Madness and Glory: (13) In Pursuit of the Truth
The story of Philippe Pinel, father of modern psychiatry. Part 13.
Posted May 15, 2019
This is a work of historical fiction. The Paris scenes around the guillotine are real.
“Citizen, where did he go?” Denis asked Saint-Just urgently as he came up to the area where he had spotted Lalladiere. Saint-Just was angry and grimacing, looking toward the crowd behind them.
“Who? The man who was just here?”
“Yes,that one. I must find him.”
“Why was he here? Where does he come from?”
“I must get him. Which way did he go?”
“What has this man done?” Hérault interposed.
“He went into the crowd,” replied Saint-Just. “Moved away like lightning. I cannot see him anywhere at all now.”
“Where into the crowd?”
“What in damnation is this about? He spoke wildly, dangerously, of a plot against the Revolution. Against Robespierre.”
“He is from the Bicêtre Asylum, an inmate.” Denis felt he was wasting time responding to the official’s questions, but there was no sign of Lalladiere or of the path he had taken. The packed crowd near them closed immediately over any space that opened. All stood, a mass of irregular-neck-length cranes, peering toward the cart. Ignoring Denis, Saint-Just, and the previous altercation, eyes everywhere followed the slow entry of the hapless former queen, trying to catch glimpses of her tensed, constricted body, and her desperate face.
“Peuf. So that is what it was. He is an escaped lunatic. Of course, just as I thought, nothing to what he raved about. There are many enemies around. Of Robespierre, of myself as well. But none who support him want him killed.”
“Citizen,” said Denis, still speaking to Saint-Just, “I know nothing of plots against the Revolution. The man often does speak of plots, but always against himself. Can you at least tell me toward which side he ran?”
At that moment, Barras, coming near, caught Denis’s reference to plots. Not having heard Lalladiere’s accusation, but worried always about the barest threat of an exposure, he jumped in quickly to answer the question himself.
“If you are looking for that man just now talking to the deputy here, I saw him go that way.” He pointed directly opposite to where Lalladiere had gone.
Denis turned quickly and pushed roughly into the thick crowd. Barras’s misdirection led him toward the path of the cart where there was an even heavier press of onlookers. As he crossed in front of the vehicle in order to move outward toward the perimeter, he thought—no, he was sure—the former queen was looking at him. What, he wondered then, and many times after that, was in that look? It seemed as though she had picked him out, knew him, and was appealing to him to save her. Well, perhaps she was right, he thought, perhaps he was the one to do it. Like everyone else, he hated the aristocracy, hated her and the oppression everyone said she caused. But she was going to be killed. On her face was an expression like his father’s, before he died of the fever. He looked so frightened, desperate, although not condemned to death on the guillotine he was still hoping for reprieve. What sin deserved death? It was the end of everything. He couldn’t save his father, but for a moment he wondered if he could run to the cart and save the wretched woman.
Turning his eyes away from her entreating look, he edged forward, stretching his head upward to try to see the fleeing Lalladiere. If not, he might spot Ajacis, signal to him that the runaway was probably moving in his direction toward the outside of the square. They needed to get him then and there. If they missed him in the crowd, no one could tell what would happen. The man was violent, chaotic. They were sure he was there. Maybe he would hurt the boy.
Lalladiere, on the bridge, ran quickly to the other side. There, the crowd was less heavy, but everyone on the thoroughfare faced him, heading toward the Place in the opposite direction. A number of them, puzzled and annoyed, gave way reluctantly as he ran on.
They’re after you. They’re after you. Murderous. Vicious. They’ll get you again, tear you to shreds, and kill you.[a1]
He mumbled over and over in response: “Yes, I know, I know. I’m going, going as fast as I can.” But he neither knew where to go nor what to do. Dazedly, he ran until, seeing a smaller side street, he turned in. A horse and cart rumbled toward him. Several stragglers headed for the execution were walking quickly and, he believed, staring at him.[a2]
Despite his dazed uncertainty and the pressure of his flight, he realized that he was in a familiar area of the city. If he continued in the direction he was going, he eventually would return to the Bicêtre. He shuddered, disturbed by a sudden passing thought that he wanted to go back there. He walked slower, continuing his mumbling discourse, and trying to think about the boy. There was no possibility, he knew, of going back and finding him in the crowd.
The streets of Paris where he went were well known to him. He had lived near this area all his life. Passersby, noticing his conversations in the air, glared at him. He turned away, crouching down to be less noticeable and momentarily felt safer and more controlled. But then, as he vaguely knew, people seeing him in that posture were more aware and even wary of him. Some took a wide arc away from him as they walked. One man, whose discomfort turned into anger, came straight toward him, ready to push or hit him. As he approached and saw Lalladiere’s expressionless face, the man was disconcerted and dropped his hands. He spit out a filthy epithet and moved on. Lalladiere hastened away, fearful of everyone around him, plagued by fresh warnings from the accompanying shrill voices.
