Part XV

Sunday, 11 November 2007 22:30
montagnarde1793: (wtfno)
[personal profile] montagnarde1793

Page 142

                The door to the salon was half open, and Citizen Philippe was standing motionless before it. The soft sound of voices was coming from inside. Curious, I crept up behind him and, standing on tiptoe, peered over his shoulder.

                Cornélie and Maximilien were standing by the window, holding fast to each other’s hands. Cornélie had evidently been crying, too. The tears were still on her cheeks.

                Maximilien was talking to her very rapidly in a low, earnest voice. And suddenly I gasped and clapped my hands over my mouth. For he had leaned toward her, taken her in his arms, and kissed her, something I had never seen done before, even by Maman and Papa.

                Citizen Lebas turned quickly and pushed me back through the parlor into the hall.

                “My business with Citizen Robespierre will have to wait,” he said, clearing his throat.

                “Yes,” I replied, looking at the floor. “I suppose it will.”

 

Page 143

                That night Cornélie told me that she and Maximilien wished to be married and that Papa had given his permission.

                “It will probably not be for a long time,” she told me as I sat on the bed, watching her brush out her hair.

                “Why not?” I asked, disappointed. I had been looking forward to an immediate wedding.

                “Because,” said Cornélie, “Max says he has not enough money now to support a wife in the way he should. As if I would mind! … And he says he wants to be finished with public affairs first, so that he can take me with him to live on the farm his father left him, outside Arras. Just think of it, Babette!” she cried rapturously. “A farm! The country! Like the stories Papa used to tell us of the Auvergne. And I shall have plenty of time to collect and make things for the house.”

                “Cornélie,” I said slowly, “will Max still be living with us? Did he tell you of any plans for leaving?”

                “He has no such plans,” she replied happily. “I asked him, and he admitted that Charlotte wanted him to leave. But he has refused, and, anyway, there’s some sort of quarrel between him and Charlotte, but he didn’t tell me what it was about.”

                “Did he say anything about Philippe Lebas?”

                “No,” was the absent reply. “But, no matter what Philippe tried to do, it came to nothing.”

                Suddenly, she came over to where I was sitting. “See what he has given me,” she said softly.

                I looked. Around her neck on a little chain was a tiny oval miniature with Maximilien’s face smiling forth from it.

                “I shall never take it off,” she said earnestly. “Never. As long as I live.”

                And she never did.

 

Page 159

                That night after we had made ready for bed, Cornélie echoed his remark: “You are very pale, Babette.” And she added: “I don’t think it is because you are working too hard. Something is troubling you, and I think I know what it is.”

                I tried to laugh. “If you do, you are wiser than I am. I haven’t noticed any troubles.”

                But Cornélie continued as though she had not heard me. “I think,” she said, “that you are still in love with Citizen Lebas.”

                I was seized by a sudden pain and sat down hard on Cornélie’s bed.

                “Are you paying attention, Babette?” she prompted me, adding impatiently: “Really, you are altogether too much of a little girl. I should not have spoken.”

                “No, Cornélie,” I said. “I am paying attention. And I think it is very cruel of you to talk about it.”

                “I am not cruel at all,” said Cornélie indignantly, and I could not help thinking that it was she who looked like a little girl, enthroned against her pillow, her dark hair hanging over her shoulder in a heavy braid. “I am only trying to help you. You see, when you are in love with someone, there are only two things to be done about it.”

                “What are they?” I asked, beginning to be interested.

                “Well, one thing is to make a determined effort to get over it.”

                I shook my head. “I don’t think I could do that,” I said forlornly. “I did try once, and it didn’t do much good. After all, could you have stopped loving Maximilien just by making a determined effort?”

                “Perhaps not so easily,” she admitted. “But I probably could have in time. I’m sure the world is full of men that any woman can love, in spite of what the poems say. But, of course, if you don’t want to make such an effort, there is always the other choice.”

                “And that is?”
                “To make him love you.”

                “That’s impossible,” I sighed. “He isn’t the least bit interested in me. And he is still seen often with Charlotte.”

                “Well, I happen to know that he hasn’t asked for her hand in marriage, and until he does, you have as much right to him as she does. And how do you know he isn’t interested in you? Besides, it’s up to you to make him interested.”

                I made one final protest. “But I thought you didn’t like him,” I said. “You said he was worldly and frivolous and just a dandy.

                Cornélie looked a little ashamed of herself. “I’ve changed my opinion of him,” she admitted. “I think the main reason I didn’t like him was that I thought he was helping Charlotte try to turn Maximilien against me. And now I’m not even sure that he was. Besides, he has changed. He doesn’t wear velvet waistcoats any more, and—” she giggled suddenly—“I haven’t seen him with a lorgnette in months. Perhaps Charlotte forgot to return it.”

