Scarcely were the words out of the President's mouth than the King's advocates came running in. They lodged a protest in his name. They demanded delay and appeal to the people. The latter was promptly rejected unanimously. Appeal to the people had been put to the vote last Tuesday, and been definitely settled then. Delay might be granted, but for the moment nothing more could be done. Every one was sick to death of the whole thing. Nerve-racked. To-morrow should decide.
And it did. Delay or no delay? Patriots said "No." Philippe d'Orléans, kinsman of the accused, said "No!" A few said "Yes!" But finally, during the small hours of Sunday morning, that point perhaps the grimmest of the lot-was also settled. "No delay! Death within twenty-four hours." The final count showed a majority of seventy.
The Minister of Justice was sent to the Temple to break the news to the accused. To his credit be it said that he did not like the errand. "What a horrible business!" he was heard to say. But Louis received the news calmly, as a king should. He asked for a delay of three days to prepare himself for death, also for a confessor. The latter request was granted on condition that the confessor should be a man of the Convention's own choosing: but not delay. The verdict had been: "Death within twenty-four hours." There could be no question of respite.
Paris that Sunday morning woke to the news and was appalled. It had been expected, but there are events in this world that are expected, that are known to be certain to come, and yet when they do come they cause stupefaction. And Paris was stupefied. The Extremists rejoiced: the rowdy elements went about shouting "Vive la Liberté!" waving tricolour flags, carrying spikes crowned with red caps, but Paris as a whole did not respond. It pondered over the verdict, and shuddered at the murder of Lepelletier, the deputy who had put forward the proposal: "No delay! Death within twenty-four hours!" His proposal had been carried by a majority of seventy. It was then two o'clock in the morning, and he went on to Février's in the Palais Royal to get some supper. He had finished eating and was paying his bill, when he was suddenly attacked by an unknown man, said to have once belonged to the King's Guard, who plunged a dagger in the deputy's breast shouting: "Regicide! Take that!" and in the confusion that ensued made good his escape. Paris asked itself: "Why this man rather than another?" And the six hundred and ninety-six deputies who had voted for death without a recommendation for mercy shut themselves up in their apartments, being in fear of their lives.
The cafés and restaurants, on the other hand, did a roaring trade all that day, Sunday. Paris, though stupefied, had to be fed, and did feed too, and talked only in whispers but talked nevertheless. Groups lingered over their coffee and fine, and said the few things that were safe to say, in view of those turbulent Patriots who proclaimed every man, woman or child to be a traitor who showed any sympathy for the "conspirator" Louis Capet. There was also talk of war. England . . . Spain. Especially England, with Burke demanding sanctions against the regicide Republic. It could only be a matter of days now before she declared war. She had been itching to do so ever since Louis Capet had been deprived of his throne. Ambassador Chauvelin was still in London, but soon he would be recalled and his papers handed courteously to him, for undoubtedly war was imminent. English families residing in France were preparing to leave the country. Many, scenting trouble, had already sent their wives and children home and the packet-boats from Boulogne and Havre had been crowded day after day this week past.
But a good many stayed on: men in business, journalists or merely idlers. They mostly dined at Février's in the Palais Royal, the restaurant à la mode,
where those deputies who were most in the public eye could always be met with on a Sunday. Robespierre and his friend Desmoulins, the elegant Saint-Just, President Vergniaud and others dined there regularly, and foreign newspaper correspondents frequented the place in the hope of picking up bits of gossip for their journals. On this particular Sunday there were about a dozen strangers gathered round the large table in the centre, where a somewhat meagre dinner was being served in view of the existing shortage of provisions and the penury that already stalked the countryside and more particularly the cities. Certainly here in the heart of Paris it would have been very injudicious to spread a rich repast in a frequented restaurant, in full view of hungry vagrants who might gather outside, under the arcades, smash windows and grab what they could off the tables. But in spite of the meagreness of the fare, good temper was not lacking round the board where the strangers were sitting. Most of them were English and they tackled the scraggy meat and thin wine put before them, with that happy-go-lucky tolerance that is so essentially English.
