Madness and Glory: (5): An Escapee Seeking Refuge

The story of Philippe Pinel, father of modern psychiatry. Part 5.

Posted May 07, 2019

This is historical fiction. The patient Lalladiere was not real and the conspiracy is the author's speculation.

Chapter 5

“What are you doing in there?” The voice of a ten year old boy, full of curiosity, was directed at the motionless Lalladiere. Getting no response, the boy, Jean-Luc, circled to the other side of the enclosure to get another look.

“Have you been there long?” Jean-Luc asked again. “Are you going to come out?”

The sight of this man standing bolt upright in the tiny space, after getting up close to the matted dirty hair that first caught his eye, did not frighten or disturb Jean-Luc as it might an ordinary older passerby. He was intrigued to see a person fitting like a rod-like tongue into a smoothly lined groove, wondered whether he were playing a game. Maybe, he thought, this was a revolutionary soldier standing secret guard underneath instead of on top of the ground. Anyway, it looked like a really good hiding place. He needed to know.

“Are you hiding in there?”

After a few moments, Jean-Luc realized the man wasn’t going to answer, at least not right away. He kneeled down nearby and watched for any signs of movement or response. No one else, at that very early morning hour, was coming down the street; and if, rather than playing or doing guardwork, this person was hurt, he couldn’t do much to help him. But seeing him close up now, he didn’t look hurt. More like stuck and unprotected. He wasn’t dead, that everyday troubling matter suddenly came to mind, and quickly passed away when he glimpsed soft, barely perceptible breathing.

Jean-Luc remained kneeling for several minutes, a long time it seemed, just watching in reactive silence. Then, he said out loud to himself, “Maybe it’s not a real person,” and felt even more curious about this standing shape who, he still hoped, might or might not be a playmate hiding in a shell. The hair, he saw, was almost touching the sidewalk edge near his knee. So, gradually, tentatively, as if he were about to pet a dog who could at his touch turn aggressive, he extended his hand to place it on a separated tuft.

Nothing happened, no response. The hair was thick and tangled but human and real, and Jean-Luc kept his hand in place for a little while, waiting to see if there would be any stir or change. No recognition passed across the portion of the man’s face visible to him. So, he moved his hand further onto the dark brown hair and gently began to pull it.

Thoughts of danger never came into his mind. The man was no giant but pretty strong as far as he could tell, and what he was doing, or not doing, was very strange. Ordinarily, he would have known not to stay alone out there with a stranger, especially not now when, as he knew, people stop each other on the street and buckle one or another off to the guillotine to be killed. Just a few days earlier, he had gone with his father to see a beheading. People were laughing and shouting, then they suddenly got very quiet. Down like lightning came the blade and right away they were laughing and shouting again. It was exciting and scary, but he didn’t feel scared now. The man’s face was quiet and unmoving, his posture stiff and vigilant. Looking at him, he wondered if the man was the one who was afraid.

“Are you hiding there?” he tried again. And now, not waiting for an answer he knew would not come, he quickly added, “Are you scared? Is somebody scaring you?”

A barely perceptible movement, a slight stretching of the corners of Lalladiere’s mouth, seemed a response to what he had asked. He pressed on, not letting go of the hair.

“It must be funny to be down there all alone. Have you been there for a long time? Are you hungry?”

No response.

“If you’re down there and want to play capture the aristocrat, I’ll go over to the other side of the street and make believe I didn’t see you. Then you can come out and I’ll get scared. Real scared.”

No movement. No response. He let go of the hair.

“I guess maybe you are really scared. You don’t want to play and somebody really bad is after you.”

Jean-Luc looked carefully at Lalladiere’s taut, unshaven face, followed the line of his stiff shoulders and chest, then tried to see further down to his legs and feet. Realizing there was no indication at all of a reaction, he got up off his knees and started to leave. Then, the resourceful boy got an idea. His father, who was a servant to an actor, liked to prance around the house showing off dramatic roles and teaching Jean-Luc how to adopt them. He decided to use that tack for one more try: play-act being this sentinel-like man, figure out his role, his viewpoint, what he was scared of. Putting his arms stiffly at his sides, he tried to stand tightly erect. After a moment in that position, he nodded to himself, then kneeled down once more at Lalladiere’s side.

“You don’t have to worry if you move or come out of there, you know,” he said softly, then slowly added, “You won’t hurt me. Everybody tells me I’m strong and wiry.”

