Madness and Glory: (14) A Rocky Homecoming
The story of Philippe Pinel, father of modern psychiatry. Part 14.
Posted May 16, 2019
This is a work of historical fiction.
Denis reached Ajacis at the edge of the Place, the western portion farthest from the location of the guillotine. He learned that, despite careful surveillance, his companion had seen no sign whatever of the evasive inmate. Ajacis cursed Lalladiere, complaining bitterly that the “fucking degenerate lunatic” was giving them a runaround for the second time. To make matters worse, the gendarmes were now too occupied to help them with their search. Denis decided they should go toward the bridge to the south of the Place. Despite the crowd, Lalladiere would not have been able to pass unseen through Ajacis’s broad vantage point.
As they rushed toward the end of the boulevard, Denis tried to make out what Lalladiere had just done, approaching deputies right there in the midst of the execution. One of them seemed to know him and Saint-Just, who didn’t, said Lalladiere spoke about a plot. Why do the lunatics talk always of plots? The world, God knows, is a dangerous place, a person always has to be on guard against being undermined, twirled like a moving top, by others. By cheaters, people stealing your money or the food off your table. But plots? Not only does this one, like all the rest, make up plots against himself but here he puts in revolutionary leaders too! As he pushed forward, turning his head from side to side on the lookout for Lalladiere, he wondered where the man was going, what he could be thinking. The beseeching face of the doomed former queen came into his mind. Did Lalladiere, like her, want somehow to be helped from a terrible fate? It was too late for her, was it also for him? Sometime later, he would find himself going into such matters further, wondering about possible outcomes as well as actual causes of Lalladiere’s insanity.
Reaching almost to the edge of the boulevard at the bridge, Denis and Ajacis heard a fast, staccato roll of the drum from the region of the guillotine. During a miniscule pause in the blare, the smirking Ajacis called Denis’s attention, with a chopping gesture of his hand, to the faint whishing sound of the falling blade. A great roar went up from the crowd, then a cheer. As they rushed past the spectators crowded near the bridge, the two men heard loud cries of jubilation: “She got what she deserved,” and “Live the Revolution,” and “Death to the harlot corrupter of children, “and “Blood given for blood taken,” and “She was a degraded, evil woman, it is good to see the end of her.” Then, despite the distance from the guillotine location, a woman’s scream: “Do you see, they’re holding up her head? What a vicious treacherous expression on her face!”
They reached the bridge, crossed it, and several yards into the thoroughfare, they came to the winding, radiating streets on the left bank of the Seine. Denis decided they should divide up again and return to the same location when the sun was directly over their heads. They went in opposite directions, combing their respective areas. No one they stopped to ask had seen anything of Lalladiere. Finally, after much fruitless searching, they both gave up. At the meeting place, Denis lifted his palms upward and shrugged. Ajacis, winded from his running search, breathed a deep and guttural sigh of disgust.
“I hope,” Denis said, “he won’t get wild and hurt somebody. For that matter, I hope he don’t hurt himself either,”
“They’re worse when they get out. All pent up.”
“I’m not sure. Some maybe act better.”
“You’re a goddamn optimist. Shit, all of them are possessed. By the goddamn Devil. This is one of the worst. He won’t act better, or be better. Never, no matter what anyone does. You see it right here. Relax the rules, no more beatings, give them leeway, and they run. And we have to chase around the whole fucking city to find them.”
“I figured he would go after the little boy and his father. And I was right. We dogged him right to the Place itself.”
“That was the only piss-good thing to come out of this,” Ajacis said, spitting on the ground. “At least we got to be at the execution. What a day this is. A damned defeat for the enemies of the Revolution!”