"What say you to beef with mustard?" one of the men quoted while he struggled with a tough piece of boiled pork garnished with haricot beans.
"I like it passing well," his neighbour completed the quotation, "but for the moment I have a fancy for a Lancashire hot-pot, such as my old lady makes at home."
"Well!" broke in a man obviously from the north, "Sunday at my home is the day for haggis, and with a wineglassful of good Scotch whiskey poured over it, I tell you, my friends . . ." He did not complete the sentence, but by way of illustrating his meaning he just smacked his lips, and attacked the tough bit of pork with almost savage vigour.
Two men were sitting together at a table close by. One of the said, speaking in French with a contemptuous shrug:
"These English! Their one subject of conversation is food."
The other, without commenting on this, merely remarked:
"You understand English then, Monsieur le Baron?"
"Yes. Don't you?"
"I never had any lessons," the other replied vaguely.
The two men were a strange contrast, both in appearance and in speech. The one who had been addressed as Monsieur le Baron it was not yet a crime to use a title in Republican France was short and broad-shouldered. He had a florid face, sensual lips and prominent eyes. He spoke French with a hardly perceptible guttural accent, which to a sensitive ear might have betrayed his German or Austrian origin. His manner and way of speaking were abrupt and fussy: his short, fat hands with the spatulated fingers were for ever fidgeting with something, making bread pellets or drumming with obvious nervosity on the table. The other was tall, above the average at any rate in this country: his speech was deliberate, almost pedantic in its purity of expression like a professor delivering a lecture at the Sorbonne: his hands, though slender, betrayed unusual strength. He scarcely ever moved them. Both men were very simply dressed, in black coats and cloth breeches, but while Monsieur le Baron's coat fitted him where it touched, the other's complete suit was nothing short of a masterpiece of the tailor's art.
Just then there rose a general clatter in the room: chairs scraping against tiled floor, calls for hats and coats, comprehensive leave-takings, and more or less noisy exodus through the swing-doors. Robespierre and Desmoulins as they went out passed the time of day with Monsieur le Baron.
"Eh bien, de Batz," Robespierre said to him with a laugh, I have won my bet, haven't I? Louis Capet has got his deserts."
De Batz shrugged his fat shoulders.
"Not yet," he retorted dryly.
When those two had gone, and were immediately followed by Vergniaud and Saint-Just, he who was called de Batz leaned back in his chair and gave a deep sigh of relief.
"Ah!" he said, "the air is purer now that filthy crowd has gone."
"You appeared to be on quite friendly terms with Monsieur Robespierre anyway," the other remarked with a cool smile.
"Appearances are often deceptive, my dear Professor," de Batz retorted.
"Now take your case. I first met you at a meeting of the Jacobin Club, or was it the Feuillants? I forget which of those pestiferous gatherings you honoured with your presence; but anyway, had I only judged by appearances I would have avoided you like the plague, like I avoid that dirty crowd of assassins. . . ."
"But you were there yourself, Monsieur le Baron," the Professor observed.
"I went out of curiosity, my friend, as you did and as a number of respectable-looking people did also. I sized up those respectable people very quickly. I had no use for them They were just the sort of nincompoops whom Danton's oratory soon turns into potential regicides. But I accosted you that evening because I saw that you were different."
"Your cultured speech and the cleanliness of your collar."
"You flatter me, sir."
"We talked of many things at first, if you remember. We touched on philosophy and on the poets, on English rhetoric and Italian art: and I went home that night convinced that I had met a kindred spirit, whom I hoped to meet again. When you entered this place an hour ago, and honoured me by allowing me to sit at your table, I felt that Chance had been benign to me."
"Again you flatter me, sir."
