Madness and Glory: (12): The Revelation of a Conspiracy
The story of Philippe Pinel, father of modern psychiatry. Part 12.
Posted May 14, 2019
This is a work of historical fiction regarding events of the French Revolution.
Denis tried, as he and Ajacis moved forward through advancing groups of excited people, to think about what was in Lalladiere’s head. Attendants had been called immediately by the worried Marguerite Pussin the day before. But several inmates, with the uncanny intuition of the insane about disruption in their asylum, were disturbed that day. The entire staff was swamped by the need for restraining and other security measures. By the time any of them were free, dusk had fallen. A few attendants went into the darkness, attempting to find Lalladiere by torch and candlelight. But they were defeated by poor light, small alleys, and manifold possibilities for concealment.
The next morning, Denis and Ajacis were sent to get help for searching at the gendarmerie. No gendarmes, they found after considerable delay, were available. All were dispatched to the center of Paris for Marie Antoinette’s execution.
At first, the two attendants retraced Lalladiere’s previous path, believing he again would take to the roofs and remain up there to avoid pursuers. They looked for doors open or ajar as potential accessways to a roof and carefully scrutinized visible portions of eaves and protrusions. They searched thoroughly throughout the streets in the vicinity of the asylum.
Denis also remembered Jean-Luc’s description of Lalladiere in a narrow enclosure. They retraced their paths, heads down, searching the meeting places between cobblestones and houses. Earlier, Denis had considered the possibility that Lalladiere had gone back to where Jean-Luc lived, but rejected the idea as highly unlikely. Even though, as Denis knew, Lalladiere was quite disturbed that day, he would still realize that he would first be looked for there. Denis wondered, rethinking the circumstances as he walked, was Jean-Luc actually the reason Lalladiere ran away again? The thought troubled him. His own assessment of Lalladiere’s feelings could be mistaken; this could turn out to be a bizarre assault or the lust for a young boy, hateful business. On the other hand, the boy brought Lalladiere to that house, asking his mother to help him. Maybe, Denis considered and mentioned to Ajacis, just getting back to see him, for whatever reason, was the moving force. Ajacis snorted. Denis leading, they went quickly to the Rochereau house and established from Suzette that Lalladiere had not been there.
“Théo is not here either,” she said. “He and Jean-Luc left a while ago,”
“Where did they go?” Ajacis asked.
“They went, you know, to the execution of the queen.” Quickly, she corrected herself, “The former queen.”
“Well then, Lalladiere may have followed them,” Denis volunteered.
“Really?” she asked, concerned.
“We’ll damn well go, too,” Ajacis said.
“He isn’t really dangerous, is he?”
“He’s a maniac,” Ajacis growled.
“He got along so well with Jean-Luc.”
“We’ll make sure everything’s all right,” Denis said as they moved to leave.
Outside the house, Ajacis said sneeringly to Denis, “We could make sure everything would be all right, you bet. Like we used to.”
At the edge of the Place de la Revolution, Lalladiere had spotted the attendants arriving before he himself was seen. He turned quickly to hide within a nearby group of tipsy men and women. As they continued on toward the dense crowd near the guillotine, he reluctantly went in their midst back into the Place. A mounted, stiff-postured gendarme rode up alongside the group and, seeing a better shield, Lalladiere moved to the far side of the horse obstructing the view from the mouth of the street.
The murderer is here. He has come to get you. Hide, curl yourself into a worm.
The voice was insistent, commanding, and stood out against the cacophony of the crowd. He walked, head bent, at the side of the horse. Nearby, the pattern of movement was orderly. Horse and people pressed forward in a sprightly, insistent throng. Behind him, a woman was speaking in a continuous, fervent stream. Lalladiere heard her say, “plotting against the Revolution.” From the other side of the horse came a high-pitched, derisive, “Just watch the head come right off the shoulders.” Right in front of him, a man said to his companion, “Danton, they say, isn’t coming to see this. What is up? What is the matter with him?”
Lalladiere, alerted, was swarming with thoughts. The words of plotting, removal of a head, were referring, surely, to him. They mixed together with snatches of phrases he had overheard in the enclosure before. Danton’s not coming was certainly a message. All was happening because he had heard the secret plans of the two men, the details of which were increasingly sharper in his memory.
Watch out. They’re here. They are around you.
Denis and Ajacis, moving forward, peered searchingly through the thickening crowd. Seeing no sign of Lalladiere, Denis sent Ajacis to the outside of the large, curving boulevard where there was a broad overview while he moved forward into the increasingly packed and dense center. Taller than a number of people around him, he surveyed a wide area, trying to see if he could find Jean-Luc and Théo in the crowd. Their forms were less familiar to him than Lalladiere’s, and the boy was hard to distinguish from the numerous young children in the central area. Then, spotting a man with Lalladiere’s lithe, muscular build who looked like he was shifting hastily among nearby collections of people, Denis pushed quickly toward him. As he came up, the man looked at him with surprise and annoyance, and Denis saw his mistake. Despite the setback, he was feeling quite sure that Lalladiere had followed the boy and his father to the Place and was somewhere in the crowd. Denis couldn’t really understand the reason he was after the boy. Nor why he would come there and risk being caught.
