[…] There were also oil paintings he [Robespierre] recognized as influenced by David, heroic scenes of Roman tableaux, the taking of the Bastille, a portrait of Monsieur and Madame Duplay. […]
“I see you looking at the portraits. Eléanore [Éléonore], our oldest, did that. She’s a real painter. She’s studying with Regnault. Have you heard of him?” Mme Duplay seemed to want his approval for her daughter’s apprenticeship.
“I have. She has a worthy master.”
Vivienne [Victoire] said, “Here’s Papa for his dinner.”
Just behind him came the last daughter. She saw him at once, and her dark eyes grew very wide. He supposed that she would not be considered as pretty as Elisabeth [Élisabeth], yet she carried herself with dignity and an authority that was surprising in a young woman. She could be no more than twenty-four or twenty-five. “Citizen,” she said in a low gentle voice. “It is an honor to see you here. All
“What have you heard?” he asked her.
Madame said hastily. “This is Eléanore. You may have seen her at the Jacobins too. She’s also a member of the Tricolor Brushes, who make paintings and engravings of patriotic scenes for education of the people.”
“I’ve been admiring your work.”
He could see she had trouble not curtseying. She kept her eyes on him as she sat at the table, some distance away. He motioned her closer, and slowly, she obeyed. “Again, what have you heard?”
“There are warrants out for many patriotic leaders. Etta Palm d’Aelders has been put in prison for saying that women should have rights. The
“Everything has happened in a matter of hours. Clearly, they were waiting and prepared for this opportunity to close us all down,” he said.
“You should clear my room for Citizen Robespierre,” Eléanore said.
Vivienne piped up. “I already cleared Elisabeth’s, and moved her in with me.”
“You need room for your paintings, child,” Madame said.
“I need very little,” he said, as before. He smiled at Vivienne. He did not bother smiling at Eléanore, for he felt it was not necessary.
The meal was more than he desired, but they allowed him to pick and choose. It was a good family atmosphere here, almost the ideal family he had fantasized since childhood. Then he thought it would be with his own sisters and brother. But in truth these people were far more agreeable and politically savvy than his sister. Augustin he knew little about, for it had been years since they spent time together.
When he rose, Eléanore jumped up as if on command and followed him upstairs. “I’ll help you unpack,” she said.
“Will your mother mind?”
“Oh, no. We all want to make your stay pleasant.” She did not blush, she did not flirt. She unpacked his clothes efficiently, handling each item with a cool reverence. When he was ready to work, he dismissed her, and she went without a backward glance.
He had the strangest feeling with her, from the first moment, almost as if he remembered her. It was as if he had recovered a lost inheritance, something that belonged to him that had been estranged or forgotten. After supper, he summoned her and gave her instructions for the Jacobin Club. He told her to report to him at once when he returned, no matter at what hour. She nodded, asked a few questions about how specific her notes were to be. Then she went off.
When she came in, the older Duplays and her sisters had retired. She came into his room without coquettishness or hesitation and began at once to report on what had been an extremely long and stormy session, full of recriminations. He questioned her closely, taking notes on her notes. He corrected the spelling of some names.
It was after . She was alone with him in his room, yet no one in the house seemed to question his right or her duty. She was utterly matter-of-fact in her deportment. She did not touch him, she did not lean forward or brush against him or give him melting looks. He looked at her openly, admiring her and studying her. On one level, there was no hint of sex or anything muddy or murky. On a deeper level, he understood that she was utterly his. She had already given herself over to him absolutely, although they scarcely knew each other.
Lafayette [La Fayette] and Bailly and their gang of traitors had given him quite by accident what he had never expected to enjoy. After less than twenty-four hours he knew what he had found. He now had a family, in all ways superior to his own. He had a living situation where he could work without a thought for expense, for they had made clear they would accept nothing from him except his presence, where he would be cared for and protected and even coddled. And he had been given the only woman he had ever met with whom he could have some kind of relationship, what kind he did not know: only that whatever he wanted from Eléanore, she would give him without blinking, without hesitation, without terms. Whether he ever touched her, whether he ever spoke on word of courtship or affection or not, she was his.
