The Fourteenth of July and Danton/Danton/Act II
Madame Duplay [opening the door]. Am I disturbing you, Maximilien?
Robespierre [with a friendly smile]. No, Citizen Duplay. [He offers her his hand.]
Madame Duplay. Always working! You never went to bed last night!
Robespierre. I was at the Committee.
Madame Duplay. I heard you come in. It was after three. Couldn't you rest this morning?
Robespierre. You know I never sleep very much; I have trained my body to obey my head.
Madame Duplay. You promised me you wouldn't sit up any more. You're wearing yourself out; you'll get sick. And then what would become of us?
Robespierre. My poor friends, you must get used to doing without me. I shan't always be here, you know.
Madame Duplay. You aren't thinking of leaving us?
Robespierre [with sincerity and emphasis]. No, but I shall leave sooner than you expect.
Madame Duplay. Oh, no; I insist on being the first to leave, and I am in no hurry.
Robespierre [with a smile]. I should feel easier if I knew others were not so dependent on me.
Madame Duplay. Don't you care to have people like you?
Robespierre. France would be better off if every one thought less of Robespierre and more of Liberty.
Madame Duplay. But Liberty and Robespierre are one.
Robespierre. That is why I am so concerned about her. I fear for her health.
Madame Duplay [going to the window]. What noise they make in the court! I know it must tire you. I told Duplay twenty times to ask them not to begin so early and wake you up, but he said you insisted that everything go on as usual.
Robespierre. He is right. That regular activity rests me. Work is beneficial to others as well as to oneself. The noise is refreshing to me. I have breathed such vitiated air all night!
Madame Duplay. What work kept you up last night?
Robespierre. It was not the work, but the worry.
Madame Duplay. You seem preoccupied—as if some great catastrophe were about to happen.
Robespierre. Yes, a catastrophe.
Madame Duplay. Can't you prevent it?
Robespierre. Oh, I must bring it about, on the contrary.
Madame Duplay. Of course, I have no right to ask questions, but you mustn't be sad today. We're having a festival. Le Bas and Saint-Just came back from the army last night.
Robespierre. Saint-Just returned! Good: I need him.
Madame Duplay. And I forgot to tell you: a general came here and wanted to see you, General Westermann. He came before sunrise, but I wouldn't let him in. He said he would come back in an hour. Will you receive him?
Robespierre. I don't know.
Madame Duplay. He waited a long time in the yard—in the rain.
Robespierre. Very well.
Madame Duplay. What an awful night! I came in soaked to the skin.
Robespierre. Where were you?
Madame Duplay. At the Markets. I was waiting in line since midnight. They were pushing so! You had to keep your eyes open, or some one would take your place! The moment they opened, every one began to fight. I stood up for my rights, and I finally got three eggs and a quarter pound of butter.
Robespierre. Three eggs for this household? Why, that's nothing at all!
Madame Duplay. One for Éléonore, one for Élisabeth, and one for you—my three children!
Robespierre. Dear mother Duplay, you don't imagine I shall take bread out of your mouth?
Madame Duplay. You're not going to refuse! It was for you I went to the Market. You're not well; you have a weak stomach. If you could only eat meat! But you won't let us buy any!
Robespierre. Meat is very scarce, and it must be kept for the soldiers and the sick. We have decreed a civil lent. My colleagues and I must offer a good example of abstinence.
Madame Duplay. Not everybody has your scruples.
Robespierre. I know: I have seen some of them indulge in feasting amidst all this misery; it horrifies me. Every feast of that kind deprives the country of at least thirty defenders.
Madame Duplay. What misery! No more meat, no more poultry, no more dairy products. The vegetables have been commandeered for the army. And no more fuel. This is the second night that Duplay has stood in line at the coal boat. He's just come in—without a thing. And there is no wood at all. Do you know what they asked me for a cord? Four hundred francs. Fortunately spring is not far off. Another month of this, and we'll all be dead. I never remember so hard a winter.
Robespierre. You have suffered, all of you, poor women, and you have shown splendid courage. But you must admit that with all the suffering, you felt joys you never dreamed of before: the joy of helping on, no matter how humbly, with the sublime work of freeing the world!
Madame Duplay. Yes, I am happy. No matter what happens, those months of misery will remain the happiest of our lives. What we have suffered are not the ordinary things, the useless things. Every time we fasted it was for the good of the nation. This feeling of pride we owe to you, Maximilien. Last night I was thinking as I was doing the wash; no matter how humble I am, no matter how I may worry about the morrow, and wonder where our bread is coming from, I am working for the nation; nothing is lost; every thing I do counts toward victory. I am marching with you at the head of all mankind!
The Workingmen [outside, singing]:
"We forge and saw with all our might
Making muskets for the fight.
Soldier boys, you'll have enough
If we have to work all day and night,
For we forge and saw with all our might."