Sometimes, he thought, they actually do seem to want to get caught. These runaways do obvious things, take no precautions. Maybe that was the case with Lalladiere, the minister’s assistant gone crazy. They were all very puzzling, these lunatics, but at times he sensed things about Lalladiere, like his needing, for whatever reason, to follow the boy. He wished he knew more.
Peering around the side of the horse, Lalladiere glimpsed, not far away, the top of Denis’s head periodically rising over the crowd. Where was the other one, the torturer Ajacis? He moved back, close beside the horse and behind the busily occupied gendarme’s mounted form. As they tread forward, he went too, into the midst of a phalanx of shuffling, shouting spectators. But he was then barely able to keep Jean-Luc and Théo in sight as they moved into the packed throng around the guillotine. Surrounding that imposing structure, Lalladiere could see a number of women moving through the crowd, loudly cheering on the execution. This grim advocacy, carried out by these hirelings, the lécheuses de la guillotine, of the Committee of General Security, was hardly necessary with such a boisterous crowd. A few yards back, out of Lalladiere’s view, were attending representatives of the governing National Convention. Hébert had made sure to come, eager, excited, and relishing the outcome of his accusations. Also there were Robespierre’s associate Saint-Just, the playwright and deputy Collot d’Herbois, Internal Affairs commissioner Couthon, military leader Barras, former President of the Convention Hérault de Séchelles, and a number of others, all of whom came to demonstrate the legitimacy of the proceedings and make sure everything went as planned. Robespierre, like Danton, did not come to view the execution.
Hunching near the horse and moving through the close-knit crowd had an unusual effect on Lalladiere. Instead of the terror ordinarily induced in him by closeness to people, walking within the group next to an unknowingly protective mounted gendarme, anonymous and totally unseen by his pursuers, gave him an unfamiliar feeling of security. He knew that Denis or worse, Ajacis, could still apprehend him, and there was little chance at that point of making contact with Jean-Luc in the massive crowd. But the voices were strangely silent, nothing came through the surrounding wall of noise as before. He strode carefully forward in concert with the jabbering, stirred-up people nearby.
Théo, together with Jean-Luc, had taken a place as close to the guillotine as the densely packed throng allowed. Laughingly intending to playact for Jean-Luc, Théo tilted his head to the side, then chopped with the heel of his hand at the side of his neck. A reluctant and captive companion, not amused by his father’s performance, Jean-Luc grimaced. From within the family groupings pushed close together with them, the heads of other children bobbed up high as their eager parents lifted them to get a better view of the grim machine. Two drunken men bumped and swayed within the assembled groupings near the front, one of them loudly declaiming the former king and queen, and promising that the Capet woman—”the widow slut”—would now get what was coming to her.
Keeping Jean-Luc in view and watching for signs of Ajacis, Denis, or other as-yet-unseen attendants, Lalladiere moved forward at the side of the large snorting horse to the gendarme’s designated station angled several feet from the front of the guillotine. Not stopping, the gendarme suddenly turned his mount sharply sideways in order to police a large segment of the pressing crowd. Taken unaware, Lalladiere stood where he was in a momentarily opened space among the mass of people. Whether Ajacis, at that moment, could see him was not clear, but Lalladiere distinctly saw that attendant’s large red head bobbing up and down at the edge of the crowd. Panicked, he jerked himself around toward the denser grouping nearer to the guillotine, and smashed into one of the lecheuse women standing there. He fell flat onto the ground, then jumped up, feeling dazed. He wheeled around and wildly pushed through the crowd until he was stopped by the cordon of assistants to the representatives of the National Convention standing near the guillotine.
He stood and stared. Except for two of them, the others present were all known to him. Each had met more than once in his presence with the Controller General, the people’s minister Necker. The encounter must be a sign, an important portent. From where he stood, he saw the familiar and characteristically scowling Hébert, the crippled and expressionless Couthon, the distinguished former aristocrat de Séchelles as well as an unknown open-faced, young, and clearly confident man, Saint-Just. When, above all the rest, the handsome head of Barras came into view, Lalladiere’s heart beat wildly.
He is here to arrest you, jail you, torture you.
