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- The Reign Of Terror - 30/50 -
voice of the lady you tell me he is engaged to, it might strike a chord now lying dormant and set the brain at work again."
But as to Marie, Harry could do nothing. Do what he would, he could hit upon no plan whatever for getting her out of prison; and he could only wait until some change in the situation or the appearance of her name in the fatal list might afford some opportunity for action. It was evident to him that Lebat was not pushing matters forward, but that he preferred to wait and leave the horror of months in prison to work upon Marie's mind, and so break her down that she would be willing enough to purchase her life by a marriage with him.
There had been some little lull in the work of blood, for in December all eyes had been turned to the spectacle of the trial of the king. From the 1 0th of August he had remained a close prisoner in the Temple, watched and insulted by his ruffian guards, and passing the time in the midst of his family with a serenity of mind, a calmness, and tranquility which went far to redeem the blunders he had made during the preceding three years. The following is the account written by the princess royal in her journal of the manner in which the family passed their days: "My father rose at seven and said prayers till eight; then dressing himself he was with my brother till nine, when he came to breakfast with my mother. After breakfast my father gave us lessons till eleven o'clock; and then my brother played till midday, when we went to walk together, whatever the weather was, because at that hour they relieved guard and wished to see us to be sure of our presence. Our walk was continued till two o'clock, when we dined. After dinner my father and mother played at backgammon, or rather pretended to play, in order to have an opportunity of talking together for a short time.
"At four o'clock my mother went up stairs with us, because the king then usually took a nap. At six o'clock my brother went down, and my father gave us lessons till supper at nine. After supper my mother soon went to bed. We then went up stairs, and the king went to bed at eleven. My mother worked much at tapestry and made me study, and frequently read alone. My aunt said prayers and read the service; she also read many religious books, usually aloud."
But harmless as was the life of the royal family, Danton and the Jacobins were determined upon having their lives. The mockery of the trial commenced on the 1Oth of December. Malesherbes, Tronchet, and Deseze defended him fearlessly and eloquently, but it was useless - the king was condemned beforehand. Robespierre and Marat led the assault. The Girondists, themselves menaced and alarmed, stood neutral; but on the 15th of January the question was put to the Assembly, "Is Louis Capet, formerly King of the French, guilty of conspiracy and attempt against the general safety of the state?"
With scarcely a single exception, the Assembly returned an affirmative answer, and on the 1 7th the final vote was taken. Three hundred and sixty-one voted for death, two for imprisonment, two hundred and eighty-six for detention, banishment, or conditional death, forty-six for death but after a delay, twenty-six for death but with a wish that the Assembly should revise the sentence.
Sentence of death was pronounced. After a sitting which lasted for thirty-seven hours there was another struggle between the advocates of delay and those of instant execution, but the latter won; and after parting with noble resignation from his wife and family, the king, on the 21st, was executed. His bearing excited the admiration even of his bitterest foes.
France looked on amazed and appalled at the act, for Louis had undoubtedly striven his best to lessen abuses and to go with the people in the path of reform. It was his objection to shed blood, his readiness to give way, his affection for the people, which had allowed the Revolution to march on its bloody way without a check. It was the victims - the nobles, the priests, the delicate women and cultured men - who had reason to complain; for it was the king's hatred to resistance which left them at the mercy of their foes. Louis had been the best friend of the Revolution that slew him.
The trial and execution of the king had at least the good effect of diverting the minds ofJeanne and Virginie from their own anxieties. Jeanne was passionate and Virginie tearful in their sorrow and indignation. Over and over again Jeanne implored Harry to try to save the king. There were still many Royalists, and indeed the bulk of the people were shocked and alienated by the violence of the Convention; and Jeanne urged that Harry might, from his connection with Robespierre, obtain some pass or document which would enable the king to escape. But Harry refused to make any attempt whatever on his behalf.
"In the first place, Jeanne, it would be absolutely impossible for the king, watched as he is, to escape; and no pass or permit that Robespierre could give would be of the smallest utility. You must remember, that although all apparently unite against the king, there is a never-ending struggle going on in the Convention between the various parties and the various leaders. Robespierre is but one of them, although, perhaps, the most prominent; but could I wring a pass from him even if only to see the king, that pass would not be respected.
