"Sweet Jesus, what is this? Anyone'd think you'd never had sex before."
The pen flies across the page, scoring over Camille's illegible handwriting, catching crossly on the rough pages. Excise. Excise.
"Which I know isn't the case, so take that innocent expression off your face, my dear. It makes you look like a prostitute trying to dress up as a nun."
There's a late afternoon, late summer sun slanting across the table, and a thick smell of coffee in the air which almost masks the smell of August in Paris. There's a feeling of expectation, too: that things are going to happen, and soon. But not quite yet.
"That. What is that?"
Fabre's finger jabs at the manuscript, and Camille puts his cheek against the marble table-top and covers his head with his arms. He has the feeling that Fabre will slide shortly from violence to his prose to violence to his person, and he'd really rather not be here for that.
"No good?" he asks, in a rather muffled voice.
"'No good?', he asks." The steel nib slashes another line across the page. "As the Academy and the discerning public have made abundantly clear to me, I apparently wouldn't know 'good' if it came up and bit me in the arse. All I know is that this won't sell." He meets Camille's eye where it peers up at him through parted fingers. "Which was the point of this exercise, if you recall."
"I just couldn't see a way of plausibly getting them into a compromising situation."
"For Christ's sake, Camille, you've been in compromising situations with half of Paris!"
But it's not the same, Camille wants to say; it's not as if he ever plans to be compromised. And all the farces, coincidences and contrivances of real life would seem absurdly implausible if you put them in a novel.
Fabre puts his hands over his face. "Look. There are only three ways a salacious novel can end. One, with the protagonist debauched and married. Two, with the protagonist debauched and dead. Three, both of the above. You've got a prose style here to make me weep hot tears of jealousy, but if you can't stick to the bloody plot, then what's the point?"
20th June, 1790
"M. Romme knows nothing about throwing parties."
"M. Romme's done nothing but talk politics since he got back from Russia. I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise if his social circle's a bit bloody dull."
"We do nothing but talk politics," Camille points out. "What else is there to talk about? The trick lies in talking politics to the right people."
"The trick lies in not talking about politics as if you were a second-rate schoolmaster. Which unfortunately M. Romme is. And do sit down, you make me hot just looking at you."
The sunlight sleets down through summer leaves; gets caught up in dust, dust, always dust. An hour ago it would have traced a delicate bloom on the dark curves of cherries and strawberries, gilded the bowls of beans and the thick-crusted bread, a feast laid out on gleaming platters by girls in new white summer frocks with their hair in braids and tumbling curls. (The pamphlets would undoubtedly describe them as 'patriotic nymphs' – at least, the pamphlets which didn't have Camille standing behind them with his sharp pen and sharper smile – but as far as Danton was concerned they were girls in new white summer frocks, and that was quite enough.) But that was an hour ago, and even the well-heeled Versailles Tennis Court Society are hungry.
"If one more person proposes a toast, I'm starting another revolution here and now. If we don't even have the freedom to drink when we want to, then what's the point of it all?"
"I'm fairly sure that the first toast was yours."
Danton waves one hand, expansively, and tilts his chair precariously backwards. "When I proposed the first toast, it was a novel – nay, a bold and even daring idea. Only I – I, Danton – could have carried off such a revolutionary measure. Now the path I beat has become the public highway, and as such inevitably thronged with dogs and whores. Christ, is that Laborde too?"
"Very nice," says Camille, casting himself into the dusty grass at Georges-Jacques' feet and gazing up at him with wide eyes. "Perhaps I ought to make a note of that. It can go in my next issue."
"Please do. But brush it up a bit first, there's a good fellow – put in a classical allusion or something, you're good at them."
