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The Trampling of the Lilies by Rafael Sabatini

Part 5 out of 5

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it is a clemency of which I may not avail myself. What I have done
I may not undo. And so, Citizens, whilst I would still retain your
love and your sympathy, you must suffer me to let justice take its
course. To delay would be but to waste your time the Nation's time."

"But this is rank defiance," roared Tinvillle, roused at last into
some semblance of his habitual bloodthirstiness. "He whose heart
can be so insensible to our affections merits no clemency at this

And so the President turned with a shrug to his colleagues, and
the verdict was taken. The finding was "Guilty," and the President
was on the point of passing sentence, when again Robespierre sprang
to his feet. The Incorruptible's complexion looked sicklier than
its wont, for mortification had turned him green outright. A gust
of passion swept through his soul, such as would have made another
man call for the death of this defiant youth who had withstood his
entreaties. But such was Robespierre's wonderful command of self,
such was his power of making his inclinations subservient to the
ends he had in view that he had but risen to voice a fresh appeal.

He demanded that the sentence should be passed with the reservation
that the accused should have twenty-four hours for reflection.
Should he at the end of that time be disposed to tell them where
the ci-devant Vicomte d'Ombreval was to be found, let them reconsider
his case. On the other hand, should he still continue obdurate by
the noon of to-morrow, then let the sentence be consummated.

There was some demur, but Robespierre swept it fiercely aside with
patriotic arguments. La Boulaye was a stout servant of the Nation,
whom it must profit France to let live that he might serve her;
Ombreval was a base aristocrat, whose death all true Republicans
should aim at encompassing. And so he won the day in the end, and
when the sentence of death was passed, it was passed with the
reservation that should the prisoner, upon reflection, be inclined
to show himself more loyal to France and the interests of the
Republic by telling them how Ornbreval might be recaptured, he
would find them still inclined to mercy and forgiveness. Allowing
his eyes to stray round the Court at that moment, La Boulaye started
at sight of an unexpected face. It was Mademoiselle de Bellecour,
deathly pale and with the strained, piteous look that haunts the
eyes of the mad. He shivered at the thought of the peril to herself
in coming into that assembly; then, recovering himself, he turned
to his judges.

"Citizen-President, Citizens all, I thank you; but I should be
unappreciative of your kindness did I permit you to entertain false
hopes. My purpose is unalterable."

"Take him away," the President commanded impatiently, and as they
removed him Mademoiselle crept from the Court, weeping softly in
her poignant grief, and realising that not so much for the
President's ear as for her own had La Boulaye uttered those words.
They were meant to fortify her and to give her courage with the
assurance that Ombreval would not be betrayed. To give her courage!
Her lip was twisted into an oddly bitter smile at the reflection,
as she stepped into her cabriolet, and bade the driver return to
Choisy. Caron was doing this for her. He was casting away his
young, vigorous life, with all its wealth of promise, to the end
that her betrothed - the man whom he believed she loved - might be
spared. The greatness, the nobility of the sacrifice overwhelmed
her. She remembered the thoughts that in the past she had
entertained concerning this young revolutionist. Never yet had
she been able to regard him as belonging to the same order of
beings as herself-not even when she had kissed his unconscious
lips that evening on the Ridge road. An immeasurable gulf had
seemed to yawn between them - the gulf between her nobility and
his base origin. And now, as her carriage trundled out of Paris
and took the dusty high road, she shuddered, and her cheeks burned
with shame at the memory of the wrong that by such thoughts she
had done him. Was she, indeed, the nobler? By accident of birth,
perhaps, but by nature proper he was assuredly the noblest man that
ever woman bore.

In the Place de la Revolution a gruesome engine they called the
guillotine was levelling all things, and fast establishing the
reign of absolute equality. But with all the swift mowing of its
bloody scythe, not half so fast did it level men as Mademoiselle
de Bellecour's thoughts were doing that afternoon.

So marked was the disorder in her countenance when she reached
Choisy that even unobservant Ombreval whom continuous years of
self-complacency had rendered singularly obtuse - could not help
but notice it, and - fearing, no doubt, that this agitation might
in some way concern himself - he even went the length of questioning
her, his voice sounding the note of his alarm.

"It is nothing," she answered, in a dejected voice. "At least,
nothing that need cause you uneasiness. They have sentenced La
Boulaye to death," she announced, a spasm crossing her averted face.

He took a deep breath of relief.

"God knows they've sentenced innocent men enough. It is high time
they began upon one another. It augurs well-extremely well."