Lalladiere descended from the roof onto a street well beyond the area searched by the two attendants. He moved further into the familiar neighborhood and entered a narrow, winding alley covered by an overpass. Walking quickly, he turned his head frequently to watch and listen for running sounds behind him. He felt lightheaded, in a kind of trance. He was heading for an unknown destination, moving with some purpose other than escape. He emerged through the overpass at the end of the alleyway, turned and followed a long street on his right, came to another on the left hand side veering away at a sharp angle, and crossed to enter it. Now, he knew exactly where he was. Halfway down that street was the house where his widowed mother lived, the house he was born in. Deadening sound bombarded him.
Watch out! Watch out! They’re coming after you. They will torture you, tear out your guts, cut off your cock, eat out your eyes. They will destroy you, you will never get away. Don’t move. Don’t dare go forward, don’t go back. You are doomed.
He stood still. For a moment, total immobility again began to sweeping through him. He shouted, pushed himself forward against the constraining sensations with flailing arms. Slowly, still mobile, with a bewildering feeling of need, he inched toward his mother’s house.
Again, the invisible dissuaders assailed him. He understood nothing of why they spoke, why they said what they did, why sometimes they were excruciatingly forceful and other times less so. He knew only he had to obey them, could only seldom summon resolve strong enough to resist. He turned back, heeding their warnings, toward the street behind him. But just as he started to enter it, he saw a tall woman and boy walking toward him. The boy was carrying a heavy bundle but together they approached at a very fast pace. Close by on the narrow street was a bumping, rolling oxcart with a menacing-looking, hairy-armed driver, also tall. He gazed at Lalladiere and bared his teeth. Walking closely behind were two men, one with a very large head and the other broad-shouldered. Though deeply involved in conversation, they both stopped and stared with open spittle-filled mouths directly at him. Terrified that all were after him, the strong-looking men discussing their plans to devour him, he pushed himself up against a nearby building and stared at the oncoming band for what seemed like a long time. Then, he swept around into the street from which he came. Stumbling, unable to run as resolutely as before, he turned constantly to look back over his shoulder.
He forced himself to peer down the street ahead of him. Striding up the street he saw, a short distance past his mother’s house, an officious-looking man and woman biting on what looked like hair. Further down, moving in the same direction, were large bobbing heads of several single walkers, open-mouthed with seemingly sharply-honed teeth, and then a towering group of three, moving in coordination. Fearful both of the immense threatening people in front and those he left on the street behind, he decided he must now immediately take refuge in his mother’s house.
Watch out. They’re coming. Retribution. Torture. They’re here. They’re here.
He made as wide a circle as he could around the officious-looking couple, who began to watch him suspiciously. Head bowed, in turn peering fixedly at them out of the corner of his eye, he moved quickly and resolutely to the door of the house. On the stone upper sill were carved two large dog heads.
After several knocks, the door opened slowly and a man looked out. Lalladiere stepped back.
She’s not alone. Danger. Danger. This man is dangerous.
“Yes, what is it?” The man was portly but the shoulders and arms outlined under his tight-fitting shirt indicated considerable strength. His voice was screechy but not unfriendly.
Lalladiere stood silently without moving.
“Yes, citizen, what do you want? Why did you knock?”
Still no answer. The man snorted and began to shut the door. Lalladiere looked anxiously from side to side at the people going on the street, then stepped slightly forward and spoke in a low, conspiratorial tone:
“His mother lives here.”
“What do you mean? Whose mother lives here?” He looked carefully at Lalladiere’s face, “Who are you?”
Another pause, but getting a glimpse of the familiar inside of the house, Lalladiere felt reassured. It was very hard for him to say his name, assert that he had a real human self, but he responded to the impatience in the man’s voice.
“Guillaume. I am Guillaume Lalladiere.”
“What did you say? Guillaume. Oh, are you the son? The one they threw into the asylum?” Scowling now, he demanded, “What are you doing here?”
Some oncoming walkers passed behind Lalladiere as he stood there. The man at the door took no notice, but Lalladiere, glancing at them, became acutely fearful.
“There is danger. He must come in. It is his mother. The reign has ended on the Place. There are only dry salty locations left.”
“The Place? Did they let you out to see the Austrian whore’s execution?”
