The afternoon of this hot August day, one of the last of glorious Fructidor, had begun to wane, and the shades of evening to slowly creep into the long, bare room where this travesty of justice was being administered.
The Citizen-President sat at the extreme end of the room, on a rough wooden bench, with a desk in front of him littered with papers.
Just above him, on the bare, whitewashed wall, the words: “La Republique: une et indivisible,” and below them the device: “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite!”
To the right and left of the Citizen-President, four clerks were busy making entries in that ponderous ledger, that amazing record of the foulest crimes the world has ever known, the “Bulletin du Tribunal Revolutionnaire.”
At present no one is speaking, and the grating of the clerks’ quill pens against the paper is the only sound which disturbs the silence of the hall.
In front of the President, on a bench lower than his, sits Citizen Foucquier-Tinville, rested and refreshed, ready to take up his occupation, for as may hours as his country demands it of him.
On every desk a tallow candle, smoking and spluttering, throws a weird light, and more weird shadows, on the faces of clerks and President, on blank walls and ominous devices.
In the centre of the room a platform surrounded by an iron railing is ready for the accused. Just in front of it, from the tall, raftered ceiling above, there hangs a small brass lamp, with a green abat-jour.
Each side of the long, whitewashed walls there are three rows of benches, beautiful old carved oak pews, snatched from Notre Dame and from the Churches of St Eustache and St Germain l’Auxerrois. Instead of the pious worshippers of mediaeval times, they now accommodate the lookers-on of the grim spectacle of unfortunates, in their brief halt before the scaffold.
The front row of these benches is reserved for those citizen-deputies who desire to be present at the debates of the Tribunal Revolutonnaire. It is their privilege, almost their duty, as representatives of the people, to see that the sittings are properly conducted.
These benches are already well filled. At one end, on the left, Citizen Merlin, Minister of Justice, sits; next to him Citizen-Minister Lebrun; also Citizen Robespierre, still in the height of his ascendancy, and watching the proceedings with those pale, watery eyes of his and that curious, disdainful smile, which have earned for him the nickname of “the sea-green incorruptible.”
Other well-known faces are there also, dimly outlined in the fast-gathering gloom. But everyone notes Citizen-Deputy Deroulede, the idol of the people, as he sits on the extreme end of a bench on the right, with arms tightly folded across his chest, the light from the hanging lamp falling straight on his dark head and proud, straight brows, with the large, restless, eager eyes.