But what of Juliette?
What of this wild, passionate, romantic creature tortured by a Titanic conflict? She, but a girl, scarcely yet a woman, torn by the greatest antagonistic powers that ever fought for a human soul. On the one side duty, tradition, her dead brother, her father--above all, her religion, and the oath she had sworn before God; on the other justice and honour, a case of right and wrong, honesty and pity.
How she fought with these powers now!
She fought with them, struggled with them on her knees. She tried to crush memory, tried to forget that awful midnight scene ten years ago, her brother's dead body, her father's avenging hand holding her own, as he begged her to do that which he was too feeble, too old to accomplish.
His words rang in her ears from across that long vista of the past.
"Before the face of Almighty God, who sees and hears me, I swear--"
And she had repeated those words loudly and of her own free will, with her hand resting on her brother's breast, and God Himself looking down upon her, for she had called upon Him to listen.
"I swear that I will seek out Paul Déroulède, and in any manner which God may dictate to me encompass his death, his ruin, or dishonour in revenge for my brother's death. May my brother's soul remain in torment until the final Judgement Day if I should break my oath, but may it rest in eternal peace the day on which his death is fitly avenged."
Almost it seemed to her as if father and brother were standing by her side, as she knelt and prayed. Oh! how she prayed!
In many ways she was only a child. All her years had been passed in confinement, either beside her dying father, or, later, between the four walls of the Ursuline Convent. And during those years her soul had been fed on a contemplative, ecstatic religion, a kind of sanctified superstition, which she would have deemed sacrilege to combat.
Her first step into womanhood was taken with that oath upon her lips; since then, with a stoical sense of duty, she had lashed herself into a daily, hourly remembrance of the great mission imposed upon her.
To have neglected it would have been, to her, equal to denying God.
She had but vague ideas of the doctrinal side of religion. Purgatory was to her merely a word, but a word representing a real spiritual state--one of expectancy, of restlessness, of sorrow. And vaguely, yet determinedly, she believed that her brother's soul suffered because she had been too weak to fulfil her oath.
The Church had not come to her rescue. The ministers of her religion were scattered to the four corners of besieged, agonizing France. She had no one to help her, no one to comfort her. That very peaceful, comtemplative life she had led in the convent only served to enhance her feeling of the solemnity of her mission.
It was true, it was inevitable, because it was so hard.
To the few who, throughout those troublous times, had kept a feeling of veneration for their religion, this religion had become one of abnegation and martyrdom.
A spirit of uncompromising Jansenism seemed to call forth sacrifices and renunciation, whereas the happy-go-lucky Catholicism of the past century had only suggested an easy, flowered path, to a comfortable, well-upholstered heaven.
The harder the task seemed which was set before her, the more real it became to Juliette. God, she firmly believed, had at last, after ten years, shown her the way to wreak vengeance upon her brother's murderer. He had brought her to this house, caused her to see and hear part of the conversation between Blakeney and Déroulède, and this at the moment of all others, when even the semblance of a conspiracy against the Republic would bring the one inevitable result in its train: disgrace first, the hasty mock trial, the hall of justice, and the guillotine.
She tried not to hate Déroulède. She wished to judge him coldly, and impartially, or rather to indict him before the throne of God, and to punish him for the crime he had committed ten years ago. Her personal feelings must remain out of the question.
Had Charlotte Corday considered her own sensibilities, when with her own hand she put an end to Marat?
Juliette remained on her knees for hours. She heard Anne Mie come home, and Déroulède's voice of welcome on the landing. That was perhaps the most bitter moment of this awful soul of conflict, for it brought to her mind the remembrance of those others who would suffer too, and who were innocent--Madame Déroulède and poor, crippled Anne Mie. They had done no wrong, and yet how heavily would they be punished!
And then the saner judgment, the human, material code of ethics gained for a while the upper hand. Juliette would rise from her knees, dry her eyes, prepare quietly to go to bed, and to forget all about the awful, relentless Fate which dragged her to the fulfilment of its will, and then sink back, broken-hearted, murmuring impassioned prayers for forgiveness to her father, her brother, her God.
The soul was young and ardent, and it fought for abnegation, martyrdom, and stern duty; the body was child-like, and it fought for peace, contentment, and quiet reason.
The rational body was conquered by the passionate, powerful soul.
Blame not the child, for in herself she was innocent. She was but another of the many victims of this cruel, mad, hysterical time, that spirit of relentless tyranny, forcing its doctrines upon the weak.
With the first break of dawn Juliette at last finally rose from her knees, bathed her burning eyes and head, tidied her hair and dress, then she sat down at the table and began to write.
She was a transformed being now, no longer a child, essentially a woman--a Joan of Arc with a mission, a Charlotte Corday going to martyrdom, a human, suffering, erring soul, committing a great crime for the sake of an idea.
She wrote out carefully and with a steady hand that denunciation of Citizen-Deputy Déroulède which has become an historical document, and is preserved in the chronicles of France.
