ZANONI: A ROSICRUCIAN TALE
While such the designs and fears of Maximilien Robespierre, common danger, common hatred, whatever was yet left of mercy or of virtue in the agents of the Revolution, served to unite strange opposites in hostility to the universal death-dealer. There was, indeed, an actual conspiracy at work against him among men little less bespattered than himself with innocent blood. But that conspiracy would have been idle of itself, despite the abilities of Tallien and Barras (the only men whom it comprised, worthy, by foresight and energy, the names of "leaders"). The sure and destroying elements that gathered round the tyrant were Time and Nature; the one, which he no longer suited; the other, which he had outraged and stirred up in the human breast. The most atrocious party of the Revolution, the followers of Hebert, gone to his last account, the butcher-atheists, who, in desecrating heaven and earth, still arrogated inviolable sanctity to themselves, were equally enraged at the execution of their filthy chief, and the proclamation of a Supreme Being. The populace, brutal as it had been, started as from a dream of blood, when their huge idol, Danton, no longer filled the stage of terror, rendering crime popular by that combination of careless frankness and eloquent energy which endears their heroes to the herd. The glaive of the guillotine had turned against THEMSELVES. They had yelled and shouted, and sung and danced, when the venerable age, or the gallant youth, of aristocracy or letters, passed by their streets in the dismal tumbrils; but they shut up their shops, and murmured to each other, when their own order was invaded, and tailors and cobblers, and journeymen and labourers, were huddled off to the embraces of the "Holy Mother Guillotine," with as little ceremony as if they had been the Montmorencies or the La Tremouilles, the Malesherbes or the Lavoisiers. "At this time," said Couthon, justly, "Les ombres de Danton, d'Hebert, de Chaumette, se promenent parmi nous!" (The shades of Danton, Hebert, and Chaumette walk amongst us.)
Among those who had shared the doctrines, and who now dreaded the fate of the atheist Hebert, was the painter, Jean Nicot. Mortified and enraged to find that, by the death of his patron, his career was closed; and that, in the zenith of the Revolution for which he had laboured, he was lurking in caves and cellars, more poor, more obscure, more despicable than he had been at the commencement, -- not daring to exercise even his art, and fearful every hour that his name would swell the lists of the condemned, -- he was naturally one of the bitterest enemies of Robespierre and his government. He held secret meetings with Collot d'Herbois, who was animated by the same spirit; and with the creeping and furtive craft that characterised his abilities, he contrived, undetected, to disseminate tracts and invectives against the Dictator, and to prepare, amidst "the poor and virtuous people," the train for the grand explosion. But still so firm to the eyes, even of profounder politicians than Jean Nicot, appeared the sullen power of the incorruptible Maximilien; so timorous was the movement against him, -- that Nicot, in common with many others, placed his hopes rather in the dagger of the assassin than the revolt of the multitude. But Nicot, though not actually a coward, shrunk himself from braving the fate of the martyr; he had sense enough to see that, though all parties might rejoice in the assassination, all parties would probably concur in beheading the assassin. He had not the virtue to become a Brutus. His object was to inspire a proxy-Brutus; and in the centre of that inflammable population this was no improbable hope.
Amongst those loudest and sternest against the reign of blood; amongst those most disenchanted of the Revolution; amongst those most appalled by its excesses, -- was, as might be expected, the Englishman, Clarence Glyndon. The wit and accomplishments, the uncertain virtues that had lighted with fitful gleams the mind of Camille Desmoulins, had fascinated Glyndon more than the qualities of any other agent in the Revolution. And when (for Camille Desmoulins had a heart, which seemed dead or dormant in most of his contemporaries) that vivid child of genius and of error, shocked at the massacre of the Girondins, and repentant of his own efforts against them, began to rouse the serpent malice of Robespierre by new doctrines of mercy and toleration, Glyndon espoused his views with his whole strength and soul. Camille Desmoulins perished, and Glyndon, hopeless at once of his own life and the cause of humanity, from that time sought only the occasion of flight from the devouring Golgotha. He had two lives to heed besides his own; for them he trembled, and for them he schemed and plotted the means of escape. Though Glyndon hated the principles, the party (None were more opposed to the Hebertists than Camille Desmoulins and his friends. It is curious and amusing to see these leaders of the mob, calling the mob "the people" one day, and the "canaille" the next, according as it suits them. "I know," says Camille, "that they (the Hebertists) have all the canaille with them." -- (Ils ont toute la canaille pour eux.)), and the vices of Nicot, he yet extended to the painter's penury the means of subsistence; and Jean Nicot, in return, designed to exalt Glyndon to that very immortality of a Brutus from which he modestly recoiled himself. He founded his designs on the physical courage, on the wild and unsettled fancies of the English artist, and on the vehement hate and indignant loathing with which he openly regarded the government of Maximilien.