Madame Duplay [smiling]. They've just filled an order for the Northern Army; they're starving to death, but they're happy.
Robespierre. Sublime people! How good it is to be one of them! Who could forgive those who try to corrupt that source of abnegation and sacrifice? [Westermann is heard muttering outside.]
Madame Duplay. There's the General. He's getting impatient.
Robespierre. Send him in. [Madame Duplay goes out. Robespierre looks into his mirror. In an instant, his face is transformed; becoming hard, immobile, and cold. Westermann enters.]
Westermann. Good God, not a moment too soon! I've been walking up and down outside for the last two hours. It's harder to enter your house than a Vendée city. [Robespierre, his hands behind his back, motionless, face stolid, lips contracted, looks Westermann in the eye. Westermann stops for a moment, then continues.] I thought you didn't want to receive me. Desmoulins told me you wouldn't. I swore you would, if I had to send a cannon-shot through the front-door. [He laughs.] Pardon my military frankness. [Robespierre stands as before. Westermann, ill at ease, tries to appear natural.] Lord, you're well guarded. There's a very pretty girl on guard at the door. She's mending socks. She's hard to deal with—incorruptible, like you! I'd have had to enter over her dead body—! If I were in the enemy's country, that wouldn't have been so bad—[He gives a forced laugh. Robespierre maintains silence, and twists his hands impatiently. Westermann sits down, trying to appear at his ease, while Robespierre stands. Westermann then rises.] There are some idiots who say that I'm your enemy. I don't give a damn what they say. How can I be the enemy of virtue? Nonsense! Aristides the enemy of Leonidas? The bastion of the Republic and the rampart of the Patrie! Why, they're meant to help each other! Good fellows like us always put the glory of the nation above everything, don't we? We understand, don't we? [He offers his hand. Robespierre does not move a muscle.] He won't give me his hand, eh? Won't you, really? Are you my enemy, then? You're planning to ruin me? By God, if I thought that—! Am I a good-for-nothing blackguard to be kept waiting for two hours in the street, and then when you finally let me in, you don't even offer me a chair? You let me stand up, and don't even answer me? By God! [He stamps on the floor.]
Robespierre [glacially]. General, you are on the wrong track. There is a great difference between Leonidas and Père Duchesne. You take your models from a dangerous quarter.
Westermann [surprised]. What quarter?
Robespierre. The Revolution.
Westermann [genuinely astonishted]. But, tell me, citizen, what have I done? What do you accuse me of?
Robespierre. The Committee of Public Safety will tell you.
Westermann. I have a right to be told now.
Robespierre. Ask your conscience.
Westermann. My conscience is clear.
Robespierre. I pity the man who cannot hear the voice of remorse.
Westermann [calming himself with a violent effort, though his voice trembles with anger and grief]. I feel remorse for only one thing: having sacrificed my life to an ungrateful nation. I have suffered for it during the past thirty years. I've gone through every form of misery. Ten times I have saved the country from invasion. It never recognized my services. The first impostor that comes along denounces me; they believe anonymous letters from soldiers I punished for cowardice; they accuse me, threaten me, degrade me from my rank, while damned little rapscallions are promoted over my head. I must obey Rossignol, a stupid little goldsmith who knows nothing about war, whose reputation is made on his silly blunders. All his titles merely prove the vileness of his origin. Kléber, Dubayet, and Marceau are wasting away in some petty position, and that shopkeeper Niort commands both the armies!
Robespierre. The Republic places more confidence in a commander with true Republican loyalty than in mere military heads.
Westermann. What confidence does the Republic place in Rossignol's defeats?
Robespierre. The responsibility for them does not rest on Rossignol's shoulders, but upon those who are about him. If Kléber, Dubayet, and Westermann are so proud of their ability, why do they not put it at the service of the general whom the nation has placed at their head?
Westermann. So you want to deprive us of our just glory?
Westermann. Confess, you are afraid of military glory! You want to minimize it!
Westermann [with a sneer]. Lawyers might be jealous, eh?
Robespierre. It is an insult to reason, and a menace to freedom. What has made you so proud? You are only doing your duty. Do you risk your life? The heads of every one of us are the stakes in the desperate game we are playing against despotism. Do you deserve any more credit than we in risking your life? We are all devoted to liberty or to death. You, like us, are an instrument of the Revolution, the great knife that is to cleave a way through the enemy for the Republic. It is a terrible task, but it must be accepted bravely, and humbly. You have no more right to be proud of your cannon than we of our guillotine.
Westermann. You outrage the grandeur of war.
Robespierre. Nothing is grand but virtue. No matter where it resides—in soldiers, workingmen, legislators—the Republic honors it alone. But the criminals must tremble. Nothing protects them from its just wrath, neither their titles nor their swords.
Westermann. Are you threatening me?
Robespierre. I was speaking of no one in particular. On his head be it who recognizes himself!
