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CHAPTER IV
Divorced—M. de Fontenay escapes to Spain—The mistress of Tallien—Her influence and his saves many lives—Robespierre—Singular circumstances at the birth of Louis XVII.—The vengeance of the Marquis de —— —Enmity of Robespierre—Arrest of Térèzia—La Force.
Capital letter E

THE next day was the divorce. M. de Fontenay hurried away towards the Pyrenees and disappeared from France and from the life and concerns of the woman who had been his wife.

And Térèzia, released from a marriage she had long disliked and to which no principle of duty or religion bound her, although she could scarcely be called free, fulfilled the conditions and accepted the part offered her willingly enough. She loved Tallien, who worshipped her with a passionate adoration which, far from concealing, they gloried in proclaiming.

Térèzia became a power in Bordeaux. She appeared everywhere in public wearing those scanty Greek draperies so well calculated to display the perfection of her beauty; affecting the attitude of the Goddess of Liberty, with a pike in one hand and the other resting upon the shoulder of Tallien. [309] The populace cheered as she drove about Bordeaux in a magnificent carriage which, had it belonged to a royalist, would have excited their rage. She harangued the Convention with bombastic speeches about women and virtue and modesty, which, to persons not besotted with frantic republicanism, must appear singularly out of place; mingling her exhortations with flattery so fulsome and preposterous that she did not fail to command sympathetic acclamations, especially when she said that she was not twenty years old and that she was a mother but no longer a wife.

Over the whole proceedings of Tallien and Térèzia there was, in fact, an atmosphere and tone that can be best described as “flash”; for no other word seems to be so thoroughly characteristic of themselves, their friends, their sentiments, their speech, and their lives at this time.

That Térèzia was infinitely superior to her lover was not only shown by the progress of years and events, but was obvious in the early days of her liaison with Tallien. For her speeches in public and private were not merely empty bombastic talk. She really did everything in her power to rescue from danger and help in trouble the unfortunate people with whom she was surrounded. For she hated cruelty and bloodshed, and saw no reason or excuse for it; in spite of the sophisms and theories of her republican friends. It made no difference to her to what party or class they belonged; she would help any one who was in trouble and appealed to her. And her power was immense, for Tallien, who held life and death in his hands, was her slave, and [310] even the savage Lacomb and Ysabeau, his colleagues, bowed before the charm of her influence.

The Comité de salut public was composed of Barère, Carnot, Couthon, Billaud-Varennes, Collot-d’Herbois, Robert Lindet, Prieur, Jean-Bon Saint-André, Saint-Just, and Maximilian Robespierre; as bloodthirsty a gang of miscreants as ever held an unfortunate country in their grip.

Of these ruffians the most powerful and influential was Robespierre, who, though cruel, treacherous, and remorseless, was severely moral and abstemious, and whose anger was deeply aroused by the reports he received from Bordeaux.

The life of luxurious splendour and open scandal Tallien led with his mistress irritated him nearly as much as the escape of the victims so frequently spared by his mercy, or rather by the all-powerful influence of the woman to whom all Bordeaux now looked for help and protection; besides which the popularity they both enjoyed at Bordeaux excited his jealous uneasiness.

But he did not at that time recall him to Paris, preferring that he should be a satrap at Bordeaux rather than a conspirator in the Convention; and remarking contemptuously—

“Those sort of men are of no use except to revive vices. They inoculate the people with the licentiousness of the aristocracy. But patience; we will deliver the people from their corrupters, as we have delivered them from their tyrants.” [100]

By caresses, by tyranny, by stratagems, Térèzia opened prison doors, obtained pardons, delivered [311] victims from the guillotine. Immense numbers of people were saved by her exertions. Several times her influence dissolved the Revolutionary Committee; under her reign people began to breathe freely at Bordeaux, and the Terror for a time seemed nearly at an end.

Horrified at the h?tel of Tallien being in the place de l’échafaud, she exclaimed—

“I will not come here again!”

“Well, I will come and live at your h?tel.”

“No, I shall come back here. It is not you who will go away, it is the scaffold.”

To divert his thoughts and attention from the rigours and cruelties, for the perpetration of which he had been sent to Bordeaux, she persuaded him to have his portrait done, and induced him and the artist to prolong the sittings on pretence of making the picture a chef d’?uvre, but in reality to occupy his time and attention; in fact, he was found by some one who called to see him reclining comfortably in a boudoir, dividing his attention between the artist who was painting the portrait and Térèzia, who was also present.

