Seeing Clarisse so attentive, Vaughan continued to paint Robespierre at home in the patriarchal circle of the Duplay family in the Rue Saint Honoré, where he occupied a modest apartment between that of the old couple and their younger son, as whose tutor he was acting until the time came for his marriage with Cornelia, Duplay’s youngest [eldest] daughter, to whom, as it seemed, he was devotedly attached.
[…] In the cart were all the family: mother Duplay, seated on a stool, a solidly built woman, with arms bare to the elbow, holding the reins, and by her side, seated on a heap of provisions and crockery, where the three daughters, Elizabeth [Élisabeth], the wife of Lebas [Le Bas]; Victoire, the [second] youngest, a fair-haired girl with beautiful eyes; and Eleonore, Cornélie, for the Duplays had unearthed the name of a Roman matron to give her a character of antique grace in the sight of Robespierre, who, it was said, was going to marry her.
Dark and strong, with clear, almond-shaped eyes, her hair neatly plaited, Cornélie was dressed like her sisters, in light summer clothes, with a simplicity in which a practiced eye could detect a grain of coquetry. The three sisters wore bonnets, caught up and fastened with tricolour ribbons and cockades, thus giving to the old car, decorated with branches and palms gathered on the way, an air of gaiety and life.
Robespierre gallantly assisted the women to alight, amidst timid exclamations and flutters of fear and laughing protests of: “Oh! Dear! How high! I shall never be able to get down!” followed by ripples of laughter and a whole babel of questions and chatter. “Have you slept well, bon ami? Ah! How well you look this morning!”
“The joy of seeing you,” replied Robespierre.
They went into ecstasy over his slightest words. Oh, how good he was, how kind! And what a dream the place was, so joyous, so cool! Only he could have discovered such a spot!
Mother Duplay had already commenced unpacking the provisions—slices of sausage, shrimp paste, cold chicken, a melon, watercress, Brie cheese, and buns. She called her daughters to help her, whilst Duplay unharnessed the horse and Lebas conversed with Robespierre, giving him the latest news from
Suddenly all movement was suspended, and every ear strained to listen, for screams were heard coming from behind the clump of trees in the background.
“It sounds like women’s voices,” said Cornélie anxiously.
“You were right, they were women’s voices,” repeated Madame Lebas, who had advanced in the direction whence the sound came.
Robespierre hastened to reassure them.
“It is nothing!” he said calmly, and as everyone looked at him questioning, he added indifferently, “They are only arresting two aristocrats!”
“Oh, is that all?” said the two women, reassured.
Apparently satisfied, the Incorruptible turned round, and went towards Cornélie, who had stooped to gather a daisy. A few steps off, on the other trunk, Robespierre had laid the bouquet of blue periwinkles gathered in his morning walk through the forest. He now offered it to her.
“Oh, the pretty things!” she exclaimed, thanking him for the delicate attention.
“It was the flower Rousseau loved,” Robespierre observed.
“You are as kind and good as he,” the young girl replied, knowing she gave pleasure to the Incorruptible in thus comparing him to his master.
Robespierre, pleased and flattered, fastened the flowers in the young girl’s dress. A gentle breeze murmured through the leaves, fanning them as it passed. It had come from afar, laden with a scent of cultivated blossoms, the heavy perfume of roses that grew in Clarisse’s garden.
“Ah, life is sweet sometimes,” sighed Cornélie.
And Robespierre, inhaling deep draughts of the perfumed air, assented with a smile.
They were right; it was Robespierre, who had been enjoying a walk in the Champs-Elysées with Cornélie Duplay. Returning home to supper, at Duplay’s house in the Rue Saint-Honoré, he could not resist crossing the square to have a foretaste of the rejoicings in the honour of his fête, to contemplate behind the curtain the scene of his approaching triumph. Cornélie had just said to him in delight, indicating the dancing groups,—
“The people seem to be devoted to it, heart and soul.”
This flattered Robespierre’s pride, who rewarded her with a gentle pressure of the arm.
They continued their walk, deep in their own thoughts. Cornélie was wondering if her dress would be at home when she arrived, that beautiful dress for the fête, confided on this special occasion to a private dressmaker. Robespierre, always suspicious and alert, was asking himself if he had done well to listen to her, and thus cross the Place de la Révolution at the risk of suggesting to the Committee of Public Safety the idea, absurd in itself, that he had wished to attract the notice of the populace.
