Madness and Glory: (19): Confrontation

The story of Philippe Pinel, father of modern psychiatry

Posted May 19, 2019

This is a work of historical fiction.

                            Chapter 19

          Through the Quartier Severin, Genevieve rode in the fiacre cab on her way to Manon Roliot's house. As was usual everywhere in Paris during the morning hours, the streets were filled with vehicles and people who, despite the as yet minimal gains of liberty and surfeit of hunger or want, were exuberant, active, and hopeful. A wagon carrying heavy stones bumped immediately ahead. Beside it, through the narrow span with an adjacent building, a laundress attempted to push her bin. A dustman behind her barely scraped both of her heels as he shoved forward a squeaking flatbed cart. Everywhere around was movement and noise. A vegetable hawker shouted, wheels of another fiacre approaching from behind clumped loudly on the cobblestones. Straining horses snorted and neighed. On the pavement just ahead, splashing water resounded from buckets emptied out of windows.

     Uncertain about her self-imposed mission and unfamiliar with the neighborhood, Genevieve felt jarred by the noise and activity around her. She looked carefully out of the window of the cab, hoping to identify the boyhood house that Guillaume had described in detail, outside and in, when telling her about his early life. Only once had she met the mother, Manon. It was at the funeral of Guillaume's father, Victoire Lalladiere. She thought at the time the woman was odd, constantly pulling at stray long strands of her hair, face staring at the grave unmoved and cold. Guillaume too behaved strangely there. She knew he feared his father a great deal, he had told her so. But other times he spoke smilingly about him as a visionary and a stickler for morality and duty. At the graveside, Guillaume stood totally still, without expression, staring, devoid of tears. It was not, as she remembered, the face of her lover whose forehead became ridged with remorse when speaking about hungry, desperate French workingmen and peasants, whose cheeks were inflamed with hope when describing the rise of new movements for equality and liberty throughout the country. Whose eyes, as he told her of his need for her, lit up with piercing intensity. She did not understand what went on within him when his father died. She was certain that, at the very least, he needed and wanted comfort, but he gave no opportunity for her to comfort him.

     At the entry of a house shortly in front of the cab, she saw two soldiers backing up a man against a closed door. The man's clothing was disheveled, and from her nearby vantage point, she could see a terrified expression on his face. His barely audible voice sounded high-pitched and tremulous. His words, in response to the soldier's muffled questions, came to her in snatches: "army of the north," "given leave," "sick daughter."  There was a loud gruff challenge from one of the soldiers: "Who did you say the officer was?" And from the other: "What kind of a shitty story are you trying to tell us?" She realized, with mixed revulsion and sympathy, that she was witnessing the ongoing army apprehension of deserters which, she had heard, was going on all over Paris. This man, doomed, was pushed down the street with muskets.

        She thought of Guillaume's face looking desperately anguished. The terrible time when he was changing, periods of trembling and distress alternating with stiff, silent withdrawal. More than once, when she came at an agreed-on time to his apartment, she found him looking frozen, sitting at a table staring. She stayed, sat by him for quite a long time, but he said nothing, did not respond at all to her frequent, urgent questioning. What is it, Guillaume? What has happened? What is wrong?

     As the cab moved on, she shivered and pushed her thoughts away from the painful scenes to an earlier, very happy remembrance, one that came back to her over and over throughout the past three years. It was of a time with her friends walking all together on the banks of the Seine near the gardens of the Tuilleries Palace. Just coming from their morning baths near Châtelet, they were feeling refreshed, chattering gaily as well as speaking thoughtfully about personal matters or topics of the day. She loved those times with these young women, their intimate, easy conversations, and she especially prized their morning walk all glistening with cleansed faces in the springtime sun along the Seine. During one such walk, she met--no, came upon--Guillaume for the first time. He was lying stretched out near their path on the low grassy bank of the river. As they approached, he raised up his head, groggy and confused, and she knew they had roused him from a deep and restful sleep.

     He scrambled to his feet, surprised, then stood solidly erect to face them. He was well-built, and she remembered thinking right away that he was quite good looking. He was lightly dressed, chemise unbuttoned to the waist, breeches loosely clasped, no shoes on his stockinged feet. The exposed portion of his chest was covered with tightly curled black hair which reached to the inner edges of muscular, well-rounded shoulders. She, always more forthright and courageous than her friends, approached where he was with an apology for waking him with their loud talking. In response, he, with what to her seemed a kind, soft voice for such a powerful looking man, spoke self-reprovingly of his appearance and lassitude at that hour of the day. 

     "But surely, monsieur," she said, "it is the natural right of all of us poor mortal beings to rest while enjoying the sunshine along the river on such a lovely day, is it not?"     

     "Not if you are a mortal who assists a minister of the realm, I am afraid. My duties this morning were overwhelming. Absolutely overwhelming. So, worse for me, I came out here when I found a moment to break away, ended up by sleeping soundly--drowning vital hours--here on the Seine."

     "As it happens, monsieur, my father is also a minister. But I am sure he would not object to someone like yourself--a well-spoken, surely mindful assistant--taking time off to rest, especially after what you describe as an overwhelming morning. Who is this minister you work for whose disapproval you so fear?"

     "Jacques Necker. I have no fear of him. But I lose my bearings being here. I neglect the people's pressing needs."

     "So, you are here a man of benevolence and principle," she said with genuine appreciation. "In that case, I must introduce you to my father. He complains constantly that there are few in the government who care, really care, about the people. He will be happy to know one who does."

