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CHAPTER III
The 10th of August—The September massacres—Tallien—The emigrant ship—Arrest at Bordeaux—In prison—Saved by Tallien.
Capital letter O

ON the 10th of August, 1792, as every one knows, the fury of the Revolution broke out in the attack upon the Tuileries. For the third time Térèzia saw Tallien soon after that carnival of horror and bloodshed of which he was one of the leading spirits; when a few days after it she sat in one of the tribunes of the Assembly and applauded the fiery speech in which he defied the enemies of France, for the armies of the allies and the emigrés were gathering on the frontier, eager to avenge the atrocities which had been and were being committed, and rescue the royal family. Unluckily it was another failure. The incompetence of the leaders, the delays, the mismanagement, the mistakes, the disasters, cannot of course be entered into in a sketch like this, but the effect it had upon the fate of those still in prison and in danger who remained in the hands of the tigers thirsting for their blood, was terrible indeed.

No sooner had the news of their first ephemeral [298] successes at Longwy and Verdun arrived at Paris, and at the same time the rising in La Vendée become known, than there was a rush to arms, to the frontier, to drive back the invaders from the soil of France. The revolutionists seized their opportunity to declare that the royalists left in France would help the invaders by conspiring at home. It was enough. The thirst for blood and slaughter, never equalled or approached by any other civilised nation, which characterised the French Revolution, burst forth with unheard of atrocity. The September massacres were the result, and of the order for this horrible crime Tallien and Danton were chiefly accused.

Danton did not attempt to deny the part he had taken, but declared that it was necessary to strike terror amongst their opponents and that he accepted the responsibility.

Tallien had stepped into the place of Guy de Kersaint, deputy of Versailles, who, though a revolutionist, objected to massacres. [97] He tried to explain and excuse them by the fury and excitement of the time when he perceived the horror with which they were regarded, not only by the civilised world at large, but by many of the revolutionists, even by some of his own colleagues. However, the brand of infamy remained attached to his name, notwithstanding his endeavours to clear himself from [299] the suspicion and accusation which have nevertheless always clung to him.

“There are many,” he said in one of his speeches, “who accuse me of being a murderer of the 2nd of September, to stifle my voice because they know I saw it all. They know that I used the authority I possessed to save a great number of persons from the hand of the assassin, they know that I alone in the midst of the Commune, dared throw myself before the sanguinary multitude to prevent their violating the dep?ts entrusted to the Commune. I defy any one to accuse me of crime or even of weakness. I did my duty on that occasion....” But the name of “septembriseur” clung to him for ever in spite of his protestations.

Through all this time it is not clear exactly where Térèzia was, probably at Paris and at Fontenay, but the relations between herself and her husband did not improve, and without any violent enmity between them, she had several times thought of getting a divorce from him.

She had not done so, however, and had even consented to his plan of their both leaving France and taking refuge with her father in Spain. She wished no harm to M. de Fontenay, and although in spite of all that had happened she still believed in the Revolution, its principles, and future results, she was horrified at the cruelty and atrocities going on around her at present.

She was conscious also that her own position was not safe. She had many friends amongst the Girondins, and now terrified at their fall she felt that she was compromised by her association with [300] them; her husband was an additional peril to her, for the new abomination called loi contre des suspects was aimed at those against whom no tangible thing could be brought forward, but who might be accused of “having done nothing for the Republic” and would certainly apply to him. M. de Fontenay had hidden himself for a time and then re-appeared, and seeing they were both in great danger she agreed to his proposal and they went first to Bordeaux, intending shortly to put the Pyrenees between themselves and the Revolution. But swiftly and suddenly the danger that had struck down so many of their acquaintances fell like a thunderbolt upon them.

They were staying with an uncle of hers at Bordeaux when she heard one day that an English ship with three hundred passengers, chiefly royalists of Bordeaux, but all of them persons flying from France, was on the point of sailing, but was detained because the captain, whose conduct in this matter one cannot help saying few Englishmen indeed would not have despised, refused to sail until he had received three thousand francs wanting to the sum owing by the emigrants.

Indignant at the avarice which risked the lives of the unfortunate passengers, Térèzia, disregarding the remonstrances and warnings of her husband and uncle, ordered a carriage, drove to find the captain, paid him the three thousand francs, and returned in triumph with a list of the passengers which she had made the captain give her instead of the receipt he wished to write.