Although the change in tension in Lalladiere’s body would not have been apparent to an observer, and Jean-Luc did not then recognize it, a gradual relaxation and loosening of his limbs, torso, and head began. No movement yet, except in the small muscles of his eyes, which focused almost imperceptibly on the boy and beyond him.

Jean-Luc noticed a flicker from the slight eye motion and stood watching without speaking. As the form before him very slowly and gradually began to shift, assuming a bodily posture that signaled a possibility of action, a coming out from the tight surroundings, Jean-Luc blanched. Clearly, the man was an active, living force. The boy, though more than a little brave, realized he could not know what would happen. And, more pleased than fearful because of getting a reaction, he decided to go a little further.

“Yes, you see you don’t have to be afraid of me, of anything. There’s no one else around here right now.”

More movement.

“Don’t be afraid.”

Lalladiere, the terror-ridden guardian, was in fact relieved by the young boy’s gentle reassurances, and gradually moved freely again. He looked around the enclosure to find a means of getting out. At the same time, Jean-Luc watched carefully for any threatening motions. Seeing none, he asked again:

“Why were you hiding here?”

“The men. They are trying to kill me.” He looked to both sides, “They are all around.” Lalladiere’s voice, which Jean-Luc was glad to hear, was well-toned though tremulous and apprehensive.

“I don’t see any men. How long have you been hiding here?”

“Days, many days. They are here.” Having actually no idea about the passage of time, Lalladiere turned his head slightly to try for answers beside him by the complaining commotion of voices.

“But you are wrong. There are no men here. I live right close by. There has been no one here since I came out this morning. When are you coming out of there?” He spoke earnestly, assertively, having no idea that Lalladiere’s attention was elsewhere.

A long period of silence. Jean-Luc watched Lalladiere curiously. He was surely right, the man was quite scared. But his face was stiff and expressionless. Tiring of waiting for him to speak, budge his features, or move anything further, Jean-Luc decided to leave.

As he turned away, Lalladiere said, “Go down to the ends of the street, both ends. If you see none coming, either way, come back and tell me.”

Glad finally to be addressed, although Lalladiere’s voice sounded strangely unemotional despite the urgency of his words, Jean-Luc did as he was asked. Running quickly to one corner of the curved alley-like street, he looked in all directions, then went a moderate distance to repeat surveillance at the other corner. Someone was coming from rue La Forge, the larger street on his left, a laborer Jean-Luc had seen many times when out for solitary morning play.

He returned to Lalladiere. “You can come out. There’s no one here. It’s very safe.”

Carefully, Lalladiere looked as far as he could toward either side of the enclosure. He is no good. He is out to trap you. A vicious boy, out to trap you, murder you.

Fervent warnings, compelling as always. But the boy’s voice was warm, reassuring, and he stood nearby, waiting. Lalladiere watched him. Seeing this continued reluctance, Jean-Luc repeated his report. And then, defying the voices, his plaguing furies, Lalladiere came out.

With the same agility he used to squeeze himself into the streetside space, he pulled himself upward, again digging his toes into small irregular clefts and protrusions. Then, fully lodged on the cobbled walk at the top, he immediately crouched into a vigilant position and looked to either side of the street. The laborer was turning the corner.

With a roar of anguish, he glared with hatred at the boy who had betrayed him. He turned to run away from where the man appeared. But before he took a second step, Jean-Luc had grasped his swinging hand. In a soft voice, imperceptible to the man down the street, he corrected his unintentional mistake.

“Don’t be afraid. That man didn’t see you come out. Walk with me. I’ll take you where it’s safe.” Jean-Luc wondered whether this man with him was an escapee, an aristocrat, a person like the ones he had seen beheaded. His curiosity changed to an excited sense of danger and conspiracy. He wanted to shield the man from haranguing powers although he hardly knew the nature and extent of what was needed.

Lalladiere had stopped his foot in mid-air, then put it slowly and firmly on the ground. But as he looked again at the man heading toward them from down the street, there was screeching in his ear. He’s out to trap you. Out to trap you. Out to trap you. He pulled his hand away and set out, walking very quickly.

Jean-Luc ran after him, caught up, and continued to walk beside him. Keeping up with Lalladiere’s pace, he turned sharply and smiled at the man coming down the street behind them. The laborer, who had noticed the unusual back and forth activity, was heartened by the familiar boy’s smile. He was glad he didn’t have to interfere. Everyone was expected these days to make a citizen’s arrest of suspicious people. He surely didn’t want any trouble, and the far-from-frail-looking man with the boy might be combative.

