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CHAPTER VIII

OMNES OMNIBUS


Andre-Louis rode forth from Rennes committed to a deeper adventure
than he had dreamed of when he left the sleepy village of Gavrillac.
Lying the night at a roadside inn, and setting out again early in
the morning, he reached Nantes soon after noon of the following day.

Through that long and lonely ride through the dull plains of
Brittany, now at their dreariest in their winter garb, he had ample
leisure in which to review his actions and his position. From one
who had taken hitherto a purely academic and by no means friendly
interest in the new philosophies of social life, exercising his wits
upon these new ideas merely as a fencer exercises his eye and wrist
with the foils, without ever suffering himself to be deluded into
supposing the issue a real one, he found himself suddenly converted
into a revolutionary firebrand, committed to revolutionary action
of the most desperate kind. The representative and delegate of a
nobleman in the States of Brittany, he found himself simultaneously
and incongruously the representative and delegate of the whole Third
Estate of Rennes.

It is difficult to determine to what extent, in the heat of passion
and swept along by the torrent of his own oratory, he might
yesterday have succeeded in deceiving himself. But it is at least
certain that, looking back in cold blood now he had no single
delusion on the score of what he had done. Cynically he had
presented to his audience one side only of the great question that
he propounded.

But since the established order of things in France was such as to
make a rampart for M. de La Tour d'Azyr, affording him complete
immunity for this and any other crimes that it pleased him to commit,
why, then the established order must take the consequences of its
wrong-doing. Therein he perceived his clear justification.

And so it was without misgivings that he came on his errand of
sedition into that beautiful city of Nantes, rendered its spacious
streets and splendid port the rival in prosperity of Bordeaux and
Marseilles.

He found an inn on the Quai La Fosse, where he put up his horse,
and where he dined in the embrasure of a window that looked out
over the tree-bordered quay and the broad bosom of the Loire, on
which argosies of all nations rode at anchor. The sun had again
broken through the clouds, and shed its pale wintry light over the
yellow waters and the tall-masted shipping.

Along the quays there was a stir of life as great as that to be seen
on the quays of Paris. Foreign sailors in outlandish garments and
of harsh-sounding, outlandish speech, stalwart fishwives with baskets
of herrings on their heads, voluminous of petticoat above bare legs
and bare feet, calling their wares shrilly and almost inarticulately,
watermen in woollen caps and loose trousers rolled to the knees,
peasants in goatskin coats, their wooden shoes clattering on the
round kidney-stones, shipwrights and labourers from the dockyards,
bellows-menders, rat-catchers, water-carriers, ink-sellers, and other
itinerant pedlars. And, sprinkled through this proletariat mass that
came and went in constant movement, Andre-Louis beheld tradesmen in
sober garments, merchants in long, fur-lined coats; occasionally a
merchant-prince rolling along in his two-horse cabriolet to the
whip-crackings and shouts of "Gare!" from his coachman; occasionally
a dainty lady carried past in her sedan-chair, with perhaps a mincing
abbe from the episcopal court tripping along in attendance;
occasionally an officer in scarlet riding disdainfully; and once the
great carriage of a nobleman, with escutcheoned panels and a pair
of white-stockinged, powdered footmen in gorgeous liveries hanging
on behind. And there were Capuchins in brown and Benedictines in
black, and secular priests in plenty - for God was well served in
the sixteen parishes of Nantes - and by way of contrast there were
lean-jawed, out-at-elbow adventurers, and gendarmes in blue coats
and gaitered legs, sauntering guardians of the peace.

Representatives of every class that went to make up the seventy
thousand inhabitants of that wealthy, industrious city were to be
seen in the human stream that ebbed and flowed beneath the window
from which Andre-Louis observed it.

Of the waiter who ministered to his humble wants with soup and
bouilli, and a measure of vin gris, Andre-Louis enquired into the
state of public feeling in the city. The waiter, a staunch
supporter of the privileged orders, admitted regretfully that an
uneasiness prevailed. Much would depend upon what happened at
Rennes. If it was true that the King had dissolved the States of
Brittany, then all should be well, and the malcontents would have
no pretext for further disturbances. There had been trouble and
to spare in Nantes already. They wanted no repetition of it. All
manner of rumours were abroad, and since early morning there had
been crowds besieging the portals of the Chamber of Commerce for
definite news. But definite news was yet to come. It was not even
known for a fact that His Majesty actually had dissolved the States.