The Marquis de Paroy, a royalist, whose father, a Girondist, had just been arrested, wrote to ask for an interview, sending an illustrated petition, in the taste of the day, to the “goddess of Bordeaux,” with a Cupid he called a sans-culotte, &c. Having received an invitation, he went to her house, where, in the ante-rooms, crowds were waiting with petitions in their hands. Presently folding doors were thrown open and Térèzia appeared, exquisitely dressed, asked for the citoyen Paroy, and invited [312] him to come into her boudoir, which was filled with the traces of her pursuits. Music was upon the open piano, a guitar lay upon a sofa, a harp stood in a corner of the room, an easel, a half-sketched-out miniature, a table covered with drawings, colours, and brushes, an embroidery frame, a writing table piled with petitions, notes, and papers. After the first greeting she said—

“I think I remember meeting you at the house of the Comte de l’Estaing with my father, and I hope you will come and see me as often as you can. But let us speak of your father. Where is he in prison? I hope to obtain his release from the citoyen Tallien. I will give him your petition myself, and present you to him.”

She did so on the following day, and Tallien advised him to wait.

“Your father must be a little forgotten in order to save him. It all depends on the president of the tribunal, Lacomb.”

Térèzia asked him to supper to meet the mistress of Ysabeau, whom she thought might influence Ysabeau in his favour. During the supper one of the revolutionary guests, observing a ring with a Love painted on it, and the inscription—
“Qui que tu sois, voilà ton ma?tre
Il l’est, le fut, ou bien doit l’être,”

kissed the ring, and handed it round to be kissed by all the rest, who little supposed that it was a portrait of the unfortunate Louis XVII.

The breathing time given to unhappy Bordeaux [313] came to an end. Tallien was recalled, and his place filled by the ferocious Jullien.

But his position at Paris was too powerful and his friends too numerous to allow him to be at once attacked with impunity. It was Térèzia who was to be the first victim. Robespierre dreaded her influence, her talents, her popularity, her opinions, and the assistance and support she was to Tallien.

The crimes and horrors of the Revolution had now reached their climax. Paris was a scene of blood and terror. No one’s life was safe for an hour, houses were closed, the streets, once so full of life and gaiety, were now paraded by gangs of drunken ruffians, men and women, bent on murder and plunder, or re-echoed to the roll of the tumbrils carrying victims to the scaffold. The prisons were crammed, and yet arrests went on every day. The King, the Queen, and the gentle, saintly Madame Elizabeth, had been murdered; the unfortunate Dauphin, now Louis XVII., and his sister were kept in cruel captivity.

It had been remarked that at the moment of the birth of this most unfortunate of princes, the crown which was an ornament on the Queen’s bed fell to the ground, which superstitious persons looked upon as a bad omen.

Still more strange was the incident related by his uncle, the Comte de Provence, heir presumptive to the crown, which he afterwards wore. It happened immediately after the birth of the first Dauphin, elder brother of Louis XVII., whose early death saved him from the fate of his family.

“The same evening I found on my table a [314] letter carefully enclosed in a double envelope, addressed—

“‘Pour Monsieur seul.’

“I inquired in what manner the letter had arrived there, but all those in my service declared they knew nothing about it.

“When I was alone I opened the mysterious letter, and by the light of my lamp I read as follows:—

“‘Console yourself. I have just cast the horoscope of the child now born. He will not deprive you of the crown. He will not live when his father ceases to reign. Another than you, however, will succeed Louis XVI.; but, nevertheless, you will one day be King of France. Woe to him who will be in your place. Rejoice that you are without posterity; the existence of your sons would be threatened with too great calamities, for your family will drink to the dregs the most bitter contents of the cup of Destiny. Adieu! Tremble for your life if you try to discover me.—I am

“‘Death.’

“I got up and made a copy of this letter ... but on fixing my eyes on the letters in white ink on black paper ... I saw them disappear. I recognised in this phenomenon a chemical preparation by which the mysterious characters would become absorbed after a certain time.” [101]

[315]

No trace was ever found of the person who wrote or conveyed the letter.

It is easy to see that the present state of affairs in France offered the most dangerous and the strongest temptation to private vengeance. Any one who had an enemy or who had been offended by any one else, or even who wished to remove some person whose existence was inconvenient to them, had only to “denounce” them for some trifle which they might or might not have said or done; they were sure to be arrested, and most likely to be put to death.

The following story is an example of the kind.