They were alone in Henriette's kitchen; the faithful woman was at
market. Mademoiselle was warming herself before the fire. Ombreval
stood by the window. He had spent the time of her absence in the
care of his clothes, and he had contrived to dress himself with some
semblance of his old-time elegance which enhanced his good looks
and high-born air.

"You seem to utterly forget, Monsieur, the nature of the charge upon
which he has been arraigned," she said, in a tired voice.

"Why, no," he answered, and he smiled airily; "he was sufficiently
a fool to be lured by the brightest eyes in France into a service
for their mistress. My faith! He's not the first by many a thousand
whom a woman's soft glances have undone - "

"The degree in which you profit by the service he is doing those
bright eyes, appears singularly beneath the dignity of your notice."

"What a jester you are becoming, ma mie," he laughed and at the sound
she shuddered again and drew mechanically nearer to the fire as
though her shuddering was the result of cold.

"It is yet possible that he may not die," she said almost as if
speaking to herself. "They have offered him his liberty, and his
reinstatement even - upon conditions."

"How interesting!" he murmured nonchalantly. "They have an odd way
of dispensing justice."

"The conditions imposed are that he shall amend the wrong he has
done, and deliver up to the Convention the person of one ci-devant
Vicomte d'Ombreval."

"My God!"

It was a gasp of sudden dismay that broke from the young nobleman.
The colour swept out of his face, and his eyes dilated with horror.
Watching him Suzanne observed the sudden change, and took a fierce
joy in having produced it.

"It interests you more closely now, Monsieur?" she asked.

"Suzanne," he cried, coming a step nearer, and speaking eagerly;
"he knows my whereabouts. He brought me here himself. Are you mad,
girl, that you can sit there so composedly and tell me this?"

"What else would you have me do?" she inquired.

"Do? Why, leave Choisy at once. Come; be stirring. In God's name,
girl, bethink you that we have not a moment to lose. I know these
Republicans, and how far they are to be trusted. This fellow would
betray me to save his skin with as little compunction as - "

"You fool!" she broke in, an undercurrent of fierce indignation
vibrating through her scorn. "What are you saying? He would betray
you? He?" She tossed her arms to Heaven, and burst into a laugh
of infinite derision. "Have no fear of that, M. le Vicomte, for you
are dealing with a nature of a nobility that you cannot so much as
surmise. If he were minded to betray you, why did he not do so
to-day, when they offered him his liberty in exchange for information
that would lead to your recapture?"

"But although he may have refused to-day," returned the Vicomte
frenziedly, "he may think better of it to-morrow-perhaps even tonight.
Ciel! Think of the risk we run; already it may be too late. Oh,
why," he demanded reproachfully, "why didn't you listen to me when,
days ago, I counselled flight?"

"Because it neither was, nor is, my intention to fly."

" What?" he cried, and, his jaw fallen and his eyes wide, he regarded
her. Then suddenly he caught her by the arm and shook her roughly.
"Are you mad?" he cried, in a frenzy of anger and fear. "Am I to
die like a dog that a scum of a Republican may save his miserable
neck? Is this canaille of a revolutionist to betray me to his rabble

"Already have I told you that you need fear no betrayal."

"Need I not?" he sneered. "Ma foi! but I know these ruffians. There
is not an ounce of honour in the whole National Convention."

"Fool!" she blazed, rising and confronting him with an anger before
which he recoiled, appalled. "Do you dare to stand there and prate
of honour - you? Do you forget why he stood his trial? Do you
forget why he is dying, and can you not see the vile thing that you
are doing in arguing flight, that you talk of honour thus, and deny
his claim to it? Mon Dieu! Your effrontery stifles me! La Boulaye
was right when he said that with us honour is but a word - just so
much wind, and nothing more."

He stared at her in uncomprehending wonder. He drew away another
step. He accounted her mad, and, that he might humour her, he put
by his own fears for the moment - a wonderful unselfishness this in
the most nobly-born Vicomte d'Ombreval.

"My poor Suzanne," he murmured. "Our trouble has demoralised your
understanding. You take a false view of things. You do not
apprehend the situation."

"In God's name, be silent!" she gasped.

"But the time is not one for silence," he returned.

"So I had thought," quoth she. "Yet since you can be silent and
furtive in other matters, I beg that you will be silent in this
also. You talk in vain, Monsieur, in any case. For I am not minded
to leave Choisy. If you urge me further I shall burn our passport."

And with that she left him, to seek the solitude of her own room.
In a passion of tears she flung herself upon the little bed, and
there she lay, a prey to such an anguish as had never touched her
life before.