Westermann. God in heaven! [He looks threateningly at Robespierre, quivering from head to foot. He turns to go, then swings round.] On your guard, Sylla! My head sits more solidly on my shoulders than Custine's. There are still men who do not fear tyranny. I am going to find Danton. [He knocks against the wall before he finds the door, and then rushes out. Éléonore enters from the door leading to the Duplays' apartments.]
Éléonore. He's gone at last. Oh, Maximilien, I was so worried while he was here!
Robespierre [affectionately]. My dear Éléonore. Were you listening?
Éléonore. That man's voice frightened me. I couldn't help coming. I was in there, in Mamma's bath-room.
Robespierre. What could you have done if he had attempted violence?
Éléonore [embarrassed]. I—I don't know.
Robespierre [taking her hand from behind her back]. What is this?
Éléonore [blushing]. A pistol that Philippe left on the table last night when he came home.
Robespierre [taking the pistol, and holding her hand in his]. No, no, these hands must not be soiled with such murderous instruments! They must not shed blood, even to save my life. I want there to remain at least two innocent hands in all the world, to purify the world and Robespierre's heart—when the work is at last done.
Éléonore. But why expose yourself to such danger? You provoked that man, and they say he is cruel.
Robespierre. I am not afraid of the swashbucklers. The moment you take them from the field of battle they merely talk; they tremble when they find themselves in the presence of a new power, one they never met with steel: the Law.
Éléonore. Citizen Fouché also called, but he was not admitted. That was your order.
Robespierre. My door is forever closed to the man who dishonored the majesty of the Terror in the massacres at Lyon.
Éléonore. He did not want to go. He even cried.
Robespierre [severely]. So do crocodiles.
Éléonore. He went to see your sister, to ask her to intercede on his behalf.
Robespierre [his expression changing]. Is she coming? The fool made her believe he was in love with her! She does not respect him, but that sort of attention always flatters a woman, no matter who the man happens to be. She will try to defend him. In the name of Heaven, don't let her in. Tell her I am very busy, and that I can see no one.
Éléonore [smiling]. You brave all the tyrants of Europe, but you are afraid of your own sister!
Robespierre [smiling]. She is a good woman, and she loves me dearly. But she is so tiresome! Her continual jealousy, the scenes she makes—they drive me mad! I think I would agree to anything to keep her quiet.
Éléonore. Don't worry; Mamma knows, and won't let her in.
Robespierre. My dear friends, how wonderfully you take care of me!
Éléonore. We are responsible to the nation for you.
Robespierre. What a pleasure it is for me to live here! It's a feast for the soul! This is no selfish retreat from the tempests. No, the door is opened to all the care and troubles of the nation; they assume a certain dignified air when they enter. We receive destiny here, without flinching, our eyes in its eyes. I never cross the threshold without breathing the air of that court, with the smell of fresh-cut wood, peace, and hope. The honest face of Duplay, your mother's welcome voice, your hand, Éléonore, extended toward me like the hand of brotherhood, all the loyal affection you have for me, inspire in me the greatest, the rarest, thing of all, the thing I most need and of which I always had least!
Éléonore. Is there some one you don't trust?
Robespierre. I trust no man. I can read lies in their faces, I see intrigue in their protestations. Their eyes, their mouths, their hands, their whole body lies. Suspicion poisons every thought I have. I was intended for a quieter existence. I love men, and I wish to believe in them. But how can I, when I see them perjure themselves ten times a day, sell themselves, their friends, their armies, their Patrie, for motives of fear, or ambition, or viciousness, or malevolence pure and simple? I have seen Mirabeau, Lafayette, Dumouriez, Custine, the king, the aristocrats, the Girondins, the Hérésists—all of them betrayed one after the other. The soldiers would have surrendered the nation twenty times had they not feared the guillotine awaiting them. Three-fourths of the members are conspiring against the Convention. Vice is curbed under the heroic discipline imposed by the Revolution. Its allies dare not attack the forces of virtue in broad daylight; they hide under masks of piety and mercy, in order to influence public opinion, and deflect it in favor of rogues, inciting them against the true patriots. But I will tear their masks from their faces, and force the Assembly to see what is beneath: the hideous face of treason. I will force the disguised accomplices of the conspirators to condemn them, or else die with them myself. The Republic will be victorious. But, oh God, in the midst of what devastation! Vice is like the Hydra: every drop of blood that falls to the ground will grow up into another monster. The best men have fallen into its clutches; they fall as if stricken with the plague: the day before yesterday it was Philippeaux; yesterday, Danton; today, Desmoulins—Desmoulins, my friend from childhood, my brother! Who will be the next traitor?
Éléonore. Is it possible? So much treason! Have you the proofs?
Robespierre. Yes, more than proofs: moral certainty, that infallible light which never deceives.
Éléonore. No, you cannot be mistaken: you know everything, you see deep into people's hearts. Are they all corrupt?