The Marquis de ——, a proud, stern man of a reserved and apparently cold temperament, had a young wife whom he adored. Their married life went on prosperously for some years, at the end of which the young Marquise was seized with a fatal illness. When on her death-bed she confessed to her husband, who was nearly frantic with grief, that she had once, several years since, been unfaithful to him, that remorse in consequence had poisoned her happiness, and that she could not die in peace without his forgiveness. The Marquis consented to pardon her fault on condition that she would tell him the name of her seducer, which she did, after having extorted from her husband a solemn promise that he would not challenge him to a duel, as she feared the blood of one or the other might rest upon her soul.

After her death the Marquis, who had no intention of either breaking his oath or foregoing his [316] vengeance, shut up his chateau and went to Paris, though it was in the height of the Terror; for he had heard that his enemy was there, and was resolved to find him. He was a cousin of the young Marquise, the Chevalier de ——, who had in the early days of their marriage stayed a good deal at the chateau of the Marquis de ——, and had requited the unsuspicious trust and hospitality of his host by making love to his wife. Then, influenced by the remorse and entreaties of the Marquise, he had gone to Paris, and not been heard of for some time, but was believed to be living there in concealment.

The death of his wife and the revelation she had made to him, plunged the Marquis de —— into such a fearful state that at first his reason was almost overcome; and as he gradually recovered his self-possession the idea occurred to him to take advantage for his own purposes of the rumour circulated, that grief for the loss of his wife had affected his reason.

Accordingly he pretended to be mad, and wandered all day about the streets of Paris, wearing an old Court dress and an enormous wig, talking extravagantly, making foolish jokes, but all the time looking for the Chevalier ——.

His plan succeeded perfectly. He was soon well known to the police as an ex-noble driven mad by the death of his wife, and being considered harmless, was allowed to go where he pleased unmolested.

It was the only safeguard he could have found, as his rank and well-known opinions would have otherwise marked him for destruction.

[317]

At last, one day in the rue St. Honoré, he came suddenly face to face with his enemy, disguised as a workman.

Rushing to him, he threw his arms round his neck, exclaiming—

“Eh! how are you, mon ami? I am delighted to see you, my dear Chevalier de——”

The Chevalier tried in vain to escape. The apparent madman seized him by the arm.

“Let me go!” he cried. “You are mistaken. I don’t know you.”

“You don’t remember me? Your friend, your relation, the Marquis ——?”

“Yes, I remember you now; but let me go.”

A crowd began to gather, and he went on in a loud voice—

“I recognised you directly in spite of your dress, your beard, your dyed hair, and false scar.”

“Do you wish me to be lost?”

“Lost? Certainly not. I have only just found you, and shall not let you go. I am going to take you to dine with me, my dear Chevalier de ——”

“Speak lower,” implored the Chevalier. “Are you mad?”

“Ah! you, too, call me mad. It is an insult!”

The Chevalier tore away his arm, the Marquis struck him a furious blow, the police interfered, and took them both to the Commissaire de la section. The Marquis was released and the Chevalier —— sent to the Luxembourg.

His friends, hearing of his arrest, organised a plot for his release, established communications with him, and so skilfully arranged that one morning the [318] Chevalier de —— left the Luxembourg disguised as a soldier, passed into the streets, and thought he was saved.

But his enemy stood before him with a smile of triumph.

“Again that wretched madman!” muttered the Chevalier. “Is it God’s justice that puts him always in my way to destroy me?”

“I am enchanted to see you again, my dear Chevalier de ——, and I hope you are in a better humour to-day. Instead of the dinner you refused, accept the déjeuner I offer you this morning.”

“For God’s sake, hold your tongue and let me pass,” said the Chevalier in a low voice. “My life depends upon it. Do you hear? do you understand? I have just escaped from prison; I am condemned to death. If you hold your tongue and let me pass I am saved, but if you keep me and call out my name you will kill me.”

“What the devil of a story are you telling me, Chevalier de ——?” cried his tormentor. “Where did you have supper last night? I believe you have drunk too much.”

“Come, Marquis, try to have a spark of reason. It is my life I ask of you—my life.”

“Parbleu, let us live merrily! that is my motto; and let us begin by breakfasting. At any rate, I shall not leave you. Where you go I shall follow, if you run I shall run after you, calling out, ‘Let us go to breakfast, Chevalier de ——’”

Seeing that attention was being attracted to them, the Chevalier in despair put his arm into that of the Marquis, saying—

[319]

“Very well, let us go to breakfast then, but keep quiet, I beseech you. Not that way,” as his companion turned towards the Luxembourg.