And now, in that hour of her grief, it came to her - as the sun
pierces the mist - that she loved La Boulaye; that she had loved
him, indeed, since that night at Boisvert, although she had stifled
the very thought, and hidden it even from herself, as being unworthy
in one of her station to love a man so lowly-born as Caron. But
now, on the eve of his death, the truth would no longer be denied.
It cried, perchance, the louder by virtue of the pusillanimity of
the craven below stairs in whose place Caron was to die; but anyhow,
it cried so loudly that it overbore the stern voice of the blood
that had hitherto urged her to exclude the sentiment from her heart.
No account now did she take of any difference in station. Be she
nobler a thousand times, be he simpler a thousand times, the fact
remained that she was a woman, he a man, and beyond that she did
not seek to go.

Low indeed were the Lilies of France when a daughter of the race of
their upholders heeded them so little and the caste they symbolised.

Henriette came to her that afternoon, and, all ignorant of the
sources of her grief, she essayed to soothe and comfort her, in
which, at last, she succeeded.

In the evening Ombreval sent word that he wished to speak to her -
and that his need was urgent. But she returned him the answer that
she would see him in the morning. She was indisposed that evening,
she added, in apology.

And in the morning they met, as she had promised him. Both pale,
although from different causes, and both showing signs of having
slept but little. They broke their fast together and in silence,
which at last he ended by asking her whether the night had brought
her reflection, and whether such reflection had made her appreciate
their position and the need to set out at once.

"It needed no reflection to make me realise our position better
than I did yesterday," she answered. "I had hoped that it would
have brought you to a different frame of mind. But I am afraid that
it has not done so."

"I fail to see what change my frame of mind admits of," he answered

"Have you thought," she asked at last, and her voice was cold and
concentrated, "that this man is giving his life for you?"

"I have feared," he answered, with incredible callousness, "that to
save his craven skin he might elect to do differently at the last

She looked at him in a mighty wonder, her dark eyes open to their
widest, and looking black by the extreme dilation of the pupils.
So vast was her amazement at this unbounded egotism that it almost
overruled her disgust.

"You cast epithets about you and bestow titles with a magnificent
unconsciousness of how well they might fit you."

"Ah? For example?"

"In calling this man a craven, you take no thought for the cowardice
that actuates you into hiding while he dies for you?"

"Cowardice?" he ejaculated. Then a flush spread on his face. "Ma
foi, Mademoiselle," said he, in a quivering voice, "your words betray
thoughts that would be scarcely becoming in the Vicomtesse d'Ombreval."

"That, Monsieur, is a point that need give you little thought. I am
not likely to become the Vicomtesse."

He bestowed her a look of mingling wonder and anger. Had he, indeed,
heard her aright? Did her words imply that she disdained the honour?

"Surely," he gasped, voicing those doubts of his, "you do not mean
that you would violate your betrothal contract? You do not - "

"I mean, Monsieur," she cut in, "that I will give myself to no man
I do not love."

"Your immodesty," said he, "falls in nothing short of the
extraordinary frame of mind that you appear to be developing in
connection with other matters. We shall have you beating a drum
and screeching the Ca ira in the streets of Paris presently, like
Mademoiselle de Mericourt."

She rose from the table, her face very white, her hand pressing upon
her corsage. A moment she looked at him. Then:

"Do not let us talk of ourselves," she exclaimed at last. "There is
a man in the Conciergerie who dies at noon unless you are
forthcoming before then to save him. He himself will not betray
you because he - No matter why, he will not. Tell me, Monsieur,
how do you, who account yourself a man of honour above everything,
intend to deal with this situation?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Once he is dead and done with - provided that he does not first
betray me - I trust that, no longer having this subject to harp
upon, you will consent to avail yourself of our passport, and
accompany me out of France."

"Honour does not for instance, suggest to you that you should repair
to the Conciergerie and take the place that belongs to you, and
which another is filling?"

A sudden light of comprehension swept now into his face.

"At last I understand what has been in your mind since yesterday,
what has made you so odd in your words and manner. You have thought
that it was perhaps my duty as a man of honour to go and effect the
rescue of this fellow. But, my dear child, bethink you of what he
is, and of what I am. Were he a gentleman - my equal - my course
would stand clearly defined. I should not have hesitated a moment.
But this canaille! Ma foi! let me beg of you to come to your senses.
The very thought is unworthy in you."

"I understand you," she answered him, very coldly. "You use a
coward's arguments, and you have the effrontery to consider yourself
a man of honour - a nobleman. I no longer marvel that there is a
revolution in France."

She stood surveying him for a moment, then she quietly left the room.
He stared after her.

"Woman, woman!" he sighed, as he set down his napkin and rose in his

His humour was one of pitying patience for a girl that had not the
wit to see that to ask him - the most noble d'Ombreval - to die that
La Boulaye might live was very much like asking him to sacrifice
his life to save a dog's.