But while Térèzia congratulated herself that she had happened to be at Bordeaux, the story got [301] about, and the fierce populace were infuriated at the escape of their intended prey. Their first revenge was directed towards the captain, through whose unguarded talk about “a beautiful woman who looked like a grande dame, and had suddenly appeared and paid him the money,” was the cause of the mischief. They made a furious attack upon him, several of them rushing at him to drag him to the guillotine. But if he was avaricious the English captain was brave and strong, so, drawing his sword with shouts and threats he wounded three or four, drove back the rest, regained his ship, and set sail for England.

As Térèzia was walking in the town with her two uncles they were suddenly surrounded by a furious crowd, who, with shouts of “La voilà! La voilà! celle qui a sauvé les aristocrates,” surrounded her, and in a moment she was separated from her uncles, her mantilla torn off, while angry voices, with fierce threats, demanded the list of fugitives.

“What do you want with me?” she asked coolly, “I am not an enemy of the people; you can see by my cockade that I am a patriot.”

“Let her give us the list!” was the cry.

Seeing at once what was the question, she answered: “You are mistaken, citoyens, those who embarked were not contre-revolutionnaires.”

“Well, then, give us the list for you have it in your bosom!” And one brutal fellow tried to tear her corsage to get it.

Thrusting him away she pulled out the list, held it up to the sans-culottes, and exclaimed with defiance—

[302]

“I will never give it you! If you want to get it, kill me!” And she swallowed it.

At that moment Tallien, who had been sent to Bordeaux by the Revolutinary authorities, appeared upon the scene.

“Stop!” he cried; “I know that woman.”

He did not, in fact, recognise her at all, but he wished to save her. Turning to the crowd, he said—

“If she is guilty she belongs to justice. But you are too magnanimous to strike an unarmed enemy, above all, a woman.”

Just then Lacomb, president of the tribunal, who had been told that the aristocrats who went with the English captain were saved by her, came up and ordered her arrest.

At the same time Tallien recognised the Marquise de Fontenay.

Térèzia, therefore, found herself in one of the horrible prisons of that Revolution whose progress she had done everything in her power to assist. In the darkness and gloom of its dungeon she afterwards declared that the rats had bitten her feet.

In a very short time, however, she was summoned out of the prison and conducted by the gaolers into the presence of Tallien.

In the fearful tragedy of the French Revolution, as in many earlier dramas in the history of that nation, one can hardly fail to be struck by the extreme youth of many, perhaps most, of the leading characters, good or bad. And the hero and heroine of this act in the revolutionary drama were young, and both remarkable for their beauty.

[303]

Tallien, the member of the Assembly, the blood-stained popular leader, the pro-consul before whom every one trembled in Bordeaux, was five-and-twenty. The Marquise de Fontenay, who stood before him, knowing that her life was in his hands, was not yet twenty.

The position was changed indeed since their first meeting, when, unknown and unconsidered, he was invited, in a manner that could scarcely be called complimentary, to criticise the portrait of the beautiful, fashionable woman who now stood before him as lovely as ever, her face pale, and her soft dark eyes raised anxiously to his, but without any symptom of terror.

From the first moment of this interview Tallien was seized with an overpowering passion for her, which he was compelled to conceal by the presence of the gaoler, who waited to re-conduct the prisoner to her cell, and before whom if he showed either pity or sympathy, in spite of all his power as a leader of the Revolution, he would endanger his own safety and increase her danger. Therefore he only bowed, signed to her to sit down, and took a chair opposite her.

“You recognised me?” she asked.

“Yes, citoyenne; why are you at Bordeaux?”

“Because every one is in prison at Paris; even the revolutionists. And I am a revolutionist.”

“We are not blind,” said Tallien. “We only strike the enemies of the Republic.”

“The prisons are blind, then,” retorted Térèzia; “for both at Paris and here true republicans are groaning in fetters.”

[304]

She spoke in the inflated style of the time, which belonged especially to the ranting, extravagant, theatrical phraseology of that strange collection of individuals who now held supreme power in the country so recently the most civilised and polished in the world.

“If the prison is blind, the tribunal is not. Of what are you accused, citoyenne?”