You have all seen it at the Musée Carnavalet in its glass case, its yellow paper and faded ink revealing nothing of the soul conflict of which it was the culminating victory. The cramped, somewhat schoolgirlish writing is the mute, pathetic witness of one of the saddest tragedies that era of sorrow and crime has ever known:
To the Representatives of the People now sitting in Assembly at the National Convention
You trust and believe in the Representative of the people: Citizen-Deputy Paul Déroulède. He is false, and a traitor to the Republic. He is planning, and hopes to effect, the release of ci-devant Marie Antoinette, widow of the traitor Louis Capet. Haste! ye representatives of the people! proofs of this assertion, papers and plans, are still in the house of the Citizen-Deputy Déroulède.
This statement is made by one who knows.
II. The 23rd Fructidor.
When her letter was written she read it through carefully, made the one or two little corrections, which are still visible in the document, then folded her missive, hid it within the folds of her kerchief, and, wrapping a dark cloak and hood round her, she slipped noiselessly out of her room.
The house was all quiet and still. She shuddered a little as the cool morning air fanned her hot cheeks: it seemed like the breath of ghosts.
She ran quickly down the stairs, and as rapidly as she could, pushed back the heavy bolts of the front door, and slipped out into the street.
Already the city was beginning to stir. There was no time for sleep, when so much had to be done for the safety of the threatened Republic. As Juliette turned her steps towards the river, she met the crowd of workmen whom France was employing for her defence.
Behind her, in the Luxembourg Gardens, and all along the opposite bank of the river, the furnaces were already ablaze, and the smiths at work forging the guns.
At every step now Juliette came across the great placards, pinned to the tall gallows-shaped posts, which proclaim to every passing citizen that the people of France are up and in arms.
Right across the Place de l'Institut a procession of market carts, laden with vegetables and a little fruit, wends its way slowly towards the centre of the town. They each carry tiny tricolour flags, with a Pike and Cap of Liberty surmounting the flagstaff.
They are good patriots the market-gardeners, who come in daily to feed the starving mob of Paris, with the few handfuls of watery potatoes, and miserable, vermin-eaten cabbages, which that fraternal Revolution still allows them to grow without hindrance.
Every one seems busy with their work thus early in the morning: the business of killing does not begin until later in the day.
For the moment Juliette can get along quite unmolested: the women and children are mostly hurrying on towards the vast encampments in the Tuileries, where lint, and bandages, and coats for the soldiers are manufactured all the day.
The walls of all the houses bear the great patriotic device: "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, sinon La Mort"; others are more political in their proclamation: "La Republique une et indivisible."
But on the walls of the Louvre, of the great palace of whilom kings, where the Roi Soleil held his Court, and flirted with the prettiest women in France, there the new and great Republic has affixed its final mandate.
A great poster glued to the wall bears the words: "La Loi concernan les Suspects." Below the poster is a huge wooden box with a slit at the top.
This is the latest invention for securing the safety of this one and indivisible Republic.
Henceforth every one becomes a traitor at one word of denunciation from an idler or an enemy, and, as in the most tyrannical days of the Spanish Inquisition one-half of the nation was set to spy upon the other, that wooden box, with its slit, is put there ready to receive denunciations from one man against another.
Had Juliette paused but for the fraction of a second, had she stopped to read the placard setting forth this odious law, had she only reflected, then she would even now have turned back, and fled from that gruesome box of infamies as she would from a dangerous and noisome reptile or from the pestilence.
But her long vigil, her prayers, her ecstatic visions of heroic martyrs had now completely numbed her faculties. Her vitality, her sensibilities were gone: she had become an automaton gliding to her doom without a thought or a tremor.
She drew the letter from her bosom, and with a steady hand dropped it into the box. The irreclaimable had now occurred. Nothing she could henceforth say or do, no prayers or agonized vigils, no miracles even, could undo her action or save Paul Déroulède from trial and guillotine.
One or two groups of people hurrying to their work had seen her drop the letter into the box. A couple of small children paused, finger in mouth, gazing at her with inane curiosity; one woman uttered a coarse jest, all of them shrugged their shoulders, and passed on, on their way. Those who habitually crossed this spot were used to such sights.
That wooden box, with its mouth-like slit, was like an insatiable monster that was constantly fed, yet was still gaping for more.
Having done the deed Juliette turned, and as rapidly as she had come, so she went back to her temporary home.
A home no more now; she must leave it at once, to-day if possible. This much she knew, that she no longer could touch the bread of the man she had betrayed. She would not appear at breakfast, she could plead a headache, and in the afternoon Pétronelle should pack her things.
She turned into a little shop close by, and asked for a glass of milk and a bit of bread. The woman who served her eyed her with some curiosity, for Juliette just now looked almost out of her mind.
She had not yet begun to think, and she had ceased to suffer.
Both would come presently, and with them the
memory of this last irretrievable hour and a just estimate of
what she had done.