Robespierre. There are four or five whom I respect: the honest Couthon, who thinks nothing of his own sufferings, and only of those of the world; the lovable and modest Le Bas; my brother, who has a good heart but thinks too much about his pleasure; two children, and a man who is on the point of death.
Éléonore. But Saint-Just?
Robespierre. I am afraid of him. Saint-Just is the living sword of the Revolution, her implacable weapon; he would sacrifice me, as he has the others, to his immutable law. Every one else conspires against me. They dislike my clearsightedness, they are jealous of the people's love for me; they try to render me odious in their eyes. The proconsuls of Marseille and Lyon commit atrocities in the name of Robespierre. The counter-revolution now preaches clemency, and again terror. If I release my hold through weariness, I am lost, and so is the Republic. Couthon is ill. Le Bas and my brother are two stupids. Saint-Just is far away, and holds the armies. I am left alone surrounded by traitors, who are trying all the while to strike me from behind. They will kill me, Éléonore.
Éléonore [taking his hand, and with child-like vivacity]. If you die, you will not die alone. [Robespierre looks at her affectionately, and she blushes.]
Robespierre. My dear Éléonore, no, you will not die. I am stronger than my cowardly enemies. I have Truth on my side.
Éléonore. You are so worried, and yet you ought to be happy, because you are working for every one's happiness. How unjust life is!
Robespierre. Now I have made you sad. I was wrong to shatter your illusions. Forgive me.
Éléonore. Don't be sorry. I am very proud of your confidence in me. All night long I thought about those pages from Rousseau you read us yesterday. They were so soothing. I heard the sound of your voice—and those beautiful words. I know them by heart!
Robespierre [reciting, with an air of affectionate melancholy, and with great sincerity]. "The communion of hearts gives to sadness something inexplicably sweet and touching, and friendship is the especial gift to the unfortunate for the assuagement of their woes and the consolation of their sufferings." [Éléonore, her hand in his, says nothing, but she smiles and blushes.] You say nothing?
Éléonore [reciting]. "Can anything that one says to one's friend ever equal what one feels by his side?"
Madame Duplay [outside]. Maximilien, here is Saint-Just. [Éléonore runs out. Saint-Just enters. Robespierre greets him. They shake hands as if they had been separated only a very short time.]
Saint-Just. How are you?
Robespierre. How are you, Saint-Just? [They sit down.]
Saint-Just [gazing calmly at Robespierre]. I am very glad to see you again.
Robespierre. Le Bas writes us that it was only by the barest chance that we see you again.
Saint-Just. Yes. [A pause.] We need arms there; the army lacks muskets.
Robespierre. We are manufacturing them. All of Paris is at work. They have set up blacksmith shops in the churches. All other work is at a standstill. You must have seen Duplay's carpenters making the stocks when you came by. Jewelers are making the locks; there are forges in all the public places.
Saint-Just [after a pause]. Food is very scarce. Whole divisions are out of provender. We have very little time; the campaign begins in three weeks at the latest. All the blood of France must flow to the North.
Robespierre. The orders have been given. France is starving in order that the soldiers may have enough to eat.
Saint-Just. When you no longer need my advice, send me back. The first engagements will be decisive. Every effort must be made.
Robespierre. Doesn't the life you lead wear you out?
Saint-Just [sincerely, but without emphasis]. It affords me some rest from useless discussion. Thought and action out there are identical, like thunder and lightning. Every desire immediately becomes a fact, forever; it is written in the blood of men and the destiny of the world. The task is a truly grand one, and the agony divine! At night, in the snow, at the out-posts of the army, along the weary stretches of the Flemish plain, under the vast winter sky, I feel a thrill of joy run through my body, and my heart's blood throb in my breast. Alone, lost in the midst of the shadows of the Universe, surrounded by enemies, with one foot in the grave, we are the guardians of Reason, the living Light. We are decisive factors in the destiny of the world. We re-create Man.
Robespierre. Happy the man who strives on the field of action, and is not forced to stay at home.
Saint-Just. Who strives more than you? The liberty of the world is here in Paris.
Robespierre. Here we have the agonizing task of stamping out viciousness. It soils every one who takes part in the nasty business. I must confess, when I contemplate the vicious crimes which the torrent of the Revolution rolls along with all its virtue, I am afraid that I shall catch up some of the nastiness and be identified with it in the eyes of posterity. Merely because I am near perverse and impure men.
Saint-Just. Put the sword between yourself and them. You should touch the impure only with steel.
Robespierre. The corruption is spreading everywhere. Men I counted on most have succumbed. Old friends.
Saint-Just. No friends! We have only the Patrie!
Robespierre. Danton is a menace; he is under suspicion. He has uttered violent and insulting words. He is surrounded by conspirators, debauchees, ruined financiers, degraded officers. Every sort of malcontent has joined his forces.
