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    Chapter 17

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    Chapter 17
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    The 24 Frimaire, at ten in the forenoon, under a clear bright sun that was melting the ice formed in the night, the citoyens Guénot and Delourmel, delegates of the Committee of General Security, proceeded to the Barnabites and asked to be conducted to the Committee of Surveillance of the Section, in the Capitular hall, whose only occupant for the moment was the citoyen Beauvisage, who was piling logs on the fire. But they did not see him just at first because of his short, thickset stature.

    In a hunchback's cracked voice the citoyen Beauvisage begged the delegates to seat themselves and put himself entirely at their service.

    Guénot then asked him if he knew a ci-devant Monsieur des Ilettes, residing near the Pont-Neuf.

    "It is an individual," he added, "whose arrest I am instructed to effect,"--and he exhibited the order from the Committee of General Security.

    Beauvisage, after racking his memory for a while, replied that he knew no individual of that name, that the suspect in question might not be an inhabitant of his Section, certain portions of the Sections du Muséum, de l'Unité, de Marat-et-Marseille being likewise in the near neighbourhood of the Pont-Neuf; that, if he did live in the Section, it must be under another name than that borne on the Committee's order; that, nevertheless, it would not be long before they laid hands on him.

    "Let's lose no time," urged Guénot. "Our vigilance was aroused in this case by a letter from one of the man's accomplices that was intercepted and put into the hands of the Committee a fortnight ago, but which the citoyen Lacroix took action upon only yesterday evening. We are overdone with business; denunciations flow in from every quarter in such abundance one does not know which to attend to."

    "Denunciations," replied Beauvisage proudly, "are coming in freely, too, to the Committee of Vigilance of our Section. Some make these revelations out of patriotism, others lured by the bait of a bank-bill for a hundred sols. Many children denounce their parents, whose property they covet."

    "This letter," resumed Guénot, "emanates from a ci-devant called Rochemaure, a woman of gallantry, at whose house they played biribi, and is addressed to one citoyen Rauline; but is really for an émigré in the service of Pitt. I have brought it with me to communicate to you the portion relating to this man des Ilettes."

    He drew the letter from his pocket.

    "It begins with copious details as to those members of the Convention who might, according to the woman's tale, be gained over by the offer of a sum of money or the promise of a well-paid post under a new Government, more stable than the present. Then comes the following passage:

    "I have just returned from a visit to Monsieur des Ilettes, who lives near the Pont-Neuf in a garret where you must be either a cat or an imp to get at him; he is reduced to earning a living by making punch-and-judies. He is a man of judgment, for which reason I report to you, sir, the main gist of his conversation. He does not believe that the existing state of things will last long. Nor does he foresee its being ended by the victory of the coalition, and events appear to justify his opinion; for, as you are aware, sir, for some time past tidings from the front have been bad. He would rather seem to believe in the revolt of the poor and the women of the humbler classes, who remain still deeply attached to their religion. He holds that the widespread alarm caused by the Revolutionary Tribunal will soon reunite all France against the Jacobins. 'This tribunal,' he said, in his joking way, 'which sentences the Queen of France and a bread-hawker, is like that William Shakespeare the English admire so much, etc....' He thinks it not impossible that Robespierre may marry Madame Royale and have himself named Protector of the Kingdom.

    "I should be grateful to you, sir, if you would transmit me the amount owing to me, that is to say one thousand pounds sterling, by the channel you are in the habit of using; but whatever you do, do not write to Monsieur Morhardt; he has lately been arrested, thrown into prison, etc., etc...."

    "This worthy des Ilettes makes dancing-dolls, it appears," observed Beauvisage, "that is a valuable clue ... though certainly there are many petty trades of the sort carried on in the Section."

    "That reminds me," said Delourmel, "I promised to bring home a doll for my little girl Nathalie, my youngest, who is ill with scarlatina. The fever is not a dangerous one, but it demands careful nursing, and Nathalie, a very forward child for her age, and with a very active brain, has but delicate health."

    "I," remarked Guénot, "I have only a boy. He plays hoop with barrel-hoops and makes little montgolfier balloons by inflating paper bags."

    "Very often," Beauvisage put in his word, "it is with articles that are not toys at all that children like best to play. My nephew Émile, a little chap of seven, a very intelligent child, amuses himself all day long with little wooden bricks with which he builds houses.... Do you snuff, citoyens?"--and Beauvisage held out his open snuff-box to the two delegates.

    "Now we must set about nabbing our rascal," said Delourmel, who had long moustaches and great eyes that rolled in his head. "I feel quite in the mood this morning for a dish of aristocrat's lights and liver, washed down with a glass of white wine."

    Beauvisage suggested to the delegates going to the Place Dauphine to see if his colleague Dupont senior was at his shop there; he would be sure to know this man, des Ilettes.

    So they set off in the keen morning air, accompanied by four grenadiers of the Section.

    "Have you seen 'The Last Judgment of Kings' played?" Delourmel asked his companions; "the piece is worth seeing. The author shows you all the Kings of Europe on a desert island where they have taken refuge, at the foot of a volcano which swallows them up. It is a patriotic work."