It was striking two, the busiest hour of the day upon the Bourse,
when Andre-Louis reached the Place du Commerce. The square,
dominated by the imposing classical building of the Exchange, was
so crowded that he was compelled almost to fight his way through to
the steps of the magnificent Ionic porch. A word would have
sufficed to have opened a way for him at once. But guile moved him
to keep silent. He would come upon that waiting multitude as a
thunderclap, precisely as yesterday he had come upon the mob at
Rennes. He would lose nothing of the surprise effect of his
entrance.

The precincts of that house of commerce were jealously kept by a
line of ushers armed with staves, a guard as hurriedly assembled by
the merchants as it was evidently necessary. One of these now
effectively barred the young lawyer's passage as he attempted to
mount the steps.

Andre-Louis announced himself in a whisper.

The stave was instantly raised from the horizontal, and he passed
and went up the steps in the wake of the usher. At the top, on the
threshold of the chamber, he paused, and stayed his guide.

"I will wait here," he announced. "Bring the president to me."

"Your name, monsieur?"

Almost had Andre-Louis answered him when he remembered Le Chapelier's
warning of the danger with which his mission was fraught, and Le
Chapelier's parting admonition to conceal his identity.

"My name is unknown to him; it matters nothing; I am the mouthpiece
of a people, no more. Go."

The usher went, and in the shadow of that lofty, pillared portico
Andre-Louis waited, his eyes straying out ever and anon to survey
that spread of upturned faces immediately below him.

Soon the president came, others following, crowding out into the
portico, jostling one another in their eagerness to hear the news.

"You are a messenger from Rennes?"

"I am the delegate sent by the Literary Chamber of that city to
inform you here in Nantes of what is taking place."

"Your name?"

Andre-Louis paused. "The less we mention names perhaps the better."

The president's eyes grew big with gravity. He was a corpulent,
florid man, purse-proud, and self-sufficient.

He hesitated a moment. Then - "Come into the Chamber," said he.

"By your leave, monsieur, I will deliver my message from here - from
these steps."

"From here?" The great merchant frowned.

"My message is for the people of Nantes, and from here I can speak
at once to the greatest number of Nantais of all ranks, and it is
my desire - and the desire of those whom I represent - that as great
a number as possible should hear my message at first hand."

"Tell me, sir, is it true that the King has dissolved the States?"

Andre-Louis looked at him. He smiled apologetically, and waved a
hand towards the crowd, which by now was straining for a glimpse of
this slim young man who had brought forth the president and more
than half the numbers of the Chamber, guessing already, with that
curious instinct of crowds, that he was the awaited bearer of
tidings.

"Summon the gentlemen of your Chamber, monsieur," said he, "and you
shall hear all."

"So be it."

A word, and forth they came to crowd upon the steps, but leaving
clear the topmost step and a half-moon space in the middle.

To the spot so indicated, Andre-Louis now advanced very deliberately.
He took his stand there, dominating the entire assembly. He removed
his hat, and launched the opening bombshell of that address which
is historic, marking as it does one of the great stages of France's
progress towards revolution.

"People of this great city of Nantes, I have come to summon you to
arms!"

In the amazed and rather scared silence that followed he surveyed
them for a moment before resuming.

"I am a delegate of the people of Rennes, charged to announce to
you what is taking place, and to invite you in this dreadful hour
of our country's peril to rise and march to her defence."

"Name! Your name!" a voice shouted, and instantly the cry was taken
up by others, until the multitude rang with the question.

He could not answer that excited mob as he had answered the
president. It was necessary to compromise, and he did so, happily.
"My name," said he, "is Omnes Omnibus - all for all. Let that
suffice you now. I am a herald, a mouthpiece, a voice; no more. I
come to announce to you that since the privileged orders, assembled
for the States of Brittany in Rennes, resisted your will - our will
- despite the King's plain hint to them, His Majesty has dissolved
the States."

There was a burst of delirious applause. Men laughed and shouted,
and cries of "Vive le Roi!" rolled forth like thunder. Andre-Louis
waited, and gradually the preternatural gravity of his countenance
came to be observed, and to beget the suspicion that there might be
more to follow. Gradually silence was restored, and at last Andre
Louis was able to proceed.

"You rejoice too soon. Unfortunately, the nobles, in their insolent
arrogance, have elected to ignore the royal dissolution, and in
despite of it persist in sitting and in conducting matters as seems
good to them."

A silence of utter dismay greeted that disconcerting epilogue to the
announcement that had been so rapturously received. Andre-Louis
continued after a moment's pause:

"So that these men who were already rebels against the people,
rebels, against justice and equity, rebels against humanity itself,
are now also rebels against their King. Sooner than yield an inch
of the unconscionable privileges by which too long already they have
flourished, to the misery of a whole nation, they will make a mock
of royal authority, hold up the King himself to contempt. They are
determined to prove that there is no real sovereignty in France but
the sovereignty of their own parasitic faineantise."

