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la Rencontre

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Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just paced around the antichambre , nervously glancing at the desperately closed door. He had asked for this audience so many times with him , and this was the first time he had managed to get a meeting.

To be completely honest, he might have been too excited about the meeting, to the point where he had arrived an hour or so too early. He could tell, by the smirk on the landlady’s face, that he was not the first admirer to come running in order to lay his will and his ideas at Robespierre’s feet.

He just hoped that this whole meeting would not turn into an awkward exhibition of feelings, coldly received by the Montagnard , used to being showered in praise and flattery.

 

Louis-Antoine shook his head, trying to reassure himself about his own qualities. He was well-read young man, full of conviction, and willing to sacrifice everything for the ideals of the Revolution. He had studied almost everything of importance, from military strategy, to basic economic management. He had very thoroughly explained his political views, his conception of how the Republic should develop, in various pamphlets and letters. He was working on various writings, pamphlets, essays, fiction, and he was confident about the quality of his thinking, despite his very young age.

 

And he could handle this, merde.

 

As he passed in front of a mirror in the antichambre , he stopped for a second, and a quick smile graced his features. He also was handsome. He had the face of an Angel.

Of course, it was an unfair argument, however , it could not hurt his case.

Plus, he had read and studied extensively Rousseau and Montesquieu, two idols of Robespierre ( well, obviously they were. No sensible, modern man could get away with envisioning the reform of politics or the judicial system without having read at least one of them ).

 

These self-congratulatory thoughts had at least one merit : Louis-Antoine felt confident, once again, about his wish to meet Robespierre. He felt legitimate .

These joyful thoughts dimmed as soon as the door suddenly opened, revealing a man. The man was young, fashionable, and held himself with such a confidence. Louis-Antoine felt his ego deflate as soon as he laid eyes upon the handsome, grinning face of the young man.

Said young man was still talking to whomever was still behind that door, in a very familiar tone.

 

- Well, you know, of course, how to handle that situation. You know I’m much better at ruling my newspaper than handling my duties as a Député... I am not even sure why I thought it would be a good idea to run.

 

The other man replied, slight impatience perceptible in his tone:

- Come now, Camille, you are being unfair to yourself. You should give yourself more credit, at least as a speaker.

 

Well, this is the infamous Camille Desmoulins. And I do agree with him there : I believe him to be a mediocre man of doctrine, and more a man of appearances…

Louis-Antoine shook slightly his head, attempting to clear his thoughts from snarky remarks against Desmoulins.

Desmoulins, still looking inside the office, laughed lightly and waved his hand in neglect :

- You always have to get the last word in every single conversation we have, Maxime… If I did not know you so well, I would probably think you are mocking me… Well, I am off to see Lucie. I will see you this afternoon.

Without awaiting a response, Camille crossed the antichambre to see himself out. As he passed by Antoine, he shook his head in acknowledgement, smiling.

Louis-Antoine did not reciprocate the smile. It’s not that I detest Camille Desmoulins… I just am not very fond of him. That is a very normal thing, he is a man of empty speeches, and I am a man of ideas. I wonder what Robespierre sees in him.

 

An embarrassed cough brought him back to reality. The door to the office was now widely open. On the door frame, there, he stood. Maximilien Robespierre, the most brilliant man of his generation, was inquisitively looking at him, probably expecting him to explain the reason of his presence.

- Citoyen Saint-Just? I am sorry you had to wait. Come in.

 

Louis-Antoine felt his mouth go dry. He felt ridiculous, trying to remember the little emphatic speech he had prepared for the occasion. He moved towards the door, his legs felt heavy, as if they had been chopped off and replaced by two planks of wood.

Robespierre sat behind his desk, without offering Antoine a chair. He seemed exhausted, and almost tiny behind the severe desk.

He was impeccably dressed, wearing his wig, and powdered. When he had opened the door, Antoine had remarked that the illustrious Robespierre was not a tall man, not very physically built, and although not sickly, he did not seem to be in the best shape that particular day.

- What can I do for you Citoyen? I am sure you did not request this audience just to gape at me as you are currently doing.

 

Dry humour. Antoine liked that, despite the underlying moodiness.

 

- Pardon me, Citoyen Robespierre. Indeed, I came here in order to pay my respects to you, and tell you how much I ardently admire you and your works.

 

A moment of silence. That is a good sign. He is not rolling his eyes in annoyance nor boredom.

- I am sure you do not remember me but… I wrote you a letter, exactly a year ago, about Blérancourt’s market… I… I did make it clear that I did not know you personally , but that I already believed that you were an admirable man. Now my resolve to serve you has only strengthened. I… I read everything you wrote, your pamphlets, your law essays… Everything. I do not expect you to remember my letter, of course, but I wanted to…

- I do remember your letter, Citoyen Saint-Just. In all its details.

 

Antoine gaped at him, almost blushing. That was not the answer he had expected, but the answer he had dreamt of.

 

Then, the most incredible (in Antoine’s eyes) thing occurred. Robespierre smiled . It was a tentative smile, definitely not one that Camille Desmoulins would give ( that man was probably whoring out all of his smiles ). Without a word, Robespierre gestured to a chair. Antoine fell more on the chair than he sat on it. He tried to conceal the shaking of his knees, and blissfully welcomed the chair under him and the desk in front of him.

 

Robespierre coughed slightly, to get his attention focused again. It seemed to be something he did a lot to attract the attention of people.

- Well… Tell me a little more about you, Citoyen Saint-Just. You seem fairly young, yet you sound very informed on the intellectual stakes of the Revolution.

