QUOS DEUS VULT PERDERE
Once again, precisely as he had done when he joined the Binet troupe,
did Andre-Louis now settle down whole-heartedly to the new profession
into which necessity had driven him, and in which he found effective
concealment from those who might seek him to his hurt. This
profession might - although in fact it did not - have brought him
to consider himself at last as a man of action. He had not, however,
on that account ceased to be a man of thought, and the events of the
spring and summer months of that year 1789 in Paris provided him
with abundant matter for reflection. He read there in the raw what
is perhaps the most amazing page in the history of human development,
and in the end he was forced to the conclusion that all his early
preconceptions had been at fault, and that it was such exalted,
passionate enthusiasts as Vilmorin who had been right.
I suspect him of actually taking pride in the fact that he had been
mistaken, complacently attributing his error to the circumstance
that he had been, himself, of too sane and logical a mind to gauge
the depths of human insanity now revealed.
He watched the growth of hunger, the increasing poverty and distress
of Paris during that spring, and assigned it to its proper cause,
together with the patience with which the people bore it. The world
of France was in a state of hushed, of paralyzed expectancy, waiting
for the States General to assemble and for centuries of tyranny to
end. And because of this expectancy, industry had come to a
standstill, the stream of trade had dwindled to a trickle. Men would
not buy or sell until they clearly saw the means by which the genius
of the Swiss banker, M. Necker, was to deliver them from this morass.
And because of this paralysis of affairs the men of the people were
thrown out of work and left to starve with their wives and children.
Looking on, Andre-Louis smiled grimly. So far he was right. The
sufferers were ever the proletariat. The men who sought to make
this revolution, the electors - here in Paris as elsewhere - were
men of substance, notable bourgeois, wealthy traders. And whilst
these, despising the canaille, and envying the privileged, talked
largely of equality - by which they meant an ascending equality
that should confuse themselves with the gentry - the proletariat
perished of want in its kennels.
At last with the month of May the deputies arrived, Andre-Louis'
friend Le Chapelier prominent amongst them, and the States General
were inaugurated at Versailles. It was then that affairs began to
become interesting, then that Andre-Louis began seriously to doubt
the soundness of the views he had held hitherto.
When the royal proclamation had gone forth decreeing that the
deputies of the Third Estate should number twice as many as those
of the other two orders together, Andre-Louis had believed that
the preponderance of votes thus assured to the Third Estate rendered
inevitable the reforms to which they had pledged themselves.
But he had reckoned without the power of the privileged orders over
the proud Austrian queen, and her power over the obese, phlegmatic,
irresolute monarch. That the privileged orders should deliver battle
in defence of their privileges, Andre-Louis could understand. Man
being what he is, and labouring under his curse of acquisitiveness,
will never willingly surrender possessions, whether they be justly
or unjustly held. But what surprised Andre-Louis was the unutterable
crassness of the methods by which the Privileged ranged themselves
for battle. They opposed brute force to reason and philosophy, and
battalions of foreign mercenaries to ideas. As if ideas were to be
impaled on bayonets!
The war between the Privileged and the Court on one side, and the
Assembly and the People on the other had begun.
The Third Estate contained itself, and waited; waited with the
patience of nature; waited a month whilst, with the paralysis of
business now complete, the skeleton hand of famine took a firmer
grip of Paris; waited a month whilst Privilege gradually assembled
an army in Versailles to intimidate it - an army of fifteen
regiments, nine of which were Swiss and German - and mounted a park
of artillery before the building in which the deputies sat. But
the deputies refused to be intimidated; they refused to see the guns
and foreign uniforms; they refused to see anything but the purpose
for which they had been brought together by royal proclamation.
Thus until the 10th of June, when that great thinker and
metaphysician, the Abbe Sieyes, gave the signal: "It is time," said
he, "to cut the cable."