The couple now reached the door of the Duplays, in the Rue Saint-Honoré, and Robespierre stepped aside gallantly for Cornélie to pass in.
THE FÊTE OF THE SUPREME BEING
The Duplays’ house, in which Robespierre lodged, was situated in the Rue Saint-Honoré, opposite the Church of the Assumption. The front door opened on to a large vaulted passage littered with planks propped up against the wall. At the end of this a small courtyard was formed by the quadrangular shape of the two-storied house. The first floor was occupied by the Duplay couple and their two daughters, Cornélie and Victoire. The ground floor was divided into three rooms, including the dining-room and the drawing-room. Robespierre lived in a room on the first floor of the left wing, which formed one side of the quadrangle.
Two of his colleagues at the Convention had been lately received in the courtyard by Cornélie Duplay, who was hanging out some stockings to dry; and Robespierre had enjoyed their surprise from the window of his room, where he was shaving himself. He was suspected of aiming at the Dictatorship! Was he? And this was the spectacle which met the astonished eyes of visitors who surprised him in his private life!
Robespierre and Cornélie had been received at the door by Blount, who barked and gamboled with joy at his master’s return. The Duplay family, cooling themselves in the courtyard, were awaiting their return.
“Here they are at last!” some one cried.
It was mother Duplay, seated in the background under the dining-room window, washing a salad under the pump, her sleeves tucked up to the elbow, all ears for the slightest sound.
“But we are not late, mamma!” said Cornélie, who had prudently stopped to avoid being splashed.
“Not so very,” answered the good woman, “but one never knows what may happen in such a crowd!” And looking towards Robespierre, from whom Victoire was taking his hat and stick, she added: “You can’t help being anxious about people you love. Can you?”
But Robespierre was for the moment entirely occupied with his dog, who barked and jumped on his master in frantic delight.
“Yes, you good old dog, here I am! … Yes! … Yes! … I couldn’t take you with me, because of the crowd. It isn’t fit for a good dog like you.”
“Then there were many people?” asked Duplay, who smoked his pipe, seated on a joiner’s bench near little Maurice, his son, who was amusing himself by planing a small plank.
“Yes, a great many.”
“An enormous crowd,” added Cornélie, “particularly on the Place de la Révolution.”
“What! You crossed the Place de la Révolution?”
Robespierre hastened to explain that Cornélie had had a fancy to come that way, which was, after all, excusable, as the people were dancing.
“What! Already?” asked Victoire, her eyes sparkling.
“Yes, already!” said Robespierre.
And he told them all about their walk through the strange crowd, so lively and so full of enthusiasm, turning now and then to Cornélie for corroboration. But Cornélie wore an absent air, replying only in monosyllables, for she had just learnt that her dress had not yet arrived; though she took some comfort on hearing that her sisters were in no better plight.
The two girls and Madame Lebas took it in turns to wait at table, and so they could all speak freely, without being restrained by the presence of the servant.
Robespierre suddenly turned round. He had heard a noise.
“I am sure the front door ha s just been opened,” he said.
Simon Duplay took out a match to light a lamp, and young Maurice rose, looking out into the dark.
“It’s true,” he said; “it’s a woman with a large parcel.”
“Our dresses, surely!” exclaimed Cornélie, who had been somewhat morose and silent until then.
“Yes, our dresses,” cried Madame Lebas and Victoire expectantly.
It was, after all, only the dresses, which the dressmaker had at last brought. The enormous box was handled by them eagerly; they wished to open it there and then. However, Victoire, prudently fearing to soil the contents, carried it into the dining-room, followed by her sisters.
The young women had not yet returned.
“Hullo! You children! What are you doing there?” called out old Duplay.
“Here we are! Here we are!” answered Victoire, appearing that moment on the threshold of the dining-room in a pretty white dress, coquettishly pushing back her hair, disordered by her hasty toilet.
“Doesn’t it suit me?” she said. “Oh! Don’t look at my hair; it isn’t arranged,” and she ran down the steps followed by Madame Lebas and Cornélie, also arrayed in their new finery.
Mother Duplay scolded her daughters.
“What! You dressed yourselves in the dining-room? Why, it’s positively improper! Isn’t it, Maximilien?”
“Let them alone, bonne mere. It’s not fête every day!”
And he looked at the dresses, pronouncing them charming, and in perfect taste.
Madame Lebas was in blue, Victoire in white, and Cornélie in red.
“The three colours!” observed the boy Maurice.
