I Will Repay
Chapter I. Paris: 1793. The outrage
It would have been very difficult to say why Citizen Déroulède was quite so
popular as he was. Still more difficult would it have been to state the reason why
he remained immune from the prosecutions, which were being conducted at the
rate of several scores a day, now against the moderate Gironde, anon against
the fanatic Mountain, until the whole of France was transformed into one gigantic
prison, that daily fed the guillotine.
But Déroulède remained unscathed. Even Merlin's law of the suspect had so far
failed to touch him. And when, last July, the murder of Marat brought an entire
holocaust of victims to the guillotine--from Adam Lux, who would have put up a
statue in honour of Charlotte Corday, with the inscription: "Greater than Brutus",
to Charlier, who would have had her publicly tortured and burned at the stake for
her crime--Déroulède alone said nothing, and was allowed to remain silent.
The most seething time of that seething revolution. No one knew in the morning if
his head would still be on his own shoulders in the evening, or if it would be held
up by Citizen Samson the headsman, for the sansculottes of Paris to see.
Yet Déroulède was allowed to go his own way. Marat once said of him: "Il n'est
pas dangereux." The phrase had been taken up. Within the precincts of the
National Convention, Marat was still looked upon as the great protagonist of
Liberty, a martyr to his own convictions carried to the extreme, to squalor and
dirt, to the downward levelling of man to what is the lowest type in humanity. And
his sayings were still treasured up: even the Girondins did not dare to attack his
memory. Dead Marat was more powerful than his living presentment had been.
And he had said that Déroulède was not dangerous. Not dangerous to
Republicanism, to liberty, to that downward, levelling process, the tearing down
of old tradidions, and the annihilation of past pretensions.
Déroulède had once been very rich. He had had sufficient prudence to give away
in good time that which, undoubtedly, would have been taken away from him
But when he gave willingly, at a time when France needed it most, and before
she had learned how to help herself to what she wanted.
And somehow, in this instance, France had not forgotten: an invisible fortress
seemed to surround Citizen Déroulède and keep his enemies at bay. They were
few, but they existed. The National Convention trusted him. "He was not
dangerous" to them. The people looked upon him as one of themselves, who
gave whilst he had something to give. Who can gauge that most elusive of all
He lived a quiet life, and had never yielded to the omni-prevalent temptation of
writing pamphlets, but lived alone with his mother and Anne Mie, the little
orphaned cousin whom old Madame Déroulède had taken care of, ever since the
child could toddle.
Everyone knew his house in the Rue Ecole de Médecine, not far from the one
wherein Marat lived and died, the only solid, stone house in the midst of a row of
hovels, evil-smelling and squalid.