ROBESPIERRE [indifferent]. Never mind. [slight knock] Enter!
[Enter ELEONORE DUPLAY, 25. She stops in the doorway.]
ROBESPIERRE. Good morning, mademoiselle! Please forgive me for not standing up. Do come in…
ELEONORE [shakes him by the hand and sits down]. Aren’t you up too early, sir?....
ROBESPIERRE [grins]. Too early…after five weeks!—On a day like this even a corpse would get up.
ELEONORE. But the floor still sways somewhat, doesn’t it?
ROBESPIERRE. A little—but this adds to its charm.—I can’t have enough of the joy of free movement. My muscles are coming back to life…Life is a most agreeable thing, mademoiselle.
[The BARBER retreats by a step and surveys his work.]
BARBER. Well—I think you are ready, sir.
[Hands him the mirror, which ROBESPIERRE fearfully pushes away.]
ROBESPIERRE. No…I’d rather not see myself. Thank you. Please come tomorrow at the usual time! [The BARBER bows and goes out. ROBESPIERRE turns round in his chair, rests his elbows on its arm and looks with an indefinable smile into the eyes of his equally motionless lover. Suddenly he gets up and gives her his hands.] Let’s greet each other, my lioness. [ELEONORE rises calmly; they embrace and kiss each other. But this is not enough for her; she slowly falls to her knees, brushing her face and torso against the shoulder, chest, side, hip, and thigh of her friend. He stands supported by a fairly distant table—in order not to lose his balance, when she has surrounded his knees with her arms—and is tilted back in a delightfully uncomfortable pose. He defends himself—without conviction—with his left hand. When the embrace passes below his hips, he gasps for breath somewhat vehemently and speaks seriously] Oh, Léo…stop it. [She pretends, of course, not to hear. More softly and more intensely, he says:] Stop it…stop.
[He almost pushes her away. When she gets up, he stretches his entire body anxiously. He tosses his head, as if he wished to throw something off it. With his toes he draws lines on the floor.]
ELEONORE [sits down. Cheerfully but with suppressed bitterness]. True, I have transgressed against your principles.
ROBESPIERRE [surprised, raises his head]. My principles…you?
ELEONORE. You succeeded in ramming at least one of them into my head: “Any manifestation of love in daylight is tactless and in the worst possible taste.”
ROBESPIERRE [sits down]. Those aggressive principles of a man of action seem so strange to the drowned rat that I am now!
ELEONORE. Thank God. You’re beginning to sharpen your claws…and trying them out on yourself. [watches him] Yes: you are well.—Pity.
ROBESPIERRE. Well, really…
ELEONORE [delicately moves her arms]. Can’t be helped, dearest: I was happy thanks to your suffering. You were writhing with pain in the pangs of malaria—but I had you for hours, even whole days and nights. The illness did not make you ugly: the expression of tragic passivity becomes you. I sat there and learned your features by heart. I did not nurse you: I am not your wife. Anyway, it was better so! In my mother’s hands you were safe.
ROBESPIERRE [looks at her thoughtfully]. If I could only believe in that metallic egoism of yours, lioness…
ELEONORE. My friend: love is not the same as charity.
ROBESPIERRE [craftily, after a few seconds]. And children, dearest?
ELEONORE [astonished]. Children? [twists the corners of her mouth] Man: why do I need a poor caricature, when I have the original?—Let nature install her incubators into other bodies—incapable of happiness.
ROBESPIERRE [naively surprised]. Happiness?...Ah, it must have been two years ago! [asymmetrically elongating his mouth] Yes, indeed…our evenings then…and nights…Our idyllic plans—Great God!—When I thought that one could fulfill one’s allotment of revolutionary work in a year or two, and then go back home!—Léo: those days are gone!
ELEONORE. Compared to what I have now, I was poor then.
ROBESPIERRE. I loved you then.—Today you are just a sleeping-draught to me.
ELEONORE. I know.
