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- The Reign Of Terror - 20/50 -
went. Then the light in the upper room was extinguished.
"It is not such an easy affair," Victor said as they moved away; "and you see, as that man in the wine-shop told us, there is an old woman who cooks for him, and it is much more difficult to seize two people without an alarm being given than one."
"That is so," Harry agreed; "but it must be done somehow. Every day matters grow more threatening, and those bands of scoundrels from Marseilles have not been brought all this way for nothing. The worst of it is, we have such a short time to act. Marat does not seem to be ever alone from early morning until late at night. Supposing we did somehow get the order of release from him at night we could not present it till the morning, and before we could present it some one might arrive and discover him fastened up, and might take the news to the prison before we could get them out."
"Yes, that is very serious," Victor agreed. "I begin to despair, Henri."
"We must not do that," Harry rejoined. "You see we thought it impossible before till Jeanne gave us the idea. There must be some way out of it if we could only hit upon it. Perhaps by to-morrow morning an idea will occur to one of us. And there is another thing to be thought of; we must procure disguises for them. It would be of no use whatever getting them out unless we could conceal them after they are freed. It would not do for them to go to Louise Moulin's. She has three visitors already, and the arrival of more to stay with her would be sure to excite talk among the neighbours. The last orders are so strict about the punishment of anyone giving shelter to enemies of the republic, that people who let rooms will all be suspicious. The only plan will be to get them out of the city at once. It will be difficult for them to make their way through France on foot, for in every town and village there is the strictest look-out kept for suspected persons. Still, that must be risked; there is no other way."
"Yes, we must see about that to-morrow, Henri; but I do not think the marquise could support a journey, for they would have to sleep in the fields. Moreover, she will probably elect to stay near her children until all can go together. Therefore I think that it will be best for her to come either to you or me. We can take an additional room, saying that our mother is coming up from the country to keep house for us."
"Yes, that would be much the best plan, Victor. And now here we are close home. I hope by the time we meet in the morning one of us may have hit upon some plan or other for getting hold of this scoundrel."
"I have hit upon an idea, Victor," Harry said when they met the next morning.
"I am glad to hear it, for though I have lain awake all night I could think of nothing. Well, what is your idea?"
"Well, you see, Marat often goes out in the morning alone. He is so well known and he is so much regarded by the lower class that he has no fear of any assault being made upon him during the day.
"My plan is that we should follow him till he gets into some street with few people about. Then I would rush upon him, seize him, and draw a knife to strike, shouting, 'Die, villain!' You should be a few paces behind, and should run up and strike the knife out of my hand, managing at the same moment to tumble over Marat and fall with him to the ground. That would give me time to bolt. I would have a beard on, and would have my other clothes under the blouse. I would rush into the first doorway and run up stairs, pull off my beard, blouse, and blue pantaloons, and then walk quietly down. You would, of course, rush up stairs and meet me on the way. I should say I had just met a fellow running up stairs, and should slip quietly off."
"It would be a frightful risk, Henri, frightful!"
"No, I think it could be managed easily enough. Then, of course, Marat would be very grateful to you, and you could either get him to visit your lodgings or could go up to his, and once you had been there you could manage to outsit his last visitor at night, and then we could do as we agreed."
"But, you know, we thought we should hardly have time in the morning, Henri!"
"No, I have been thinking of that, and I have come to the conclusion that our best plan would be to seize him and hold a dagger to his heart, and threaten to kill him instantly if he did not accompany us. Then we would go down with him into the street and walk arm in arm with him to your lodging. We could thrust a ball of wood into his mouth so that he could not call out even if he had the courage to do so, which I don't think he would have if he were assured that if he made the slightest sound we would kill him. Then we could make him sign the order and leave him fastened up there. It would be better to take him to your lodgings than mine, in case my visits to Louise Moulin should have been noticed, and when he is released there will be a hue and cry after his captors."