"In the next place, Jeanne, I have nothing to do with these struggles in France. I am staying here to do what little I can to watch over you and Virginie, for the sake of your dear parents and because I love you both; and I have also, if possible, to rescue Marie from the hands of these murderers. The responsibility is heavy enough; and could I, by merely using Robespierre's name, rescue the king and queen and their children and pass them across the frontier, I would not do it if the act in the slightest degree interfered with my freedom of action towards you and Marie."
"But Virginie and I would die for the king!" Jeanne said passionately.
"Happily, Jeanne," Harry replied coolly, "your dying would in no respect benefit him; and as your life is in my eyes of a thousand times more consequence than that of the king, and as your chances of safety to some extent depend upon mine, I do not mean to risk one of those chances for the sake of his majesty. Besides, to tell you the truth, I have a good deal of liking for my own life, and have a marked objection to losing my head. You see I have people at home who are fond of me, and who want to see me back again with that head on my shoulders."
"I know, Harry; I know," Jeanne said with her eyes full of tears. "Do not think that I am ungrateful because I talk so. I am always thinking how wrong it is that you should be staying here risking your life for us instead of going home to those who love you. I think sometimes Virginie and I ought to give ourselves up, and then you could go home." And Jeanne burst into tears.
"My dear Jeanne," Harry said soothingly, "do not worry yourself about me. It would have been just as dangerous at the time your father was taken prisoner for me to have tried to escape from the country as it was to stay here - in fact I should say that it was a good deal more dangerous; and at present, as Robespierre's secretary, I am in no danger at all. It is a little disagreeable certainly serving a man whom one regards in some respects as being a sort of wild beast; but at the same time, in his own house, I am bound to say, he is a very decent kind of man and not at all a bad fellow to get on with.
'As to what I have done for you, so far as I see I have done nothing beyond bringing you here in the first place, and coming to have a pleasant chat with you every evening. Nor, with the best will in the world, have I been able to be of the slightest assistance to Marie. As we say at home, my intentions are good; but so far the intentions have borne no useful fruit whatever. Come, Jeanne, dry your eyes, for it is not often that I have seen you cry. We have thrown in our lot together, and we shall swim or sink in company.
"You keep up my spirits and I keep up yours. Don't let there be any talk about gratitude. There will be time enough for that if I ever get you safely to England. Then, perhaps, I may send in my bill and ask for payment."
Harry spoke lightly, and Jeanne with a great effort recovered her composure; and after that, although the trial and danger of the king were nightly discussed and lamented, she never said a word as to any possibility of the catastrophe being averted.
One day towards the end of February Harry felt a thrill run through him as, on glancing over the list of persons to be tried on the following day, he saw the name of Marie, daughter of the ci-devant Marquis de St. Caux. Although his knowledge of Robespierre's character gave him little ground for hope, he determined upon making a direct appeal.
"I see, citizen," he said - for such was the mode of address universal at that time - "that among the list of persons to be tried is the name of Marie de St. Caux."
"Say Marie Caux," Robespierre said reprovingly. "You know de and St. are both forbidden prefixes. Yes; what would you say about her?"
"I told you, citizen, upon the first night when I came here, that I had been in the service of the father of this female citizen. Although I know now that he was one of those who lived upon the blood of the people, I am bound to say that he always treated his dependants kindly. His daughter also showed me many marks of kindness, and this I would now fain return. Citizen, I did you some service on the night when we first met; and I ask you now, as a full quittance for that aid, that you will grant me the freedom of this young woman. Whatever were the crimes of her father, she cannot have shared in them. She is young, and cannot do harm to any; therefore I implore you to give me her life."
"I am surprised at your request," Robespierre said calmly. "This woman belongs to a race who have for centuries oppressed France, and it is better that they should perish altogether. If she can convince the tribunal that she is innocent of all crime, undoubtedly she will be spared; but I cannot, only on account of the obligation I am under to you, interfere on her behalf; such an act would be treason to the people, and I hope you know me well enough by this time to be aware that nothing whatever would induce me to allow my private inclinations to interfere with the course of justice. Ask of me all I have, it is little enough, but it is yours; but this thing I cannot grant you."
For a moment Harry was on the point of bursting out indignantly, but he checked himself and without a word went on with his writing, although tears of disappointment for a time almost blinded him; but he felt it would be hopeless to urge the point further, and that did he do so he might forfeit the opportunity he now had of learning what was going on.
Another month passed before the name appeared on the fatal list. In
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