There was a faint splutter of applause, but the majority of the
audience remained silent, waiting.

"This is no new thing. Always has it been the same. No minister
in the last ten years, who, seeing the needs and perils of the State,
counselled the measures that we now demand as the only means of
arresting our motherland in its ever-quickening progress to the
abyss, but found himself as a consequence cast out of office by the
influence which Privilege brought to bear against him. Twice already
has M. Necker been called to the ministry, to be twice dismissed
when his insistent counsels of reform threatened the privileges of
clergy and nobility. For the third time now has he been called to
office, and at last it seems we are to have States General in spite
of Privilege. But what the privileged orders can no longer prevent,
they are determined to stultify. Since it is now a settled thing
that these States General are to meet, at least the nobles and the
clergy will see to it - unless we take measures to prevent them - by
packing the Third Estate with their own creatures, and denying it
all effective representation, that they convert. the States General
into an instrument of their own will for the perpetuation of the
abuses by which they live. To achieve this end they will stop at
nothing. They have flouted the authority of the King, and they are
silencing by assassination those who raise their voices to condemn
them. Yesterday in Rennes two young men who addressed the people as
I am addressing you were done to death in the streets by assassins
at the instigation of the nobility. Their blood cries out for
vengeance."

Beginning in a sullen mutter, the indignation that moved his hearers
swelled up to express itself in a roar of anger.

"Citizens of Nantes, the motherland is in peril. Let us march to
her defence. Let us proclaim it to the world that we recognize
that the measures to liberate the Third Estate from the slavery in
which for centuries it has groaned find only obstacles in those
orders whose phrenetic egotism sees in the tears and suffering of
the unfortunate an odious tribute which they would pass on to their
generations still unborn. Realizing from the barbarity of the means
employed by our enemies to perpetuate our oppression that we have
everything to fear from the aristocracy they would set up as a
constitutional principle for the governing of France, let us declare
ourselves at once enfranchised from it.

"The establishment of liberty and equality should be the aim of
every citizen member of the Third Estate; and to this end we should
stand indivisibly united, especially the young and vigorous,
especially those who have had the good fortune to be born late enough
to be able to gather for themselves the precious fruits of the
philosophy of this eighteenth century."

Acclamations broke out unstintedly now. He had caught them in the
snare of his oratory. And he pressed his advantage instantly.

"Let us all swear," he cried in a great voice, "to raise up in the
name of humanity and of liberty a rampart against our enemies, to
oppose to their bloodthirsty covetousness the calm perseverance of
men whose cause is just. And let us protest here and in advance
against any tyrannical decrees that should declare us seditious when
we have none but pure and just intentions. Let us make oath upon
the honour of our motherland that should any of us be seized by an
unjust tribunal, intending against us one of those acts termed of
political expediency - which are, in effect, but acts of despotism
- let us swear, I say, to give a full expression to the strength
that is in us and do that in self-defence which nature, courage,
and despair dictate to us."

Loud and long rolled the applause that greeted his conclusion, and
he observed with satisfaction and even some inward grim amusement
that the wealthy merchants who had been congregated upon the steps,
and who now came crowding about him to shake him by the hand and to
acclaim him, were not merely participants in, but the actual leaders
of, this delirium of enthusiasm.

It confirmed him, had he needed confirmation, in his conviction that
just as the philosophies upon which this new movement was based had
their source in thinkers extracted from the bourgeoisie, so the need
to adopt those philosophies to the practical purposes of life was
most acutely felt at present by those bourgeois who found themselves
debarred by Privilege from the expansion their wealth permitted them.
If it might be said of Andre-Louis that he had that day lighted the
torch of the Revolution in Nantes, it might with even greater truth
be said that the torch itself was supplied by the opulent bourgeoisie.

I need not dwell at any length upon the sequel. It is a matter of
history how that oath which Omnes Omnibus administered to the
citizens of Nantes formed the backbone of the formal protest which
they drew up and signed in their thousands. Nor were the results of
that powerful protest - which, after all, might already be said to
harmonize with the expressed will of the sovereign himself - long
delayed. Who shall say how far it may have strengthened the hand of
Necker, when on the 27th of that same month of November he compelled
the Council to adopt the most significant and comprehensive of all
those measures to which clergy and nobility had refused their consent?
On that date was published the royal decree ordaining that the
deputies to be elected to the States General should number at least
one thousand, and that the deputies of the Third Estate should be
fully representative by numbering as many as the deputies of clergy
and nobility together.





Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literature
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