At the same hour, on the same day in July, in which Robespierre conferred (as we have seen) with his allies, two persons were seated in a small room in one of the streets leading out of the Rue St. Honore; the one, a man, appeared listening impatiently, and with a sullen brow, to his companion, a woman of singular beauty, but with a bold and reckless expression, and her face as she spoke was animated by the passions of a half-savage and vehement nature.
"Englishman," said the woman, "beware! -- you know that, whether in flight or at the place of death, I would brave all to be by your side, -- you know THAT! Speak!"
"Well, Fillide; did I ever doubt your fidelity?"
"Doubt it you cannot, -- betray it you may. You tell me that in flight you must have a companion besides myself, and that companion is a female. It shall not be!"
"It shall not!" repeated Fillide, firmly, and folding her arms across her breast. Before Glyndon could reply, a slight knock at the door was heard, and Nicot opened the latch and entered.
Fillide sank into her chair, and, leaning her face on her hands, appeared unheeding of the intruder and the conversation that ensued.
"I cannot bid thee good-day, Glyndon," said Nicot, as in his sans-culotte fashion he strode towards the artist, his ragged hat on his head, his hands in his pockets, and the beard of a week's growth upon his chin, -- "I cannot bid thee good-day; for while the tyrant lives, evil is every sun that sheds its beams on France."
"It is true; what then? We have sown the wind, we must reap the whirlwind."
"And yet," said Nicot, apparently not heeding the reply, and as if musingly to himself, "it is strange to think that the butcher is as mortal as the butchered; that his life hangs on as slight a thread; that between the cuticle and the heart there is as short a passage, -- that, in short, one blow can free France and redeem mankind!"
Glyndon surveyed the speaker with a careless and haughty scorn, and made no answer.
"And," proceeded Nicot, "I have sometimes looked round for the man born for this destiny, and whenever I have done so, my steps have led me hither!"
"Should they not rather have led thee to the side of Maximilien Robespierre?" said Glyndon, with a sneer.
"No," returned Nicot, coldly, -- "no; for I am a 'suspect:' I could not mix with his train; I could not approach within a hundred yards of his person, but I should be seized; YOU, as yet, are safe. Hear me!" -- and his voice became earnest and expressive, -- "hear me! There seems danger in this action; there is none. I have been with Collot d'Herbois and Bilaud-Varennes; they will hold him harmless who strikes the blow; the populace would run to thy support; the Convention would hail thee as their deliverer, the -- "
"Hold, man! How darest thou couple my name with the act of an assassin? Let the tocsin sound from yonder tower, to a war between Humanity and the Tyrant, and I will not be the last in the field; but liberty never yet acknowledged a defender in a felon."
There was something so brave and noble in Glyndon's voice, mien, and manner, as he thus spoke, that Nicot at once was silenced; at once he saw that he had misjudged the man.
"No," said Fillide, lifting her face from her hands, -- "no! your friend has a wiser scheme in preparation; he would leave you wolves to mangle each other. He is right; but -- "
"Flight!" exclaimed Nicot; "is it possible? Flight; how? -- when? -- by what means? All France begirt with spies and guards! Flight! would to Heaven it were in our power!"
"Dost thou, too, desire to escape the blessed Revolution?"
"Desire! Oh!" cried Nicot, suddenly, and, falling down, he clasped Glyndon's knees, -- "oh, save me with thyself! My life is a torture; every moment the guillotine frowns before me. I know that my hours are numbered; I know that the tyrant waits but his time to write my name in his inexorable list; I know that Rene Dumas, the judge who never pardons, has, from the first, resolved upon my death. Oh, Glyndon, by our old friendship, by our common art, by thy loyal English faith and good English heart, let me share thy flight!"