Saint-Just. Danton must go!
Robespierre. Danton was once a Republican. He loved the Patrie. Perhaps he still loves her?
Saint-Just. No one respects her unless he proves it by austere and pure living. He is not a Republican who possesses aristocratic vices and ideas. I hate Catiline. His cynical heart, his cowardly brain, his ignoble political ideals—he tries to please all parties in order to use them for his own ends—it all brings dishonor upon the Republic. Danton must be laid low.
Robespierre. His fall will carry the imprudent Desmoulins along with him.
Saint-Just. That impudent pen-pusher! Why, the sufferings of the Patrie are merely an excuse for him to do a clever piece of writing! He's a dilettante, who would sacrifice Liberty for a pretty antithesis!
Robespierre. A child, the dupe of his friends, and of his own mind.
Saint-Just. Cleverness is also a crime, when France is in danger. The misfortunes of the State have thrown a sad, a religious air, over everything. I am suspicious of all who laugh.
Robespierre. But I love Desmoulins.
Saint-Just. And I love you, but if you were a criminal, I would accuse you.
Robespierre [walks away, distressed. He returns after a moment's silence]. Thank you.—You are happy; you never hesitate. You never compromise with evil.
Saint-Just. I have seen more evil than you.
Saint-Just. Within myself.
Robespierre [surprised]. In yourself, you whose life is an example of self-sacrifice?
Saint-Just. You don't know!
Robespierre [incredulously]. Some—youthful slip?
Saint-Just [seriously]. I have been to the brink of the abyss; I saw crime down below, ready to devour me. Ever since I have sworn to destroy it in the world at large and within myself.
Robespierre. Sometimes I tire of the struggle. The enemy is too powerful. Can we really reform mankind? Will our dream be realized?
Saint-Just. The day I cease to believe that, I shall kill myself.
Éléonore [opening the door, says softly]. Here are Billaud-Varenne and Vadier. [They enter. Billaud-Varenne's head droops from fatigue, and his eyes are heavy. Vadier compresses his lips, and is bitter and sardonic. He speaks with a marked Southern accent (which is not indicated in the text). Robespierre and Saint-Just rise and coldly greet the newcomers. They bow, but do not offer to shake hands.]
Billaud-Varenne. Greetings and Fraternity!
Vadier [noticing Saint-Just]. Saint-Just! Good! We shall now make up for lost time. [Billaud-Varenne and Vadier seat themselves unceremoniously. Saint-Just walks about. Robespierre remains standing, and leans against the window-sill. After a pause.]
Billaud-Varenne. The guillotine! You have waited too long, Robespierre: we are in immediate danger. If Danton is still alive tomorrow, the cause of liberty is lost.
Robespierre. What news?
Billaud-Varenne [with papers in his hand]. Look. The traitor is at it again.
Vadier. Your friend, Maximilien; Capulle, dear Camille.
Robespierre. Has he been writing again?
Billaud-Varenne. These proofs have just been seized. Read.
Vadier [rubbing his hands]. The seventh Vieux Cordelier. The continuation of the good apostle's Credo.
Robespierre. The idiot! Will he not learn to hold his tongue?
Billaud-Varenne [like a monomaniac]. The guillotine!
Saint-Just [reading the proofs with Robespierre]. Like a prostitute, who cannot but bring dishonor upon herself.
Robespierre. And Danton?
Billaud-Varenne. Danton is at it again; he is speaking at the Palais-Royal. He insults Vadier, and me, and all the patriots. Desmoulins is with him. They're all together with the women and Westermann, too. They make obscene allusions to the Committee. The people are gathering about them, and laughing.
Saint-Just. You hear, Robespierre?
Robespierre [disdainfully]. No danger. We shall have time to deliberate in peace before Danton is through drinking. [Looking again at the proofs.] Why, this is suicide!
Vadier. He's gone too far this time!
Billaud-Varenne. His head should follow!
Saint-Just [reading]. He compares the members of the Convention to Nero and Tiberius.
Billaud-Varenne [reading]. He dares to say that we went after Custine on Pitt's orders, and not because Custine was a traitor, but because he was not a worse one.
Vadier [reading]. "The Committee will reduce the Assembly to the servile condition of a parlement the rebellious members of which are to be thrown into prison."
Robespierre [correcting them]. He puts "would reduce," and not "will reduce."
Vadier. The same thing.
Billaud-Varenne [reading]. "See how near is the Committee to ruining the Republic, when it sends two of its Deputies which it cannot bribe to the Luxembourg?"
Robespierre. He says "it can send," and not "it sends."
Billaud-Varenne [pettishly]. Don't be so particular!
Saint-Just [reading]. He has the effrontery to maintain that "the War-office appointed as heads of the armies the brothers of actresses with whom they had been intimate."
Vadier. Disorganizing the defense, reviling the nation in the eyes of foreigners! Can nothing stop his vile tongue!