Lalladiere, seeing the laborer turn onto another street, kept on straight ahead, still fast with large open strides. Jean-Luc broke into a half-run to keep up.

“I live near here,” Jean-Luc said. “Come to the house with me. It’s all right, my mother’s there. I bet you’ve been down in that crack a lot...a lot of time. Haven’t talked to anybody or had anything to eat for days. My mother will feed you bread and coffee.”

Lalladiere looked down at the broadly smiling Jean-Luc. The boy might be really earnest, he would go. He would try the house despite increasingly loud and clamorous warnings. As they reached the end of the street, they came to a door which Jean-Luc easily pushed open. Lalladiere peered cautiously inside. At the end of a long corridor was a woman working in the kitchen.

Suzette Rochereau, Jean-Luc’s mother, turned at hearing the door open and started to see her son with an adult companion. She had a sense of danger, remembering having seen and heard gendarmes running back and forth on their street the day before. Tumult, people running, shouting about mobilizing or going to a beheading occurred often in recent years. Neighbors, sometimes outsiders, came together and argued loudly outside about the government or a threatened arrest. But gendarmes combing the nearby street was not yet a usual matter. She should have known better than to allow Jean-Luc to go that day on his usual morning outing. She shuddered, wiped a sweat-moistened palm on her apron and put it on her son’s shoulder.

“Maman,” the boy said before she had a chance to question or object. “This man is—” He turned quickly to Lalladiere and whispered, “What is your name?”

“Uh, uh....Lalla—diere. Guillaume Lalladiere,” he replied almost imperceptibly.

“The citizen Lalladiere. He has been outside on the street and is very, very hungry. I told him you would give him bread and coffee. That is so, Maman, is it not?”

“What, Lalladiere? Who are you? Where do you come from? What do want with us?” Suzette Rochereau asked, taking her hand off Jean-Luc’s shoulder and glaring. The boy looked down and she thought sympathetically that more than once he had brought home strays—always animals to be sure—from the street. Lalladiere paused, then answered,” There are people after me. He will tell you.”

Like her son, Suzette was struck by his well-toned voice and the constricted way he said such alarming words, like a full-dampened screech from a trumpet. Her worry again arose. What did he mean? Was he someone the gendarmes chased the day before? An aristocrat trying to escape from the guillotine? He was very disheveled and looked dirty. A prisoner? Probably so. She would not wait for any more explanations. The man could not be allowed to stay.

“You must leave here right away.” To make sure he was not one of the spies who came sometimes to check their neighborhood, she added, “We are loyal citizens of the republic.”

“Maman, he is all alone and very hungry.”

“He must go. We cannot have prisoners or aristocrats in our house. Do you want us all at the foot of the ‘razor’?”

“He was hiding in a little hutch under the street. Wouldn’t come out, wouldn’t play, wouldn’t even talk.” Jean-Luc’s words poured out. “I told him he didn’t need to be afraid. He came up then, said for me to watch out on the street. But someone was right there before I could warn him. He’s scared. He needs us.”

“Who is after you?” Suzette asked, relenting slightly.

Lalladiere opened his mouth to speak, then paused, and the mother and son together waited for his reply. Cocking his head, he said without expression, “The two men. They are after the Great One.”

“What great one? Who? King Louis is dead. You are dirty, your clothes are all disarrayed. What have you to do with great ones?”

He did not answer. The voices had blended all his oppressors together. Suzette asked again who the people were. When he continued his silence, eyes downward, standing there in front of her, she, like her son earlier, had a sense of his dread as well as his vulnerability. Perhaps he really was escaping from anti-revolutionists, perhaps he was holding back out of concern for Jean-Luc and herself. A sensitive man, at risk, he could believe that knowing everything would put them in danger. Even if this was the person gendarmes were chasing the day before, everyone knew gendarmes were not always on the people’s side.

“You need not be afraid for us. Who is it? Is this great one a citizen? A man of the Revolution?”

“Yes,” Lalladiere answered simply after a moment’s pause.

