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    Chapter 29

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    Chapter 29
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    It was Nivôse. Masses of floating ice encumbered the Seine; the basins in the Tuileries garden, the kennels, the public fountains were frozen. The North wind swept clouds of hoar frost before it in the streets. A white steam breathed from the horses' noses, and the city folk would glance in passing at the thermometer at the opticians' doors. A shop-boy was wiping the fog from the window-panes of the Amour peintre, while curious passers-by threw a look at the prints in vogue,--Robespierre squeezing into a cup a heart like a pumpkin to drink the blood, and ambitious allegorical designs with such titles as the Tigrocracy of Robespierre; it was all hydras, serpents, horrid monsters let loose on France by the tyrant. Other pictures represented the Horrible Conspiracy of Robespierre, Robespierre's Arrest, The Death of Robespierre.

    That day, after the midday dinner, Philippe Desmahis walked into the Amour peintre, his portfolio under his arm, and brought the citoyen Jean Blaise a plate he had just finished, a stippled engraving of the Suicide of Robespierre. The artist's picaresque burin had made Robespierre as hideous as possible. The French people were not yet satiated with all the memorials which enshrined the horror and opprobrium felt for the man who was made scapegoat of all the crimes of the Revolution. For all that, the printseller, who knew his public, informed Desmahis that henceforward he was going to give him military subjects to engrave.

    "We shall all be wanting victories and conquests,--swords, waving plumes, triumphant generals. Glory is to be the word. I feel it in me; my heart beats high to hear the exploits of our valiant armies. And when I have a feeling, it is seldom all the world doesn't have the same feeling at the same time. What we want is warriors and women, Mars and Venus."

    "Citoyen Blaise, I have still two or three drawings of Gamelin's by me, which you gave me to engrave. Is it urgent?"

    "Not a bit."

    "By-the-bye, about Gamelin; yesterday, strolling in the Boulevard du Temple, I saw at a dealer's, who keeps a second-hand stall opposite the House of Beaumarchais, all that poor devil's canvases, amongst the rest his Orestes and Electra. The head of Orestes, who's like Gamelin, is really fine, I assure you.... The head and arm are superb.... The man told me he found no difficulty in getting rid of these canvases to artists who want to paint over them.... Poor Gamelin! He might have been a genius of the first order, perhaps, if he hadn't taken to politics."

    "He had the soul of a criminal!" replied the citoyen Blaise. "I unmasked him, on this very spot, when his sanguinary instincts were still held in check. He never forgave me.... Oh! he was a choice blackguard."

    "Poor fellow! he was sincere enough. It was the fanatics were his ruin."

    "You don't defend him, I presume, Desmahis!... There's no defending him."

    "No, citoyen Blaise, there's no defending him."

    The citoyen Blaise tapped the gallant Desmahis' shoulder amicably, and observed:

    "Times are changed. We can call you Barbaroux now the Convention is recalling the proscribed.... Now I think of it, Desmahis, engrave me a portrait of Charlotte Corday, will you?"

    A woman, a tall, handsome brunette, enveloped in furs, entered the shop and bestowed on the citoyen Blaise a little discreet nod that implied intimacy. It was Julie Gamelin; but she no longer bore that dishonoured name, she preferred to be called the citoyenne widow Chassagne, and wore, under her mantle, a red tunic in honour of the red shirts of the terror. Julie had at first felt a certain repulsion towards Évariste's mistress; anything that had come near her brother was odious to her. But the citoyenne Blaise, after Évariste's death, had found an asylum for the unhappy mother in the attics of the Amour peintre. Julie had also taken refuge there; then she had got employment again at the fashionable milliner's in the Rue des Lombards. Her short hair à la victime, her aristocratic looks, her mourning weeds had won the sympathies of the gilded youth. Jean Blaise, whom Rose Thévenin had pretty well thrown over, offered her his homage, which she accepted. Still Julie was fond of wearing men's clothes, as in the old tragic days; she had a fine Muscadin costume made for her and often went, huge bâton and all complete, to sup at some tavern at Sèvres or Meudon with a girl friend, a little assistant in a fashion shop. Inconsolable for the loss of the young noble whose name she bore, this masculine-minded Julie found the only solace to her melancholy in a savage rancour; every time she encountered Jacobins, she would set the passers-by on them, crying "Death, death!" She had small leisure left to give to her mother, who alone in her room told her beads all day, too deeply shocked at her boy's tragic death to feel the grief that might have been expected. Rose was now the constant companion of Élodie who certainly got on amicably with her step-mothers.

    "Where is Élodie?" asked the citoyenne Chassagne.

    Jean Blaise shook his head; he did not know. He never did know; he made it a point of honour not to.

    Julie had come to take her friend with her to see Rose Thévenin at Monceaux, where the actress lived in a little house with an English garden.

    At the Conciergerie Rose Thévenin had made the acquaintance of a big army-contractor, the citoyen Montfort. She had been released first, by Jean Blaise's intervention, and had then procured the citoyen Montfort's pardon, who was no sooner at liberty than he started his old trade of provisioning the troops, to which he added speculation in building-lots in the Pépinière quarter. The architects Ledoux, Olivier and Wailly were erecting pretty houses in that district, and in three months the land had trebled in value. Montfort, since their imprisonment together in the Luxembourg, had been Rose Thévenin's lover; he now gave her a little house in the neighbourhood of Tivoli and the Rue du Rocher, which was very expensive,--and cost him nothing, the sale of the adjacent properties having already repaid him several times over. Jean Blaise was a man of the world, so he deemed it best to put up with what he could not hinder; he gave up Mademoiselle Thévenin to Montfort without ceasing to be on friendly terms with her.

    Julie had not been long at the Amour peintre before Élodie came down to her in the shop, looking like a fashion plate. Under her mantle, despite the rigours of the season, she wore nothing but her white frock; her face was even paler than of old, and her figure thinner; her looks were languishing, and her whole person breathed voluptuous invitation.

    The two women set off for Rose Thévenin's, who was expecting them. Desmahis accompanied them; the actress was consulting him about the decoration of her new house and he was in love with Élodie, who had by this time half made up her mind to let him sigh no more in vain. When the party came near Monceaux, where the victims of the Place de la Révolution lay buried under a layer of lime:

    "It is all very well in the cold weather," remarked Julie; "but in the spring the exhalations from the ground there will poison half the town."

    Rose Thévenin received her two friends in a drawing-room furnished à l'antique, the sofas and armchairs of which were designed by David. Roman bas-reliefs, copied in monochrome, adorned the walls above statues, busts and candelabra of imitation bronze. She wore a curled wig of a straw colour. At that date wigs were all the rage; it was quite common to include half a dozen, a dozen, a dozen and a half in a bride's trousseau. A gown à la Cyprienne moulded her body like a sheath. Throwing a cloak over her shoulders, she led her two friends and the engraver into the garden, which Ledoux was laying out for her, but which as yet was a chaos of leafless trees and plaster. She showed them, however, Fingal's grotto, a gothic chapel with a bell, a temple, a torrent.

    "There," she said, pointing to a clump of firs, "I should like to raise a cenotaph to the memory of the unfortunate Brotteaux des Ilettes. I was not indifferent to him; he was a lovable man. The monsters slaughtered him; I bewailed his fate. Desmahis, you shall design me an urn on a column."

    Then she added almost without a pause:

    "It is heart-breaking.... I wanted to give a ball this week; but all the fiddles are engaged three weeks in advance. There is dancing every night at the citoyenne Tallien's."

    After dinner Mademoiselle Thévenin's carriage took the three friends and Desmahis to the Théâtre Feydeau. All that was most elegant in Paris was gathered in the house--the women with hair dressed à l'antique or à la victime, in very low dresses, purple or white and spangled with gold, the men wearing very tall black collars and the chin disappearing in enormous white cravats.

    The bill announced Phèdre and the Chien du Jardinier,--The Gardener's Dog. With one voice the audience demanded the hymn dear to the muscadins and the gilded youth, the Réveil du peuple,--The Awakening of the People.

    The curtain rose and a little man, short and fat, took the stage; it was the celebrated Lays. He sang in his fine tenor voice:

    Peuple français, peuple de frères!...

    Such storms of applause broke out as set the lustres of the chandelier jingling. Then some murmurs made themselves heard, and the voice of a citizen in a round hat answered from the pit with the hymn of the Marseillaise:

    Allons, enfants de la patrie....

    The voice was drowned by howls, and shouts were raised:

    "Down with the Terrorists! Death to the Jacobins!"

    Lays was recalled and sang a second time over the hymn of the Thermidorians.

    Peuple français, peuple de frères!...

    In every play-house was to be seen the bust of Marat, surmounting a column or raised on a pedestal; at the Théâtre Feydeau this bust stood on a dwarf pillar on the "prompt" side, against the masonry-framing in the stage.

    While the orchestra was playing the Overture of Phèdre et Hippolyte, a young Muscadin, pointing his cane at the bust, shouted:

    "Down with Marat!"--and the whole house took up the cry: "Down with Marat! Down with Marat!"

    Urgent voices rose above the uproar:

    "It is a black shame that bust should still be there!"

    "The infamous Marat lords it everywhere, to our dishonour! His busts are as many as the heads he wanted to cut off."

    "Venomous toad!"

    "Tiger!"

    "Vile serpent!"

    Suddenly an elegantly dressed spectator clambers on to the edge of his box, pushes the bust, oversets it. The plaster head falls in shivers on the musicians' heads amid the cheers of the audience, who spring to their feet and strike up the Réveil du Peuple:

    Peuple français, peuple de frères!...

    Among the most enthusiastic singers Élodie recognized the handsome dragoon, the little lawyer's clerk, Henry, her first love.

    After the performance the gallant Desmahis called a cabriolet and escorted the citoyenne Blaise back to the Amour peintre.

    In the carriage the artist took Élodie's hand between his:

    "You know, Élodie, I love you?"

    "I know it, because you love all women."

    "I love them in you."

    She smiled:

    "I should be assuming a heavy task, spite of the wigs black, blonde and red, that are the rage, if I undertook to be all women, all sorts of women, for you."

    "Élodie, I swear...."

    "What! oaths, citoyen Desmahis? Either you have a deal of simplicity, or you credit me with overmuch."

    Desmahis had not a word to say, and she hugged herself over the triumph of having reduced her witty admirer to silence.

    At the corner of the Rue de la Loi they heard singing and shouting and saw shadows flitting round a brazier of live coals. It was a band of young bloods who had just come out of the Théâtre Français and were burning a guy representing the Friend of the People.

    In the Rue Honoré the coachman struck his cocked hat against a burlesque effigy of Marat swinging from the cord of a street lantern.

    The fellow, heartened by the incident, turned round to his fares and told them how, only last night, the tripe-seller in the Rue Montorgueil had smeared blood over Marat's head, declaring: "That's the stuff he liked," and how some little scamps of ten had thrown the bust into the sewer, and how the spectators had hit the nail on the head, shouting:

    "That's the Panthéon for him!"

    Meanwhile, from every eating-house and restaurateur's voices could be heard singing:

    Peuple français, peuple de frères!...

    "Good-bye," said Élodie, jumping out of the cabriolet.

    But Desmahis begged so hard, he was so tenderly urgent and spoke so sweetly, that she had not the heart to leave him at the door.

    "It is late," she said; "you must only stay an instant."

    In the blue chamber she threw off her mantle and appeared in her white gown à l'antique, which displayed all the warm fulness of her shape.

    "You are cold, perhaps," she said, "I will light the fire; it is already laid."

    She struck the flint and put a lighted match to the fire.

    Philippe took her in his arms with the gentleness that bespeaks strength, and she felt a strange, delicious thrill. She was already yielding beneath his kisses when she snatched herself from his arms, crying:

    "Let me be."

    Slowly she uncoiled her hair before the chimney-glass; then she looked mournfully at the ring she wore on the ring-finger of her left hand, a little silver ring on which the face of Marat, all worn and battered, could no longer be made out. She looked at it till the tears confused her sight, took it off softly and tossed it into the flames.

    Then, her face shining with tears and smiles, transfigured with tenderness and passion, she threw herself into Philippe's arms.

    The night was far advanced when the citoyenne Blaise opened the outer door of the flat for her lover and whispered to him in the darkness:

    "Good-bye, sweetheart! It is the hour my father will be coming home. If you hear a noise on the stairs, go up quick to the higher floor and don't come down till all danger is over of your being seen. To have the street-door opened, give three raps on the concierge's window. Good-bye, my life, good-bye, my soul!"

    The last dying embers were glowing on the hearth when Élodie, tired and happy, dropped her head on the pillow.

    THE END.

    * * * * * * * * * * * *
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