     Smiling broadly, he moved to join in with her and her friends as they turned to walk on toward the Tuilleries. He asked, while carefully and inconspicuously adjusting his clothing as they walked, about her father and his work. That led them into an avid discussion about political conditions in the cities and the provinces. The other women dropped several steps behind to allow the two of them to converse together, knowing she sincerely cared, and could talk incessantly, about governmental affairs. And before they walked on very far together, Genevieve became aware that these friends behind her were beginning to make whispered and laughing comments about her less-than-casual developing liaison. They were, of course, correct. She and Guillaume had begun such a liaison, and from that point on they met each other frequently, at first, during visits to her father's offices, and later he came regularly to her home.       Her reverie was interrupted by the arrival of the cab at the Roliot's house. Its dark green door and the rest of the facade looked exactly as Guillaume had described it. She got out, paid the cabbie, knocked at the door, and Bertrand Roliot appeared a few minutes later. Identifying herself quickly to this unknown man, she told him she was looking for the escaped Guillaume. Attendants from the asylum came to her house recently, and she told them he might be with his mother. Wasn't this her house? Roliot gruffly assented and informed her that they knew all about the escape, that no attendants had come as yet, and the son had been there for a few days but left and did not return.

     "You say you knew him well, and was his friend?" he continued. "Well, he's a wild lunatic, that one. He, it is, who will save the Revolution. Probably over there trying to speak to the Convention if they haven't caught him and put him back in the bin."

     "That's why I am here. I am afraid he is going to hurt himself."

     "What?"

     "Hurt himself, I said."

     "Hurt himself? More likely, while he was here, he could have hurt Manon and me. I'm sure glad he got out. Was just about to report him if he stayed."

     "Do you think he went to the Convention? They wouldn't let him in, the way he probably is now. He must be wandering around somewhere."

     "I don't have the goddamn slightest idea where he went off to. Now you're here, maybe you should speak with his mother, calm her down. She don't have much to do with me recently."

     He brought Genevieve into the small open kitchen. Manon was sitting at a wooden table chopping aimlessly at a rutabaga root. She did not look up but spoke immediately.

     "I heard what you and Bertrand were talking about. You're here looking for my son."

     "Yes, that's right."

     "Why? Why did you come here?"

     "I'm worried that--"

     "That what? Why are you so concerned about him?"

     The question seemed like an accusation. Why, Genevieve thought, was she so concerned again?

     "Guillaume and I were lovers. At one time, we thought of getting married," she answered in a tentative tone.

     "Guillaume married? That's a joke. Who would ever want to marry him? You must be a woman who is hard up. Right?"

     "What?"

     "Hard up, you heard me. Well, right now, you don't look so much like that--not ugly, or low-necked, or even poor."

     Hard up? Not that, Genevieve thought. But it was my hardness that I could do nothing about. If only I had really been hard-up, I might have found a way to cling to him.

     "Your son Guillaume is sick, out of his mind," she said, using as harsh a tone as she could muster. "Don't you realize he escaped from the asylum and may by now have killed himself?"

     "That one kill himself? On what day of the week? That selfish squeezer would never kill himself. Me, it was me he damn near killed with all the stuff he did growing up. Just like all the rest, always wanting this, always wanting that. Holed himself up and did bad, dirty things."

     "What are you talking about? He is a kind, inspired man. Devoted to helping people, doing good for others."

     "What's that? Doing good? Well, what did he do so good for you? Shoved his hand right up under your nice blue dress, rubbed around, laid you on your pretty ass? That's why you've come here to accuse me of letting him go away, right?" 

     Genevieve flushed. The crude sexual reference momentarily touched her, an image of Guillaume lying naked near her flashed through her mind. Anger immediately pushed the image away.

     "Why did you let him go from here? You've never cared anything for him, have you? I've seen you, you know. At the funeral, face cold as ice. You've never cared for anybody."

     Roliot, halfway listening to the conversation while working in the next room, now stormed into the kitchen area.

     "What the hell is this all about? You came here to find the lunatic. He isn't here, right? Maybe he went out and saved all of us a lot of trouble by killing himself."

     "Oh, no," Genevieve said, frightened.

     "What are you saying to Manon, talking about funerals?" Roliot blurted angrily. "Was it her first husband? He's one who is better off dead and buried."

     "Don't get all worked up, Bertrand," Manon said. "She's just a floozy trying to find that strong, meaty son of mine so he can give her some of it." She gestured obscenely. "He's probably been going after her for years, nosing around her toilet and her bedroom, trying to see her naked, trying to get into her you-know-what, just like he used to do with me. Only difference is, she gave in."

     Genevieve turned to walk away from the kitchen area. Manon saw that Roliot, near the door, made a move to stop her.

     "Let her go, Bertrand. We heard what Guillaume wants to do. She can go find and help the blabbermouth traitor."

     "She's riled you up and upset you, Manon. I am going to make her take back what she said about you being cold and not caring," Bertrand Roliot said.

     Genevieve felt her mind was being pulled apart. She knew she had to get by Roliot, go out of the house as fast as possible. But, for a moment she hesitated.  She felt somehow it was important, before she left, to reply to Manon's troubling last allegation.

     "What do you mean, a traitor? Guillaume has cared always for the welfare of France, totally devoted to the people and the country. He would never do anything to damage or betray either one."

     Manon emitted a cackling laugh. "So, you believe his claptrap stuff. You--hee, hee--think he is the one to save the Revolution."

     Genevieve turned away from Manon, pushed past Roliot standing between her and the door, and ran out into the street.