Welcome to the really random and bizarre part involving a Scarlet Pimpernel-esque premise, which... *Maxime* of all people is complicit in. It's really too strange to be taken seriously--I wouldn't recommend taking it too seriously. You're reaction will probably much closer to "WTF" generally, anyway, but I thought I'd warn you all. That said, the end is somewhat unsettling, if not for the reasons you might think. Oh, and it's narrated by a fictional aristo by the name of Marc de Guémont. And yes,maelicia, I'm sorry to report, he does call Saint-Just Lucifer. Consistently. Through the whole narrative. >__>
I am received, or rather intercepted, by the owners of the house he lives in, a family by the name of Duplay, consisting of Papa, Mama, one rather obnoxious son, and several utterly uninteresting daughters.
These creatures look me up and down most suspiciously and inform me that the Incorruptible is not at home.
I storm upstairs and find the eldest Duplay daughter, Éléonore (who, I am told, is desperately in love with Robespierre), sewing in the corner of his room. She rises quickly at my rowdy entrance and puts her finger to her lips. Maximilien is in bed, and is brick-red in the face. It is extraordinary how healthy he looks that way. […]
Éléonore returns on tiptoe around with something to eat for me and a kind of broth for Maximilien. We try to persuade him to sit up for a while, but he does not understand what we want of him and becomes irritable; when I put my arm around him to lift him up he turns his head away and snaps, “Leave me alone.”
I promise Éléonore to try to feed him the broth later on, and she leaves us.
[Marc de Guémont to Saint-Just:] “For God’s sake, stop yawning. Ask Éléonore to make you some coffee.”
“Good idea,” he says, darting out of the room and down the stairs.
In the afternoon Ginny and I trot off to the Convention, but nothing exciting happens. Maximilien does not appear at all; we leave early, for I can see that Ginny is bored.
After I have taken her home I walk back to Duplay’s to find out whether Maximilien is ill again. I’m told by Éléonore he is not but is working hard, locked away in his rooms.
When I tell her that I will not disturb him, and turn to leave, she pulls my sleeve. “Who is coming here with you tomorrow night, Citizen?”
To register my disapproval of her curiosity I raise the good old Guémont eyebrow as high as possible. “Why?”
“Is it someone very important?”
“Not at all. Just my sister.”
Éléonore’s eyes grow very distant. “Your sister?”
“Of course, What’s so odd about that?”
“Nothing. I didn’t know you had a sister.”
“Quite a pretty one, too.”
“Is she married?”
“Widowed. But why this inquest?”
“Oh, no reason,” she says, and swallows. “It’s just that the Incorruptible has given us so many instructions as to what to do and what to serve….”
“Really?” What else can I say?
“Well, Mother and I thought that it would be somebody very famous. Forgive my curiosity,” she says, trying to sound offhand.
Looking at her intelligent though rather common face, I rather suspect she is about to burst into tears.
Walking back to the Legation, I feel awfully sorry for Éléonore. It is obvious Maximilien has betrayed himself by his many instructions for tomorrow night. And Éléonore has understood and is jealous and unhappy.
“Remember to greet the women as citizenesses,” I whisper as I escort her through the courtyard to the front door.
She meets the Argus eyes of the two Duplay women with a disarming smile. “Good evening, Citizenesses.”
Ginny doing as she is told is quite something, but it does not sound right somehow.
“Good evening, Citizeness,” says Mama Duplay. Éléonore remains silent, but drinks in every detail of my sister’s looks and attire with anxious eyes.
Poor Éléonore! How can she ever hope to compete with a handsome, brilliant, well-bred former queen?
When she feels that I am watching her, she quickly steps forward and takes Ginny’s shawl from her shoulders. “Such a nasty evening,” she murmurs with a forced smile.
“Isn’t it?” purrs Ginny. “May I quickly rearrange my hair?”
“In here, Citizeness.” Ginny fiddles about with her hair, and I stay right near her, for the Duplay women just stand there watching, and I do not want them to interrogate her. When she finally decides she looks beautiful enough, she turns around. “Thank you. I am read now.”
“You have very beautiful hair, Citizeness,” says Éléonore curtly and unexpectedly.
Ginny, taken by surprise, turns around and looks at her with an eyebrow raised very haughtily indeed; but then, after exchanging a glance with me, she smiles at the girl. “How very sweet of you to say so. But certainly, you have no reason to complain about your own?”—this with a disdainful glance at Éléonore’s mousy curls.
Éléonore does not reply. I feel madly uncomfortable, as always when women smile so artificially at each other and exchange compliments that everybody knows they do not mean. They are perverse creatures, really.
Mama Duplay breaks into my strained reflections on womanhood by offering to accompany us upstairs, but I assure her that is not necessary. We climb the first staircase in silence. As we go up, Ginny looks at me and whispers: “That wench is furious at my coming here. I am certain she is in love with Robespierre. How ridiculous!”
“Even if she were, why would that be ridiculous?”
“Well,” says my beautiful sister, “isn’t she aiming rather high?”
“He is only a common lawyer, as you have often said yourself.”
“That is still aiming high for a creature like that.”
