Madness and Glory (37): Continued Courtship

The story of Phillipe Pinel father of modern psychiatry

Posted Jun 03, 2019

 This is a work of historical fiction

Chapter 37

“Guillaume, what a surprise to see you,” Genevieve said, rising as they entered. She was pleased despite the awkwardness of the situation. Seeing the unknown Jean-Luc beside Lalladiere, she exclaimed with the natural hospitality she always felt toward children, “And you have brought a special young man with you.” Her warm smile heartened Jean-Luc who, never having been in a well-furnished, middle class Paris dwelling, looked around curiously. Lalladiere introduced him.

The two men were sitting uncomfortably in the parlor. Up to that moment, they had been at each side of Genevieve, leaning toward her to narrow the distance from their satin brocaded chairs, one with body held straight like a tilted lance and the other crouched with his left shoulder pushed insinuatingly forward, assiduously carrying out the time-honored rivalrous pursuit of the desirable female. Both were openly bothered by Genevieve’s very familiar greeting to the visitors. They rose in unaccustomed unison, the deputy quickly brushing some pastry crumbs from his coat, the lieutenant brisk and immaculate. When Genevieve introduced each one, the lieutenant bowed his head and sat down, and the deputy lackadaisically offered a hand first to Lalladiere, then leaning down slightly, to Jean-Luc. Not a firm handshake, he simply proffered all five fingers into their extended hands. He managed, when he again sat down, to move his chair closer to where Genevieve was located on the settee. The lieutenant had perched himself further forward in a tense position on his chair.

“Have you both been in an accident? Genevieve asked. She right away noticed street dust on their clothing which they hadn’t fully disposed of.

“He saved me. I was about to be trampled by a coach and horses in the street.” Jean-Luc volunteered, smiling proudly at Lalladiere. Although not yet adjusted to his surroundings, the boy, a product of the revolutionary times, was used to being with collections of adults.

“That’s terrifying. How did it happen? Are you quite all right?” Genevieve asked.

Jean-Luc, eyes glistening, launched into a detailed description of the circumstances of his narrow escape. He was quite charming and theatrical, humming little bits of the musician’s tunes, swaying his shoulders to suggest the movements of his dancing, and then showing, with a flourish, how Lalladiere took him with an embrace out of the onrushing horses’ path. The lieutenant stared balefully as the story of street heroics unfolded. The deputy nervously brushed more crumbs off his lap. Lalladiere, nodding intermittently during the boy’s account, was distracted by the presence of the two men in Genevieve’s parlor. Feelings of jealousy could turn around within him to become severe. Though each day persecutory ideas were less intense, they still were ready to boil up and take over. Genevieve cared for him, he knew that. Was this an onslaught he had to overcome?

Genevieve expressed sympathy to the boy and—a reassurance for Lalladiere—she turned to him with profuse compliments, pointedly adding this to his past accomplishments which she carefully spelled out. The lieutenant, waiting irritated until she finished, said the episode reminded him of the time he himself got wounded saving someone’s life. He then elaborately described leaping in front of a disarmed fellow officer during a close bayonet combat. It was an account of outstanding bravery, but it plunged the group into silence. Jean-Luc, well beyond his years, seemed to have an appreciation of the cross-currents in the situation, and he giggled loudly. That vexed Desrouches, who recognized clearly that the intruding friend and attractive boy loomed up as greater rivals than the contentious lieutenant, and he threw in unexpected support.

“That’s a very laudatory account, Vaillier. If all our soldiers performed even just a little like that, we would wipe up those Austrians in no time.”

Genevieve was troubled by the thrust and parrying, both the lieutenant’s diversion and Desrouches’s sham collaboration. The presence of Guillaume in her house, a sure indication of his unimpeded improvement, increased her distress and embarrassment about having allowed these men to pursue her. She shifted the conversation to a topic on which Guillaume, she knew, would shine.

“We were talking before about the fall of Robespierre and the many changes that will be taking place in the government.”

