The Gods are Athirst

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THE WORKS OF ANATOLE FRANCE

IN AN ENGLISH TRANSLATION EDITED BY FREDERIC CHAPMAN

THE GODS ARE ATHIRST

Frontispiece

THE GODS ARE
ATHIRST

 BY ANATOLE FRANCE 

RoseA TRANSLATION BY MRS. WILFRID JACKSON Rose
Frontispiece

NEW YORK: JOHN LANE COMPANY

 LONDON JOHN LANE, THE BODLEY HEAD

TORONTO BELL COKBURN MCMXIV

Copyright, 1913 by
JOHN LANE COMPANY


THE GODS ARE ATHIRST

I

Initial Évariste Gamelin, painter, pupil of David, member of the Section du Pont-Neuf, formerly Section Henri IV, had betaken himself at an early hour in the morning to the old church of the Barnabites, which for three years, since 21st May 1790, had served as meeting-place for the General Assembly of the Section. The church stood in a narrow, gloomy square, not far from the gates of the Palais de Justice. On the façade, which consisted of two of the Classical orders superimposed and was decorated with inverted brackets and flaming urns, blackened by the weather and disfigured by the hand of man, the religious emblems had been battered to pieces, while above the doorway had been inscribed in black letters the Republican catchword of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity or Death.” Évariste Gamelin made his way into the nave; the same vaults which had heard the surpliced clerks of the Congregation of St. Paul sing the divine offices, now looked down on red-capped patriots assembled to elect the Municipal magistrates and deliberate on the affairs of the Section. The Saints had been dragged from their niches and replaced by the busts of Brutus, Jean-Jacques and Le Peltier. The altar had been stripped bare and was surmounted by the Table of the Rights of Man.

It was here in the nave that twice a week, from five in the evening to eleven, were held the public assemblies. The pulpit, decorated with the colours of the Nation, served as tribune for the speakers who harangued the meeting. Opposite, on the Epistle side, rose a platform of rough planks, for the accommodation of the women and children, who attended these gatherings in considerable numbers.

On this particular morning, facing a desk planted underneath the pulpit, sat in red cap and carmagnole complete the joiner from the Place Thionville, the citoyen Dupont senior, one of the twelve forming the Committee of Surveillance. On the desk stood a bottle and glasses, an ink-horn, and a folio containing the text of the petition urging the Convention to expel from its bosom the twenty-two members deemed unworthy.

Évariste Gamelin took the pen and signed.

“I was sure,” said the carpenter and magistrate, “I was sure you would come and give in your name, citoyen Gamelin. You are the real thing. But the Section is lukewarm; it is lacking in virtue. I have proposed to the Committee of Surveillance to deliver no certificate of citizenship to any one who has failed to sign the petition.”

“I am ready to sign with my blood,” said Gamelin, “for the proscription of these federalists, these traitors. They have desired the death of Marat: let them perish.”

“What ruins us,” replied Dupont senior, “is indifferentism. In a Section which contains nine hundred citizens with the right to vote there are not fifty attend the assembly. Yesterday we were eight and twenty.”

“Well then,” said Gamelin, “citizens must be obliged to come under penalty of a fine.”

“Oh, ho!” exclaimed the joiner frowning, “but if they all came, the patriots would be in a minority…. Citoyen Gamelin, will you drink a glass of wine to the health of all good sansculottes?…”

On the wall of the church, on the Gospel side, could be read the words, accompanied by a black hand, the forefinger pointing to the passage leading to the cloisters: “Comité civil, Comité de surveillance, Comité de bienfaisance.” A few yards further on, you came to the door of the erstwhile sacristy, over which was inscribed: Comité militaire.

Gamelin pushed this door open and found the Secretary of the Committee within; he was writing at a large table loaded with books, papers, steel ingots, cartridges and samples of saltpetre-bearing soils.

“Greeting, citoyen Trubert. How are you?”

“I?… I am perfectly well.”

The Secretary of the Military Committee, Fortuné Trubert, invariably made this same reply to all who troubled about his health, less by way of informing them of his welfare than to cut short any discussion on the subject. At twenty-eight, he had a parched skin, thin hair, hectic cheeks and bent shoulders. He was an optician on the Quai des Orfèvres, and owned a very old house which he had given up in ’91 to a superannuated clerk in order to devote his energies to the discharge of his municipal duties. His mother, a charming woman, whose memory a few old men of the neighbourhood still cherished fondly, had died at twenty; she had left him her fine eyes, full of gentleness and passion, her pallor and timidity. From his father, optician and mathematical instrument maker to the King, carried off by the same complaint before his thirtieth year, he inherited an upright character and an industrious temperament.

Without stopping his writing:

“And you, citoyen,” he asked, “how are you?”

“Very well. Anything new?”

“Nothing, nothing. You can see,—we are all quiet here.”

“And the situation?”

“The situation is just the same.”

The situation was appalling. The finest army of the Republic blockaded in Mayence; Valenciennes besieged; Fontenay taken by the Vendéens; Lyons rebellious; the Cévennes in insurrection, the frontier open to the Spaniards; two-thirds of the Departments invaded or revolted; Paris helpless before the Austrian cannon, without money, without bread!

Fortuné Trubert wrote on calmly. The Sections being instructed by resolution of the Commune to carry out the levy of twelve thousand men for La Vendée, he was drawing up directions relating to the enrolment and arming of the contingent which the “Pont-Neuf,” erstwhile “Henri IV,” was to supply. All the muskets in store were to be handed over to the men requisitioned for the front; the National Guard of the Section would be armed with fowling-pieces and pikes.

“I have brought you here,” said Gamelin, “the schedule of the church-bells to be sent to the Luxembourg to be converted into cannon.”

Évariste Gamelin, albeit he had not a penny, was inscribed among the active members of the Section; the law accorded this privilege only to such citizens as were rich enough to pay a contribution equivalent in amount to three days’ work, and demanded a ten days’ contribution to qualify an elector for office. But the Section du Pont-Neuf, enamoured of equality and jealous of its independence, regarded as qualified both for the vote and for office every citizen who had paid out of his own pocket for his National Guard’s uniform. This was Gamelin’s case, who was an active citizen of his Section and member of the Military Committee.

Fortuné Trubert laid down his pen:

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