A knock at the door, and Éléonore comes in with a tray. Our host gets up. “Have the ladies met downstairs, or may I introduce you?”
Ginny looks at Éléonore with a rather mocking expression on her face. “I have already had the honor and the pleasure,” she says.
Éléonore looks so flustered and unhappy that I gallantly offer to help her serve. We pour coffee and liqueurs, and I save her the humiliation of having to serve her rival by doing so myself. “Be nice to the girl,” I hiss, while Éléonore hands Maximilien his coffee.
Ginny accepts my order unenthusiastically with a slice of cake. “What a beautiful cake,” she murmurs unenthusiastically.
“Éléonore makes them herself,” I remark helpfully. “She is quite famous for them.”
“How very clever of you,” coos my sister, and adds with a mocking glance in my direction, “Mine always manage to turn out flat as pancakes.”
I have to bite my lip very hard not to burst out laughing; the idea of Ginny baking a cake is really hilarious. Maximilien looks from her to me, and then suggests with a wicked look in his eyes, “I am certain that Éléonore would not mind teaching you how she does it, Citizeness.”
Ginny, taken aback, throws him a flabbergasted look, and then manages a pale smile and murmurs she feels sure that it would be too much trouble for Citizeness Duplay. Éléonore, in her element, replies gently that she will be delighted to provide the American citizeness with a few French recipes. The American citizeness’ eyes shoot daggers at the poor girl. I myself am ready to split with mirth. The Incorruptible seems amused as well.
“You will stay and have coffee with us, won’t you, Éléonore?” he asks.
After a hasty glance at Ginny, the girl says she thinks her mother wants her downstairs.
“Come, come,” says Maximilien, pulling up a chair for her. “Your mother can surely spare you for a quarter of an hour.”
Éléonore sit down beside him with an embarrassed smile, and here we are once again in the middle of a long, elaborate silence.
Ginny, who is looking definitely peeved now, starts a counterattack. “With a wonderful cook like the citizeness here to look after you, Maître, I am astonished to find that you have not put on any weight. Rather to the contrary. I remember you as looking much healthier.
She has hit the right spot. Éléonore flushes and starts defending herself by explaining that the Incorruptible stomach cannot stand heavy and fattening foods. Maximilien looks annoyed.
Ginny listens to her with all the outer signs of rapt attention. “It must be very difficult for you,” she purrs when Éléonore has finished. “I remember that Citizeness Charlotte’s whole existence seemed to pivot around her brother and his health. But naturally one cannot expect you to do the same.”
I feel like slapping her face. She is an absolute devil to bring Charlotte into the conversation; I have warned her several times that there is no love lost between the Duplays and Maximilien’s sister and that this is one of the reasons Charlotte went back to
Notwithstanding my furious glance, she continues happily. “I honestly have seldom seen a brother and sister so devoted to each other.”
Éléonore rises and helps us to more coffee and cake. Ginny refuses the latter, maintaining it is delicious but perhaps a little on the heavy side. I make up for this by begging her to let me have Ginny’s slice as well, whereupon Éléonore looks pleased and grateful, deposits the whole platter beside me, and leaves the room with a few awkward excuses.
“What an extraordinarily clumsy creature,” murmurs Ginny, looking pensive.
Nobody answers her. We drink our coffee in silence. My beloved sister is stirring hers with a definite smirk on her face. How can a grown-up woman be so childish? When I manage to catch her eye, I quickly rap my forefinger against my temple, hoping she will understand that I consider her to have gone out of her mind. As I accompany this performance with a really furious glance, she straightens herself and asks, “What is the matter, Baby Marc?”
“Marc is probably wondering, as I do myself, what may be the cause of the strained atmosphere between yourself and Éléonore, Madame,” remarks the Incorruptible calmly.
“Strained?” she asks, widening her eyes. “Was it?”
Maximilien, plucking his upper lip, looks at her without answering. With visible amusement he watches her coldly for quite a long time. He even takes off his dark glasses for the purpose. He continues staring at her in silence until Ginny, my haughty sister, begins to look flustered.
She snatches her hand away. “Don’t talk to me or I shall scream,” she hisses.
I do not often get really made, you know, but now I suddenly see red. The blood goes to my face; I feel as if I shall explode, and I understand what Grandfather must feel like most of the time. I take a deep breath and manage to keep my voice down: “Very well, Ginny, then scream your crazy head off. I can scream harder than you. And don’t you try to blame me for what happened tonight. It is all your fault and nobody else’s. You started right away on the wrong note by acting the queen toward Éléonore. She is a nice girl, nicer than you will ever be. You had no reason to threat her the way you did just because she is in love with Maximilien, and just because she happens to be not beautiful and not noble. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. It looked very much as if you were jealous of her.”
“Oh,” she gasps, “you nasty—”
“Let me speak,” I hiss, “or I’ll hit you! It was the stupidest attitude you could have adopted! Your behavior was really wonderfully intelligent!”