ROBESPIERRE. You are lying, child, even to yourself! Nature in you has grasped at a vain hope—for that lie you are wasting your precious life terribly!—Léo: revolution will last a couple of centuries. I shall never be free, do you understand? Never. A succession of twenty-hour days of ever-heavier work until I die. I am now thirty-five…Before I reach forty I shall be a ruin—like a most dissolute fifty-year-old libertine!
ELEONORE. And what of it, dearest? For as long as I can see you, if only in passing, you give my life unutterable joy. When you abandon me, I shall still see you ever day from the gallery of the Convention and the club.
ROBESPIERRE. Woman: don’t you feel how such slavery debases you?! Listen: revolution consumes not only my time—but my whole being. Today I have no personal life any more. I cease to be a man: human sensibility, human feelings, desires—all these gradually wither and fall away in that hellish temperature of concentrated effort. I am becoming an impersonal, monstrously expanding, inflamed brain. Today I can see what is happening to me because I have time…and I feel strange.—Child: I do not love you any more. I am literally indifferent to you! Consider: the only chances now of our spending a few minutes together—are the feverish spasms of my lust; spasms which are a vile torment, and result from beastly exhaustion. Do you know, Léo, that it’s all the same to me who frees me from that torment?—Do you know that sometimes any random tart takes your place…and that it makes no difference? That if I come to you—it is only because I lack the strength to walk a few blocks and save you at least that humiliation?...Léo—woman—this is shameful! Struggle, though it is hard for you—and tear yourself free at last!
ELEONORE [with a slight sigh]. Do not exert yourself, carino. Is it your fault that fate has destined me for your use? [ROBESPIERRE frowns. She smiles faintly.] Why worry? I am here exactly in order to save you from wandering about the city when you are tired, and to save you from getting infected. Do I shock you? No, no, chéri: were you to choose even more spiteful words—you would not alter the natural fact that I am your property. Whatever comes from you—is for me the reason for existence, not shame.
ROBESPIERRE [after a short while]. I am ashamed for you.
ELEONORE. You’re exaggerating.
[Suddenly she grabs his hand and kisses it. In response ROBESPIERRE stoops, takes her head in his hands, and returns her kiss on the mouth, with rapacious intensity.]
ROBESPIERRE [with deep sincerity]. Yes, my friend—I am ashamed for you, that is a fact. But at the same time I am able to feel your excellence…today, when after five weeks of rest—the man in me makes a shy attempt at revival. In two weeks…you will again mean to me only a female body…at hand. Oh, how happy you private people are!...And how terribly sorry I am for you, Léo!
ELEONORE. But you will give me those two weeks, Maxime! You’ve just clearly said so!
ROBESPIERRE [looks through the window]. Two weeks…of being a free man. Two weeks…fourteen days…to be one’s foolish self, not answerable for anything in the world…and at this divine time of year…Alas, it’s not to be thought of. Four days, though—I guarantee them with my word of honor.
[He takes out a file and skillfully begins to file his nails.]
ELEONORE [almost frightened]. What?...You think you will be well enough in four days?
ROBESPIERRE. I am well already. But—I am maniacally craving your life. Pathologically: like a drunk who has been refused alcohol.
[A knock. He gets up and walks to the door.]
VOICE [of a stripling who hands him his correspondence through the door]. Letters for you, sir. Here’s a dispatch from the Committee of Public Safety.
[Totally absorbed, ROBESPIERRE impatiently goes through the letters standing by the table. Then he opens the dispatch.]
ELEONORE [concerned, shyly]. Maxime, tell…
ROBESPIERRE. Hush, wait…
ELEONORE [half-whisper]. You viper!...
ROBESPIERRE [musically whistles the chromatic scale. Reads a few more words; energetically raises his head]. My holiday is over, Léo.
[ELEONORE closes her eyes, and quietly turns her face toward the window.]
ROBESPIERRE [speaks and reads at the same time]. In half an hour…I must…be at the Committee…[turns his eyes from the papers for a while] And so, I should like to ask you for a cup of coffee. It does not matter if there is no bread.
ELEONORE. At once.