 

Page 180

                […] later we went into the salon, and Cornélie seated herself at the piano. Maximilien stood beside her to turn the pages, and I know that he was dreaming of a day when not only he and she, but everyone in France would have the things he valued so highly—a home, comfort, education, and a virtuous life.

 

Page 184

                […] Maximilien was in his study, the door locked, and two soldiers were stationed outside our gate to make sure that no unwelcome visitor got past it. But one did.

I was the first to see Lucille standing in the doorway, and at the sight of her my heart turned over.

            She was smartly, even gaily dressed. But I had never seen her so thin. She was very pale except for two spots of feverish color on her cheeks, and her eyes were unnaturally bright.

            She looked past me at Cornélie. "I must see Maximilien," she said. "Where is he?"

            Cornélie was trembling, but she controlled herself enough to offer Lucille a chair.

            Lucille remained standing. "The soldiers said he was busy and was not seeing anyone. But I said I would wait, and while they were discussing what to do about me, I slipped in the side entrance. I know this house so well, you see."

            "Lucille—" began Cornélie in a stricken voice.

            But Lucille continued as though she had not heard. "You remember our anniversary party? And the night we brought little Horace here so we could show him off to everybody? And the night Maximilien and Camille had that argument over a passage in Racine, and how they both threatened to ask their old schoolmaster because they had forgotten the Revolution and that they had smuggled the old man out of the country to protect him from the mobs during the September riots?" She clasped her hands tight together. "Where is he, Eléonore?"

            Cornélie had summoned her strength by this time and had resumed her sewing, though I don't think she had any idea of what she was doing. "He is not well, Lucille. And it's true he's not seeing anyone. Not even me."

            "He'll see me if you ask him," Lucille insisted. "I must talk to him, implore him—I wrote him a letter, but he didn't answer. Eléonore, Camille was his schoolmate, he is his oldest and best friend!"

            "Lucille, listen to me," cried Cornélie.

            But Lucille didn't hear. She sank to her knees beside Cornélie, catching hold of her wrists. "Maximilien can't believe him guilty," she cried. "I know that he will never let Camille die. Make him see me before it's too late."

            Victoire, who had not spoken since Lucille had appeared, now raised her head. "Lucille," she said quietly, "it is too late."

            Lucille stared at her for a moment, then began to cry. I had never seen anyone cry like that—so silently and so hopelessly.

            "Oh, don't, don't, Lucille," whispered Cornélie.

            "He is so frightened," she sobbed. "These past few days since he was arrested I've stayed near the prison with Horace, and sometimes I've seen him—just a glimpse. He waves to me, and I can see that he tries to smile. But he's so frightened. I can see how frightened he is."

            "Lucille, you must go now," said Victoire. "You'll make yourself ill."

            Lucille shook her head. "It can't be true. We're so happy—we love each other so—the baby is so beautiful—everybody is fond of us—"

            Victoire rose and went to her. "Lucille, you must go," she said, drawing her to her feet. "You must, because Camille Desmoulins and Georges Danton and Fabre d'Églantine are to be guillotined—today. The tumbrils will be by very shortly. They may—they may stop them here."

            Lucille glanced with terror at the window, then at Victoire. After a moment she seemed to become calm.

            "Yes, I had better go," she said. "Thank you, Victoire."

            In the doorway she stopped and looked at Cornélie. "What is that you are working on?" she asked.

            "A rug," replied Cornélie. She was unable to speak above a whisper. "For Max's house in the country."

            Lucille smiled, and her smile made me shiver. "Do you really think that you and Max will one day be married and live in a house in the country? And if you do, do you think you will ever be happy in it?"

            The room was very silent for a moment after she had left. Then Cornélie gave a sharp cry and buried her face in the half-finished rug. I rose to go to her, but Vicki stopped me.

            "Let her be, Babette. Lucille is right, you know."

[…]

                As Cornélie continued to cry, Victoire went to her and drew her from the chair, gathered up the rug, and led her from the parlor to her room.

 

Page 197

                […] I can only end by recalling an incident of which all the world has heard: how on the evening before the 27th of July—what we called the ninth of Thermidor—Max and Cornélie walked together in the Champs-Élysées with Brount.

                Cornélie gazed at the setting sun and saw that it was very red. “It is a good omen,” she said. “It will be a fine day tomorrow.”

 

Page 207

                Afterward

                My room seems very quiet to me as I prepare to lay aside my pen, even with the faint strains of music from my young neighbor’s piano coming through my window.

                She is practicing Beethoven today, and it is fortunate that over the years I have come to appreciate the great man’s works. My poor sister Cornélie, who died many years ago, walked out of the concert hall in horror upon hearing his First Symphony.

 

Page 208

                I am proud that my sister remained loyal to her love and never took his miniature from her neck.
 
The icon is in reference to the scene with Lucile Desmoulins, by the way.

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