小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 经典英文小说 » Heroines of French Society » CHAPTER V
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
The Bastille—Prisons of the Revolution—Les Carmes—Cazotte—The Terrorists turn upon each other—Joséphine de Beauharnais—A musician in the Conciergerie—A dog in prison—Under the guardianship of a dog—Tallien tries to save Térèzia—A dagger—La Force—The last hope—The Tocsin—The 9th Thermidor.
Capital letter V

VOLUMES of denunciation, torrents of execration have been and are still poured forth against the Bastille, the tyranny and cruelty it represented, the vast number and terrible fate of the prisoners confined there and the arbitrary, irresponsible power of which it was the instrument.

Many of the stories told and assertions made upon the subject are absolutely false, others greatly exaggerated; although nobody who has ever studied the history of any country would imagine that any prison ever existed anywhere, until within the last few years, without a record of crime, oppression, and cruelty.

When the Bastille was destroyed, and the officers who were accused of nothing but defending the post entrusted to them were murdered, that prison [324] contained seven prisoners, of whom one was detained by the request of his family, four were forgers, one was an idiot, the other unknown. [102]

Three years later, under the rule of the apostles of liberty, fraternity, and equality, there were thousands of prisons of the State crammed with prisoners, besides the supplementary prisons hastily arranged in the ancient convents, palaces, and colleges of Paris.

The hardships and horrors of these prisons, though always terrible, were much worse in some than in others. Far the best were the Luxembourg, Portroyal, then called Port Libre, the convents of the Bénédictins anglais, the convents des Oiseaux and des Anglaises, and one or two others, which, in the slang of the day, were called prisons muscadines. [103] There were congregated most of the prisoners of rank and refinement, although in most of the prisons there was a mixture of classes and opinions. There the food and accommodation was much better and the officials more civil, or rather, less brutal, and for a long time the prisoners were allowed to go into the gardens, orchards, avenues, and courts belonging to them, also to amuse themselves together until a certain hour of the night.

At this time, however, everything even in these prisons had become much worse, [104] the restrictions were severe, the number executed far greater, the [325] gaolers more brutal, and the perils and horrors of those awful dwellings more unheard of.

The Carmes was one of the bad ones, as regards accommodation, but in it were many prisoners belonging to good society, delicate, refined, bearing bravely the privations and dangers of their lot. It was supposed to be one of the aristocratic prisons, though less comfortable than the rest.

If Térèzia had been in immediate danger she would have been sent to the Conciergerie, which was looked upon as the gate of the guillotine; and she knew that the important thing was to gain time. Many had thus been saved; amongst others Mlle. de Montansier, formerly directress of a theatre. She was imprisoned in the Abbaye, and was condemned with a number of others to be guillotined on the following day.

But she was so ill that she could not stand, and as she lay delirious upon her pallet in a high fever, one of her fellow prisoners called to M. Cazotte, who was also imprisoned there, and was famous for having predicted many things which had always come true, especially for his prophecy at the notorious supper of the Prince de Beauvau, at which he had foretold the horrors of the Revolution and the fate of the different guests, now being, or having been, terribly fulfilled. [105]

“Well, Cazotte,” said the other, “here, if ever, is a case for you to call your spirit up and ask him if [326] that poor dying creature will have strength to mount the horrible machine to-morrow.”

He spoke half jokingly, but Cazotte saw no joke at all, but went into a corner without speaking, turned his face to the wall, and remained there in silence for a quarter of an hour, after which he came back with a joyful look.

“La brave fille will not be guillotined at all,” he said, “for I have just seen her die in her bed at an advanced age.”

All laughed at the vision, but the next day she was so ill that her execution was put off, she continued to be so ill that she could not be moved and was forgotten till the 9th Thermidor came and she was saved. She died, as Cazotte had predicted, in her own bed at a great age.

Cazotte himself, after being saved by his daughter from the massacre, was re-arrested as he always foretold. His friends asked in vain why he did not hide, escape, save himself; he only replied—

“What is the use, if my hour has come?”

He was executed as he foretold.

Térèzia was much better off at the Carmes, for she was no longer au secret, but mixed in the day with the rest of the prisoners and shared a cell at night with the Duchesse d’Aiguillon and Joséphine Vicomtesse de Beauharnais, whose husband, a revolutionary general and a thoroughly contemptible character, had lately been guillotined by his republican friends.