Billaud-Varenne. And the whole thing bristling with demands for clemency, and talk about humanity!
Vadier. And his hypocritical tears! Bah!
Saint-Just. There is no plague of Egypt like a sentimental man! No tyrant brings more harm to mankind. The traitors of the Gironde called themselves merciful, too, when they carried the torch of rebellion through France.
Robespierre. Desmoulins is merely weak, he is not dangerous. I knew him as a child. I know him now.
Billaud-Varenne [suspiciously]. Do Robespierre's friends enjoy special privileges?
Vadier [jeering, as he reads the "Vieux Cordelier"]. And listen to this, Maximilien—this is for you. It seems that your closing the houses of ill-fame and pretending to be so zealous in reforming the world, is merely on Pitt's orders; because you "thereby deprive the government of one of its sources of income: licentiousness." Do you hear that, oh Incorruptible one?
Saint-Just. The nasty hypocritical scoundrel!
Billaud-Varenne [violently]. The guillotine! [He falls, with his head on the table, like an ox that has been felled.]
Robespierre. Has he fainted?
Vadier [coldly]. Dizziness. [Saint-Just opens the window, and Billaud-Varenne comes to.]
Saint-Just. Are you ill, Billaud?
Billaud-Varenne [hoarsely]. Who are you?—Scoundrels!—I'm utterly exhausted: I haven't slept for the last two nights.
Vadier. He spends his nights at the Committee and his days at the Assembly.
Robespierre. You are overworking. Would you like some one to take your place for a few days?
Billaud-Varenne. My work can't be done by others. Corresponding with the various departments, holding every string of France in my hand: no one else could do that. If I stop for a moment, everything will collapse. No, I must stay until I drop.
Saint-Just. We shall all die at our posts.
Billaud-Varenne. Oh, Nature, thou didst not create me for such tempests! My soul is torn by these murderous blasts from the desert! My heart is too soft; I was intended for sweeter things: retirement, friends, a family!
Vadier [ironically]. Let us not become sentimental, Billaud!
Billaud-Varenne [becoming violent again]. Let as purify the atmosphere! To the guillotine with Desmoulins!
Robespierre. It is I who should give the example: I wash my hands of Desmoulins.
Vadier [laughing to himself]. Brutus, oh, magnanimous man, virtuous man, I knew very well you would never hesitate to rid yourself of a friend!
Robespierre. The fate of Desmoulins is bound up with that of another man.
Billaud-Varenne. Are you afraid to mention Danton by name?
Robespierre. I am afraid to break a talisman of the Republic.
Vadier. Its lucky piece.
Robespierre. Danton is my enemy. If my friendship counts for nothing in our deliberations, my hatred, on the other hand, should not weigh in my judgment. Before entering the fray, let us consider in cold blood what risks we incur in thus dismantling a fortress of the Revolution.
Billaud-Varenne. A fortress for sale!
Vadier. The scarecrow of the Revolution! In time of public danger such monstrous idols are brought out to rout the enemy. He rather inspires fear in the breast of those who hear him. His hideous face frightens Liberty.
Robespierre. You cannot deny that his face is known and feared throughout Europe.
Vadier [chaffingly]. True, and like a good sans-culotte he cheerfully shows to the world "What Cæsar shamelessly showed to Nicodemus in his youth, and what long ago the hero of Greece admired in Hephestos, and Hadrian put into the Pantheon."
Saint-Just [angrily]. Stop your nasty joking! Would you make war on corruption with corruption?
Vadier. Now, you aren't going to make me recite Rousseau to you?
Robespierre [making an effort at impartiality]. I think it no more than right to take Danton's past services into account.
Saint-Just. The more good a man does, the greater his obligation to continue. Woe be unto him who has once defended the cause and the people, and abandons them afterward! He is a greater criminal than the man who consistently fought against it. For he once knew the good, and has wilfully betrayed it.
Robespierre. Hébert's death stirred up public sympathy. The police reports I received inform me that our enemies are profiting by the confusion of the people, who have been suddenly enlightened, in order to shake their faith in their true friends. Everything nowadays is open to suspicion; even the memory of Marat. We must be prudent, and take care not to add to the general suspicion by internal quarrels.
Saint-Just. Let us put an end to suspicion with the death of the suspects.
Vadier [aside, glancing at Robespierre]. The coward! He's afraid to touch his aristocratic friends! Cromwell keeps with the majority! If he persists I'll guillotine a hundred toads in his pond!
Robespierre. A head like his does not fall without making the State feel it.
Billaud-Varenne [suspiciously and with violence]. Are you afraid, Robespierre?
Vadier [inciting Billaud-Varenne]. Ask him, Billaud, if he uses Danton like a mattress to hide behind, and escape the bullets?