The Bois de Boulogne is hardly an ideal place for a dinner party, it must be admitted; but even with the dust, even with the wasps, even with the uneven ground which has spilled more than one reverend deputy out of their seat, it feels like a blessed release to be out of the city. In the rue des Cordeliers, the buildings fling the heat back at you like a blow, like the roar of voices in the Riding School; in the house on the Cour du Commerce Gabrielle waits for her husband, and nurses a noisy and demanding baby, and fears; in a drawer in City Hall, a warrant waits made out in his name, for aiding the escape of the insurrectionist Marat. It is exactly a year since the Tennis Court Oath, now forever to be remembered with capital letters and Roman gestures.
In this year of grace, 1790, any excuse will do for a party.
At the far end of the long table, Maximilien Robespierre rises to his feet. The murmur of conversations which has scarcely abated through the last four toasts drops away to a whisper.
"Must make a nice change for him," Danton mutters, in a voice just a touch too loud, loud enough to blur Robespierre's opening remarks. "People normally start talking when he gets on his hind legs for a speech."
"- more conscious than me of the importance of praising those men whose courage and integrity have made a beginning – a beginning only – of the rebirth of our great nation; and I am most sensible of the honour done me by this most patriotic of societies in inviting me to celebrate this most auspicious of days in the company of men of like mind and sound opinion. Yet we must also remember – remember, and praise above all others – those men whose pens have done as much as the tongues of the orators in laying the foundations for this new age. I therefore propose the health of the courageous writers who have risked so many dangers, and who still prove their valour by devoting themselves to the defence of the country."
For a moment, Camille thinks the green eyes come to rest on him; and for all he reminds himself that between his weak eyes and Max's own there's precious little chance he's correct, he still feels a curl of warmth unroll within him.
"A health to all journalists – and to the Lanterne Attorney!" a voice shouts, and suddenly he's buoyed up on applause, dragged to his feet by Georges-Jacques' massive arm tight around his waist, then off them again, lifted onto the table by a dozen hands amidst laughter and cheers. And he looks down, at the platters scattered with crumbs and the remnants of fruit, and the bobbing faces in the dappled light, and it's nothing like the Palais-Royal, not even a little. He wonders, disconnectedly, if he has ever been so safe.
"I hope I didn't put you on the spot too much," says Maximilien later, smiling his least precise smile. "I thought that perhaps someone ought to remind deputy Barnave that revolutions aren't only made in the Assembly."
"He was purring like a cat under the attention," says Danton.
"Aren't you staying for the great expedition to Versailles?" Camille asks, very aware of Danton's fingers in his hair, moving gently, persistently through the curls. "I hear Romme has found four sufficiently picturesque-looking sans-culottes to carry the memorial plaque to the tennis court. I'd say it was a sort of revolutionary Ark of the Covenant if I wasn't certain that was exactly what Romme wanted me to say."
"I'm afraid I can't stay. I must get to the Assembly for the rest of the afternoon session."
"I've heard that revolutions aren't only made in the Assembly."
Max looks tired; as ever. But the smile is unforced. "Perhaps not your revolution."
"If I didn't know better," says Danton as Robespierre walks away, "I'd swear blind that Deputy Robespierre was wearing a waistcoat embroidered with large pink roses."
"It's one of his favourites," says Camille, settling back against Danton's leg. The fingers have stilled, resting hot against the nape of his neck, tangling with the fine hair. "He keeps it for special occasions."
"I thought to begin with they must be large, pink cabbages," Danton remarks. "Which seemed unlikely, but somehow more likely than the alternative. At least cabbages can be put to patriotic purpose in the making of soup."
"Max has been known to write sentimental poetry, and to weep over romantic novels."
"Christ. We live in an age of miracles and portents."
Camille moves restively, pushing his head back against the heavy weight of Georges' hand, needing the resumption of movement. "Well, it's a relief to know he's forgiven me, anyway."
"Why, have you done something more unforgiveable than usual?"
Camille frowns. "I really can't remember. He sent me the frostiest letter a fortnight ago – 'Sir' – Sir – 'I have read in your last article, et cetera, et cetera…'"
"My word," says Danton, imprese d. "You must have provoked the rabid lamb most intemperately to be so gored."
