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- The Elusive Pimpernel - 1/51 -
The Elusive Pimpernel
by Baroness Orczy
I. Paris: 1793 II. A Retrospect III. Ex-Ambassador Chauvelin IV. The Richmond Gala V. Sir Percy and His Lady VI. For the Poor of Paris VII. Premonition VIII. The Invitation IX. Demoiselle Candeille X. Lady Blakeney's Rout XI. The Challenge XII. Time – Place – Conditions XIII. Reflections XIV. The Ruling Passion XV. Farewell XVI. The Passport XVII. Boulogne XVIII. No. 6 XIX. The Strength of the Weak XX. Triumph XXI. Suspense XXII. Not Death XXIII. The Hostage XXIV. Colleagues XXV. The Unexpected XXVI. The Terms of the Bargain XXVII. The Decision XXVIII. The Midnight Watch XXIX. The National Fete XXX. The Procession XXXI. Final Dispositions XXXII. The Letter XXXIII. The English Spy XXXIV. The Angelus XXXV. Marguerite
Chapter I : Paris: 1793
There was not even a reaction.
On! ever on! in that wild, surging torrent; sowing the wind of anarchy, of terrorism, of lust of blood and hate, and reaping a hurricane of destruction and of horror.
On! ever on! France, with Paris and all her children still rushes blindly, madly on; defies the powerful coalition,--Austria, England, Spain, Prussia, all joined together to stem the flow of carnage, -- defies the Universe and defies God!
Paris this September 1793!--or shall we call it Vendemiaire, Year I. of the Republic?--call it what we will! Paris! a city of bloodshed, of humanity in its lowest, most degraded aspect. France herself a gigantic self-devouring monster, her fairest cities destroyed, Lyons razed to the ground, Toulon, Marseilles, masses of blackened ruins, her bravest sons turned to lustful brutes or to abject cowards seeking safety at the cost of any humiliation.
That is thy reward, oh mighty, holy Revolution! apotheosis of equality and fraternity! grand rival of decadent Christianity.
Five weeks now since Marat, the bloodthirsty Friend of the People, succumbed beneath the sheath-knife of a virgin patriot, a month since his murderess walked proudly, even enthusiastically, to the guillotine! There has been no reaction--only a great sigh! ... Not of content or satisfied lust, but a sigh such as the man-eating tiger might heave after his first taste of long-coveted blood.
A sigh for more!
A king on the scaffold; a queen degraded and abased, awaiting death, which lingers on the threshold of her infamous prison; eight hundred scions of ancient houses that have made the history of France; brave generals, Custine, Blanchelande, Houchard, Beauharnais; worthy patriots, noble-hearted women, misguided enthusiasts, all by the score and by the hundred, up the few wooden steps which lead to the guillotine.
An achievement of truth!
And still that sigh for more!
But for the moment,--a few seconds only,--Paris looked round her mighty self, and thought things over!
The man-eating tiger for the space of a sigh licked his powerful jaws and pondered!
Something new!--something wonderful!
We have had a new Constitution, a new Justice, new Laws, a new Almanack!
Why, obviously!--How comes it that great, intellectual, aesthetic Paris never thought of such a wonderful thing before?
A new religion!
Christianity is old and obsolete, priests are aristocrats, wealthy oppressors of the People, the Church but another form of wanton tyranny.
Let us by all means have a new religion.
Already something has been done to destroy the old! To destroy! always to destroy! Churches have been ransacked, altars spoliated, tombs desecrated, priests and curates murdered; but that is not enough.
There must be a new religion; and to attain that there must be a new God.
"Man is a born idol-worshipper."
Very well then! let the People have a new religion and a new God.
Stay!--Not a God this time!--for God means Majesty, Power, Kingship! everything in fact which the mighty hand of the people of France has struggled and fought to destroy.
Not a God, but a goddess.
A goddess! an idol! a toy! since even the man-eating tiger must play sometimes.
Paris wanted a new religion, and a new toy, and grave men, ardent patriots, mad enthusiasts, sat in the Assembly of the Convention and seriously discussed the means of providing her with both these things which she asked for.
Chaumette, I think it was, who first solved the difficulty:--Procureur Chaumette, head of the Paris Municipality, he who had ordered that the cart which bore the dethroned queen to the squalid prison of the Conciergerie should be led slowly past her own late palace of the Tuileries, and should be stopped there just long enough for her to see and to feel in one grand mental vision all that she had been when she dwelt there, and all that she now was by the will of the People.
Chaumette, as you see, was refined, artistic;--the torture of the fallen Queen's heart meant more to him than a blow of the guillotine on her neck.
No wonder, therefore, that it was Procureur Chaumette who first discovered exactly what type of new religion Paris wanted just now.
"Let us have a Goddess of Reason," he said, "typified if you will by the most beautiful woman in Paris. Let us have a feast of the Goddess of Reason, let there be a pyre of all the gew-gaws which for centuries have been flaunted by overbearing priests before the eyes of starving multitudes, let the People rejoice and dance around that funeral pile, and above it all let the new Goddess tower smiling and triumphant. The Goddess of Reason! the only deity our new and regenerate France shall acknowledge throughout the centuries which are to come!"
Loud applause greeted the impassioned speech.
"A new goddess, by all means!" shouted the grave gentlemen of the National Assembly, "the Goddess of Reason!"
They were all eager that the People should have this toy; something to play with and to tease, round which to dance the mad Carmagnole and sing the ever-recurring "Ca ira."
Something to distract the minds of the populace from the consequences of its own deeds, and the helplessness of its legislators.
Procureur Chaumette enlarged upon his original idea; like a true artist who sees the broad effect of a picture at a glance and then fills in the minute details, he was already busy elaborating his scheme.
"The goddess must be beautiful ... not too young ... Reason can only go hand in hand with the riper age of second youth ... she must be decked out in classical draperies, severe yet suggestive ... she must be rouged and painted ... for she is a mere idol ... easily to be appeased with incense, music and laughter."
He was getting deeply interested in his subject, seeking minutiae of detail, with which to render his theme more and more attractive.
But patience was never the characteristic of the Revolutionary Government of France. The National Assembly soon tired of Chaumette's dithyrambic utterances. Up aloft on the Mountain, Danton was yawning like a gigantic leopard.
Soon Henriot was on his feet. He had a far finer scheme than that of
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