Juliette was alone at last--that is to say, comparatively alone, for there were too many aristocrats, too many criminals and traitors, in the prisons of Paris now, to allow of any seclusion for those who were about to be tried, condemned, and guillotined.
The young girl had been marched through the crowded streets of Paris, followed by a jeering mob, who readily recognized in the gentle, high-bred girl the obvious prey, which the Committee of Public Safety was wont, from time to time, to throw to the hungry, hydra-headed dog of the Revolution.
Lately the squalid spectators of the noisome spectacle on the Place de la Guillotine had had few of these very welcome sights; an aristocrat--a real, elegant, refined woman, with white hands and proud, pale face--mounting the steps of the same scaffold on which perished the vilest criminals and most degraded brutes.
Madame Guillotine was, above all, catholic in her tastes, her gaunt arms, painted blood red, were open alike to the murderer and the thief, the aristocrats of ancient lineage, and the proletariat from the gutter.
But lately the executions had been almost exclusively of a political character. The Girondins were fighting their last upon the bloody arena of the Revolution. One by one they fell still fighting, still preaching moderation, still foretelling disaster and appealing to that people, whom they had roused from one slavery, in order to throw it headlong under a tyrannical yoke more brutish, more absolute than before.
There were twelve prisons in Paris then, and forty thousand in France, and they were all full. An entire army went round the country recruiting prisoners. There was no room for separate cells, no room for privacy, no cause or desire for the most elementary sense of delicacy.
Women, men, children--all were herded together, for one day, perhaps two, and a night or so, and then death would obliterate the petty annoyances, the womanly blushes caused by this sordid propinquity.
Death levelled all, erased everything.
When Marie Antoinette mounted the guillotine she had forgotten that for six weeks she practically lived day and night in the immediate companionship of a set of degraded soldiery.
Juliette, as she marched through the streets between two men of the National Guard, and followed by Merlin, was hooted and jeered at, insulted, pelted with mud. One woman tried to push past the soldiers, and to strike her in the face--a woman! not thirty!--and who was dragging a pale, squalid little boy by the hand.
"Crache donc sur l'aristo, voyons!" the woman said to this poor, miserable little scrap of humanity as the soldiers pushed her roughly aside. "Spit on the aristocrat!" And the child tortured its own small, parched mouth so that, in obedience to its mother, it might defile and bespatter a beautiful, innocent girl.
The soldiers laughed, and improved the occasion with another insulting jest. Even Merlin forgot his vexation, delighted at the incident.
But Juliette had seen nothing of it all.
She was walking as in a dream. The mob did not exist for her; she heard neither insult nor vituperation. She did not see the evil, dirty faces pushed now and then quite close to her; she did not feel the rough hands of the soldiers jostling her through the crowd: she had gone back to her own world of romance, where she dwelt alone now with the man she loved. Instead of the squalid houses of Paris, with their eternal device of Fraternity and Equality, there were beautiful trees and shrubs of laurel and of roses around her, making the air fragrant with their soft, intoxicating perfumes; sweet voices from the land of dreams filled the atmosphere with their tender murmur, whilst overhead a cloudless sky illumined this earthly paradise.
She was happy--supremely, completely happy. She had saved him from the consequences of her own iniquitous crime, and she was about to give her life for him, so that his safety might be more completely assured.
Her love for him he would never know; now he knew only her crime, but presently, when she would be convicted and condemned, confronted with a few scraps of burned paper and a torn letter-case, then he would know that she had stood her trial, self-accused, and meant to die for him.
Therefore the past few moments were not wholly hers. She had the right to dwell on those few happy seconds when she listened to the avowal of his love. It was ethereal, and perhaps not altogether human, but it was hers. She had been his divinity, his madonna; he had loved in her that which was her truer, her better self.
What was base in her was not truly her. That awful oath, sworn so solemnly, had been her relentless tyrant; and her religion--religion of superstition and of false ideals--had blinded her, and dragged her into crime.
She had arrogated to herself that which was God's alone--"Vengeance!" which is not for man.
That through it all she should have known love, and learned its tender secrets, was more than she deserved. That she should have felt his burning kisses on her hand was heavenly compensation for all she would have to suffer.
And so she allowed them to drag her through the sansculotte mob of Paris, who would have torn her to pieces then and there, so as not to delay the pleasure of seeing her die.
They took her to the Luxembourg, once the palace of the Medici, the home of proud "Monsieur" in the days of the Great Monarch, now a loathsome, overfilled prison.
It was then six o'clock in the afternoon, drawing towards the close of this memorable day. She was handed over to the governor of the prison, a short, thick-set man in black trousers and black-shag woollen shirt, and wearing a dirty red cap, with tricolour rosette on the side of his unkempt head.
He eyed her up and down as she passed under the narrow doorway, then murmured one swift query to Merlin:
"Yes," replied Merlin laconically.
"You understand," added the governor; "we are so crowded. We ought to know if individual attention is required."
"Certainly," said Merlin, "you will be personally responsible for this prisoner to the Committee of Public Safety."
"Any visitors allowed?"
"Certainly not, without the special permission of the Public Prosecutor."
Juliette heard this brief exchange of words over her future fate.
No visitor would be allowed to see her. Well, perhaps that would be best. She would have been afraid to meet Déroulède again, afraid to read in his eyes that story of his dead love, which alone might have destroyed her present happiness.
And she wished to see no one. She had a memory to dwell on--a short, heavenly memory. It consisted of a few words, a kiss--the last one--on her hand, and that passionate murmur which had escaped from his lips when he knelt at her feet: