Ninety-three/2.3.2

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Ninety-three by Victor Hugo
Marat in the Lobby.

CHAPTER II.

MARAT IN THE LOBBY.

As he had announced to Simonne Evrard, Marat went to the Convention the next day after the meeting in Rue du Paon.

At the Convention there was present a Maratist marquis, Louis de Montaut, the one who later on presented a decimal clock, surmounted by a bust of Marat, to the Convention.

As Marat entered, Chabot had just approached Montaut.

"Ci-devant," he said.

Montaut raised his eyes.

"Why do you call me ci-devant?"

"Because that is what you are."

"I?"

"Since you were a marquis."

"Never."

"Bah!"

"My father was a soldier, my grandfather was a weaver."

"What are you singing about, Montaut?"

"My name is not Montaut?"

"What is it then?"

"I call myself Maribon.

"Indeed," said Chabot, "it is all the same to me."

And he added between his teeth,—

"He won't be a marquis."

Marat stopped in the passageway at the left and looked at Montaut and Chabot.

Every time that Marat entered, it created a commotion, but at a distance from him. All around him it was silent. Marat paid no attention to it. He scorned the "croaking in the marsh."

In the obscurity of the lower row of seats, Conpé de l'Oise, Prunelle, Villars, a bishop who later became a member of the French Academy, Boutroue, Petit, Plaichard, Bonet, Thibaudeau, Valdruche, pointed him out one to another.

"See, Marat!"

"Is he ill?"

"Yes, for he is in his dressing-gown."

"In his dressing-gown?"

"By Heavens, yes!"

"He dares to do anything."

"He dares to come to the Convention in this way!"

"Since he came here one day crowned with laurels, he may as well come in his dressing-gown!"

"Face of copper, teeth of verdigris."

"His dressing-gown looks new."

"What is it made of?"

"Of rep."

"Striped."

"Look at his lapels."

"They are fur."

"Tiger skin."

"No, ermine."

"Imitation."

"And he has on stockings."

"That is strange."

"And buckles on his shoes."

"Of silver!"

"The sabots of Camboulas will not forgive him that."

On the other benches they pretended not to see Marat. The people talked of other things. Santhonax addressed Dussaulx.

"Dussaulx, you know—"

"What?"

"The ci-devant Count de Brienne?"

"Who was at la Force with the ci-devant duke de Villeroy?"

"Yes."

"I knew both of them. Well?"

"They were so much frightened that they saluted all the redcaps of all the turnkeys, and one day they refused to play a game of piquet because they were given a pack of cards with kings and queens."

"Well?"

"They were guillotined yesterday."

"Both of them?"

"Both of them."

"On the whole, how did they behave in prison?"

"Like cowards."

"And how were they on the scaffold?"

"Fearless."

And Dussaulx uttered this exclamation,—

"It is easier to die than to live."

Barère was in the midst of reading a report concerning la Vendée. Nine hundred men of Morbihan bad set out with cannon to the relief of Nantes. Redon was threatened by the peasants. Paimbœuf was attacked. A fleet was cruising about Maindrin to prevent invasion. From Ingrande to Maure, the entire left bank of the Loire was bristling with Royalist batteries. Ten thousand peasants had possession of Pornic. They were crying, "Long live the English!" A letter from Santerre to the Convention, which Barère read, ended thus: "Seven thousand peasants have attacked Vannes. We repulsed them and they left four cannon in our hands—"

"And how many prisoners?" interupted a voice.

Barére continued,—"Postscript of the letter: 'We have no prisoners, because we no longer take any.'"

Marat, always immovable, was not listening; he seemed to be absorbed by his own stern thoughts. In his hand he held a paper which he crumpled between his fingers, and if any one had unfolded this paper he could have read these lines in Momoro's handwriting and which were probably a reply to some question asked by Marat.

"Nothing can be done against the sovereign power of the delegated commissioners, above all, against the delegates of the Committee of Public Welfare. It was in vain that Génisseux said, in the session of May sixth: 'Each commissioner is more than a king,' it was of no use. They have power over life and death. Massade, at Angers; Trullard, at Saint-Amand; Nyon, near General Marcé's; Parrein, with the army of the Sables; Millier, with the army of the Niort;—each is all-powerful. The club of the Jacobins has gone so far as to name Parrein, brigadier-general. Circumstance pardons everything. A delegate from the Committee of Public Welfare holds in check a commander-in-chief."[1]

Marat finished crumpling the paper, put it in his pocket, and went slowly towards Montaut and Chabot who were still talking and had not seen him enter.

Chabot was saying,—

"Maribon or Montaut, listen to this: I come from the Committee of Public Welfare."

"And what are they doing there?"

"They are sendmg a noble to watch a priest."

"Ah!"

"A noble like yourself—"

"I am not a noble," said Montaut.

"To a priest—"

"Like yourself."

"I am not a priest," said Chabot.

Both burst out laughing.

"Give the particulars of the story," continued Montaut.

"Here they are. A priest called Cimourdain has been delegated with full powers to a viscount named Gauvain; this viscount has command of the investigating column of the coast army. The question is to prevent the noble from cheating, and the priest from treason."

"That is very simple," replied Montaut; "all that is necessary is to introduce death into the matter."

"I come for that," said Marat.

They raised their heads.

"Good-morning, Marat," said Chabot, "you come but seldom to our sessions."

"My physician has ordered baths for me," replied Marat.

"You must beware of baths," replied Chabot. "Seneca lied in a bath."

Marat smiled.

"Chabot, there is no Nero here."

"You are here," said a harsh voice.

It was Danton who passed by on his way up to his seat.

Marat did not turn around.

He bent his head down between the two faces of Montaut and Chabot.

"Listen, I have come for a serious matter, one of us three must propose to-day the draft of a decree to the Convention."

"Not I," said Montaut, "they would not listen to me, I am a marquis."

"They would not listen to me," said Chabot, "I am a Capuchin."

"And they would not listen to me," said Marat, "I am Marat."

There was a silence between them.

It was not easy to question Marat when he was absorbed in thought. However Montaut ventured to ask,—

"Marat, what is the decree you wish for?"

"A decree for punishing with death any military leader who lets a rebel prisoner escape."

Cabot interrupted him.

"This decree already exists; it was voted the last of April."

"Then it is as good as a dead letter," said Marat. "All through la Vendée they are letting prisoners go, and giving them protection with impunity."

"Marat, that is because the decree is not in force."

"Chabot, it must be given new life."

"Without doubt."

"And to do that, it is necessary to speak to the Convention."

"The end will be reached," added Montaut, "if the Committee of Public Welfare have the decree posted up in all the communes of la Vendée and make two or three good examples."

"Of the great leaders," continued Chabot. "Of the generals."

Marat growled: "To be sure, that will do."

"Marat," continued Chabot, "go yourself and say so to the Committee of Public Welfare."

Marat looked at him full in the face, which was not agreeable even for Chabot.

"Chabot," he said, "the Committee of Public Welfare is at Robespierre's house; I do not go to Robespierre's house."

"I will go myself," said Montaut.

"Good," said Marat.

The following day an order from the Committee of Public Welfare was sent in every direction, commanding notices to be put up in the towns and villages of Vendée, and the strict execution of the decree of death to any one conniving in the escape of brigands and rebel prisoners.

This decree was but a first step; the Convention was to go still farther. Some months later, the eleventh Brumaire, year II. (November, 1793), with regard to Laval which had opened its doors to the Vendéan fugitives, it decreed that any town which should give asylum to the rebels should be demolished and destroyed.

In their turn the princes of Europe, in the Duke of Brunswick's manifesto, inspired by the refugees, and framed by the Marquis de Linnon, intendant of the Duke of Orleans, declared that all Frenchmen taken armed should be shot, and that if a hair fell from the king's head, Paris should be razed.

Cruelty against barbarism.


  1. Moniteur, Vol. XIX. p. 81.