"I suppose I must." He looks up the line of the table, to where a vase of patriotic flowers lies overturned beside an empty bottle of wine. M. Romme of the Versailles Tennis Court Society is beginning to look hunted. "I think I might have printed that story about him saying 'let the brat clap his hands!' when the royal whelp applauded Mirabeau's decree."
"Well, it was a good story."
"Exactly. It's hardly my fault if I can write a better Robespierre than Max can act." He drags his knees up towards his chin, buries his face against them, breathes in dust. "I don't want to talk about Mirabeau."
"No one but you was talking about Mirabeau." Danton pulls his head back, firmly, and drops an apple into his lap. "Eat something. You make me feel like a glutton."
"You are a glutton."
He begins to peel the apple, and thinks, we're all out of character today. It's Louis who has the banquets, Louis who can't be drawn or described without a roast chicken in one hand and a bottle in the other; Louis who shuns the city and its angry, unwashed, inspired people. Today the banquet and the countryside are theirs; and Danton is gentle and mild, and Robespierre adorns himself with roses; and Camille Desmoulins is applauded and safe and has his hair stroked.
It can't go on, he knows. But he eats his apple, and watches the light move, and says nothing.
20 Prairial, Year II of the Republic (8th June 1794: ci-devant Pentecost)
Do they think he can't hear them? Can they really understand so little of what he's trying to do?
The heavy scent rising from the bouquet of roses catches in his throat, but he can't stop smiling, even if he wishes to. He's aware of every footfall in the dust, and is sometimes seized by the notion that he's thinking about them too much, that if he thinks too much about putting one foot in front of the other he'll somehow forget how to do it.
There have been times, over the last few weeks, when he wondered if he was losing his mind.
But he can hear the inconsequential chatter from the ranks of deputies behind him; and he knows that they're hanging back deliberately, wanting to make him look isolated, hubristic. When he set light to the cardboard effigy of Atheism (asses ears drooping in the heat, in danger of toppling over, and would the image of Wisdom emerge in majesty from the smoke as he had been promised?), followed by a handful of others from the Committee, he heard someone say, in a thick Pyrenees accent, "Here come the lictors…"
For a moment, he almost laughs. The idea that he could be compared to an Emperor, surrounding himself with bodyguards and symbols of authority, is absurd. Last week a girl with a knife knocked at the door of the Duplays' house, and asked to see him.
He has never been so alone.
But the crowds still cheer; the women garlanded with roses, men with the oak leaves of the civic crown wreathing around their grubby caps, children strewing the ground with violets. So he keeps smiling, and hopes it will be enough. The mountain of plaster and wood heaped up in the middle of the Champ de la Réunion should look impressive enough from a distance.
Saint-Just creates elaborate plans for a Lycurgan state – to take all children from their parents at the age of five, to protect them from beatings and caresses alike, to bring them up healthy and loyal and vegetarian. They've discussed those plans many times, these last months. Robespierre finds himself trying to explain every time that you can't expect people to behave like gods all at once; you have to start with people as they are, with things they understand – simple faith, ritual, the comfort of eternity – and go from there.
He can hear people laughing; but he knows it's the laughter of the new. He casts his mind ahead, a hundred, two hundred, three hundred years, and sees the people with oak leaves and roses in their hair, worshipping the Supreme Being on this day with natural simplicity. One day, the plaster mountains and cardboard effigies won't be necessary. One day, the Revolution will be over.
Yet always the nagging fear. Beyond the borders of France they are celebrating too, celebrating tongues of fire from heaven, the gift of understanding; and what can cardboard statues compare to that? They are still waiting for the heavenly fire which will animate their Republic of Virtue; the people are laughing.