Billaud-Varenne [brutally]. Speak out: You are afraid of being exposed by Danton's fall? You stick close to him! Danton diverts the attention—and the blows—from you, eh?
Robespierre. I take no notice of such slander. What do I care for the dangers? What is my life to me? But I have some experience from the past, and I am looking into the future. You are bloodthirsty monsters; your hatred blinds you. You think of yourselves, and not of the Republic.
Saint-Just. Let us calmly consider what the Republic owes to the conspirators. Let us not ask whether Danton is talented, but whether his talents serve the Republic. Where have these attacks of the past three months come from? Danton. Who inspired Philippeaux's letters against the Committee? Danton. Who dictates Desmoulins' pamphlets? Danton. Each number of the Vieux Cordelier is submitted to him; he corrects the manuscript in his own hand. If the river is poisoned, let us stop it at the source. Where is Danton's sincerity? Where is his bravery? What has he done the past year for the Republic?
Robespierre [pretending to be convinced, and speaking with a mixture of sincerity and hypocrisy]. It is true he never spoke for The Mountain when it was attacked.
Saint-Just. No, but he did for Dumouriez, and the generals who were his accomplices. The Jacobins defended him; you, too, Robespierre. But when you were accused, did he say a word?
Robespierre. No, and when he saw me deserted, a victim of the slanders of the Gironde, he said to his friends: "Since he wishes to ruin himself, let him! Let us not share his lot!" But do not drag me into the discussion.
Billaud-Varenne. You yourself told me, Robespierre, that he did all he could to save the Girondins, and to strike Hanriot, who arrested the traitors.
Robespierre. That is true.
Saint-Just. And you told me, Robespierre, that he was base enough to confess his embezzlements, and Fabre's—his secretary—during his brief administration as Minister of Justice.
Robespierre. I don't deny that.
Saint-Just. He was Lafayette's friend. Mirabeau bought him. He corresponded with Dumouriez and Wimpfen. He flattered Orléans. Every enemy of the Revolution was on familiar terms with him.
Robespierre. You must not exaggerate!
Saint-Just. You yourself told me. I should never have known otherwise.
Robespierre. Of course, but—
Billaud-Varenne [violently]. Do you deny it?
Robespierre. I cannot. Danton was an assiduous member of those Royalists gatherings, where Orléans himself mixed the punch. Fabre and Wimpfen, too, were present. They tried to bring the Deputies of the Mountain, to seduce and compromise them. But that was of no importance.
Billaud-Varenne. On the contrary! It was high treason. Out and out conspiracy!
Robespierre. I have just thought of a small detail. It seems that lately he boasted that if he were accused he would throw the blame on us for the Dauphin affair.
Billaud-Varenne. The blackguard! Did he say that? And you defend him?
Robespierre. Westermann just left this room. He threatened me with Danton, and an uprising.
Billaud-Varenne. And we sit here talking! The marauders are still at large!
Robespierre. Do you want him?
Saint-Just. The nation wants him.
Vadier [aside]. The hypocrite! He wants him, too! But we must persuade him!
Robespierre. He was a great man. At least, he had the air of a great man, and at times he even seemed a good and virtuous man.
Saint-Just. Nothing so resembles virtue as a great crime.
Vadier [sarcastically]. You will deliver his funeral oration later on, Maximilien. But now let us bring down the beast.
Saint-Just. Vadier, you must respect death.
Vadier. But the little fellow is still alive.
Saint-Just. Danton is already doomed.
Billaud-Varenne. Who will take it upon himself to accuse him?
Vadier. Saint-Just. The young man does it so well. Every sentence of his is as good as a stroke of the guillotine.
Saint-Just. It would give me great pleasure to attack the monster.
Robespierre [getting papers, which he gives to Saint-Just]. Here are the notes, all ready for you.
Vadier [aside]. He has a whole portfolio like that for each of his friends.
Robespierre. Let us not honor Danton by trying him alone: it would attract too much attention.
Billaud-Varenne. Let us overwhelm him in a general accusation.
Vadier. Whom shall we put with him, to fill out the menu?
Saint-Just. Every one who has tried to corrupt the cause of Liberty by means of money, evil example, or brains.
Vadier. Let us be clear. You're too vague.
Robespierre. Danton loved gold. Let him be buried with gold. Let us implicate him in the bank affair. Put him in with the embezzlers. He will find himself in company with his friend, his secretary, his Fabre d'Églantine.
Vadier. Fabre, Chabot, the Jews, the Austrian bankers, the Freys, and the Diederischens—good. We begin to have an imposing list.
Billaud-Varenne. It might be well to add Hérault, the friend of the émigrés.
Saint-Just. Philippeaux, above all, the disorganizer of the army, the destroyer of discipline.
Robespierre. Westermann, with his bloody sword, always ready for an insurrection. Is that all?
Vadier. You forget dear Camille.
Robespierre. Wouldn't you prefer Bourbon, or Legendre, the mouthpieces of the enemy in the Assembly?