“Unfortunate, Robespierre, so virtuous, strong in his time,” Desrouches said, taking her up immediately. “But as I said before, he showed himself to be a tyrant. Surely, now, with the appointment of the Directory, we will be headed by a dedicated group of republicans.”

“I don’t know how republican or dedicated they are,” Vaillier countered, “but at least one of them, Barras, is a military man. That might help with the conduct of the war.”

Lalladiere shifted sharply backward in his chair. What? Barras in power? The conspiracy had completely succeeded. What could be done now? He began to speak but was interrupted by Jean-Luc.

“Robespierre. He is a hero,” the boy said confidently, echoing words of loyalty to the fallen leader repeatedly heard expressed at home.

“What? Who is this boy?” the lieutenant exploded, moving further forward to the tip of his seat. “The man was the pinnacle of arrogance and vanity, disloyal to his friends, brought the government to ruin with his policies and denunciations.” He looked directly at Jean-Luc. “What do you know of this?”

“Robespierre is a hero,” he repeated, and looking toward Lalladiere for affirmation of what he saw as filial loyalty, he added, “like my father.”

Vaillier saw the look. Still rankled by Genevieve’s admiration of Lalladiere’s heroism, and suspicious of the boy’s impertinent insistence, he asked again, irritatedly addressing Lalladiere, “Who is this boy? Is he your son?”

Lalladiere ignored Vaillier’s question. “This Barras in the Directory was a—” he started to say, but was immediately interrupted by the increasingly angry lieutenant who, burning for an answer, turned to Jean-Luc.

“Tell me, boy, is this man your father?”

“It’s a wise son,” Jean-Luc retorted, with a saying he had read in an actor’s text at home, “who knows his own father.” His eyes twinkled, and he looked this time at Genevieve. He liked sounding clever, and divined that Lalladiere, just like Robespierre a moment before, needed increased reinforcement within the openly combative assemblage.

Again Vaillier noted the direction of the boy’s look. “What does this mean?” he demanded of Genevieve. “Is this some farce the three of you are playing out here, a planned attack on our credulity?”

“I don’t understand, lieutenant,” Genevieve replied. “What are you suggesting?”

“Citizenness, I shall not remain here to be insulted in the presence of—” he paused as he stood up.

“In the presence of what?”

“A family,” he blurted, storming out of the parlor and the house.

The group remaining sat in silence for some moments while Jean-Luc beamed at Lalladiere, waiting for an approving look. Desrouches, preferring the alliance with Vaillier to what he perceived as an onslaught from the new visitors, felt defenseless with the lieutenant’s departure and disturbed about the inferences he left behind. Genevieve was intrigued and slightly amused.

“Jean-Luc is a fine boy,” Lalladiere said, breaking the silence. “He is not my son, you see, but I wish he could be.”

“Such a tumult just occurred. Whatever did you mean by your remark, Jean-Luc?” Genevieve asked in a kindly tone.

Desrouches, before Jean-Luc could respond, thought it better to take attention away from the cagey boy. He shifted the conversation to a test of the self-evident adult rival, Lalladiere, who might or might not be his equal.

“Were you starting to say something about Barras? He was the worthy commander of the militia that brought Robespierre in. As you probably know, now one of our five leaders in the governing Directory. Do you know of him personally?”

“I do. I knew him when I was assistant to Minister Necker.”

“Indeed? An honorable position, I suppose. But I am afraid Necker is no longer the hero of the Revolution he was once.”

Lalladiere thought of his confrontation with the sans-culottes in the courtyard of the Bicêtre; they remembered Necker and still prized him as a champion of the people. His own betrayal of the minister no longer plagued him so strongly as before, but he felt a continued need to make up for it. And more than that, a pressing need to help the people of his country. Knowing that Barras was in power meant that he must again proclaim the abominable conspiracy. Nothing had been done by anyone and it was, more than ever, important.

“Paul Barras, together with Jean-Lambert Tallien, conspired to overthrow both Danton and Robespierre. And they have succeeded.”

“What is this? A plot by Tallien and Barras, the Thermidorean heroes?” Desrouches said, incredulous.