She decided not to question him further. He came to her house for shelter. Surely, as Jean-Luc said, he was hungry. And something was appealing about his shy withdrawal, despite his amply muscular look. She would feed him, and as soon as possible, send him on. Maybe, after he ate, he would, if it was safe, tell them more. And if he didn’t, it was probably all right too. They might just be doing something good for the republic.

“Good, Maman,” Jean-Luc said as she put out the coffee and bread, “feed his belly, feed his mind.”

After eating, Lalladiere neither told them anything about the chasers nor did he leave. When Jean-Luc’s father, Théo Rochereau, came home from work, he was still there. Suzette and Jean-Luc had shared their morning breakfast with Lalladiere, Jean-Luc asking him in detail what kinds of food he liked. Suzette, after listening to his muttered answers, bemoaned that there still was very little of anything available. Jean-Luc spoke proudly about going to a small school nearby, loving to learn, and his mother said she was glad she was soon going to help support his schooling by sewing torn theatre costumes her husband brought home. Lalladiere then slowly, in a seemingly distracted way, spoke about what he called his “travels” through Paris. The articles of clothing men and women wore as he passed. When Suzette asked whether his own leggings covered the straight-legged trousers of the sans-culottes, he answered that his pants were “chopped, clotted, and cu-lotted.” More evidence, she thought, that he was very likely a fighting revolutionary. He was strange, perhaps, but distinctly not an aristocrat.

“Those words are for a butcher song, right?” Jean-Luc said, laughing. “Gameplaying talk, funny gameplaying talk, citizen Lalladiere. I thought you were a gameplayer when I saw you tucked up in that space. Will you come to play tric-trac with me now in my room before I leave for school? All right, Maman?”

Suzette agreed. Jean-Luc led Lalladiere by hand to his room. Sitting down on the floor in front of the board, he immediately fell asleep and remained there for the rest of the day.

“How could you let a man, an unknown man, into the house in times like this?” Théo Rochereau said loudly and fiercely to his wife shortly after his arrival home. “If this man is a traitor or an aristocrat, we could all be in the Place de la Révolution with our heads chopped off.” Flashing through his mind were the festivities he had taken his son to two days before with an image of himself lying flat on the board as the knife was falling.

“Just as bad,” he went on, “I heard today that a lunatic is free. Gendarmes came right here on this street. If this is the one, he will kill us where we stand. Where is he now? What in damnation have you done?”

“He is asleep in Jean-Luc’s room.”

“What?”

“He is asleep in the child’s room. Jean-Luc is not there.”

“Why did you do this? Which of the devil’s creatures is he?”

“I don’t know.” Suzette, agitated, spoke very rapidly, snapping her words. “Jean-Luc brought him. He was tired and hungry. Sans-culotte, I think he is sans-culotte. He said people on the Paris streets wore too much finery.” She was elaborating Lalladiere’s flat descriptions. But now she wondered why, despite her apprehension, she was drawn to this man and allowed him to stay.

Théo stomped quickly to Jean-Luc’s room and burst in. Seeing the sleeping Lalladiere on the floor, he kneeled, shaking the inert man roughly by the shoulder. The shoulder, seemingly on its own volition, recoiled from his hand, and both bended knees retracted slowly inward toward the torso. Lalladiere’s eyelids fluttered. Théo stopped the shaking and removed his hand.

“Citizen, you must wake,” he said to the now curled-up form. “Who are you? Tell me right now why you have come here.”

No response.

“I tell you, you cannot just lie there. You cannot stay or take refuge here.”

Again, no response.

“I shall report you. To the Section Leader, the gendarmes. They will come and drag you away.”

There was no indication his words were registering. Lalladiere’s eyes, partly open, had no expression in them.

Théo’s frustration engulfed him. “They will drag you to the razor, the damn guillotine, and cut off your stupid head.”

Behind him, both his wife and Jean-Luc, who had just arrived home, stood at the door. He turned toward them with a murderous expression, shifted determinedly back to Lalladiere, and grabbed hold of his upper arm. The arm moved readily and loosely as he pulled, lacking the resistance needed to drag the rest of the body after it. Confused and disgusted, he let go, then reached to take hold of the nearby leg.

The released arm did not fall, remaining suspended in mid-air exactly where Théo’s hand had left it. Théo stood up. He, Suzette, and Jean-Luc stared at what appeared as a wax statue of a giant bird with an extended, broken wing, lying on the floor in wait for death or deliverance.

Lalladiere stared. Don’t move. A slimy finger will destroy them all, a finger will destroy the world.