And yet another, back in chronological order where we left off--that is, after City of Darkness, City of Light. Don't ask me why this author feels the impulsion to give such bizarre nicknames to her characters--I can't help cringing whenever I read Betsi instead of Babet for Élisabeth, and is Tanith Lee aware that Élie is a man's name? I mean, really. There's such a thing as taking the whole âme virile thing too far. >__> (Moreover, she stole her title from Anatole France, for some other unfathomable reason.)
Coming from between the house walls into the court, Maurice Duplay became busy guiding the immaculate Maxime among the seasoning boards, deals, and battens stacked up in the yard. Having climbed through a window frame and over some tall pots of glue (Maxime is by now coughing a little, wearily, at the strong aromas and wood dust), the door flies open. As in all the fables, there in yellow lamplight the welcoming wife, the three daughters, who, if not exceptionally comely, are certainly beaming.
Maybe Maximilien was aware this might be a put-up job, an excuse to entertain the star Jacobin. But ever conscious of his physical reliance on some support or other, and of the loneliness of a creature of destiny, Robespierre always responded with a definite and genuine gratitude to kindness. Gravely he stepped over the threshold into the embrace of the lamplight. How good these people were, to shelter him! Almost curtseying, the women conducted him into the house which was about to become home for the rest of his life.
At this period I found Maxime calmed me [Desmoulins] down.
He would wean me, for the afternoon, off wine onto coffee, and I was even permitted to choose for myself an orange from the dish in the Duplays’ drawing room—kept solely for God. For he was God to the Duplays. It was funny, and touching, the fuss they made of him and how he needed, enjoyed, responded to it all. As a workable theory, perhaps we become what others think us to be, like a chameleon, changing color to match our surroundings. So grave and gentle and nearly playful was Robespierre in this house. The three daughters were his priestesses. I’d swear he never laid a finger on any of them save in the most brotherly manner.
Maximilien put his hand to his brow. “Sit down, won’t you.”
“Why not? Though I wish you’d get some more comfortable chairs.” Camille sat. “How are you?”
“What is it?”
“The usual. The fever doesn’t last long. And they’re very good to me here.”
“Of course they are. Élie [Éléonore] has made up her mind to marry you. Or are you going to marry that rich widow from
“Don’t be capricious, Camille, please. I really can’t stand it this afternoon.”
“Oh, dear. You’re in that condition: There’s nothing wrong with me, I’m dying.”
Robespierre looked (and was) hurt.
Do they still have their cozy family evenings over at the Duplays? Singing and reciting poetry: Elie, who had her agate eye on Maxime; little Betsi [Élisabeth], who had gained Philippe Lebas [Le Bas] of the well-padded chin, for her husband; and Lebas’s sister, to whom, one heard, Saint-Just had engaged himself; how long before he could wriggle out o fit, and what excuse? (Did Betsi practice with Lebas the naughty games I [Desmoulins] showed her in my book of Aretino? It seemed millennia ago, that act of folly.)
I watched Saint-Just ushering Robespierre along, moving like a sacerdote in a holy procession.
Robespierre is the truth and the way.
But why joke about it? He’s the only one of us who seems to know anymore where he’s going, and why, and how.
He [Robespierre] took my [Desmoulins’] arm. We strolled along the street toward the Duplays.
There had been the usual nightly run-in with Hebertt, army officer Ronsin, Momoro, and other Duchesnian barbarians. Robespierre spoke lowly of them, tapping with his stick at the cobbles sharply, to emphasize points. Feeling that I was trembling, he took it fro the cold weather and said we had neglected each other, I must take care, praised Betsi’s chocolate, or it may have been Elie’s, and lured me into the parlor.
There we sat, with an audience of all the little Robespierres, the busts and cameos and etchings—there were several more since I had been there last.
The chocolate came in, brought by a nervous smiling maid. It was tolerable, if I could have tasted it.
[…] So he [Saint-Just] has brought—found somewhere—some silvery flowers which Élie has arranged in a glass vase.