“Execution. Trixecution. Devacustation.”
“Argh, piss on it, I don’t know what the hell you are talking about. But if you really are the son, I got to let you in. She will say it.” A pause. “Got any money?”
As the man slowly opened the door wider, Lalladiere pushed past him and bolted inside. The sparsely furnished main room and two bedrooms beyond were immediately familiar, little had changed since he left more than ten years before. In one corner, sitting at the small dining table and fixedly watching him enter, was his mother, Manon, whose last name was now Roliot. She was a short woman wearing a round white bonnet edged by red curly hair unkemptly interspersed with black strands. She rose when Lalladiere entered, amazed.
“Eh, is it Guillaume? Is this an escape? Or are you a ghost?”
“They are after me. She knows. She will help me hide.” The prohibition against self-referral had turned around, and the voices, were for the moment absent.
“Yes, always there is someone after you,” Manon said with a growling tone. “What did you do now? Fight viciously with guards at the place they put you? Like always. Bicêtre— it was Bicêtre, right?”
“And how did you come here? Fly like a bird?”
“I did,” Lalladiere replied softly. “Over all the roofs of Paris.”
“So now you are a great big flying bird, sweeping over roofs and chimneys, peeking, of course, in every window you could. How great and famous you must be.”
“He has been to the execution of the widow Capet,” Bertrand Roliot, Manon’s second husband, interjected as he closed the door.
“Pouf, so that is the answer. That is why you escaped from that asylum. You wanted to see the whore’s cut-off head. Your father, that pervert Victoire, always liked cutting and bleeding, too.” She turned her head slightly and lowered her voice, addressing herself. “Always wanted to go to the butcher’s himself—if we could afford meat—always wanted to see the blood.”
“The queen hated Jacques Necker,” Lalladiere said, speaking clearly and coherently to his mother. “She hounded King Louis to remove him. And he did it.”
“I remember. I remember. And they dropped you on your ass into the streets then, didn’t they?” Manon Roliot added, her harsh tone softening slightly, “Well then, you escape to the execution. And you see your revenge, is that not so?”
“What did she look like at the end?” Bertrand Roliot asked. “Did she cry? Beg for mercy? Or did she stand up, flaunt her body like always, and sneer at the people?”
Lalladiere stared at him but did not answer.
“What do we do with this son of yours, Manon?” Roliot asked. “You told me he turned maniac. In for life, you said, he would never bother us. He’s maniac, all right, I saw that right away. But he managed to escape from the damn asylum and came here.”
“You don’t know everything, Bertrand. That Bicêtre is a terrible place. Sure he ran away. You told me they killed all those young boys there last year, remember?” She turned toward her son, her growling tone slightly softened, “I thought, one time, it was you too with them.”
“We must report him,” Roliot said.
“No, we won’t. Not now,” she said, forcefully. “He has come here—don’t you know?—to see me. We must let him stay. Tell me, Guillaume, was it like I said, you escaped to see the queen’s head lopped off, or, was it because they were torturing you, sliding needles, knives, and jagged hooks deep into you at that Bicêtre?”
Roliot, a tough man, grimaced. He stared at her but, used to such extremes from his wife, he turned away. “Why did you come here?” he asked Lalladiere.
“The plot. They are after me. They are after Danton. And the Incorruptible One. I heard them. I must tell. Tell them. Save the Revolution.”
“What? A government nobody,” Roliot said incredulously, “and now you hobnob with Danton and Robespierre? A lunatic like you is going to save the Revolution?” He wheeled around toward his wife. “Manon, he’s not just degenerate, his rantings are dangerous. To us. To everybody. We must get him out of here.”
“No, Bertrand. He’s not much. God knows, not much. But he is my son. Didn’t you hear him say people are after him?”
“I am going to the people in charge. He belongs back in the asylum.”
“If you go to do that, Bertrand,” she growled, “grab hard on your cock, because you sleep alone tonight.”