    At the corner of the Rue du Harlay Delourmel's eye was caught by a little cart, as brilliantly painted as a reliquary, which an old woman was pushing, wearing over her coif a hat of waxed cloth.

    "What is that old woman selling?" he asked.

    The old dame answered for herself:

    "Look, gentlemen, make your choice. I have beads and rosaries, crosses, St. Anthonys, holy cerecloths, St. Veronica handkerchiefs, Ecce homos, Agnus Deis, hunting-horns and rings of St. Hubert, and articles of devotion of every sort and kind."

    "Why, it is the very arsenal of fanaticism!" cried Delourmel in horror,--and he proceeded to a summary examination of the poor woman, who made the same answer to every question:

    "My son, it's forty years I have been selling articles of devotion."

    Another Delegate of the Committee of General Security, noticing a blue-coated National Guard passing, directed him to convey the astonished old woman to the Conciergerie.

    The citoyen Beauvisage pointed out to Delourmel that it would have been more in the competence of the Committee of Surveillance to arrest the woman and bring her before the Section; that in any case, one never knew nowadays what attitude to take up towards the old religion so as to act up to the views of the Government, and whether it was best to allow everything or forbid everything.

    On nearing the joiner's shop, the delegates and the commissary could hear angry shouts mingling with the hissing of the saw and the grinding of the plane. A quarrel had broken out between the joiner, Dupont senior, and his neighbour Remacle, the porter, because of the citoyenne Remacle, whom an irresistible attraction was for ever drawing into the recesses of the workshop, whence she would return to the porter's lodge all covered with shavings and saw-dust. The injured porter bestowed a kick on Mouton, the carpenter's dog, which at that very moment his own little daughter Joséphine was nursing lovingly in her arms. Joséphine was furious and burst into a torrent of imprecations against her father, while the carpenter shouted in a voice of exasperation:

    "Wretch! I tell you you shall not beat my dog."

    "And I," retorted the porter brandishing his broom, "I tell you you shall not...."

    He did not finish the sentence; the joiner's plane had hurtled close past his head.

    The instant he caught sight of the citoyen Beauvisage and the attendant delegates, he rushed up to him and cried:

    "Citoyen Commissary you are my witness, this villain has just tried to murder me."

    The citoyen Beauvisage, in his red cap, the badge of his office, put out his long arms in the attitude of a peacemaker, and addressing the porter and the joiner:

    "A hundred sols," he announced, "to whichever of you will inform us where to find a suspect, wanted by the Committee of General Security, a ci-devant named des Ilettes, a maker of dancing-dolls."

    With one accord porter and carpenter designated Brotteaux's lodging, the only quarrel now between them being who should have the assignat for a hundred sols promised the informer.

    Delourmel, Guénot, and Beauvisage, followed by the four grenadiers, Remacle the porter, Dupont the carpenter, and a dozen little scamps of the neighbourhood filed up the stairs which shook under their tread, and finally mounted the ladder to the attics.

    Brotteaux was in his garret busy cutting out his dancing figures, while the Père Longuemare sat facing him, stringing their scattered limbs on threads, smiling to himself to see rhythm and harmony thus growing under his fingers.

    At the sound of muskets being grounded on the landing, the monk trembled in every limb, not that he was a whit less courageous than Brotteaux, who never moved a muscle, but the habit of respect for human conventions had never disciplined him to assume an attitude of self-composure. Brotteaux gathered from the citoyen Delourmel's questions the quarter from which the blow had come and saw too late how unwise it is to confide in women. He obeyed the citoyen Commissary's order to go with him, first picking up his Lucretius and his three shirts.

    "The citoyen," he said, pointing to the Père Longuemare, "is an assistant I have taken to help me make my marionettes. His home is here."

    But the monk failing to produce a certificate of citizenship, was put under arrest along with Brotteaux.

    As the procession filed past the porter's door, the citoyenne Remacle, leaning on her broom, looked at her lodger with the eyes of virtue beholding crime in the clutches of the law. Little Joséphine, dainty and disdainful, held back Mouton by his collar when the dog tried to fawn on the friend who had often given him a lump of sugar. A gaping crowd filled the Place de Thionville.

    At the foot of the stairs Brotteaux came face to face with a young peasant woman who was on the point of going up. She carried a basket on her arm full of eggs and in her hand a flat cake wrapped in a napkin. It was Athenaïs, who had come from Palaiseau to present her saviour with a token of her gratitude. When she observed a posse of magistrates and four grenadiers and "Monsieur Maurice" being led away a prisoner, she stopped in consternation and asked if it was really true; then she stepped up to the Commissary and said in a gentle voice:

    "You are not taking him to prison? it can't be possible.... Why! you don't know him! God himself is not better or kinder."

    The citoyen Delourmel pushed her away and beckoned to the grenadiers to come forward. Then Athenaïs let loose a torrent of the foulest abuse, the filthiest and most abominable invective, at the magistrates and soldiers, who thought that all the rinsings of the Palais-Royal and the Rue Fromenteau were being emptied over their devoted heads. After which, in a voice that filled the whole Place de Thionville and sent a shudder through the throng of curious onlookers:

    "Vive le roi! Vive le roi!" she yelled.
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