It wanted but a few minutes to noon as the condemned of the day were
being brought out of the Conciergerie to take their places in the
waiting tumbrils. Fourteen they numbered, and there was a woman
amongst them as composed as any of the men. She descended the
prison steps in nonchalant conversation with a witty young man of
some thirty years of age, who had been one of the ornaments of the
prerevolutionary salons. Had the pair been on the point of mounting
a wedding coach they could not have shown themselves in better

Aristocrats, too, were the remaining twelve, with one exception, and
if they had not known how to live, at least they could set a very
splendid example of how to die. They came mostly in pairs, and the
majority of them emulating the first couple and treating the whole
matter as a pleasantry that rather bored them by the element of
coarseness introduced by the mob. One or two were pale, and their
eyes wore a furtive, frightened look. But they valiantly fought
down their fears, and for all that the hearts within them may have
been sick with horror, they contrived to twist a smile on to their
pale lips. They did not lack for stout patterns of high bearing,
and in addition they had their own arrogant pride -the pride that
had brought them at last to this pass - to sustain them in their
extremity. Noblesse les obligeait. The rabble, the canaille of
the new regime, might do what they would with their bodies, but
their spirits they could not break, nor overcome their indomitable
pride. By the brave manner of their death it remained for them to
make amends for the atrocious manner of their lives, and such a
glamour did they shed upon themselves by the same brave manner,
that it compelled sympathy and admiration of those that beheld them,
and made upon humanity an impression deep enough to erase the former
impression left by their misdeeds.

Like heroes, like sainted martyrs, they died, these men who, through
generation after generation, had ground and crushed the people 'neath
the iron heel of tyranny and oppression, until the people had, of a
sudden, risen and reversed the position, going to excesses, in their
lately-awakened wrath, that were begotten of the excesses which for
centuries they had endured.

Last of this gallant and spruce company (for every man had donned
his best, and dressed himself with the utmost care) came Caron La
Boulaye. He walked alone, for although their comrade in death, he
was their comrade in nothing else. Their heads might lie together
in the sawdust of Sanson's basket, but while they lived, no contact
would they permit themselves, of body or of soul, with this
sans-culotte. Had they known why he died, perhaps, they had shown
him fellowship. But in their nescience of the facts, it would need
more than death to melt them into a kindness to a member of the
Convention, for death was the only thing they had in common, and
death, as we have seen, had not conquered them.

As he was about to pass out, a gaoler suddenly thrust forward a hand
to detain him, and almost simultaneously the door, which had swung
to behind the last of his death-fellows, re-opened to admit the
dapper figure of the Incorruptible.

He eyed Caron narrowly as he advanced into the hall, and at the
composure evident in the young man's bearing, his glance seemed to
kindle with admiration, for all that his lips remained cruel in
their tightened curves.

Caron gave him good-day with a friendly smile, and before Robespierre
could utter a word the young man was expressing his polite regrets
at having baulked him as he had done.

"I had a great object to serve, Maximilien," he concluded, "and my
only regret is that it should have run counter to your wishes. I
owe you so much - everything in fact - that I am filled with shame
at the thought of how ill a return I am making you. My only hope
is that by my death you will consider that I have sufficiently
atoned for my ingratitude."

"Fool!" croaked Robespierre, "you are sacrificing yourself for some
chimaera and the life you are saving is that of a very worthless
and vicious individual. Of your ingratitude to me wee will not
speak. But even now, in the eleventh hour, I would have you bethink
you of yourself."

He held out ]his hands to him, and entreaty was stamped upon
Robespierre's countenance to a degree which perhaps no man had yet
seen. "Bethink you, cher Caron - " he began again. But the young
man shook his head.

"My friend, my best of friends," he exclaimed, "I beg that you will
not make it harder for me. I am resolved, and your entreaties do
but heighten my pain of thwarting your - the only pain that in this
supreme hour I am experiencing. It is not a difficult thing to die,
Maximilien. Were I to live, I must henceforth lead a life of
unsatisfied desire. I must even hanker and sigh after a something
that is unattainable. I die, and all this is extinguished with me.
At the very prospect my desires fade immeasurably. Let me go in
peace, and with your forgiveness."

Robespierre eyed him a moment or two in astonishment. Then he made
an abrupt gesture of impatience.

"Fool that you are! It is suicide you are committing. And for
what? For a dream a shadow. Is this like a man, Caron'? Is this -
Will you be still, you animal?" he barked at a gaoler who had once
before touched him upon the arm. "Do you not see that I am occupied?"