“Of everything, I suppose, since there is nothing they can bring against me.”

“I heard you were intending to emigrate with the ci-devant Marquis de Fontenay.”

“Emigrate? I never thought of such a thing. We were going to Spain to see my father, who is there.”

“Well, citoyenne, I shall give orders for your trial to come on at once before the tribunal. If the citoyen Fontenay is not guilty you are not either. In consequence you will be able to go on and see your father at Madrid.”

“Good God!” cried Térèzia; “appear before your tribunal! But I am condemned beforehand! A poor creature who is the daughter of a count, the wife of a marquis, with a hand like this, which has never done any work but prepare lint for the wounded of the 10th of August.”

“You are wrong, citoyenne, to doubt the justice of the tribunal, we have not created it to assassinate in the name of the law, but to avenge the republic and proclaim innocence.”

He spoke in the pompous jargon of the Revolution, the language of his paper, L’Ami des Citoyens. Then turning to the gaoler he sent him away upon [305] a message. When the door had closed behind the spy of his party, in whose presence even he himself dared not speak freely, he took the hand of Térèzia and said in a gentle voice—

“We are not tyrants.”

To which astounding assertion she replied in those terms of flattery in which alone it was safe to address the individuals who “were not tyrants,” and whose motto was “Liberty, equality, and fraternity.”

“I suppose he who writes so eloquently in L’Ami des Citoyens is also the friend of the citoyennes? If you are my friend, for the sake of the citoyenne, Lameth, [98] do not make me appear before that odious tribunal, on which you do not sit.”

“I cannot help it,” answered he; “the eyes of France are upon me. If I betrayed my commission for the sake of a beautiful woman like you, Robespierre would not have thunderbolts enough to strike me with.”

“Just so,” she said; “you all strike because you are afraid of being struck yourselves.”

“Well; what do you want?”

“You know. I want liberty.”

“I understand.”

“And the liberty of M. de Fontenay.”

“Of that I wash my hands,” he exclaimed hastily. Then softening his voice: “I was told you were divorced?”

“Perhaps so; but at this moment I am more than ever the wife of my husband.”

“But if he is guilty and you are not?”

[306]

“Then I will be guilty too.”

There was a moment’s silence, then Tallien spoke.

“Well! it is worthy of the days of antiquity. But in these times it is not to a husband but to the nation that a citoyenne should sacrifice herself. If you have done any wrong to the Republic, it is in your power publicly to expiate it. In public affairs women must preach and set the example. If I ask for your liberty it must be on condition that you promise to be the Egeria of the Montagne, as the Roland was of the Gironde.”

“I know neither the Montagne nor the Gironde. I know the people, and I love and serve them. Give me a serge dress and I will go to the hospitals and nurse the sick patriots.”

“Sister of Charity, is that it? No, no; you must take a more active part; you must stand in the tribune, and kindle the sacred fire in those who are not already burning with the religion of the Revolution. Already I can feel the fire of your words.” And he drew nearer to her.

“It is settled, then, citoyen, is it not? You will give the order for my release? We will start this evening for Spain, and you shall never hear of me again.”

Tallien’s face fell.

“Well! you take everything for granted,” he said. “I am glad to see that if ever you become powerful favours will fall from your hands as if by miracle.”

“I only care for power for the sake of mercy,” she replied. “But now I am not appealing to your clemency, but to your justice.”

[307]

“Justice belongs to the people,” replied Tallien, coldly.

The Marquise felt that she had gone too far.

“It is a mistake,” she exclaimed. “If I appealed to justice it would be too slow; but the beauty of clemency is that it is quick.”

And she threw herself upon her knees before him.

“Rise, Madame!” exclaimed the young pro-consul. “I risk my head in this, but what does it matter? You are free.”

And he clasped her in his arms.

At this moment the gaoler returned, accompanied by the aide-de-camp for whom Tallien had sent.

“Adieu, citoyenne,” said Tallien, resuming his official manner. “My aide-de-camp will go at once to the revolutionary tribunal, while I myself explain to the Comité the error of which you are the victim.”

He signed to the gaoler, who conducted Mme. de Fontenay back to her cell; and then sat down to write to Robespierre.

“Every one betrays the Republic. The citoyen Tallien is granting pardon to aristocrats.”


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