[…] His [Duplay’s] daughters followed in her [their mother’s] footsteps: they were good girls and good workers. They were gradually getting settled: the youngest, Elizabeth [Élisabeth], had made a very good match. That Lebas [Le Bas] was a most honest man. The eldest, Eléonore, would also soon get married….Oh, but it were better she did not!...
Duplay’s face darkened. He still did not know if he ought to be in the seventh heaven with joy or to tear his hair with horror as his eldest daughter was shortly to get married to their lodger, the man whom the family touchingly and with adoration called their kind friend, and who was known to all the rest of the world by the name of Maximilian [Maximilien] Robespierre.
[…] Robespierre gazed at the old man, he pressed his lips together—and stretched out his hand to him. But, notwithstanding this kindly gesture, it appeared to the old cabinet-maker that if the occasion offered itself his kind friend would not think twice of sending him to the scaffold, however disagreeable it might be to Eléonore and the whole of the dear family.
The most terrible recollections of the Duplay family were connected with the day of Desmoulin’s [Desmoulins’] and Danton’s execution. On that day the ladies with the exception of Eléonore came to table with eyes red from weeping. During dinner only Robespierre spoke, he spoke as he almost always did about virtue—he could talk about virtue for hours on end—but this day his speech did not flow quite as smoothly as usual and his hearers did not feel quite at ease. Only Eléonore, as always, looked lovingly at the kind friend and listened with delight to the sound of his words—their meaning she did not understand.
Eléonore Duplay went constantly uneasily to the window. She could never be quiet when Robespierre was absent, especially after the attempt to assassinate him made by that abominable Cécile Renault. It is true, a body-guard of two athletes, the good Nicholas and Didier, always followed him about, but all the same, somehow she could not be easy. He ought soon to return home form his long walk, and Eléonore awaited with impatience the moment when it would become lighter in the house owing to the return of the kind friend. She was also troubled because she had bad news for her lover. On the other hand, it was pleasant that at least for once that disagreeable aristocrat Madame de Chalabre, who so evidently wanted to entice the kind friend away from her, had not appeared at their party. Why, all the women were mad about him; but he only loved her.
All the others were without cares, gay and happy. Fifty years afterwards, a woman who had escaped the whirlwind of the heavy blows that fell upon the poor Duplay family, remembered with emotion the tender atmosphere of love and happiness that filled to overflowing that plague-stricken house during those dreadful days of the Terror.
On the table was a plate of oranges. That morning Eléonore Duplay had spent all her savings on them, as she knew how fond the kind friend was of that fruit.
He [Robespierre] took down from the shelf his favourite book and began to turn over its leaves.
“Emile was filled with love for Sophie. What were the charms that bound him to her? Tenderness, virtue and the love of honour. But what stirred Sophie? The feelings that were natural to her love: the respect of goodness, moderation, simplicity, magnanimous disinterestedness, contempt of splendour and wealth. Sometimes in their walks, admiring the beauties of nature, their innocent and clean hearts were raised to the Creator. And they did not fear His presence, but uncovered themselves before Him. They saw their own perfection, and they loved each other, and conversed charmingly on the subjects that the virtuous prize. And sometimes they shed tears that were purer than the dews from heaven.” [Émile]
Each time that he came to this place, something seemed to rise in his throat, and he had pricklings in the nose. At that moment his own emotions were specially agreeable to him.
There was a knock at the door; Eléonore entered.
“Kind friend,” she said, “Fouquier has come to see you, but he can wait. I must grieve you, my poor, poor Maximilian: the pigeon, your pigeon, the spotted one, is dead.”
Robespierre had not expected this blow. The ball that was rising in his throat rose still higher, and tears appeared in the kind friend’s eyes.
Eléonore fondly admired her betrothed and took his hand. Is it possible there are people who can call him a bad man!
Guessing her thought, Robespierre looked at Cornélie (that was how he called her) with a grateful gaze, and he thought it would be good to marry this virtuous maiden—not now, of course, but in five or, still better, in ten years’ time. He did not love Eléonore, and in general he had never loved anyone, but the thought of duty, of long virtuous family life, was pleasing to him, especially at that moment, when he knew he was soon to die, as his poor unhappy blue-spotted pigeon had died.So for about five minutes they sate holding each other’s hands and exchanging tender glances. Cornélie persuaded the kind friend to eat at least one orange and his inexorable refusal only caused her to become more and more tender. At last duty summoned the kind friend. He dismissed Cornélie tenderly.