“True, that’s true,” he mumbled. “That is why this dangerous man is here.” He wheeled back toward the crowd behind him. But at the same time he heard the trumpeting of hazard in his ears, he clearly remembered specific conspiratorial phrases, “Do Danton in, “and “The Incorruptible One...is dangerous.” Here, in the midst of the milling crowd around him, he comprehended fully that the men he heard were secretly planning a seditious plot. Not only one he believed was against him. They were plotting to undo the Revolution. And, though he often felt his thoughts clouded, he deeply cared about that. The Revolution was for the people. He believed in it from the beginning, was there, and ardently vowed that it must work.
Energized, deciding on a new goal, he vigorously pushed past the assistants obstructing him. The commanding voices were momentarily silent. Moving so quickly he could not be stopped again, he came up directly behind Robespierre’s right hand man Saint-Just who was at that moment speaking in a directive tone to those around him. Thinking correctly that Saint-Just was the authoritative person in the group, he grabbed his arm, jerking the young man toward him. In an anxious but quiet voice, Lalladiere said, “They are plotting to destroy Danton. They are plotting to use and kill Robespierre.”
“What? Who are you? What is this?” demanded Saint-Just, wide-eyed and amazed.
Hérault de Séchelles, standing next to Saint-Just, said, “I know this man, he was Necker’s first assistant.”But what,” he asked, addressing Lalladiere, “has happened to you? You look terrible.”
“Yes, the man was very reliable,” said Collot d’Herbois. “But I heard it has been bad, very bad, for him.”
“Danton undone, then Robespierre,” Lalladiere, ignoring the comments, repeated to Saint-Just. One of the assistants came up to remove Lalladiere but Hérault de Séchelles motioned, with a tentative patting in the air, for him to stand back.
“What is this all about, citizen?” Saint-Just asked again. “Who is plotting to kill Danton and Robespierre? Why have you come here?”
Lalladiere tossed up his head to glance quickly toward Barras partly concealed by assistants and members of the crowd several feet away. Neither Saint-Just nor any of the others saw the gesture, but Barras, out of the corner of his eye, noticed the agitated interchange and turned toward the two men.
“A conspiracy. I heard them. Elevate Robespierre, then bring him to the guillotine.” As Lalladiere said this, he pointed at the towering dread machine.
You too are going to be killed. You too must go to the guillotine. It’s for you. You, You, too. Lalladiere turned his head toward the sound of the now returned voices and his face took on a distorted, painful look.
Saint-Just’s eyes narrowed into slitted lines. Robespierre was the deliverer, for him the undisputed hero of the Revolution. This bizarrely behaving man was part of the king’s government and might himself be a conspirator. How could anyone elevate Robespierre and then have him killed? Robespierre, spearhead, organizer, increased his influence himself everyday.
“What are you doing here? Who said you could come here, and talk to me this way? I shall have you arrested, Necker’s assistant or not.”
“Arrested. The times are festive. We are restive, and must take away the salt. Lots of people are involved and he will be very embarrassed, the most embarrassed person anyone knows.” He focused his eyes, this time protractedly, at Barras as he said the last. Barras, seeing the look but not able to hear over the surrounding din, stared back suspiciously. Exasperated, searching around for some assistance, Saint-Just again ignored Lalladiere’s telltale glance.
“What did you say?” Saint-Just asked loudly, at the same time raising his arm to get the attention of the nearby mounted gendarme. A few persons in the tightly-packed crowd moved closer to find out what was going on. At that moment, a commotion at the other end of the square distracted everyone. At the entry to the Place from the rue National, the open tumbrel cart bearing the former queen appeared.
The wheels of the tumbrel clattered loudly on the cobblestones as the anguished, frightened woman, sitting erect in a plain bonnet and white dress, was carried toward the guillotine. Those nearby the vehicle shouted epithets and curses: “traitor,” “vampire mother,” “pervert and witch,” “shitty degenerate,” and the catchword slogan “Austrian whore.” The cart moved forward, the pounding wheels resounding over the shouts.
As Saint-Just and others nearby turned to stare in the direction of the moving cart, Lalladiere spun quickly around to escape into the crowd behind him. Deftly, he scrambled through, shifting his body from side to side through narrow openings among the people shuffling and craning to look toward the cart. In dramatic contrast with his defensive catatonic spells, he moved vigorously and was untouchable, like an athlete covered with a coat of grease. Within minutes he lost himself among the mass of spectators, fleeing rapidly, breathing hard enough to make his chest ache. Aiding him in his getaway, although he did not know it, the pursuer Denis was moving away from him. Peering widely over the crowd, Denis had noticed the altercation near the guillotine and, believing he had spied his man, was pushing directly toward Lalladiere’s previous location, now some distance away.
Lalladiere turned in the direction away from the cart carrying the former queen, and unhappily away from where he had last seen Jean-Luc and Théo, but also away from Ajacis and Denis. As he reached the edge of the Place de Revolution, and started over the new bridge across the river Seine, he could no longer hear the clacking sound of cartwheels on stones, or the chorus of vilifying shouters.