[ROBESPIERRE lifts his eyes and watches her with a somewhat sad smile, until she disappears behind the door. […]
ROBESPIERRE [suddenly supports his head with both hands, as if it has become a heavy load.] Platitudes are sometimes…blinding. [ELEONORE comes in, with breakfast. She exchanges friendly greetings with SAINT-
ELEONORE [enters, stops—speaks very softly]. Oh…sorry. I didn’t realize you had come back.
ROBESPIERRE [without even glancing at her]. Quarter of an hour ago.
ELEONORE. Will you be going out again?
ROBESPIERRE. In ten minutes. What do you want?
ELEONORE. What can I get you?
ROBESPIERRE. Nothing. Leave me in peace.
ELEONORE [protests]. But!....
ROBESPIERRE [with ominous calm]. Have pity; stop it. [He presses his fingers to his forehead with a grimace of pain and impatience. He emits a soft snarling groan, without opening his mouth]. Mmmmmm-mmm…
[Meanwhile ELEONORE, not at all put out, competently and quietly restores order among the chaos of clothes, towels, papers, and pulled out drawers in the room. In a word, she removes the unambiguous traces of a short visit by a man who has rushed home for twenty minutes, irritable, only half-conscious due to migraine and insomnia—in order to change his clothes and prepare himself for a further seven hours of parliamentary wrangling.
While doing all of this ELEONORE glances at him with a constrained half-smile, slightly mocking. He must be chance have noticed it or felt it. Anyway, he turns his head a fraction in her direction. He does not see her clearly because focusing his eyes causes him too much effort.]
ROBESPIERRE [usual voice]. Léo.
ELEONORE [turns to him, relaxed]. Yes?
ROBESPIERRE [extends one hand to her; he leaves the other on his forehead]. I am sorry. I’m going insane.
ELEONORE [claps his hand with a gay smile]. Oh, Maxime. In your place I would be the very devil. But listen to me: are you starving yourself on purpose? [She asks this question in a matter-of-fact way, without irony]
ROBESPIERRE [knits his brows, painfully trying to remember]. Am…I starving myself?...
ELEONORE [half-smiling]. Only since yesterday .
ROBESPIERRE [astounded, drops his hands]. By all the saints!! [gets up] And I’ve been wondering what is the matter with me!...
ELEONORE [runs to the door]. You’ll have some broth right away.
[Out of the room she calls downstairs. Meanwhile ROBESPIERRE, standing close to the dressing-table, wipes his forehead helplessly and slowly with the back of his hand, then, just as aimlessly, presses both hands against it, wry-faced, near tears, like a man too long tormented. On the entry of his friend, he controls himself less than sufficiently, which she ignores with a somewhat merciless tact]
ELEONORE. While you drink this they will prepare you something more to eat. Why are you standing? Sit down.
ROBESPIERRE [with inert movements puts on his vest]. Thank you. I don’t want anything else. [he must have some rest]
ELEONORE. Very well. I’ll tell her.
[She is standing at the edge of a table in the middle of the room, while ROBESPIERRE, enraged by his weakness, washes his face with eau de cologne, then turns round and arranges his hair in front of the mirror. ELEONORE at last decides to speak]
Maxime…is the Danton case taking a bad turn?
[He turns slowly toward her, frightening in his immobility. ELEONORE looks down at the floor in order not to let herself be overawed. Almost in a whisper]
Tell me, Maxime.
ROBESPIERRE [gives her a vacant look]. Why do you think so? The newspapers…
ELEONORE [shrugs her shoulders heavily]. The newspapers! How can one trust the newspapers!
[Short pause. He is waiting like a statue; she raises her eyes at last]
Maxime, during no other danger—the worst of crises—never did you look as you do now.
ROBESPIERRE [turns back to the mirror, with an evil, dry smile]. Well, if you judge a political situation by my looks!
ELEONORE [as if to herself]. But it is the surest way.
ROBESPIERRE [turns suddenly and quickly. He is pale, his face twitches slightly. Speaks in a subdued voice]. Léo…I am not very patient today. Please don’t tease me.
ELEONORE [suddenly approaches him. Disguises her anxiety with a bright, mocking smile]. And you have pity on me. You know yourself what it is to be concerned… [grabs him by the shoulders] What is it, man?!
