Madness And Glory: (21) Revealing the Plot
The story of Philippe Pinel, father of modern psychiatry
Posted May 21, 2019
Not knowing what to do or say, Lalladiere stood looking at Eleanore Duplay in the doorway of the house where Robespierre resided.
"Yes--?" she said questioningly, staring back at him. She wore, on her large body, a conventional high-bodice green dress. Short straight chestnut hair framed her plump and shining face.
"Yes, citizen, what is it?"
"Is it?" he repeated, frightened by the woman despite her seeming quite ordinary.
"Come now, what are you doing here? We have no time for jokes." She began immediately to push closed the heavy door, and from somewhere within him, he summoned up resolve.
"Danger, grave danger."
"To Robespierre. A plot. They told me to tell him."
"What is this? Who told you to tell him?" She paused, kept the door slightly ajar, and looked Lalladiere up and down. She saw that his clothes, though badly disarrayed, were of good quality. In some places, there were tears and hanging strips.
"Where have you come from?" she asked, wondering for a moment whether the man was on the up and up, undone by ambush or other mishap on the way to deliver an important message there. Plots against her beloved Robespierre, though commonly alleged, worried her, and always she took them seriously.
"Come from," Lalladiere repeated, still frightened, but now he continued. "Come from. There are many coming, but I have not been in their way. I have tried to fly, 681 million, but there are many birds with salt on their tails already. Necker had it right. Necker, the heir, had it going. There is a plot."
"Ay-ee. Get away from here" sputtered Eleanore. "These are perilous times. We cannot listen to lunatics or jokesters." She made a beckoning gesture to the watching workmen and shoved the door completely shut.
Lalladiere moved back, then stood in front of the closed door without moving. Not paralyzed but unable to leave, go either in one direction or the other, he stood staring at the carved slats of the dark wooden door. Two workmen began to walk slowly toward him, cautiously watching whether he would do something threatening. Lalladiere saw them and moved again toward the door, vaguely intending to knock or else throw himself against it. Every second counted.
You must tell him. Tell him of the danger. It's the only way to make it up, make up for what you have done. Tell him.
The door opened before he reached it. Eleanore's father and owner of the house, Maurice Duplay, appeared, nodded immediately at the approaching workmen and stood guardedly in the minimally opened doorway.
"You there. Go, get out of here or I shall have these men call the gendarmerie."
"Eleanore told me of your crazy talk about a plot. Raving too about Necker. Get going."
"Necker. The heir, Meinherr."
Tell him, tell him, now. Last chance. Last before the end.
"There is, I swear it, danger to the Republic, to Robespierre. There is a conspiracy, a dangerous, threatening conspiracy. I overheard it. He must know, they are important men, leaders."
"Listen, there are many conspiracies and plots around these days. Do you think you can just come here and tell us Robespierre is danger?" Duplay paused. "Overheard it, you say?"
"Yes, in the street."
"Well, just maybe you know something, but I'll be damned if I think so. Most likely, you are a plotter yourself. A crazy one."
Lalladiere, although the workmen came up behind him, stayed fixed in place. Duplay started to close the door but something about Lalladiere's story, his unreactiveness to accusations, and also his battered appearance, momentarily stopped him.
"What was that about Necker? Where does he fit in to all this?" he asked. "And then, who the hell are you, anyway?"
Again, for Lalladiere, the question was unanswerable, and he remained silent. Duplay snorted, gestured briskly to his men and moved again to close the door. This time, it would surely not be re-opened.
Tell him, it is the name of a debased creature. Tell.
"Lalladiere? You are Lalladiere? Well, I do know of Lalladiere. Exceptional, the chief of Necker's assistants." The men behind, hearing this, both stopped. At the same time, Duplay stepped cautiously forward through the narrow opening, and looked at Lalladiere carefully. "Something is familiar. Yes, you do look a bit familiar but, citizen, what has happened to you? Your clothing is torn, you are down and out. And why do you speak so strangely?"