Or perhaps they [the Feuillants] thought that by walking out of the Jacobins, they had destroyed the Club, and he [Robespierre] was no longer to be feared. But they had walked out dramatically, a poor way to accomplish such a move. They had even left the membership rolls, the addresses of contacts at the daughter clubs. Even before he dared resurface, he sent Eléanore for the addresses. After he had written to every one of the hundreds of Jacobin clubs with her help and that of her younger sister Elisabeth—most clubs thrilled to receive a personal note from the Incorruptible himself—only four clubs defected to the Feuillants. How he hated that appellation, “the Incorruptible”: as if not to be bought and sold was such an unusual characteristic as to warrant public note.
Lately his [Robespierre’s] life felt calmer. In the Duplays’ cozy home with the hammering in the courtyard, the smell of sawdust, the scent of good simple cooking, the voices of the women of the household, he was close to happy. Even when meetings ran long into the night, Eléanore would be sitting up to open the gate for him. If Eléanore stayed late at the Club, Madame or Elisabeth would wait.
[…] Max also enjoyed the company of the painter David. He had never entertained before, but the Duplays encouraged him to invite friends and colleagues. The Duplays provided a core group for singing, readings, excursions, walks. Eléanore would sketch his friends and of course himself. David thought she had talent. Max was pleased by this evidence that she was a genuine artist, but more pleased that whatever she was doing, she would stop if he needed something.
They [Robespierre and Marat] were not alone in the room. Charlotte and Eléanore were the silent spectators, along with Simonne Évrard. Marat had not bothered with a legal ceremony, but everybody considered Simonne his wife. How did Marat dare take a wife? Marat and he would be killed in the Revolution; they would both be martyred. One of Max’s chief fears if he married or had children was that they would be put to death because of him. Yet Marat had not hesitated to take Simonne. He would have liked to discuss that choice with Marat, but doubted if Marat would appreciate the inquiry. Further he was not about to bring up the matter in front of his own women.
Max had lost much of his popularity because of his harsh criticism of the war. Now he was subjected to a war at home.
“She goes nowhere I do not wish her to go.”
“Max, she comes into your bedroom as if she were your mistress!”
“She’s in my confidence. She acts on my behalf. She carries messages for me and reports back.”
“It’s not proper.”
“Would you prefer I marry her,
“Max, don’t joke! You can’t marry a carpenter’s daughter. Really!”
“I should think marrying the daughter of an honest artisan would be most appropriate. Unless you think people would suspect I was marrying her for money. After all, they’re so much better off than we are.”
“Max, you can’t marry her! And as for money, if you wanted to make money now, I know you could do it. For instance—”
“Enough!” He glared at her. She was carefully dressed, yet somehow her appearance always slightly annoyed him. There was a family resemblance. He was careful about his own appearance, but seeing his fussiness and his fastidiousness writ large in
“You could make a dozen advantageous matches. I see how the women look at you. Even the rich ladies. They make eyes at you.”
“I’m not a plate of hors d’oeuvres. Have you nothing better to think about? Why don’t you assist Madame Duplay with the preserving of peaches? I love peach conserve.”
It was no gift he was inflicting on Mme Duplay, but he had to get
Max let himself be dragged off to an apartment with Charlotte and Augustin in the Rue Saint Florentine [Saint-Florentin]. At once he began to miss the Duplays. He liked having the Duplay women around him. They saw to his every need quietly, unlike Charlotte who trumpeted everything she did. He missed Eléanore’s sleek, dark presence, her eyes upon him, her surprisingly strong hands kneading his shoulders when he was tense, rubbing his temples when his head ached. He could not bear to be touched—except by her. Her touch soothed him. Her touch drew the tension from him. He could not say that to
Now he never saw Eléanore except from a distance at the Jacobin Club. At least there he escaped his sister. Eléanore would be in the gallery and when a speaker bored him, not as infrequent an event as he could have wished, he tilted his chair slightly so that he could see her.
Max let himself be borne off by cab to the Duplays. His room was just as he had left it. He crawled into bed, Madame helping him undress. Soon he was sound asleep with the smell of sawdust and good cooking lulling him. He slept fourteen hours. When he awoke, he knew instantly where he was. He felt weak but complete.
He had dressed and was sitting at his desk drinking coffee and studying his notes on the Convention delegates, when he heard Eléanore’s light step running upstairs. Then he heard her pause outside his door. For about two minutes nothing happened. He smiled. She was trying to guess if he was awake. He moved a few papers and let his chair creak. She responded with a tap on the door.