For the only consolation was that now the monsters were turning on each other; there were, in fact, more republicans than royalists in the [327] prisons. Every now and then some blood-stained miscreant was brought in amongst those whose homes he had wrecked, whose dear ones he had murdered, and whose fate he was now to share; while all shrunk in horror from him, or mocked and triumphed as he passed. When Chaumette, the high priest of the Revolution, one of the most blasphemous and blood-stained wretches of all, was brought to the Luxembourg, the prisoners would look through the little guichet where he was shut up, asking each other, “Have you seen the wolf?”

When Manuel, one of the authors of the September massacres, was taken to the Conciergerie and stood before the tribunal, a group of prisoners standing by, regardless of the gendarmes, pushed him against a pillar, still stained with the blood shed on that fearful day, with cries of “See the blood you shed,” [106] and through applause and “bravos” he passed to his doom.

In the cell of Térèzia and her companions had been massacred a number of priests on that occasion, and still upon its wall were the silhouettes marked in blood, where two of the murderers had rested their swords.

And yet amidst all the horrors and miseries even of the six last and most awful weeks of the Terror, in daily peril of death and amongst the most frightful hardships, laughter and jokes were heard in the prisons, friendships and love affairs were formed; every one was the friend of every one.

Those who were going to their death, dined [328] cheerfully for the last time with their companions, and bade them a brave and cheerful farewell.

A young musician, waiting at the Conciergerie for the gendarmes to take him to the tribunal which was his death sentence, remembering that a friend wanted a certain air, went back to his room, copied it, and took it to his friend, saying—

“Mon cher, here is what you wanted; the music is all right, I have just tried it on my flute. I am sorry not to be able to get you some more; I shall not be alive to-morrow.” [107]

There were a thousand prisoners in the Luxembourg alone, and strange romances, thrilling escapes, fearful tragedies, and touching stories could indeed be told of what passed within the walls of those gloomy prisons.

Mme. de la Chabaussière was imprisoned at Port Libre, and her dog stayed with her all the time, her only comfort. He was well-known and a favourite in the prison, he knew all the gaolers and officials, and which of them were kind to his mistress. Of these he was very fond; but those who were not good to her he flew at, biting their legs and fighting with their dogs. However, all the officials liked him and let him stay during the whole time she was imprisoned. When the gaoler came to open the door of her cell he jumped up and licked his hands; when she walked, as at Port Libre they could, in the cloisters and gardens, he went with her; when she came back he rushed in and hid himself in her cell.

Port Libre was a large building—several buildings, [329] in fact—with great corridors warmed by stoves; many of the rooms had fireplaces and there was a great salon where the richer prisoners dined. In the evening there were concerts, games, lectures, &c., or people read, wrote, and worked. Collections were made to pay for wood, lights, stores, extra furniture, water—the richer paid for the poorer. Every one brought their own lights and sat round a great table; a few sans-culottes were there, but the society for the most part was extremely good. Little suppers were given by different prisoners to their friend, better food could be got by paying, also books, letters, parcels, and newspapers. At 9 p.m. was the appel, but they might afterward return to the salon, meet in each other’s rooms, or even get leave from the concierge to visit their friends in the other buildings. Outside were three walks: the garden, the cloisters, and the cour de l’accacia, with palisades and a seat of grass under a great accacia. Often they sat out till eleven at night, and those whose rooms were close by sometimes spent the whole night out of doors.

This was one of the best prisons, but during the six weeks before Thermidor even this was much changed for the worse, brutal ruffians taking the place of milder gaolers, and food unfit to eat being supplied.

Many heroic people, women especially, managed to get stolen interviews with those belonging to them shut up in the different prisons. Mme. de Beuguot used to visit her husband disguised as a washer-woman, and through her devotion, courage, and good management he was ultimately saved. Some [330] bribed or persuaded the more humane gaolers, and one man was visited through all his imprisonment by his two little children who came with no other guardian than their large dog. The faithful creature brought them safe there and back every day, watching carefully that they were not run over.

The prison of the Carmes was a very different abode to Port Libre, and it was just at its worst time, but still Térèzia used afterwards to declare that she, after a time, got accustomed to the horrors of the prison. The constant presence of death made them more and more callous, and they would play games together like children, even enacting the scenes of execution which they had every prospect of going through in reality. Their room, or cell, looked out into the garden, through a grating, into which, however, they could not go; a single mattress in a corner served for their bed.

The Duchesse d’Aiguillon had obtained leave to have a thimble, needles, and scissors, with which she worked. Joséphine read and worked; Térèzia told stories and sang.