ROBESPIERRE [looks down at the floor]. This trial is a risky duel, but I am almost certain of victory. As long as the Convention does not lose its head—and I have power over the club, I have no reason to worry.
ELEONORE [her hands drop, she looks at the wall]. What a consolation… [A knock. She runs to the door, takes the tray] This will do. You’ve told me all.
ROBESPIERRE [walks to the main table, but does not sit]. Thank you.
[They eye each other, both calm.]
ELEONORE [an outburst in a half-whisper]. In that case why this expression of…despair?
ROBESPIERRE [starts. Knits his brows, controls himself]. I have my cares, dear child.
[He takes the bowl in both hands, but does not lift it, as it is too hot.]
ELEONORE [with a bitter smile on only the lower part of her face]. Really?! Have you had one hour free from your cares, ever since I’ve known you?! [more excitedly and softly] A year ago you were for a whole long week just one step away from the guillotine, but you did not look at the world so oh… [still softer] like…someone besieged.
ROBESPIERRE [with an almost gay laugh]. Oh God! The guillotine!
[He lifts the bowl and blows on the surface of the soup.]
ELEONORE [now calmly]. Maxime—strike me if you wish. But I will not budge from here until you tell me.
ROBESPIERRE [sighs with pretended patience; supports himself against the table on widely spaced hands]. Woman, I am in no danger. Not at all. Only…
[He drops his head. In this state of weakness and depression he cannot resist the temptation to share with someone else the Chinese torture of a certain thought. Momentously]
The Danton case is a dilemma. If we lose—the whole Revolution is as good as lost. And if we win…the same is probably true. [a short pause] Five—years—of struggle, suffering, innumerable victims…all for—nothing…
[Stooping over the table with an outstretched neck, he looks for a while at the infinity before him. He breathes slowly; his calm face has assumed an expression of concentration, tension, and fascinated horror—the expression which strikes us on looking at his last profile portrait. At last he calmly shuts his eyes and straightens up]
I must not say that.
[He lifts the bowl and drinks. His eyelids and nostrils quiver. With an almost devout expression]
I am returning to life.
ELEONORE [looks at him attentively]. Such thoughts are a typical sigh of exhaustion, Maxime.
[ROBESPIERRE gives a deep sigh and goes on drinking]
ROBESPIERRE [wipes his mouth. With the voice of one resurrected]. Let’s hope you are right…although…at any rate, as long as that devil does not interfere with my work, it’s not a great misfortune. [looks at his watch and whistles] I must hurry. Thank you kindly; I feel much better.
[He takes a tie prepared for him, neatly attaches it round his neck.]
ELEONORE [inspects the state of his cuffs which are laid out]. To the club?
ROBESPIERRE [fastens the tie]. That’s right. [Puts on his coat]
ELEONORE [curious]. Listen—is it true that Legendre is presiding at the moment?
ROBESPIERRE [buttons up his jabot in front of the mirror]. Mmm…
[Having finished, fixes the cuffs.]
ELEONORE. But I hope they don’t make things difficult for you?
ROBESPIERRE [busy with his right cuff]. For the last three days nobody has made things difficult for me—as long as I am looking at him. [A knock. Without raising his eyes] Come in.
ELEONORE. See you tomorrow, Maxime.
[They nod goodbye to each other. In the doorway ELEONORE passes FOUQUIER and BARERE.]
398 rue Saint-Honoré. The evening of 16 Germinal. ROBESPIERRE alone, lying on the bed, on his back. The noise of the passing convoy outside. The voices of CAMILLE and DANTON: the first of them shouts out of despair, the other roars curses. ROBESPIERRE reacts to neither, nor to the knock on the door that follows. Only after the second knock does he respond, thought not at once.
ROBESPIERRE [in quite a normal voice]. Come in.
ELEONORE [enters and, despite herself, behaves as if in the presence of someone dying. Whispers]. The evening post, Maxime. Nothing important.
ROBESPIERRE [unmoved, loudly]. Thank you.
[ELEONORE does not dare approach him, or to speak; she waits for a sign, looks around shyly, then leaves the room quickly, on tiptoe. […] ]