The Professor had hardly moved a muscle, while de Batz indulged first in reminiscences and then in flattery. He appeared unconscious of the other's growing excitement, sat leaning back in his chair, one slender hand framed in spotless cambric resting on the table. And all the time his eyes watched under heavy lids the exodus of the various clients of the restaurant, as one by one they finished their dinner, paid their bill, picked up hat and coat and passed out in to the fast gathering gloom. And somehow one felt that nothing escaped those eyes, that they saw everything, and noted everything even though their expression never changed.
The room in the meanwhile had soon become deserted. There remained only de Batz and the Professor at one table, and in the farther corner a group of three men, two of whom were playing dominoes and the third reading a newspaper. De Batz' restless eyes took a quick survey of the room, then he leaned over the table and fixed his gaze on the other's placid face.
"I propose to flatter you still more, my friend," he said, sinking his voice to a whisper. "Nay! I may say to honour you. . . ."
"By asking you to help me. . . ."
"To do what?"
"To save the King."
"A heavy task, sir."
"But not impossible. Listen. I have five hundred friends who will be posted to-morrow in different houses along the route between the Temple and the Place de la Révolution. At a signal from me, they will rush the carriage in which only His Majesty and his confessor will be sitting, they will drag the King out of it, and in the mêlée smuggle him into a house close by, all the inhabitants of which are in my pay. You are silent, sir? De Batz went on, his thick, guttural voice hoarse with emotion. "Of what are you thinking?" he added impatiently, seeing that the other remained impassive, almost motionless.
"Of General Santerre," the Professor replied, "and his eighty thousand armed men. Are they also in your pay?"
"Eighty thousand?" de Batz rejoined with a sneer: "Bah!"
"Do you doubt the figure?"
"No! I do not. I know all about Santerre and his eighty thousand armed men, his bristling cannons that are already being set up on the Place de la Révolution, and his cannoneers who will stand by with match burning. But you must take surprise into consideration. The unexpected. The sudden panic. The men off their guard. As a matter of fact, I could tell you of things that occurred before my very eyes when that dare-devil Englishman whom they call the Scarlet Pimpernel snatched condemned prisoners from the very tumbrils that took them to execution. Surely you know about that?"
"I do," the Professor put in quietly, "but I don't suppose that those tumbrils were escorted by eighty thousand armed men. There is such a thing in this world as the impossible, you know, Monsieur le Baron: things that are beyond man's power to effect."
"Then you won't help me?"
"You have not yet told me what you want me to do."
"I am not going to ask you to risk your life," de Batz said, trying to keep the suspicion of a sneer out of his tone. "There are five hundred of us for that and one more or less wouldn't make any difference to our chance of success. But there is one little matter in which you could render our cause a signal service, and incidentally help to save His Majesty the King."
"What may that be, sir?"
A pause, after which de Batz resumed with seeming irrelevance:
"There is an Irish priest, the Abbé Edgeworth, you have met him perhaps?"
"Yes! I know him."
"He is known by renown to the King. The Convention, as perhaps you are aware, has acceded to His Majesty's desire for a confessor, but those inhuman brutes have made it a condition that that confessor shall be of their own choosing. We know what that means. Some apostate priest whose presence would distress and perhaps unnerve His Majesty when he will have need of all his courage. You agree with me?"
"Equally, of course, we want some one to be by the side of His Majesty during that harrowing drive from the Temple, and to prepare and encourage him for the coup which we are contemplating.
De Batz paused a moment, his restless eyes still studying the placid face of the Professor. At one moment it almost seemed as if he regretted having said so much. But the mood only lasted a moment or two. De Batz prided himself on his knowledge of men, and there was nothing in the grave demeanour and laconic speech of this elegant personage before him to arouse the faintest suspicion of Jacobinism. So after a time he resumed:
"The Abbé Edgeworth is the man we want for this mission. His loyalty is unquestioned, so is his courage. Cléry, the King's devoted valet, has tried to get in touch with him , and so have His Majesty's advocates, but they failed to find him. He is hiding somewhere in Paris, that we know. Until fairly recently he was a lecturer at the Sorbonne. I understand that you too, Monsieur le Professeur, have graced that seat of learning. Anyway, I thought that you might make inquiries in that direction. If you succeed," de Batz concluded, his voice thick with excitement, "you will have done your share in saving our King."