Robespierre. Take him.
Saint-Just. Good-by for the present. I must prepare my report. I shall strike them tomorrow at the Convention.
Vadier. No, no, young man. Your youthful imprudence is running away with you. Would you call Danton into court?
Saint-Just. Danton believes that no one will dare attack him face to face. I shall undeceive him.
Vadier. Your good intentions, my friend, are not enough. You must have lungs deep enough to drown out the roarings of that bull!
Saint-Just. Truth will overcome tempests.
Robespierre. We cannot expose the Republic in an open argument like that.
Saint-Just. What then? [Robespierre does not answer.]
Billaud-Varenne. Have Danton arrested tonight.
Saint-Just [violently]. Never!
Vadier. The end justifies the means!
Saint-Just. I never strike an unarmed enemy. I will face Danton willingly. Combats like that can only bring honor to the Republic; but your suggestion is dishonorable. Ignoble!
Billaud-Varenne. The enemies of the people deserve no consideration!
Vadier. Useless bravery in politics is always stupid, and sometimes treasonable.
Saint-Just. I won't have it! [He throws his cap to the floor.]
Billaud-Varenne [severely]. Do you then prefer the fight to the welfare of the Republic?
Saint-Just. Such attempts require danger; it sanctifies them. A Revolution is a heroic enterprise, in which the leaders walk between the guillotine and immortality. We should be criminals if we were not ready to sacrifice our lives, and the lives of the others, at any moment.
Vadier. Never worry; you are risking enough as it is. If Danton were a prisoner he would incite the people; and never doubt, if he is victorious, he will send you to the block.
Saint-Just. I despise the dust I am made of. My heart is the only thing that really belongs to me, and I will pass through life, through blood and murder, without sullying its purity.
Billaud-Varenne [with hard and disdainful severity]. Self-esteem is pure selfishness. It makes no difference to us whether Saint-Just's heart is sullied or not; we are saving the Republic.
Saint-Just [with an inquiring look at Robespierre]. Robespierre!
Robespierre. My friend, you need fear nothing so far as your soul is concerned. The storm and stress of a Revolution are not dealt with according to ordinary processes of law; we cannot apply moral standards to the force that is now shaping the world on a new foundation. Of course, we must be just; but the individual conscience cannot judge: only the public conscience matters. Our light is in the people: its salvation is our law. We have but one question to ask ourselves: do the people want Danton put down? Once that question is decided, the whole matter is ended. We must wage war to win. Justice means that that which is just shall triumph. We cannot wait: Danton must be laid low. To allow him to arm himself would be to offer our breast to the dagger of an assassin; military and financial despotism would rule the Revolution, and civil wars lay waste our land for a hundred years. We would be hated in history, though we deserve to be loved.
Billaud-Varenne. We must win at all costs! Every one must tremble with fear at our terrible dictatorship!
Vadier. This is not a question of whether one man shall or shall not be judged according to law, but whether all Europe is to become Jacobin or not.
Saint-Just [his hands to his breast, resembling David's "Robespierre," in his picture of the "Tennis-Court Oath"]. Oh, Republic, take my honor if you will, take me and devour me!
Billaud-Varenne [sharply]. Perhaps at this very moment the Republic is choking; our ideas are fruitless; Reason is dying. Quick!
Robespierre. Arrest Danton. [He signs a paper. Billaud-Varenne also signs, in feverish haste.]
Saint-Just. For you, Liberty! [He signs.]
Billaud-Varenne. The Convention won't object?
Robespierre [disdainfully]. The Convention is always ready to sacrifice its members for the public welfare.
Vadier [signing]. Leave this matter to me.
Robespierre [with a sigh]. The Revolution weighs heavier on our shoulders than ever.
Vadier [aside]. The cat-tiger has scruples, but he licks his chops all the same!
Robespierre. A regrettable necessity. We mutilate the Republic in order to save her.
Saint-Just [somber and exalted]. The philosopher Jesus said to his disciples: "And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell." And I say to you: if your friend is corrupt, and corrupts the Republic, cast him from the Republic; if your brother is corrupt and corrupts the Republic, cast him from the Republic. And if the blood of the Republic, if your own blood, flows from a gaping wound, let it flow. The Republic must be purified, or die! The Republic is virtue. If that virtue be stained, the Republic ceases to exist.
Vadier [aside]. They are all mad. They ought to be put into strait-jackets. They must be put in cells.—On, then! [He starts to go.]
Billaud-Varenne. Wait until I sign.
Vadier. You have already signed.
Billaud-Varenne. Where? I don't remember. What have I done? Was I right? Tristis est anima mea! Oh, if I could only stretch out in the fields, on the fresh earth; smell the scent of the woods; see a brook running between banks of willows! Rest! Rest—
Robespierre. The founders of the Republic have no rest this side the grave.