And the opportunity came soon, at the very beginning of July. M. du
Chatelet, a harsh, haughty disciplinarian, proposed to transfer the
eleven French Guards placed under arrest from the military gaol of
the Abbaye to the filthy prison of Bicetre reserved for thieves and
felons of the lowest order. Word of that intention going forth, the
people at last met violence with violence. A mob four thousand
strong broke into the Abbaye, and delivered thence not only the
eleven guardsmen, but all the other prisoners, with the exception of
one whom they discovered to be a thief, and whom they put back again;
That was open revolt at last, and with revolt Privilege knew how to
deal. It would strangle this mutinous Paris in the iron grip of the
foreign regiments. Measures were quickly concerted. Old Marechal
de Broglie, a veteran of the Seven Years' War, imbued with a
soldier's contempt for civilians, conceiving that the sight of a
uniform would be enough to restore peace and order, took control
with Besenval as his second-in-command. The foreign regiments were
stationed in the environs of Paris, regiments whose very names were
an irritation to the Parisians, regiments of Reisbach, of Diesbach,
of Nassau, Esterhazy, and Roehmer. Reenforcements of Swiss were
sent to the Bastille between whose crenels already since the 30th
of June were to be seen the menacing mouths of loaded cannon.
On the 10th of July the electors once more addressed the King to
request the withdrawal of the troops. They were answered next day
that the troops served the purpose of defending the liberties of
the Assembly! And on the next day to that, which was a Sunday, the
philanthropist Dr. Guillotin - whose philanthropic engine of painless
death was before very long to find a deal of work, came from the
Assembly, of which he was a member, to assure the electors of Paris
that all was well, appearances notwithstanding, since Necker was
more firmly in the saddle than ever. He did not know that at the
very moment in which he was speaking so confidently, the
oft-dismissed and oft-recalled M. Necker had just been dismissed
yet again by the hostile cabal about the Queen. Privilege wanted
conclusive measures, and conclusive measures it would have -
conclusive to itself.
And at the same time yet another philanthropist, also a doctor, one
Jean-Paul Mara, of Italian extraction - better known as Marat, the
gallicized form of name he adopted - a man of letters, too, who had
spent some years in England, and there published several works on
sociology, was writing:
"Have a care! Consider what would be the fatal effect of a seditious
movement. If you should have the misfortune to give way to that, you
will be treated as people in revolt, and blood will flow."
Andre-Louis was in the gardens of the Palais Royal, that place of
shops and puppet-shows, of circus and cafes, of gaming houses and
brothels, that universal rendezvous, on that Sunday morning when
the news of Necker's dismissal spread, carrying with it dismay and
fury. Into Necker's dismissal the people read the triumph of the
party hostile to themselves. It sounded the knell of all hope of
redress of their wrongs.
He beheld a slight young man with a pock-marked face, redeemed
from utter ugliness by a pair of magnificent eyes, leap to a table
outside the Caf‚ de Foy, a drawn sword in his hand, crying, "To
arms!" And then upon the silence of astonishment that cry imposed,
this young man poured a flood of inflammatory eloquence, delivered
in a voice marred at moments by a stutter. He told the people that
the Germans on the Champ de Mars would enter Paris that night to
butcher the inhabitants. "Let us mount a cockade!" he cried, and
tore a leaf from a tree to serve his purpose - the green cockade of
Enthusiasm swept the crowd, a motley crowd made up of men and women
of every class, from vagabond to nobleman, from harlot to lady of
fashion. Trees were despoiled of their leaves, and the green
cockade was flaunted from almost every head.
"You are caught between two fires," the incendiary's stuttering
voice raved on. "Between the Germans on the Champ de Mars and the
Swiss in the Bastille. To arms, then! To arms!"
Excitement boiled up and over. From a neighbouring waxworks show
came the bust of Necker, and presently a bust of that comedian the
Duke of Orleans, who had a party and who was as ready as any other
of the budding opportunists of those days to take advantage of the
moment for his own aggrandizement. The bust of Necker was draped
Andre-Louis looked on, and grew afraid. Marat's pamphlet had
impressed him. It had expressed what himself he had expressed more
than half a year ago to the mob at Rennes. This crowd, he felt
must be restrained. That hot-headed, irresponsible stutterer would
have the town in a blaze by night unless something were done. The
young man, a causeless advocate of the Palais named Camille
Desmoulins, later to become famous, leapt down from his table still
waving his sword, still shouting, "To arms! Follow me!"
Andre-Louis advanced to occupy the improvised rostrum, which the
stutterer had just vacated, to make an effort at counteracting that
inflammatory performance. He thrust through the crowd, and came
suddenly face to face with a tall man beautifully dressed, whose
handsome countenance was sternly set, whose great sombre eyes
mouldered as if with suppressed anger.