“Come,” he said. He had not seen her except in the gallery of the Jacobin Club. She had not come to visit on the Rue Saint Florentine, and all of them knew the reason:
She came in swiftly and paused in the middle of the room. Then she swept forward and knelt before him, putting her hand lightly on his knee. “Will you stay?”
Her face tightened into a grimace and then went stoical. Finally she let herself smile. Another woman would have wept. Her eyes, dark, enormous, fixed on him. They gleamed. Her adoration was powerful but controlled.
She said, “I don’t want to be separated from you again.”
“That is not always under my control. But I won’t voluntarily leave you.”
“Are you very weak?”
“I’m almost back to normal. Tomorrow I’ll return to the Convention.”
She rose and stood before him. “I want to be yours.” She was gazing at the floor, then made herself meet his gaze. She grew visibly pink. Her hands clenched before her.
He was silent. He felt a clutch of fear. Yet he also felt calm. He had already accepted her gift of self. He understood that the Duplays regarded Eléanore as belonging to him. “I can’t marry you.”
She nodded. “Your family doesn’t approve.”
“I don’t care what
“Yes. I see. I understand. I want to share your fate.”
“If I marry you, you certainly will. But I don’t want to die like an Eastern tyrant, surrounded by my dog and my wife and my friends, all lying on the same pyre. I want you to survive me. I want you all to survive me. Tell the truth about me when I’m gone. But when I’m taken, when they finally manage to kill me, I want to die alone. I don’t want to pull anybody down with me. That would make it unendurable.”
“I don’t want to survive you.”
“Eléanore, obey me. I want you to live. I want to leave you all in this house intact as I found you.”
“I will never be as you found me. I wasn’t fully alive then.” She put her hands on his shoulders, nervously but with strength. Her face was close to his. “My life is yours. I would give it up to you in an instant.”
“As my wife, as my widow, you’d be vulnerable. You’d die because you bore my name. So I can’t give you my name. And I can’t have offspring. I can’t have a son to carry on my name that so many will curse.”
“I can promise you that I will not bear children.”
“You say that now. But I won’t change my mind. I couldn’t endure putting a woman I care for through that. My mother died … that way. Her screams echoed through the house for three days. I can’t.”
“I promise you, if you will let me love you, I won’t bear you any children. I know what to do. I’ve asked. Do you think I don’t know how you feel? I know what you feel as soon as you do.”
“You always do.” He smiled slightly. “Suppose you should become pregnant in spite of these precautions which you and I would take?”
“You’d never know it. No one would ever know.” She moved closer. She wore a flower perfume, almost herbal. Lemon verbena. It was slightly astringent, like Eléanore. He had been with only two women in his life, and they had been far more experienced than he. He was sure Eléanore was not. He seemed to be agreeing to go to bed with her, without having a clear idea how he would set about doing so. He put his hands on her upper arms. She felt firm. She was used to doing housework and hauling her canvases through the streets. At his touch, she surged forward against him. Her mouth pressed against his. He felt himself stir. He was almost surprised, but then, this was Eléanore who belonged to him already.
She led him to the bed, and he realized as she undressed him that she did not expect passion from him. She would provide that. She was inexperienced, as he had suspected, but eager. She ran her hands over his body, she adored him. Her touch was pleasant. He never minded her touching him, he who could not endure the touch of anyone else. He lay with his eyes lightly closed as she caressed his body, experimenting, judging from his breath what pleased him.
He sat up and turned her on her back, spreading her legs. She was thin but womanly. He was glad she was not fleshy. As he placed his member against her, he said, “This may hurt.” He hesitated.
“No. I’ve been stretching myself. I knew you would be upset by blood.”
He thrust into her with a great sigh. “No, I don’t like blood.” It was very easy with her. He could tell she was a little frightened by also happy. He withdrew just before he came. He would tell Madame and Monsieur that he and Eléanore were engaged. That would satisfy them. And he had placed Eléanore’s body squarely between Charlotte and himself. She could not use guilt on him again to make him set up gloomy housekeeping with her. He had provided himself with an obligation. It would be his secret, but as far as he was concerned, Eléanore was his wife. He was married to the whole Duplay family through her flesh. He anticipated that it would be a satisfying marriage.