"If thou wilt, so be it."
"Thanks! -- my whole life shall thank thee. But how hast thou prepared the means, the passports, the disguise, the -- "
"I will tell thee. Thou knowest C -- , of the Convention, -- he has power, and he is covetous. 'Qu'on me meprise, pourvu que je dine' (Let them despise me, provided that I dine.), said he, when reproached for his avarice."
"By the help of this sturdy republican, who has friends enough in the Comite, I have obtained the means necessary for flight; I have purchased them. For a consideration I can procure thy passport also."
"Thy riches, then, are not in assignats?"
"No; I have gold enough for us all."
And here Glyndon, beckoning Nicot into the next room, first briefly and rapidly detailed to him the plan proposed, and the disguises to be assumed conformably to the passports, and then added, "In return for the service I render thee, grant me one favour, which I think is in thy power. Thou rememberest Viola Pisani?"
"Ah, -- remember, yes! -- and the lover with whom she fled."
"And FROM whom she is a fugitive now."
"Indeed -- what! -- I understand. Sacre bleu! but you are a lucky fellow, cher confrere."
"Silence, man! with thy eternal prate of brotherhood and virtue, thou seemest never to believe in one kindly action, or one virtuous thought!"
Nicot bit his lip, and replied sullenly, "Experience is a great undeceiver. Humph! What service can I do thee with regard to the Italian?"
"I have been accessory to her arrival in this city of snares and pitfalls. I cannot leave her alone amidst dangers from which neither innocence nor obscurity is a safeguard. In your blessed Republic, a good and unsuspected citizen, who casts a desire on any woman, maid or wife, has but to say, 'Be mine, or I denounce you!' In a word, Viola must share our flight."
"What so easy? I see your passports provide for her."
"What so easy? What so difficult? This Fillide -- would that I had never seen her! -- would that I had never enslaved my soul to my senses! The love of an uneducated, violent, unprincipled woman, opens with a heaven, to merge in a hell! She is jealous as all the Furies; she will not hear of a female companion; and when once she sees the beauty of Viola! -- I tremble to think of it. She is capable of any excess in the storm of her passions."
"Aha, I know what such women are! My wife, Beatrice Sacchini, whom I took from Naples, when I failed with this very Viola, divorced me when my money failed, and, as the mistress of a judge, passes me in her carriage while I crawl through the streets. Plague on her! -- but patience, patience! such is the lot of virtue. Would I were Robespierre for a day!"
"Cease these tirades!" exclaimed Glyndon, impatiently; "and to the point. What would you advise?"
"Leave your Fillide behind."
"Leave her to her own ignorance; leave her unprotected even by the mind; leave her in the Saturnalia of Rape and Murder? No! I have sinned against her once. But come what may, I will not so basely desert one who, with all her errors, trusted her fate to my love."
"You deserted her at Marseilles."
"True; but I left her in safety, and I did not then believe her love to be so deep and faithful. I left her gold, and I imagined she would be easily consoled; but since THEN WE HAVE KNOWN DANGER TOGETHER! And now to leave her alone to that danger which she would never have incurred but for devotion to me! -- no, that is impossible. A project occurs to me. Canst thou not say that thou hast a sister, a relative, or a benefactress, whom thou wouldst save? Can we not -- till we have left France -- make Fillide believe that Viola is one in whom THOU only art interested; and whom, for thy sake only, I permit to share in our escape?"
"Ha, well thought of! -- certainly!"
"I will then appear to yield to Fillide's wishes, and resign the project, which she so resents, of saving the innocent object of her frantic jealousy. You, meanwhile, shall yourself entreat Fillide to intercede with me to extend the means of escape to -- "
"To a lady (she knows I have no sister) who has aided me in my distress. Yes, I will manage all, never fear. One word more, -- what has become of that Zanoni?"
"Talk not of him, -- I know not."
"Does he love this girl still?"
"It would seem so. She is his wife, the mother of his infant, who is with her."
"Wife! -- mother! He loves her. Aha! And why -- "
"No questions now. I will go and prepare Viola for the flight; you, meanwhile, return to Fillide."