“We wanted to give you a surprise,” said Cornélie, advancing toward Robespierre.
“Nothing could have given me more pleasure,” he replied. “That is what I call true patriotism.”
[…] As he was taking leave, Cornélie appeared with an enormous bouquet of wild flowers and ears of corn in her hand.
“And the bouquet?” she asked, giving it to him at the same time.
“Ah! Yes! I had forgotten it. How kind you are! Au revoir. I shall see you by and by, looking your best, I am sure!”
As Cornélie began to tell him of some details which she thought had escaped him, he put her of gently, saying—
“Was it so? Indeed! Well, you will tell me that to-morrow.”
“What! You will not dine with us?”
“No; I must ask to be excused.”
And as she pressed him to join them, he repeated—
“No, no; I must beg you to excuse me! Au revoir till to-morrow! Au revoir!”
With these words he went up to his room and locked himself in.
Every one was in low spirits at the Duplays; that evening. They scarcely tasted their supper. No one was deceived by Robespierre’s feigned indisposition; they were well aware that the fête had been a great disappointment to him, and they shared his chagrin, though they were determined that this should be in no way apparent.
The peremptory tone admitted no reply. Didier, wishing the company good-night, left the room with Simon Duplay, whom the Incorruptible had charged with several messages, and Cornélie, taking advantage of their departure, called Robespierre to the harpsichord.
“And now, I hope you will take a little notice of us,” she said, coming towards him in a half-petulant, half-coquettish mood.
Robespierre, softening at her approach, kissed her hand. Only let him have the time to answer a letter from his friend Saint-Just, and he would be entirely at her disposal. And he seated himself at the round table to write.
Robespierre now rose and went towards the harpsichord, where he was received with joyous exclamations.
“Here you are at last!”
Cornélie whispered a few words to Buonarotti, and placed a new piece of music before him.
“As a reward,” she said, “Buonarotti will sing you one of his latest compositions.”
“And the words are by a friend of yours,” added Madame Lebas, with a mysterious air.
Robespierre, puzzled, asked the name of this friend, but Victoire wished him to guess, and when he demurred a battle of words ensued, in which his stronger will prevailed.
“Very well then! We will tell you the poet’s name.”
And as he was all attention, they exclaimed in chorus—
The Incorruptible smiled. What were they talking about? He the author of a poem!
Before he had time to protest, Cornélie recited the first verse—
“Crois-moi, jeune et belle Ophélie…”
Ah, yes! They were right. Robespierre remembered the piece now. He had composed it at
“Si flatteur que soit ton miroir,
Sois charmante avec modestie,
Fais semblant de n’en rien savoir.”
What! had Buonarotti really set that to music? Robespierre was very curious to hear it.
“With pleasure!” said the Corsican.
Madame Lebas, seated at the piano, struck the first chord of the accompaniment, and Buonarotti commenced the song. Everyone had gathered round the singer.
The first verse was greeted with loud applause.
Ah, how pretty it was! How well the music chimed in with the words! What simplicity! What grace!
Robespierre, delighted, joined in the chorus of praise, congratulating Buonarotti.
Robespierre watched his son disappear, and when he had gone he felt someone take his hand. This made him tremble. It was Cornélie.
How tired he seemed! Every one was around him now. That young madman had given him terrible trouble, hadn’t he?
“Yes,” he replied, wiping his temple, “it was very trying! Exceedingly trying!”
[…] The Incorruptible walked ahead, at some distance from them; Cornélie noticed in astonishment that he did not offer her his arm as usual, and said so to Lebas, who, forcing a smile, answered, “He is so preoccupied just now!”
Cornélie tossed her head. It was not the first time she had accompanied him to the Jacobin Club in times of anxiety, and on those days he was most attentive, and seemed to feel in special need of sympathy. Lebas did not reply, thinking of Clarisse and Olivier, whilst Cornélie continued her threnody of woes. Robespierre was a few paces in front of her, walking alone, and did not even turn to bestow on her a single glance.
“Something is amiss,” she said. “I never saw him thus before.”
[…] The sky-blue coat is soiled and torn, the nankeen breeches, the white stockings, washed and ironed by Cornélie Duplay, are now stained and disfigured.
People question each other in the crowd. Where are the Duplays? In prison! The father at Plessis, the mother at Sainte-Pilagie [Pélagie] with her young son. Lebas has killed himself! His body is there in one of the carts. As to the daughters, they have fled, most probably.