She looks at me with wide eyes and whispers, “How dare you speak to me like that, you brute, you—”
I enjoy being a brute. “Be quiet! I warned you, didn’t I? As soon as I noticed you didn’t like her, I told you you’d be wise to change your tactics. But no, Madame knows better. Madame comes especially to Paris to help us save Louis XVII, but fouls up the whole plan because of her petty, mean character. Madame promises in England to do anything she can to influence Robespierre to give us a pass for the Temple, and the best thing she can think of is to mention Maximilien’s feud with his sister. And so here we are, without a safe conduct! What you deserve is a spanking, a good old-fashioned spanking! I suppose you realize what we are going to do now. We are going straight back to England. Grandfather will deal with you. And if anything happens to the little King or to Élisabeth, you will be to blame. And I’ll make jolly well sure that everybody knows it!”
I am afraid I shall burst a vein if I don’t pause for breath, and brace myself for the inevitable counterattack.
It does not come. To my utter surprise I find she is crying quietly in her corner. When she notices I am watching her, she throws her arms around my neck. “Oh, Marc, please! I am terribly sorry! I was so nervous. …And the whole thing was so frightfully … humiliating! Those vulgar people downstairs, and that girl who was impudent to me, and talked to me as if I were one of her—her colleagues or something!”
Et cetera. Sob, sob, sob.
I put my arm around her, more to steady myself than to console her. I am staggered by the results of my little speech. So this is the way to treat uppity women: just shout them down. One lives and learns.
Her tears glide down my neck, but I refuse to give in. Let’s make hay while the sun shines. “Crying is easy enough,” I snap testily. “You should have cried at Maximilien’s. That would have gotten better results than arrogance. And Éléonore was not impudent. You were.”
She [Ginny] behaves like an angel, even toward the Duplay women, who serve us; and if a stranger saw her this way, he would undoubtedly believe her to be the sweetest, gentlest, most subdued female who ever trod this restless globe. (That’s a nice sentence; I must remember to put it in a letter to Grandfather.)
The supper is extremely pleasant. Maximilien, as usual, is a charming host; Morris, as always, is ready with his hearty laughter; Ginny is as described above; and little me is praying his head off that the happy atmosphere lasts throughout the evening.
As soon as the Duplay ladies have served the first course and disappeared again […]
Éléonore enters, after a timid knock on the door, throws an astonished glance in my direction (I am still standing and wildly flapping my napkin about), and then whispers something to the Incorruptible. He frowns, and then says to her, “Ask him to wait for a moment.”
When she has gone and closed the door, he says, “Sit down, Marc. Saint-Just is here. […]”
When we have finished our meal (which Saint-Just refuses to share, having already supped) and our last glass of champagne, we go to the sitting room, where Éléonore is waiting with coffee and liqueurs.
Our dear Ginny sinks down in an armchair, accepts coffee from Éléonore with an absolutely angelic smile, and then, silently, resumes her gazing at Lucifer [Saint-Just].
Madame Duplay, upon hearing the familiar hollering, runs into the drawing room with outstretched hands to welcome the great man. She adores receiving the titans of the government in her house. Éléonore follows her, and Danton turns like a leaf, forgets all about his anger and his defeat, and converses charmingly with the ladies, until we hear Camille coming downstairs.
But Maximilien is dead now. Everything is over. How strange that he predicted it. But I hadn’t thought it would be like this.
I call on the Duplays. I tell them what they need to know. Éléonore faints. I tell them Lebas [Le Bas] killed himself. Élisabeth Duplay, his wife of a year, faints.
In their turn they tell me that some National Guards came two hours ago and fetched Mama Duplay to take her to prison. But none of the others.
“Why only her and none of you?”
They don’t know.
“Aren’t you going to hide, the rest of you?” I ask.
I shrug. I don’t know. And I don’t really care. “I suppose they searched the house.”
“No. They just fetched Mama and went off with her.”
“Do you mean to say they haven’t even searched Maximilien’s rooms yet?”
They shake their heads.
I run upstairs, my legs aching madly, and break open his desk, realizing that “they” may come for a search themselves and find me there. And arrest me. And guillotine me. For a few seconds I think this over. Then I shrug. Let them come. I take Ginny’s letter, her portrait, her handkerchief out of the secret compartment and stuff them into my pockets.
The door opens and Éléonore comes in, her lips white and her eyes frozen. “I have just heard that he is not dead,” she says.
I lean against the wall, speechless.
“He has been carried away to the Conciergerie. You should have killed him.”
“I thought he was dead.”
“You should have made sure and killed him.”
“I had no pistol.”
“I would have strangled him with my own hands,” says Éléonore very calmly, “to keep him from suffering, and to keep them from getting at him. Now look what you have done. A true friend of his would have killed him.”
“I thought he was dead, Éléonore.”
She just looks at me. She hates me.
When she leaves the room, I lie down on Maximilien’s bed to think. How do I get him out of the Conciergerie?
I wake up, and find it is broad daylight.
Downstairs, the Duplay family is gathered.
“He will be guillotined this afternoon,” says Éléonore.
I walk out of the house, away from the Duplays with their frenzied accusing eyes.
Page 370I pass Duplay’s house, but there is a sentry in front of the door, and bystanders tell me the whole family is now in prison. Of course. They were stupid to sit around and wait for it. But why Mama first and the rest of them only now? Chaos. Disorganization. Revolutionary progress.