"The plot. Robespierre must know. Danton the leader, I knew him. He is a friend of the Revolution, Robespierre's friend. Robespierre, all, must stop them."
"Danton? What is that about? Of course, Robespierre must be informed if there really is a plot you know about. But what goes on here? The assistant Lalladiere, I heard, left the government together with Necker. That was a bad time, a real loss. Necker was our champion in the early days. But, if you really are Lalladiere, where in the world have you been? And why are you in such a sorry state now?"
"Raston. It's with Raston."
"Camille Raston, the deputy? He was minister before also. Have you been working with him? Well, he is an active Jacobin, our compatriot. Why is he not here himself?"
"The man came at me and tried to kill me. He tried to stop me. I pushed my finger into his eye." Lalladiere looked from side to side, then downward. "He is bloody, spurting blood all over."
"What? You mean someone has been after you?" Duplay asked, attuned to the constant presence, both within the Revolution and without, of persecution and violence from enemies. Vigilant always to protect his very important tenant, he quickly followed up, "Is it to stop you from warning us?"
"Yes, everywhere. Ferocious women, brutal men, assassins."
"Did Raston send you?"
Speak. Tell him. Spit it out..
"Yes, she did," he answered slowly.
"What do you mean, she? Raston is a man." Lalladiere did not answer, and Duplay suspiciously looked him carefully up and down. The man undoubtedly had been recently in a fight. Duplay saw traces of drying blood on his neck, his hands, and the shoulder seam of his jacket. After a long pause, he said warily, "There is something very strange about you but the names of Necker and Raston carry a lot of weight here. I will not let you anywhere near Robespierre but his brother is inside. Augustin will decide whether or not you are conveying something of consequence."
Duplay waved away the called-up workmen and opened the door wider for Lalladiere to enter.
Watch out. This is a ruse. It is the younger brother. They are trying to hook you, ensnare you. Giving you a boy instead of a man.
The harsh voice was laughing. He stepped back slightly.
"Well?" asked Duplay, noting the movement. "Do you have something to say or not?"
Lalladiere stepped forward through the door, mumbling into the air, "I have to try, you said so". Duplay looked puzzled and frowned. Lalladiere turned away, his lips barely moving, saying imperceptibly, "I have to do the saving. Save the Republic, save myself."
He entered into a good-sized and dimly lit dining room containing stairs leading to bedrooms above. Duplay bid him sit on one of the straight wooden chairs, and knocked softly on the door of the adjacent living room.
Saint André, a member of the governing Committee of Public Safety, came to the door. Noise of discussion among several voices escaped behind him. "Tell Augustin," Duplay said, "I have someone here who claims to have information on a plot. Say that he needs only to come out for a moment. This is probably of no importance but there are, as we know, so many enemies around. As Augustin himself keeps saying, we have to be very, very, wary these days."
Saint André stepped back into the room. Through the door, the sounds of discussion were dissonant and profuse, like several musicians frequently tuning different types of instruments. Lalladiere, waiting with Duplay in the dining room, heard short and longer segments, many ardently emitted. Often, sharp words referring to religion and Hébert came through. Once he heard someone with a polished voice, who could have been Maximilien Robespierre himself, speak of a need for resistance. Danton was loudly cited, someone spoke insistently of a belief in the Deity, and a cracked voice mentioned executions in Bordeaux. Next, the voice referred to Tallien and Lalladiere jerked his head sharply. Duplay, noticing the reaction, glared at him suspiciously.
Watch out. It's coming now.
Lalladiere turned his head down and looked up sideways at Duplay as they sat.
He is one of them. Run. They want no saving. They want murder, mayhem. They do not believe you, worm, because of what you have done. All the things you have done. No one will ever believe you.
"Yes," Lalladiere said out loud. "He is one of them." Run, run, run..