The hand of Charlotte Corday had sent Marat to his own place; Danton and Camille Desmoulins, beginning to have some slight glimmerings of mercy and humanity, had been denounced and executed; Robespierre was still triumphant, with his friends and satellites, Couthon, St.-Just and David. With them and Foulquièr-Tinville, Paris was like hell upon earth. Long lists of victims, numbers of whom were women, went every day to the guillotine; the populace were getting weary of blood and slaughter. Again Tallien [331] made an attempt to get the release of Térèzia, even suggesting that it was time to stop the murder of women. Even David agreed; but Robespierre was inexorable.

On the morning of the 4th Thermidor a dagger had been mysteriously sent to Tallien, without a word of explanation. No one knew who had brought it; there it was upon his table. But he knew the dagger, and what it meant. It was a Spanish poignard which belonged to Térèzia. It was then that he went and made his last and useless appeal to Robespierre. Térèzia had again been removed to La Force, and on the 7th Thermidor he received a letter from her.

“La citoyenne Fontenay to the citoyen Tallien, rue de la Perle, 17.

“The administrateur de police has just left; he has been to tell me that to-morrow I go to the tribunal, which means to the scaffold. It is indeed unlike the dream I had last night, that Robespierre was dead and the prisons open; but thanks to your incredible cowardice, there will soon be nobody left in France capable of realising it.”

He answered immediately—

“Have as much prudence as I will have courage, but calm your head.”

Then he went to find Barras and Fréron.

But Térèzia had nearly lost all hope. She had waited and waited, always expecting help—for Tallien was powerful among the leaders of the government. But when she was taken from the Carmes back to La Force, she knew that her time had come, and now the gaoler had told her that it [332] was not worth while to make her bed, as it was to be given to another.

With anguish she saw one cartload of prisoners leave, and she trembled every moment lest she should hear the sound of the wheels of a second in the courtyard of the prison.

But the next day passed and she was not called for. All day she waited in a feverish, terrible suspense that can well be imagined; night came and she was still spared. Morning dawned, the morning of the 9th Thermidor. The weather was frightfully oppressive, and in all the prisons in Paris they were stifling from the heat, for the late cruel restrictions had put an end, even in the more indulgent prisons, to the possibility of walks in garden or cloister and the chance of fresh air. But as the long, weary day wore on, there seemed to be some change approaching; there was an uneasy feeling about, for there had lately been rumours of another massacre in the prisons, and the prisoners, this time resolving to sell their lives dearly, had been agreeing upon and arranging what little defence they could make. Some planned a barricade made of their beds, others examined the furniture with a view to breaking it up into clubs, a few brought carefully out knives they had managed to conceal in holes and corners from the prison officials, some filled their pockets with cinders and ashes to fling in the faces of their assailants, and so escape in the confusion, while others, republicans and atheists, felt for the cabanis, a poison they carried about them, and assured themselves that it was all safe and ready for use.


They waited and listened. There was certainly more noise in the streets, something was evidently going on; but there was no attack upon any of the prisons; on the contrary, it was the gaolers who were undoubtedly alarmed. Their whole tone and manner changed from brutal insolence to civility and indulgence. When evening approached they were running about from one room to another with looks of dismay, while the terror of the prison spies was uncontrolled.

In the Luxembourg, between six and seven in the evening, a prisoner whose room was at the top of the palace came down and said that he heard the tocsin. In breathless silence all listened, and recognised that fearful sound. Drums were beating, the noise and tumult grew louder and nearer, but whether it meant life or death to them they could not tell; only the discouraged and anxious demeanour of the officials gave them hope. In spite of the opposition of the gaolers several of them rushed up the stairs and got out on the roof to see what was going on. In the rue Tournon they saw an immense crowd with a carriage in the midst, which by the clamour around it they knew must contain some important person. It stopped before the Luxembourg, the name of Robespierre was spoken; it was sent on with him to the Maison Commune.

The clamour died away; all night reassuring proclamations were heard about the streets.

The next morning all was changed. The cringing, officious, timid civility of their tyrants left but little doubt in their minds. They clasped each other’s [334] hands, even then not daring to speak openly or show their joy, until the news, first a whisper, then a certainty, assured them that Robespierre was dead.

Then Térèzia knew that she was safe, and that Tallien, for her sake, had overthrown the monster and broken the neck of the Terror. Soon he appeared in triumph to throw open the gates of La Force, and the following day Térèzia, accompanied by Fréron and Melun de Thionville, went herself to the club of the Jacobins and closed it without any one venturing to take the keys from her.

When Pitt heard of it he remarked, “That woman is capable of closing the gates of hell.”


©英文小说网 2005-2010

有任何问题,请给我们留言,管理员邮箱:tinglishi@gmail.com  站长QQ :点击发送消息和我们联系56065533