But the man leant forward, and said some words hurriedly into
Robespierre's ear, which cast the petulance out of his face and mind,
and caused him of a sudden to become very attentive.

"Ah?" he said at last. Then, with a sudden briskness: "Let the
Citizen La Boulaye not go forth until I return," he bade the gaoler;
and to Caron he said: "You will have the goodness to await my return."

With that he turned and stepped briskly across the hall and through
the door, which the gaoler, all equality notwithstanding, hastened
to open for him with as much servility as ever the haughtiest
aristocrat had compelled.

Saving that single gaoler, La Boulaye was alone in the spacious hall
of the Conciergerie. From without they heard the wild clamouring
and Ca-iraing of the mob. Chafing at this fresh delay, which was
as a prolongation of his death-agony, La Boulaye was pacing to and
fro, the ring of his footsteps on the stone floor yielding a hollow,
sepulchral echo.

"Is he never returning?" he cried at last; and as if in answer to
his question, the drums suddenly began to roll, and the vociferations
of the rabble swelled in volume and grew shriller. "What is that?"
he inquired.

The gaoler, on whose dirty face some measure of surprise was
manifested, approached the little grating that overlooked the yard
and peered out.

"Sacrenom!" he swore. "The tumbrils are moving. They have left
you behind, Citizen."

But La Boulaye gathered no encouragement, such as the gaoler thought
he might, from that contingency. He but imagined that it was
Robespierre's wish to put him back for another day in the hope that
he might still loosen his tongue. An oath of vexation broke from
him, and he stamped his foot impatiently upon the floor.

Then the door opened suddenly, and Robespierre held it whilst into
the room came a woman, closely veiled, whose tall and shapely figure
caused the young Deputy's breath to flutter. The Incorruptible
followed her, and turning to the gaoler:

"Leave us," he commanded briskly.

And presently, when those three stood alone, the woman raised her
veil and disclosed the face he had expected - the beautiful face of
Suzanne de Bellecour, but, alas! woefully pale and anguished of
expression. She advanced a step towards Caron, and then stood still,
encountering his steadfast, wonder-struck gaze, and seeming to
falter. With a sob, at last she turned to Maximilien, who had
remained a pace or two behind.

"Tell him, Monsieur," she begged.

Robespierre started out of his apparent abstraction. He peered at
her with his short-sighted eyes, and from her to Caron. Then he
came forward a step and cleared his throat, rather as a trick of
oratory than to relieve any huskiness.

"To put it briefly, my clear Caron," said he, "the Citoyenne here
has manifested a greater solicitude for your life than you did
yourself, and she has done me the twofold service of setting it
in my power to punish an enemy, and to preserve a friend from a
death that was very imminent. In the eleventh hour she came to me
to make terms for your pardon. She proposed to deliver up to me
the person of the ci-devant Vicomte d'Ombreval provided that I
should grant you an unconditional pardon. You can imagine, my
good Caron, with what eagerness I agreed to her proposal, and with
what pleasure I now announce to you that you are free."

"Free!" gasped La Boulaye, his eyes travelling fearfully from
Robespierre to Mademoiselle, and remaining riveted upon the latter
as though he were attempting to penetrate into the secrets of her
very soul.

"Practically free," answered the Incorruptible. "You may leave
the Conciergerie when you please, thought I shall ask you to remain
at your lodging in the Rue Nationale until this Ombreval is actually
taken. Once he has been brought to Paris, I shall send you your
papers that you may leave France, for, much though I shall regret
your absence, I think that it will be wiser for you to make your
fortune elsewhere after what has passed."

La Boulaye took a step in Suzanne's direction.

"You have done this?" he cried, in a quivering voice. "You have
betrayed the man to whom you were betrothed?"

"Do not use that word, Monsieur," she cried, with a shudder. "My
action cannot be ranked among betrayals. He would have let you go
to the guillotine in his stead. He had not the virtue to come
forward, for all that he knew that you must die if he did not. On
the contrary, such a condition of things afforded him amusement,
matter to scorn and insult you with. He would have complacently
allowed a dozen men to have gone to the guillotine that his own
worthless life might have been spared.

"But he was your betrothed!" La Boulaye protested.

"True!" she made answer; "but I had to choose between the man it
had been arranged I should marry and the man I lowed." A flush
crimsoned her cheek, and her voice sank almost to a whisper. "And
to save the man I love I have delivered up Ombreval."

"Suzanne "

The name burst from his lips in a shout of wonder and of joy
ineffable. In a stride he seemed to cover the distance between
them, and he caught her to him as the door slammed on the
discreetly departing Robespierre.

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