His thoughts don't flow in smooth channels any more; they toss about, throw up strange associations. Now, as he sees Fouché and Carnot and Hermann in the crowd, he's thrown back to Arras, back to the lightning conductor, the case that made his name; the flush of pride, the sense of fighting for progress and reason and rationality against the forces of superstition. What else has he ever done?
Why do they laugh?
This festival should be his lightning conductor, beckoning down the heavenly fire; and he hopes (he would pray, but what would be the point? The Supreme Being doesn't answer that sort of prayer) it will be enough.
He thinks of Camille, standing on a table, waving a pistol, as he's seen him in a hundred patriotic prints and plates; Camille, the ever-present absence.
He climbs the mountain; behind him are the faces of Arras, and for a second he is terribly afraid that all the Revolution has done is to turn back to where it began.
"Look at the bugger," says Thuriot to his neighbour, looking up at the neat figure in its sky-blue coat as it toils up the slope ahead of him. "It's not enough for him to be master, he has to be God."
It always seems to be oppressively hot in Mirabeau's lodgings; oppressively hot and oppressively cluttered. But perhaps that's just a side-effect of the company. Even when he sees Mirabeau alone, he always feels that the room is crowded – the ghosts of all those Mirabeaux, past and present, lolling on couches and passing remarks – and he seldom sees Mirabeau alone. The crowds are as necessary as the sudden fits of self-abnegation. Part of the fascination lies in wondering which face will appear next.
"I'll regret offering my best Maraschino if you're going to pull that face as you drink it."
The liquor is bittersweet, warming, absurdly expensive.
"M. Desmoulins is one of those unfortunate men who grow vexatious, not to say cantankerous, as they drink," says Mirabeau, refilling his glass. "I'm sure the ancient Greeks have some useful aphorism on the subject, but I can't bring it to mind. Perhaps M. Desmoulins can oblige?"
Tonight, Mirabeau has decided to skirt that edge between teasing and violence, with just an edge of a collector's pride mixed in. It's tiring, but better than several of the alternatives.
"Last month I had to ask my father to send me some shirts and two pairs of sheets," says Camille, the words coming from a long way away, somewhere beyond the Bordeaux and the Maraschino and the hothouse fruits.
"Only because you wanted to show off how many shirts you've 'mislaid' since July without being too obvious about it."
No, thinks Camille, it's because I needed some more bloody shirts.
"You could have come to me if you needed a few crowns," says Mirabeau, expansively. "I could even have recommended you to my tailor, though I doubt if it would have helped."
"Thank you, but I feel the imitation of a debauched and overstuffed chaise-longue is not for everyone."
Mirabeau smiles, broadly. "You must excuse me. I'm a little fatigued. Dig your claws into me in the morning, you'll find me more receptive then." He finishes his glass at a mouthful, refills it. How many livres have gone into that gesture? "You, of course, are never fatigued at all. It must be one of the rewards of youth."
"The benefits of a healthy life and a clear conscience," says Camille.
Mirabeau roars a laugh; the lion batting its cub good-naturedly to the ground. "My poor, wicked Camille. You think you've lived. When I was your age, I'd been in prison twice, bankrupted once, married once, divorced once."
"When I'm your age," says Camille, "I'll be dead."
The Comte hauls himself from his chair, upsetting glasses and jogging elbows as he lumbers around the table, pulls Camille from his seat and crushes him in an embrace, and of course he doesn't deign to notice de Sillery's look of carefully cultivated boredom, or Pétion's pointedly blank amiability. "My poor M. Desmoulins," he announces, "is afflicted with morbid fantasies. Dear boy, I can always be trusted to take care of my own."
I'm not one of your own, he wants to say; and he wants to curl up under the weight of the massive hand and say yes, my lord, yes.