 

Antoine recollected his thoughts. Then, respectfully, he started:

- I am already 24, Citoyen Robespierre… I know it is still too young in comparison with the other députés , like Citoyen Desmoulins or yourself… But I believe, very humbly, that our times are exceptional, and thus they call for the citizens’ involvement despite the lack of experience. I believe that what I lack in experience, a thorough, honest education can compensate.

 

At that, Robespierre looked amused, yet still interested:

- I did not think that today’s curriculum introduced schoolboys so enthusiastically to Rousseau and Montesquieu…

 

Antoine laughed.

- I must confess, Citoyen, it was more self-education . I was almost introduced by chance to Rousseau’s work, and, very quickly, I found myself enthralled by his ideas. I… I actually wrote a political essay, last year, called L’esprit de la Révolution . And I admit that the influence of Rousseau on it was rather heavy. Your influence was very palpable too.

 

Robespierre seemed surprised. He settled more comfortably in his chair before answering.

- I am flattered, Citoyen. But I am myself heavily influenced by both Rousseau and Montesquieu. Reading both of them is almost sufficient enough to form one’s political views… Unfortunately, not all the députés seem to have worked enough on political theory before actually trying to shape our Republic’s policy orientations.

 

He is talking about the current turmoil about the war that has been going on for a few weeks at the Assemblée , Antoine realised. He was astonished that Robespierre, of all men, as prudent as he was, would so openly express his frustration at his colleagues’ unwise views.

- Truth be told, Citoyen Robespierre, I am still fairly new to the political intrigues , especially at the Assemblée. To be completely honest, I am just starting to get used to the political life in Paris, and I did not have your perspective on a diverse political life before arriving here. So far, I have only dealt with the tyranny of feudalism against the good yet destitute people of Blérancourt...

 

Robespierre shook his head in understanding.

- It will come to you very quickly. I would be very glad to help accustom to the parisian society. It is not like I have much to do now… Since my involvement with L’Assemblée Constituante , I have no parliamentary activity right now… I am sure you are aware of the bill that we managed to passed then. It rightfully prevented all the men taking part in the Constituante from running for the elections of the current Assemblée Législative .

 

At that, Antoine’s eyes sparkled with enthusiasm.

- Yes! I heard that you played a major role in implementing this policy, Citoyen, going against the opinions of most of your colleagues…

 

An ironic smile passed on Robespierre

- Well, anyway, it was not such an effective policy if you analyse the current political differences … As I was saying, Citoyen Saint-Just, I can introduce you further to the Jacobin club… I am sure Camille can even introduce you to his journalist contacts, it could be useful to you, it would give you the bigger picture on political rivalry… I assume you are acquainted with the... trouble the Girondins have been causing against the good people of Paris?

 

Antoine nodded positively, so fast he could almost hear his neck crack painfully. He winced, almost imperceptibly. Serves me right for sleeping on a chair instead of moving to my bed…

- I am only aware of the general disagreements… And I have been to a few sans-culottes meetings, although not enough to consider myself completely up to date on the current events…

- Well that can be settled quite easily. I will help you with all the subtleties of  the current political turmoil. Have you ever thought of running for a deputation?

 

Antoine hesitated, then answered bitterly : 

- They said I was too young when I tried to become a député at the Assemblée Législative this year.

 

Understanding flashed in Robespierre’s eyes. He said curtly, but with an underlying insistence :

- Do not worry yourself too much about this, Citoyen. Stay alert, and soon the opportunity to represent your fellow citizens of Blérancourt shall come to you. Believe me on that . Times are changing, and rather quickly . I know you believe yourself to be novice in terms of politics, but it will change soon enough. I will be glad to help you.

 

Antoine would never forget that particular moment. The way Robespierre had smiled at him, reassuringly, confident in every word he said. the words he said next would follow Antoine the rest of his life, and filled him with incommensurable joy every time he thought of them : from now on, Citoyen Saint-Just, consider me your friend.

 

***

He never forgot those words. Even after their relationship developed more, with the formation of the Convention , only a few months after their official meeting. Even after his first, nervous speech as a Conventionnel , on the 13th of November 1792. Even after his first military missions, in March and April 1793. Even after his mission in the army of the North, where the Comité de Salut Public had sent him.

 

He hung to these words so strongly, when Maximilien had confessed his suspicions against Danton. When he had expressed his first frustrations and doubts towards Camille.

When Maximilien had tried to avoid the inevitable talk about Marat’s murder Antoine had tried to start.

When Maximilien was  prostrated  the day Camille Desmoulins, his oldest friend had been guillotined.

When the Incorruptible’s health had been at its lowest, making it so difficult for him to keep his political activities in the Comité de Salut Public.

 

Antoine cherished those words so much, even more now, as he was looking at his Maxime’s bandaged jaw, on that fateful day of Thermidor an II .

 

The Place de Grève was crowded, people laughing, talking and berating now those they had idolised the day before. When his turn came, almost mechanically, Antoine had kissed Couthon on the cheeks, and had just stared at Maxime’s pained, confused expression. Antoine had frozen. Why? He could not understand it himself. Suddenly, feelings and thoughts overwhelmed him, and he was unable to say anything.

Sanson, the executioner, huffed, a bit impatient.

 

What could Antoine say? What last words could he provide Maxime with? He had so much to say, so much to reveal, to confess.

 

Yet there he was, utterly wordless. What he had to say could not matter anymore, it would only confuse dear Maxime’s hazed thoughts, or even worse, give him more reasons to despair of their shared fate.

 

All he could manage was “ Adieu .”

His mind and his heart screamed much more, louder than the crowd’s cheer when Madame Guillotine did her deed.