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For two hours, through that cold and gloomy audience, shrilled the Death-speech. In silence it began, in silence closed. The enemies of the orator were afraid to express resentment; they knew not yet the exact balance of power. His partisans were afraid to approve; they knew not whom of their own friends and relations the accusations were designed to single forth. "Take care!" whispered each to each; "it is thou whom he threatens." But silent though the audience, it was, at the first, wellnigh subdued. There was still about this terrible man the spell of an overmastering will. Always--though not what is called a great orator--resolute, and sovereign in the use of words; words seemed as things when uttered by one who with a nod moved the troops of Henriot, and influenced the judgment of Rene Dumas, grim President of the Tribunal. Lecointre of Versailles rose, and there was an anxious movement of attention; for Lecointre was one of the fiercest foes of the tyrant. What was the dismay of the Tallien faction; what the complacent smile of Couthon,--when Lecointre demanded only that the oration should be printed! All seemed paralyzed. At length Bourdon de l'Oise, whose name was doubly marked in the black list of the Dictator, stalked to the tribune, and moved the bold counter-resolution, that the speech should be referred to the two committees whom that very speech accused. Still no applause from the conspirators; they sat torpid as frozen men. The shrinking Barrere, ever on the prudent side, looked round before he rose. He rises, and sides with Lecointre! Then Couthon seized the occasion, and from his seat (a privilege permitted only to the paralytic philanthropist) (M. Thiers in his History, volume iv. page 79, makes a curious blunder: he says, "Couthon s'elance a la tribune.' (Couthon darted towards the tribune.) Poor Couthon! whose half body was dead, and who was always wheeled in his chair into the Convention, and spoke sitting.), and with his melodious voice sought to convert the crisis into a triumph.
He demanded, not only that the harangue should be printed, but sent to all the communes and all the armies. It was necessary to soothe a wronged and ulcerated heart. Deputies, the most faithful, had been accused of shedding blood. "Ah! if HE had contributed to the death of one innocent man, he should immolate himself with grief." Beautiful tenderness!--and while he spoke, he fondled the spaniel in his bosom. Bravo, Couthon! Robespierre triumphs! The reign of Terror shall endure! The old submission settles dovelike back in the assembly! They vote the printing of the Death-speech, and its transmission to all the municipalities. From the benches of the Mountain, Tallien, alarmed, dismayed, impatient, and indignant, cast his gaze where sat the strangers admitted to hear the debates; and suddenly he met the eyes of the Unknown who had brought to him the letter from Teresa de Fontenai the preceding day. The eyes fascinated him as he gazed. In aftertimes he often said that their regard, fixed, earnest, half-reproachful, and yet cheering and triumphant, filled him with new life and courage. They spoke to his heart as the trumpet speaks to the war-horse. He moved from his seat; he whispered with his allies: the spirit he had drawn in was contagious; the men whom Robespierre especially had denounced, and who saw the sword over their heads, woke from their torpid trance. Vadier, Cambon, Billaud-Varennes, Panis, Amar, rose at once,--all at once demanded speech. Vadier is first heard, the rest succeed. It burst forth, the Mountain, with its fires and consuming lava; flood upon flood they rush, a legion of Ciceros upon the startled Catiline! Robespierre falters, hesitates,--would qualify, retract. They gather new courage from his new fears; they interrupt him; they drown his voice; they demand the reversal of the motion. Amar moves again that the speech be referred to the Committees, to the Committees,--to his enemies! Confusion and noise and clamour! Robespierre wraps himself in silent and superb disdain. Pale, defeated, but not yet destroyed, he stands,--a storm in the midst of storm!
The motion is carried. All men foresee in that defeat the Dictator's downfall. A solitary cry rose from the galleries; it was caught up; it circled through the hall, the audience: "A bas le tyrant! Vive la republique!" (Down with the tyrant! Hurrah for the republic!)
Aupres d'un corps aussi avili que la Convention, il restait des chances pour que Robespierre sortit vainqueur de cette lutte. Lacretelle, volume xii.
(Amongst a body so debased as the Convention, there still remained some chances that Robespierre would come off victor in the struggle.)
As Robespierre left the hall, there was a dead and ominous silence in the crowd without. The herd, in every country, side with success; and the rats run from the falling tower. But Robespierre, who wanted courage, never wanted pride, and the last often supplied the place of the first; thoughtfully, and with an impenetrable brow, he passed through the throng, leaning on St. Just, Payan and his brother following him.
As they got into the open space, Robespierre abruptly broke the silence.
"How many heads were to fall upon the tenth?"
"Eighty," replied Payan.
"Ah, we must not tarry so long; a day may lose an empire: terrorism must serve us yet!"
He was silent a few moments, and his eyes roved suspiciously through the street.
"St. Just," he said abruptly, "they have not found this Englishman whose revelations, or whose trial, would have crushed the Amars and the Talliens. No, no! my Jacobins themselves are growing dull and blind. But they have seized a woman,--only a woman!"
"A woman's hand stabbed Marat," said St. Just. Robespierre stopped short, and breathed hard.
"St. Just," said he, "when this peril is past, we will found the Reign of Peace. There shall be homes and gardens set apart for the old. David is already designing the porticos. Virtuous men shall be appointed to instruct the young. All vice and disorder shall be NOT exterminated--no, no! only banished! We must not die yet. Posterity cannot judge us till our work is done. We have recalled L'Etre Supreme; we must now remodel this corrupted world. All shall be love and brotherhood; and--ho! Simon! Simon!--hold! Your pencil, St. Just!" And Robespierre wrote hastily. "This to Citizen President Dumas. Go with it quick, Simon. These eighty heads must fall TO-MORROW,--TO-MORROW, Simon. Dumas will advance their trial a day. I will write to Fouquier-Tinville, the public accuser. We meet at the Jacobins to-night, Simon; there we will denounce the Convention itself; there we will rally round us the last friends of liberty and France."
A shout was heard in the distance behind, "Vive la republique!"
The tyrant's eye shot a vindictive gleam. "The republic!--faugh! We did not destroy the throne of a thousand years for that canaille!"
THE TRIAL, THE EXECUTION, OF THE VICTIMS IS ADVANCED A DAY! By the aid of the mysterious intelligence that had guided and animated him hitherto, Zanoni learned that his arts had been in vain. He knew that Viola was safe, if she could but survive an hour the life of the tyrant. He knew that Robespierre's hours were numbered; that the 10th of Thermidor, on which he had originally designed the execution of his last victims, would see himself at the scaffold. Zanoni had toiled, had schemed for the fall of the Butcher and his reign. To what end? A single word from the tyrant had baffled the result of all. The execution of Viola is advanced a day. Vain seer, who wouldst make thyself the instrument of the Eternal, the very dangers that now beset the tyrant but expedite the doom of his victims! To-morrow, eighty heads, and hers whose pillow has been thy heart! To-morrow! and Maximilien is safe to-night!
Erde mag zuruck in Erde stauben;
(Earth may crumble back into earth; the Spirit will still escape from its frail tenement. The wind of the storm may scatter his ashes; his being endures forever.)
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Zanoni -by- Edward Bulwer Lytton