Max tells him not to be a prig; not to worry about the dinners and the liquors and the public petting, because he needs the publicity and the money and the affection; but Max wouldn't know corruption if it dropped into his soup. (Max has been known to serve soup from the tureen straight onto the table-cloth if no one has remembered to put a bowl in front of him, so expecting him to notice corruption in it is probably too much to hope for.) He doesn't understand the tugging inside him; the part which wants to lie down and be fed and petted, the part which wants ice and pain and bloody revolution; doesn't understand how those two parts meet and merge in the presence of men like Mirabeau and Danton.
He can't despise the dinners, the conversation, the affection. It wouldn't be a trap if he didn't long for it.
"I want to start a newspaper," he says.
"But of course. You live on nothing but words and arguments, it's only reasonable that you should shit newspapers." The obscenity comes out automatic, faintly distracted; he's weighing the possibilities. "Who will you be attacking?"
"My dear Lanterne Attorney. And how much money will you need?"
Camille realises he has no idea. "Oh…I don't know. The normal amount."
Another monumental laugh; the arm across his shoulders heaves tumultuously. It's like being caressed by an avalanche. "You talk as if I set up insurrectionist newspapers every day of the week."
"I take a break on Sundays," says Mirabeau. "There are some sins one doesn't wish to wave under the nose of the Almighty." He steers Camille over to the window; pulling away would necessitate breaking a limb, even if he could bring himself to do it. "It'd give those bastards over on the Acts of the Apostles something to think about, anyway. Let them sharpen their knives on someone who deserves it for a change. And you will deserve it, won't you Camille?"
Oh, yes; every barbed word. Every kick repaid with interest.
"I think I could see my way clear to helping you out." He's magnanimous now; enjoys watching him roll over in the dirt and bare his throat. "When do you want to begin?"
"Now. Tonight." No, because if he wrote as he feels tonight, then the paper would never make it as far as its second issue. "Well, tomorrow morning, anyway."
"Always so endearingly bloodthirsty."
The moonlight blooms on Gabriel's face; for a moment, he looks almost tired. A trick of the light, and one Camille's seen him cultivating before. He can feel the cold through the glass.
Sometimes, he finds himself imagining Mirabeau's hands on him, and he can't tell if it's rage or lust, the line is so fine; imagines rough fingers in his hair, dragging his head back; imagines being marked, claimed. Every time Mirabeau mauls one of his pamphlets, great hands crushing the pages one by one; every time he appropriates a turn of Camille's phrase in a speech; every time he calls him 'my poor Camille' and drapes an arm around his shoulders, Camille finds himself imagining this.
The trick, he will later announce, is to have them pay you to write what you already think. If only it were that easy.
They've lost the thread of the narrative, these last few months; the words are losing their force, dissipating in a flurry of papers. Mirabeau is teaching him, day by day and defeat by defeat, to sharpen his knives.
It must be warm here, sometimes; sometimes it must be summer. But such a state of affairs hardly seems possible now. And when the cold cannot be avoided, when the only thing possible is to endure it as best one can, then that very act of endurance becomes heroic, mythical.
"The Spartans," Camille intones, "only allowed their children one garment to wear throughout the year, believing that they would thus be better prepared to face changes of heat and cold."
"The Spartans," Fréron answers, "are lucky they didn't live in Paris. They probably get less snow in Greece."
"Hos d' hot' an ek nepheon ptetai niphas ee khalaza psuchre, Rabbit," says Camille, pityingly. "'As when from the clouds fly forth snow or chill hail'. It wouldn't make much of a simile if it didn't happen, would it?"
He's been thinking a lot about similes, recently.
The constant movement might be a reaction against the cold, though Fréron and de Robespierre seem to manage well enough. It's just Camille, flitting from edge to edge of the room, hands moving thin and white in the January gloom. There are enough hidden corners at Louis-le-Grand that it should be a conspirator's paradise; but the cold makes it uncomfortable to stay still for long. An unforeseen side-effect of the school's policy towards heating, perhaps (although perhaps not: boys have always been dangerous creatures, to be corralled as closely as possible), but not an unwelcome one, from the school's perspective.