He came to the Severin District streets and alleyways. Here, he toddled as a child, went to school, carted stone loads until the time his father left for good. He started into a half run. Not far away was the small attached house where his mother still lived.
“Ho citizen, where are you going?” an extremely tall young man, wearing the prototypic striped open-ended pants, black wig, and red cap of a revolutionary sans-culotte, held up his hand and addressed him.
Lalladiere stopped but didn’t answer. His lips moved in unison with the voices warning him about the intrusion.
“Did you hear me, citizen? Where are you going? The execution is the other way, everyone goes there. Why are you hurrying away?”
“He was afraid of the guillotine. The blood.”
“What? Has the head been cut off already? Is she dead?”
Lalladiere said nothing.
“What’s going on? Why don’t you answer me? I am a leader of this Section. I’ve never seen you here before.”
“Blew. Blood. Blue. The blood is on her hair.”
“What is this? Are you a sympathizer with the Austrian whore? A counterrevolutionary?” the tall Leader asked, scowling harshly.
“You are in danger, citizen,” angry now, the leader raised his voice, attracting the attention of two men and a woman among the people passing. They stopped to watch.
“If you go from the execution for political reasons, it is treachery,” the official said, glaring down at Lalladiere. “This will be an end for you,” he added.
Lalladiere looked wild, frightened.
“Tell me, shithead, were you hatching something back there and they stopped you? Is there some scheme, a conspiracy?”
“Conspiracy. They are plotting. Against me. Against the leaders—Danton,” Lalladiere said.
“What? So there is a plot here. Against Danton, is that it? Come on, you come with me, I am taking you in,” he moved toward Lalladiere to grab his arm. Seeing his intention, the three onlookers moved forward to join in.
Lalladiere flailed his arms upward, kicked out toward the approaching man, pushed past the other three, and wheeled around to run. He raced in a frenzy down the street behind them. No goal except escape. He continued to move his arms, jerking them sideways as he went. People coming toward him veered away in surprise. Not far behind him, the Section Leader and another man were running quickly after him. Rather than paralysis, the terrifying danger gave him exceptional speed.
He could find no refuge among the houses he passed, many of which were familiar. He turned the corner at the end of the street and passed several stone-fronted buildings. Then, an open entryway. He jumped in, and reflexly moved toward the roofs. As he passed the second floor, a woman coming out of a nearby door saw him and shouted. This spurred him even more quickly onward, leaping two, and sometimes three steps upward at a time. When he reached the opening to the roof, he heard sounds of commotion from the street below. Breathless, he hoped the pursuers had not guessed where he had gone. The shouting woman, in the short time elapsed, could not yet be down to the street.
More quickly than before, he moved over sloping metal, past protruding stone, smokestacks, and ledges. The droning shouts of Run, bastard, fly, run, run, sounded more distant, like an echo. He looked over the edge of the roofs, and saw parts of the streets and shapes of houses he knew well.
On the roofs his fear changed to confidence, then a feeling of supremacy. High up, he was above his city, above people crowding the streets, chasing him, above the same places where he was once tortuously mocked. A man of power, leaping with majestic ease across the angling shapes and barriers. He was on an elevated mount, his lands and subjects below him. Then—
The Revolution, worm. You are nothing. You must stop the plot, restore yourself, 645, save the glorious Revolution.
He would not forget. But the raucous voice’s reference to restoration reminded him of those here who taunted him, excluded him from their games, pushed him out of line-ups at school. If they saw him leaping on their roofs, they would be amazed, fear him, regret what they did. They would admire and extol him.
Down on the street, the pursuers were continuing onward when another red-capped man stopped them to say he had seen a running man go in a nearby entryway. Several bystanders there came up and told that they also noticed him and the shouting woman emerged onto the street. But all, including the woman, were busily rushing—though doomed to the disappointment of late arrival by that time—to the place of execution. The Section Leader and his companion, determined to persist with their pressing duty to the Revolution, turned and raced quickly toward the open doorway. As she walked rapidly past them, the woman who had seen Lalladiere snorted that the man they wanted had gone to the roof. They entered, leaping up the long stairway to follow.
Reaching the top of the house, they scrambled out onto the sloping roof surfaces. They looked around in all directions, and could see no sign of the fugitive. Several houses away, Lalladiere had begun a slow but unseen descent back down to the street.