There was a moment's pause while de Batz, taking out his handkerchief from his pocket, wiped his moist hands and his forehead which was streaming with perspiration. Seeing that the Professor still sat silent and impassive he said, with obvious impatience:
"Surely you are not hesitating, Monsieur le Professeur! A little thing like that! And for such a cause! I would scour Paris myself, only that my hands are full. And my five hundred adherents "
"You should apply to one of them, Monsieur le Baron," the other broke in quietly.
Monsieur le Baron gave a jump.
"You don't mean to say that you hesitate?" he uttered in a hoarse whisper.
"I do more than that Monsieur le Baron. I refuse."
"Refuse? . . . ref-"
De Batz was choking. He passed his thick finger round the edge of his cravat.
"To lend a hand in dragging the Abbé Edgeworth into this affair."
De Batz' florid face had become the colour of beet-root. He stretched out his hand and clenched his fist as if he meant to strike that urbane milksop in the face. However, he thought better of that. A fracas in a public place was not part of his programme. His hand unclenched, but it closed round the stem of a wineglass and snapped it in two. The Professor scarcely moved. In the far corner the man who had been reading put down his paper and glanced round lazily, while one of the domino players paused in his game, with one piece between his fingers and a look of indifferent curiosity in his eyes.
De Batz was striving to control his temper: under his breath he muttered the words "Poltroon! Coward!" once or twice. Aloud he said:
"You are afraid?"
"I am a man of peace," the Professor replied.
"I don't believe it," de Batz protested. "No man with decent feeling in him would refuse to render this service. Good God, man! You are not risking your life, not like I and my friends are willing to do. You can help us, I know. You must have a reason a valid reason for refusing to do so. As I say, you wouldn't be risking your life. . . ."
"Not mine, but that of an innocent and a good man."
"What the devil do you mean?"
"You are proposing to throw Abbé Edgeworth to the wolves."
"I am not. I am proposing to give him the chance of doing his bit in the work of saving the life of his King. He will thank me on his knees for this."
"He probably would, for he is of the stuff that martyrs are made. But I will not help you to send him to his death."
With that he rose, ready to go, and reached for his hat and coat. They hung on a peg just above de Batz' head, and de Batz made no movement to get out of the way.
"Don't go, man," he said earnestly, "not yet. Listen to me. You don't understand. It is all perfectly easy. In less than an hour I shall know who the apostate priest is whom the Convention are sending to His Majesty. I know all those fellows. Most of them are in my pay. They are useful, if distinctly dirty, tools. To substitute our abbé for the man chosen by the Convention will entail no risk, present no difficulties, and will cost me less than the price of a good dinner. Now what do you say?
"What I said before," the other rejoined firmly. "Whoever accompanies Louis XVI to the guillotine, if he be other than the one chosen by the Convention, will be a marked man. His life will not be worth twelve hours' purchase!"
"The guillotine? The guillotine? De Batz retorted hotly. "Who talks of the guillotine and of Louis XVI in one breath? I tell you, man, that our King will never mount the steps of the guillotine. There are five hundred of us, worth a hundred thousand of Santerre's armed men, who will drag him out of the clutches of those assassins."
"May I have my coat?" was the Professor's quiet rejoinder.
His calmness brought de Batz' temper to boiling-point. He jumped to his feet, snatched down the Professor's coat from its peg and threw it down with a vicious snarl on the nearest chair. The Professor, seemingly quite unperturbed, picked it up, put it on and with a polite "Au revoir, Monsieur le Baron!" to which the latter did not deign to respond, he walked quietly out of the restaurant.