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The Last Phase
"Well? How is it now?"
"The last phase, I think."
"He will yield?"
"He must."
"Bah! you have said it yourself often enough; those English are tough."
"It takes time to hack them to pieces, perhaps. In this case even you, citizen
Chauvelin, said that it would take time. Well, it has taken just seventeen days,
and now the end is in sight."
It was close on midnight in the guard-room which gave on the innermost cell of
the Conciergerie. Heron had just visited the prisoner as was his wont at this hour
of the night. He had watched the changing of the guard, inspected the night-
watch, questioned the sergeant in charge, and finally he had been on the point of
retiring to his own new quarters in the house of Justice, in the near vicinity of the
Conciergerie, when citizen Chauvelin entered the guard-room unexpectedly and
detained his colleague with the peremptory question:
"How is it now?"
"If you are so near the end, citizen Heron," he now said, sinking his voice to a
whisper, "why not make a final effort and end it to-night?"
"I wish I could; the anxiety is wearing me out more n him," added with a jerky
movement of the head in direction of the inner cell.
"Shall I try?" rejoined Chauvelin grimly.
"Yes, an you wish."
Citizen Heron's long limbs were sprawling on a guard-room chair. In this low
narrow room he looked like some giant whose body had been carelessly and
loosely put together by a 'prentice hand in the art of manufacture. His broad
shoulders were bent, probably under the weight of anxiety to which he had
referred, and his head, with the lank, shaggy hair overshadowing the brow, was
sunk deep down on his chest.
Chauvelin looked on his friend and associate with no small measure of contempt.
He would no doubt have preferred to conclude the present difficult transaction
entirely in his own way and alone; but equally there was no doubt that the
Committee of Public Safety did not trust him quite so fully as it used to do before
the fiasco at Calais and the blunders of Boulogne. Heron, on the other hand,
enjoyed to its outermost the confidence of his colleagues; his ferocious cruelty
and his callousness were well known, whilst physically, owing to his great height
and bulky if loosely knit frame, he had a decided advantage over his trim and
slender friend.
As far as the bringing of prisoners to trial was concerned, the chief agent of the
Committee of General Security had been given a perfectly free hand by the
decree of the 27th Nivose. At first, therefore, he had experienced no difficulty
when he desired to keep the Englishman in close confinement for a time without
hurrying on that summary trial and condemnation which the populace had loudly
demanded, and to which they felt that they were entitled as to a public holiday.