Thus face to face, each looking into the eyes of the other, they
stood for a long moment, the jostling crowd streaming past them,
unheeded. Then Andre-Louis laughed.
"That fellow, too, has a very dangerous gift of eloquence, M. le
Marquis," he said. "In fact there are a number of such in France
to-day. They grow from the soil, which you and yours have irrigated
with the blood of the martyrs of liberty. Soon it may be your blood
instead. The soil is parched, and thirsty for it."
"Gallows-bird!" he was answered. "The police will do your affair
for you. I shall tell the, Lieutenant-General that you are to be
found in Paris."
"My God, man!" cried Andre-Louis, "will you never get sense? Will
you talk like that of Lieutenant-Generals when Paris itself is
likely to tumble about your ears or take fire under your feet?
Raise your voice, M. le Marquis. Denounce me here, to these. You
will make a hero of me in such an hour as this. Or shall I denounce
you? I think I will. I think it is high time you received your
wages. Hi! You others, listen to me! Let me present you to... "
A rush of men hurtled against him, swept him along with them, do
what he would, separating him from M. de La Tour d'Azyr, so oddly
met. He sought to breast that human torrent; the Marquis, caught
in an eddy of it, remained where he had been, and Andre-Louis' last
glimpse of him was of a man smiling with tight lips, an ugly smile.
Meanwhile the gardens were emptying in the wake of that stuttering
firebrand who had mounted the green cockade. The human torrent
poured out into the Rue de Richelieu, and Andre-Louis perforce must
suffer himself to be borne along by it, at least as far as the Rue
du Hasard. There he sidled out of it, and having no wish to be
crushed to death or to take further part in the madness that was
afoot, he slipped down the street, and so got home to the deserted
academy. For there were no pupils to-day, and even M. des Amis,
like Andre-Louis, had gone out to seek for news of what was
happening at Versailles.
This was no normal state of things at the Academy of Bertrand des
Amis. Whatever else in Paris might have been at a standstill lately,
the fencing academy had flourished as never hitherto. Usually both
the master and his assistant were busy from morning until dusk, and
already Andre-Louis was being paid now by the lessons that he gave,
the master allowing him one half of the fee in each case for himself,
an arrangement which the assistant found profitable. On Sundays the
academy made half-holiday; but on this Sunday such had been the
state of suspense and ferment in the city that no one having
appeared by eleven o'clock both des Amis and Andre-Louis had gone
out. Little they thought as they lightly took leave of each other
- they were very good friends by now - that they were never to
meet again in this world.
Bloodshed there was that day in Paris. On the Place Vendome a
detachment of dragoons awaited the crowd out of which Andre-Louis
had slipped. The horsemen swept down upon the mob, dispersed it,
smashed the waxen effigy of M. Necker, and killed one man on the
spot - an unfortunate French Guard who stood his ground. That was
a beginning. As a consequence Besenval brought up his Swiss from
the Champ de Mars and marshalled them in battle order on the Champs
Elysees with four pieces of artillery. His dragoons he stationed
in the Place Louis XV. That evening an enormous crowd, streaming
along the Champs Elysees and the Tuileries Gardens, considered with
eyes of alarm that warlike preparation. Some insults were cast
upon those foreign mercenaries and some stones were flung. Besenval,
losing his head, or acting under orders, sent for his dragoons and
ordered them to disperse the crowd, But that crowd was too dense to
be dispersed in this fashion; so dense that it was impossible for
the horsemen to move without crushing some one. There were several
crushed, and as a consequence when the dragoons, led by the Prince
de Lambesc, advanced into the Tuileries Gardens, the outraged crowd
met them with a fusillade of stones and bottles. Lambesc gave the
order to fire. There was a stampede. Pouring forth from the
Tuileries through the city went those indignant people with their
story of German cavalry trampling upon women and children, and
uttering now in grimmest earnest the call to arms, raised at noon
by Desmoulins in the Palais Royal.
The victims were taken up and borne thence, and amongst them was
Bertrand des Amis, himself - like all who lived by the sword - an
ardent upholder of the noblesse, trampled to death under hooves of
foreign horsemen launched by the noblesse and led by a nobleman.
To Andre-Louis, waiting that evening on the second floor of No. 13
Rue du Hasard for the return of his friend and master, four men of
the people brought that broken body of one of the earliest victims
of the Revolution that was now launched in earnest.