As he bolted himself upright to go, the door before them opened and Augustin appeared. Duplay, who stood up when Lalladiere did, remained beside him, stiffly motionless. In the dim light, Augustin could not clearly see Lalladiere, who had turned to face him.
"Yes, what is this all about. Who is this man, Maurice?" Without waiting for the answer, Augustin looked at Lalladiere. "Who are you, citizen?"
Despite his fear and impulse to leave, Lalladiere was momentarily calmed by the young man's direct and undistracted attention. Augustin Robespierre was not known to him, but he had known Maximilien, and the man resembled his older brother. He looked undeceptive. Perhaps he would believe.
Speaking rapidly and fiercely, his mind focused from zeal and determination, Lalladiere said, "I have overheard a plot against the Revolution. Two men plan to undo Danton, elevate Robespierre, then arrange for his destruction as--"
Augustin interrupted immediately. "What? What is this about? Saint-Just told us about this concoction, the same story. He said a wild lunatic accosted him with these accusations at the Place de la Revolution."
"It was," Lalladiere went on in an increasingly frenzied tone but fearful of directly saying names, "the one who was the inspector, a supervisor, of the Bicêtre. The other one, I remembered him, a leader in the national guard."
"A supervisor and a military leader. Unbelievable. Men such as that, with such positions, must be loyal Jacobins. What is this? You might as well be accusing our man in Bordeaux, Jean-Lambert Tallien, who does glorious work with conspirators. Like you yourself surely are. Tallien was in fact, as I remember, both supervisor and inspector before. A man like that? Do you think we are crazy?" Again, Augustin did not wait for the answer. "Look at this person, Maurice, he is in shambles, clothes dirty and torn. He speaks like a conspirator, refers to Bicêtre. I think there is an insane look in his eyes."
Against his will, Lalladiere burst into uncontrollable laughter. The shrill, mirthless sounds reverberated in the hallway, and Saint André quickly returned, deeply frowning, back to the doorway. Two other members of the group in the living room, curious and also bothered, came up behind him. Augustin had stepped back when the piercing sounds began, but seeing the others at the door, he moved aggressively forward.
"Why are we allowing this lunatic to stand here? Saint-Just told us that this same man escaped from Bicêtre. Call the gendarmerie at once."
As he began to turn away, Lalladiere moved forward, shrieked, and grabbed his arm. "No, no, it is the last chance. Save the Revolution. You. Me. They will succeed in killing Danton, killing Robespierre, killing even you.
"What? Now he makes a threat against me? Maurice, stop him. Take your hands off me, you maniac. Don't you know we can have you guillotined, cut off your insane head? That will cure you once and for all. Maurice, do something, I say."
Augustin pulled Lalladiere's grasping hands from his arm, and Duplay, fists clenched, moved forward. Saint André and the others plunged into the dining room to assist their compatriots. Surrounded, Lalladiere, laughing uncontrollably with interrupting high pitched sighs, moved backwards toward a wall of the dining room closest to the stairs. He flailed his arms outward and the four men moved cautiously toward him. Flexing one leg backward, he prepared to kick the nearest one. From the midst of the group, he heard:
Die, despicable nothingness, die.
He slumped down on the wall, his body loose and heavy, his head and shoulders leaning toward the sharp edges of the steps in the open stairway. Duplay, seeing what he thought was a diversionary movement, leaped toward him to stop the fall. He pushed Lalladiere's head away from the stairs and pinioned his drooping body against the bottom of the wall. Augustin turned away, going quickly around to the back of the encircling group. Saint André moved forward into the opened-up space to help Duplay. He leaned over the silent sprawling Lalladiere and put his hands under the slumped shoulders, starting together with Duplay to lift him off the floor. But full inner terror had begun. Lalladiere's arms and body gave no resistance and they could not bring him up. As Duplay and Saint-André pulled fiercely at his limbs, they stayed compliantly wherever they were moved, suspended in mid-air.