of rather more than four to the hour; twelve minutes and a half in which to send a human creature, full of life and health, to solve the great enigma which lies hidden beyond the waters of the Styx.
And Citizen-Deputy Foucquier-Tinville, the Public Prosecutor, had surpassed himself. He seemed indefatigable.
Each of these five and thirty prisoners had been arraigned for treason against the Republic, for conspiracy with her enemies, and all had to have irrefutable proofs of their guilt brought before the Committee of Public Safety. Sometimes a few letters, written to friends abroad, and seized at the frontier; a word of condemnation of the measures of the extremists; and expression of horror at the massacres on the Place de la Revolution, where the guillotine creaked incessantly—these were irrefutable proofs; or else perhaps a couple of pistols, or an old family sword seized in the house of a peaceful citizen, would be brought against a prisoner, as an irrefutable proof of his warlike dispositions against the Republic.
Oh! it was not difficult!
Out of five and thirty indictments, Foucquier-Tinville had obtained thirty convictions.
No wonder his friends declared that he had surpassed himself. It had indeed been a glorious day, and the glow of satisfaction as much as the heat, caused the Public Prosecutors to mop his high, bony cranium before he had adjourned for the much-needed respite for refreshment.
The day’s work was not yet done.
The “politicals” had been disposed of, and there had been such an accumulation of them recently that it was difficult to keep pace with the arrests.
And in the meanwhile the criminal record of the great city had not diminished. Because men butchered one another in the name of Equality, there were none the fewer among the Fraternity of thieves and petty pilferers, of ordinary cut-throats and public wantons.
And these too had to be dealt with by law. The guillotine was impartial, and fell with equal velocity on the neck of the proud duke and the gutter-born fille de joie, on a descendant of the Bourbons and the wastrel born in a brothel.
The ministerial decrees favoured the proletariat. A crime against the Republic was indefensible, but one against the individual was dealt with, with all the paraphernalia of an elaborate administration of justice. There were citizen judges and citizen advocates, and the rabble, who crowded in to listen to the trials, acted as honorary jury.
It was all thoroughly well done. The citizen criminals were given every chance.