"But the address of the Neapolitan? It is necessary I should know, lest Fillide inquire."
"Rue M -- T -- , No. 27. Adieu."
Glyndon seized his hat and hastened from the house.
Nicot, left alone, seemed for a few moments buried in thought. "Oho," he muttered to himself, "can I not turn all this to my account? Can I not avenge myself on thee, Zanoni, as I have so often sworn, -- through thy wife and child? Can I not possess myself of thy gold, thy passports, and thy Fillide, hot Englishman, who wouldst humble me with thy loathed benefits, and who hast chucked me thine alms as to a beggar? And Fillide, I love her: and thy gold, I love THAT more! Puppets, I move your strings!"
He passed slowly into the chamber where Fillide yet sat, with gloomy thought on her brow and tears standing in her dark eyes. She looked up eagerly as the door opened, and turned from the rugged face of Nicot with an impatient movement of disappointment.
"Glyndon," said the painter, drawing a chair to Fillide's, "has left me to enliven your solitude, fair Italian. He is not jealous of the ugly Nicot! -- ha, ha! -- yet Nicot loved thee well once, when his fortunes were more fair. But enough of such past follies."
"Your friend, then, has left the house. Whither? Ah, you look away; you falter, -- you cannot meet my eyes! Speak! I implore, I command thee, speak!"
"Enfant! And what dost thou fear?"
"FEAR! -- yes, alas, I fear!" said the Italian; and her whole frame seemed to shrink into itself as she fell once more back into her seat.
Then, after a pause, she tossed the long hair from her eyes, and, starting up abruptly, paced the room with disordered strides. At length she stopped opposite to Nicot, laid her hand on his arm, drew him towards an escritoire, which she unlocked, and, opening a well, pointed to the gold that lay within, and said, "Thou art poor, -- thou lovest money; take what thou wilt, but undeceive me. Who is this woman whom thy friend visits, -- and does he love her?"
Nicot's eyes sparkled, and his hands opened and clenched, and clenched and opened, as he gazed upon the coins. But reluctantly resisting the impulse, he said, with an affected bitterness, "Thinkest thou to bribe me? -- if so, it cannot be with gold. But what if he does love a rival; what if he betrays thee; what if, wearied by thy jealousies, he designs in his flight to leave thee behind, -- would such knowledge make thee happier?"
"Yes!" exclaimed the Italian, fiercely; "yes, for it would be happiness to hate and to be avenged! Oh, thou knowest not how sweet is hatred to those who have really loved!"
"But wilt thou swear, if I reveal to thee the secret, that thou wilt not betray me, -- that thou wilt not fall, as women do, into weak tears and fond reproaches, when thy betrayer returns?"
"Tears, reproaches! Revenge hides itself in smiles!"
"Thou art a brave creature!" said Nicot, almost admiringly. "One condition more: thy lover designs to fly with his new love, to leave thee to thy fate; if I prove this to thee, and if I give thee revenge against thy rival, wilt thou fly with me? I love thee! -- I will wed thee!"
Fillide's eyes flashed fire; she looked at him with unutterable disdain, and was silent.
Nicot felt he had gone too far; and with that knowledge of the evil part of our nature which his own heart and association with crime had taught him, he resolved to trust the rest to the passions of the Italian, when raised to the height to which he was prepared to lead them.
"Pardon me," he said; "my love made me too presumptuous; and yet it is only that love, -- my sympathy for thee, beautiful and betrayed, that can induce me to wrong, with my revelations, one whom I have regarded as a brother. I can depend upon thine oath to conceal all from Glyndon?"
"On my oath and my wrongs and my mountain blood!"
"Enough! get thy hat and mantle, and follow me."
As Fillide left the room, Nicot's eyes again rested on the gold; it was much, -- much more than he had dared to hope for; and as he peered into the well and opened the drawers, he perceived a packet of letters in the well-known hand of Camille Desmoulins. He seized -- he opened the packet; his looks brightened as he glanced over a few sentences. "This would give fifty Glyndons to the guillotine!" he muttered, and thrust the packet into his bosom.
O artist! -- O haunted one! -- O erring genius! -- behold the two worst foes, -- the False Ideal that knows no God, and the False Love that burns from the corruption of the senses, and takes no lustre from the soul!