“Yes, yes! I know the way to the restaurant!” and as he dragged him along in an iron grasp some guards, who had discovered the escape of the prisoner, recognised and seized him.

The Chevalier was taken back to his cell, and, knowing that he had now only a few hours to live, he made his will and wrote the history of this terrible adventure, saying that he could not but forgive the Marquis as he was mad. These papers he confided to a fellow prisoner, and a few hours later was summoned to execution with a number of others.

As the fatal car passed through the streets, for the third time his relentless enemy stood before him, and as a slight delay stopped the car close to him, he called out—

“Ah! Chevalier de ——, where are you going in that carriage? Perhaps to see your mistress, the Marquise de ——?” and the look of triumph and hatred revealed the truth to the victim of his vengeance.

It was dearly bought, however. For some time, for prudence sake, the Marquis kept up his pretence of madness, but after the fall of Robespierre and the Terror he resumed the apparent use of his reason. But the next heir had taken possession of the estates of the family in consequence of the declared madness of its head. The Marquis appealed to the law, but his own notoriety and the last will and letter of the Chevalier —— decided the case against him. He was shut up in the asylum of Charenton, where [320] he lived for many years, resigning himself after a time to his fate, and dying in extreme old age.

Not many days after the Convention had applauded with enthusiasm an extravagant speech about charity, full of absurdities and bombastic sentimentalities, made by Térèzia, Robespierre demanded her arrest of the Comité de salut public.

It has been said that the arrest was made at the end of a fête she had been giving at which Robespierre himself was present, and which he had only just left, with professions of the sincerest friendship.

The incident accords so well with the habitual treachery of Robespierre, that if not true it may be called ben trovato; but in fact it is not really certain that it took place.

But it is confidently affirmed that Robespierre pursued Térèzia, with even more than his usual vindictiveness. He begged the Marquis de la Valette, a ci-devant noble and yet a friend of his, to prevent the escape of this young woman whom they both knew, “for the safety of the Republic.” But M. de la Valette, although he was not ashamed so far to degrade himself as to be the friend of Robespierre, shrank from being the instrument of this infamy; and not only warned Térèzia but offered her the shelter of his roof, which, for some reason or other, she declined. She was arrested and sent to La Force, one of the worst prisons of the Revolution, with the additional horror of being au secret. She had too many and too powerful friends to be sacrificed without difficulty and risk, and it was, in fact, his attack upon her that gave [321] the finishing blow to the tottering tyranny of Robespierre.
MAXIMILIEN ROBESPIERRE

Robespierre sent Coffinhal, one of his tools, to question her, and she was offered her liberty if she would denounce Tallien, which she indignantly refused to do. Far more than in her former experience at Bordeaux, did she feel that she was already condemned. For then she had only to dread the general cruelty of the Revolutionists, whose rage was certainly excited by the escape of their prey, but who had, beyond doubt, no personal spite against her.

But now she had an enemy, powerful, vindictive, remorseless, and bent upon her destruction. His object was that her trial should take place the next day; but her friends were watching her interests. M. de la Valette and M. Verdun managed to prevent this, and next day a friend of Tallien, meeting him wandering in desperation about the Champs-Elysées, said to him—

“You have nothing to fear for the citoyenne Cabarrus; she will not be brought before the tribunal to-day either.”

To gain time in those days was often to gain everything.

In the horrible dungeon in which Térèzia was shut up, she could receive no communications from without; but after a day or two she was told by the gaoler that she had leave to go down into the courtyard in the evening, after the lights were out. To whom she owed this consolation she was not told, but the first evening as she stood enjoying the fresh air, a stone fell at her feet, and on picking it up she [322] found a paper with writing fastened to it. As she could not see to read it by the light of the moon, she had to wait till after sunrise next morning, and then, although the writing was disguised, she recognised the hand of Tallien as she read these words—

“I am watching over you; every evening at nine you will go down to the courtyard. I shall be near you.”

She tried to question the gaoler when he brought her breakfast of black bread and boiled beans, but he only put his finger on his lips. Every evening she went down to the courtyard and a stone with a note from Tallien was thrown to her. He had hired an attic close by, and his mother had, under another name, gained the gaoler and his wife. But at the end of a week the gaoler was denounced by the spies of Robespierre, and Térèzia transferred to the Carmes.



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