"The best plan will be to put a knife into his heart at once the minute you have got the order signed," Victor said savagely; "I should have no more hesitation in killing him than stamping on a snake."
"No, Victor; the man is a monster, but we cannot kill him in cold blood; besides, we should do more harm than good to the cause, for the people would consider he had died a martyr to his championship of their rights, and would be more furious than ever against the aristocracy."
"But his account of what he has gone through will have just the same effect, Henri."
"I should think it probable he would keep the story to himself. What has happened once may happen again; and besides, his cowardice in signing the release of three enemies of the people in order to save his life would tell against him. No, I think he would keep silence. After we have got them safe away we can return and so far loosen his bonds that he would be able, after a time, to free himself. Five minutes' start would be all that we should want."
But the plan was not destined to be carried out. It was the morning of the 2d of September, 1792, and as they went down into the quarter where the magazines of old clothes were situated, in order to purchase the necessary disguises, they soon became sensible that something unusual was in the air. Separating, they joined the groups of men at the corners of the streets and tried to learn what was going on, but none seemed to know for certain. All sorts of sinister rumours were about. Word had been passed that the Jacobin bands were to be in readiness that evening. Money had been distributed. The Marseillais had dropped hints that a blow was to be struck at the tyrants. Everywhere there was a suppressed excitement among the working-classes; an air of gloom and terror among the bourgeois.
After some time Harry and Victor came together again and compared their observations. Neither had learned anything definite, but both were sure that something unusual was about to take place.
"It may be that a large number of fresh arrests are about to be made," Harry said. "There are still many deputies who withstand the violence of the Mountain. It may be that a blow is going to be struck against them."
"We must hope that that is it," Victor said, "but I am terribly uneasy."
Harry had the same feeling, but he did his best to reassure his friend, and proposed that they should at once set about buying the disguises, and that on the following morning they should carry into effect their plan with reference to Marat. The dresses were bought. Two suits, such as a respectable mechanic would wear on Sundays or holidays, were first purchased. There was then a debate as to the disguise for the marquise; it struck them at once that it was strange for two young workmen to be purchasing female attire, but, after some consultation, they decided upon a bonnet and long cloak, and these Victor went in and bought, gaily telling the shopkeeper that he was buying a birthday present for his old mother.
They took the clothes up to Harry's room, agreeing that Louise could easily buy the rest of the garments required for the marquise as soon as she was free, but they decided to say nothing about the attempt that was about to be made until it was over, as it would cause an anxiety which the old woman would probably be unable to conceal from the girls.
Victor did not accompany Harry to his room; they had never, indeed, visited each other in their apartments, meeting always some little distance away in order that their connection should be unobserved, and that, should one be arrested, no suspicion would follow the other. As soon as he had deposited the clothes Harry sallied out again, and on rejoining Victor they made their way down to the Hotel de Ville, being too anxious to remain quiet. They could learn nothing from the crowd which was, as usual, assembled before the Hotel.
There was a general impression that something was about to happen, but none could give any definite reason for their belief. All day they wandered about restless and anxious. They fought their way into the galleries of the Assembly when the doors opened, but for a time nothing new took place.
The Assembly, in which the moderates had still a powerful voice, had protested against the assumption of authority by the council of the Commune sitting at the Hotel de Ville. But the Assembly lacked firmness, the Commune every day gained in power. Already warrants of arrest were prepared against the Girondists, the early leaders of the movement.
Too restless to remain in the Assembly, Victor and Harry again took their steps to the Hotel de Ville. Just as they arrived there twenty-four persons, of whom twenty-two were priests, were brought out from the prison of the Maine by a party of Marseillais, who shouted,
"To the Abbaye!" These ruffians pushed the prisoners into coaches standing at the door, shouting: "You will not arrive at the prison; the people are waiting to tear you in pieces." But the people looked on silently in sullen apathy.
"You see them," the Marseillais shouted. "There they are. You are about to march to Verdun. They only wait for your departure to butcher your wives and children."
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