“Exactly”

“What are you saying? How could they conspire to overthrow our leaders, the great Danton along with Robespierre?”

“They worked to elevate Robespierre, knowing he would despise Danton’s real or trumped up corruption, and would in the end do him in. Then, as they planned, they turned to undermining Robespierre, using the man’s unstinting morality and incorruptibility against him. I do not know the details of how they accomplished these things, but I know they plotted it all long in advance.”

“Impossible. How would you know such a matter?” Desrouches’s amazement was tinged with some anxiety. The Terror supposedly was ending but it was still far from safe to make open charges, or discuss conspiracy.

“I overheard them, almost a year ago, scheming together on a dark street where they thought they were completely safe.”

“You overheard them? What is this bizarre story you are telling us? How could you have overheard them on a dark street? What dark street?

“I was hiding.” It was true, although he was hiding from the dread inside himself, not them.

“That was where we first met, Guillaume and I,” Jean-Luc interjected. He was excited by the charged interchange between the two men.

Desrouches believed himself to be beset from two sides. The story, filled with treacherous allegations, was also fantastic. The boy seemed attuned to come in on cue and make it real. He insisted that both man and boy explain what they were talking about. Lalladiere complied, describing in some detail the circumstances connected with his elopement from Bicêtre. Jean-Luc laughingly chimed in about seeing Guillaume hiding and thinking he was playing a game, then bringing him to his house to meet his parents. Genevieve, who up to that point had not taken Guillaume’s story seriously, thinking always it arose from illness, now understood he had described a real event. She had previously heard about a boy in the street who took Guillaume to his home. Here he was, the boy, telling all about that and the hiding in the street. Guillaume, much better now, clearly described the elaborate working of a conspiracy, including names and circumstances. It must all be true. It must all be true. The conditions of both Danton’s and Robespierre’s falls certainly could bear out the horrible skullduggery. Robespierre had rapidly and somewhat inexplicably become elevated over his compatriot Danton, later he bitterly condemned Danton’s corruption, and then both Tallien and Barras played key roles in Robespierre’s denunciation and arrest.

“We must reveal what these conspirators have done,” she said heatedly. “I should have listened to you before, Guillaume.” Lalladiere smiled warmly at her, overcoming more each day the emotion-denying tautness of fear.

Desrouches was shocked, but unlike Vaillier earlier, he remained in his chair frozen and immobilized. The man sitting across from him, an inmate from an insane asylum, was actually claiming that, in an attempt at escaping, he had overheard a plot of enormous proportions concocted, he said, by two devoted and now powerful republican leaders. And Genevieve, the daughter of a deputy and the woman he was courting, believed him. What’s more, she wanted to do something about it, expose everyone in that room to mortal danger.

“Yes, yes, let’s tailor down the Tall-i-en, and bar up that old

Barr-asien,” Jean-Luc sang out, then finished with: “And we’ll make the country free.”

Horrified now, Desrouches felt pressed, as a last ditch effort, to alert his hostess, the woman he still hoped to capture, to her enemy.

“Citizenness, I feel I must warn you that you are exposing yourself to great risk. You have allowed into your house a lunatic who may be capable of outrage, violence at any moment. Worse still, you have believed this person’s allegations about very significant leaders who, if they heard the charges, would not hesitate to take steps. Nor will anyone who colludes with such accusations be safe.”

“You are one who will be in danger, as all of us will, if nothing is done about allowing those corrupt men to run the government,” Lalladiere said to Desrouches.

“The man you call a lunatic, citizen Desrouches, “said Genevieve, “is the sanest of us all.” She turned to Jean-Luc. “Never fear, young man, you are right. We shall have our liberty.”

Now Desrouches stood up, shaking his head. “Goodbye, citizenness Raston, I am totally dismayed. Totally, irretrievably, dismayed.” Without a glance at either Lalladiere or Jean-Luc, who was again starting the first words of his refrain—”Let’s tailor—” Desrouches wheeled around, and walked out.