Page images

disorder, but, like the Romans, to bequeath to them wealth no longer useful to themselves. The populace eagerly collected these legacies of the dying, and appeared touched with pity. Hermann ordered the gens d'armes to remove the prisoners; and their presence of mind, which had for a moment forsaken them, now returned with the conviction of their fate.

In fulfillment of the promise they had made the other prisoners in the Conciergerie to inform them of their fate by the echoes of their voices, they burst, on quitting the tribunals, into the "Marseillaise" hymn :

"Allons, enfans de la patrie,

Le jour de gloire est arrivé!"

and sang the chorus with an energy that made the vaults ring again.

At these sounds the prisoners awoke and comprehended that the accused sang their own death song; and tears, acclamations, and sobs replied to their strains. They were all confined for this their last night on earth in the large dungeon, the waiting room of death. The tribunal had just decreed that the yet warm corpse of Valazé "should be carried back to prison, conveyed in the same cart with his accomplices to the scaffold, and interred with them." The only sentence perhaps that ever punished the dead.

Four gens d'armes followed the column of the condemned, bearing on a litter the bleeding corpse, and laid it down in a corner of the dungeon. The Girondists came one by one to kiss the hand of their friend, and then covered his visage with his mantle. They were so soon to rejoin him that their adieus were rather respectful than sad. "To-morrow," said they : and they recruited their strength for this morrow.

It was near at hand, for it was already midnight. The deputy Bailleul, their colleague at the Assembly, proscribed like them, but who had escaped the proscription, and was concealed in Paris, had promised to send them from without, on the day of their trial, a last repast, triumphant or funereal, according to the sentence; to rejoice at their freedom, or commemorate their death. Bailleul, though invisible, kept his promise through the agency of a friend. The funereal supper was set out in the large dungeon; the daintiest meats, the choicest wines, the rarest flowers, and numerous flambeaux decked the oaken table of the prison. The last luxury of an

[blocks in formation]

eternal farewell, - prodigality of dying men, who have no need to save aught for the following day. The Girondists took their places in silence, to recruit their exhausted strength, and then await the day. A priest, then a young man, but destined to survive them more than half a century, the Abbé Lambert, the friend of Brissot and the other Girondists, who had obtained admittance into the Conciergerie to console or bless the dying, awaited in the corridor the conclusion of the supper; the doors were open, and he observed and noted down in his mind the gestures, the sighs, and the words of those assembled there: and it is to him that posterity owes the greater portion of these details, faithful as conscience, and exact as the memory of a last friend.

The repast was prolonged till dawn. Vergniaud, seated at the center of the table, presided, with the same calm dignity he had presided at the Convention, on the night of the 10th of August. Vergniaud was of all the one who least regretted life, — for he had gained sufficient glory, and left neither father, mother, wife, nor children behind him. The others formed groups, with the exception of Brissot, who sat at the end of the table, eating but little, and not uttering a word.

For a long time nothing in their features or conversation indicated that this repast was the prelude to death. They ate and drank with appetite, but sobriety; but when the table was cleared, and nothing left except the fruit, wine, and flowers, the conversation became alternately animated, noisy, and grave, as the conversation of careless men, whose thoughts and tongues are freed by wine. Mainvielle, Antiboul, Duchâtel, Fonfrède, Ducos, and all those young men who could not feel themselves sufficiently aged in an hour to die on the morrow, burst into gay and joyous sallies; but their language, contrasted with approaching death, profaned the sanctity of their last hours, and threw a glacial expression over the false gayety of these young men.

Brissot, Fauchet, Sillery, Lasource, Lehardy, Carra, strove sometimes to reply to these noisy provocations, but the misplaced gayety of these young men found no echo in the hearts of their elder colleagues. Vergniaud, more grave, and more really intrepid in his gravity, gazed on Ducos and Fonfrède with a smile in which indulgence was mingled with compassion.

Towards the morning the conversation became more solemn.

Brissot spoke prophetically of the misfortunes of the republic, deprived of her most virtuous and eloquent citizens. "How much blood will it require to wash out our own," cried he. They were silent for a moment, and appeared terrified at the phantom of the future evoked by Brissot. "My friends," replied Vergniaud, "we have killed the tree by pruning it. It was too aged: Robespierre cuts it. Will he be more fortunate than ourselves? No; the soil is too weak to nourish the roots of civic liberty: this people is too childish to wield its laws without hurting itself. It will return to its kings as babes return to their toys. We were deceived as to the age in which we were born, and in which we die for the freedom of the world," continued he. "We deemed ourselves at Rome, and we were at Paris. But revolutions are like those crises which blanch in a single night the hair of a man, they soon bring

nations to maturity. Our blood is sufficiently warm to fertilize the soil of the republic. Let us not carry away with us the future; and let us bequeath to the people hope, in exchange for the death we shall receive at their hands."

A long silence followed this speech of Vergniaud's, and the conversation turned from earth to heaven. "What shall we be doing to-morrow at this time?" said Ducos, who always mingled mirth with the most serious subjects. Each replied according to his nature. "We shall sleep after the fatigues of the day," replied some. The skepticism of the age corrupted even their last thoughts, and only promised the destruction of the soul to those men who were about to die for the immortality of a human idea. The immortality of the soul, and the sublime conjectures of that future life to which they were so near, offered a more fitting theme for their last moment. Their voices sank, their accents became more solemn. Fonfrède, Gensonné, Carra, Fauchet, and Brissot spoke in terms in which breathed all the divinity of human reason and all the certainty of conscience on the mysterious problems of the immaterial destiny of the human mind.

silent, now appealed to "Never," said the eye

Vergniaud, who had hitherto been by his friends, joined in the debate. witness whom we have before cited, and who had often admired him in the tribune, "never had his look, his gesture, his language, and his voice more profoundly affected his hearers."

The words of Vergniaud were lost, their impression alone remained.

« PreviousContinue »