"The Spartans also took all boys away from their families from the age of seven, and had them brought up in herds, by the state," Camille goes on. His stutter seems particularly bad on this day, on this topic; the others are wearing that expression of nervous expectation. "Should the law-giver, we ask, have such power?"
"That would depend on the virtue of the law-giver," says Maximilien, predictably, rightly.
"And on the virtue of the family," adds Camille.
"Was it really worth earning Father Proyart's displeasure yet again just for the sake of debating Spartan educational programmes?"
"Earning Father Proyart's displeasure is one of my chief delights. It requires no reward."
Maximilien half smiles, turns it into a sigh. "They probably wouldn't mind so much you smuggling Plutarch into Mass if you didn't also smuggle the Acts of the Apostles into Greek."
"If I want to worship Plutarch and study the New Testament, what business is it of theirs?"
"You can make up as many sophistic phrases about it as you like," says Fréron. "We all know it's just because you love provoking scenes."
Camille fixes him with his black eyes. "Is that what it is?"
He finds Plutarch fascinating; not so much for the history he recounts, but for his methods. The parallel lives. To pick out two, often seemingly disparate, figures, from two such different times; to draw out their histories, their characters, pointing and juxtaposing, to draw out the hidden meanings, showing how closely the seemingly unrelated can be drawn together. It's hardly novel, he knows; but he's struck by the eloquence of it, especially now, when it often seems that he can't say anything for himself at all.
He keeps a notebook, picking out telling parallels, salting them away for – he can't imagine what, not yet. For the future he's hardly begun to plot. Brutus, Cato, Aristogeiton; Nero, Dionysius. Tiberius. You can say things with similes, metaphors, parallels, that can't be said in statements.
Like: to name Fréron 'Rabbit' was the work of a moment; but it will stick with him until he dies. Camille is good at fixing names on people. Name them, and you control them; or at least how they're seen, which is the same thing. (Hence Lafayette, 'Washington pot-au-feu'; hence the Vicomte Mirabeau 'the Barrel'; hence Danton, the Marius of the Paris masses; hence Robespierre, their Horatius Cocles, who holds back the invading hordes undaunted and alone. He seldom thinks, when he fastens these names upon them, that names can twist, throw up different parallels, different meanings.)
And Camillus, of course. Camillus, who was five times appointed dictator, and who laid that power down willingly five times. Camillus, the embezzler, the conqueror, the second founder of Rome. Each time someone addresses him it's both a reproach and a call to arms.
"I don't think you'd better argue the case for Spartan values too hard," says Fréron. "They'd disenfranchise anyone who couldn't pay their mess bill or buy their own armour. That doesn't seem like the most equitable basis for a society to me."
Maximilien regards his nails: purple-tinged with cold. "Yet still more equitable than our own."
"I just can't really see our little Camille with a hoplite shield and spear in his hands."
Camille smiles. "Oh, I'll have my own weapons."
But what happens if you reach the point when the metaphor runs out? As Max will so rightly point out: metaphors don't kill people.
Night of 15 Germinal, Year II of the Republic (4th April 1794)
In the Luxembourg, he could look out of the window and see the gardens where he used to walk with Lucile, swimming in spring sunlight. He had divided his time between writing letters to his wife, to Robespierre, to anyone who might listen, and writing speeches, page after page after page until his hand cramped. Because he could speak, he had to speak, no time for pamphlets and newspapers, and dear God why could he talk to a crowd as if he knew every one of them but addressing a few dozen people in a law court reduced him to silence?
The Conciergerie is not overly endowed with windows. And now he can't think, much less write.
They are going to murder his wife.
"Tell me what to do," he shouts. Danton is sitting at the tiny writing desk; it makes him look even more out of scale than usual, a giant at a doll's tea-party. God knows what he's writing; they all know how tomorrow will go. A note to his wife, perhaps; a cunning new codicil to his will to cheat the Republic of all those hard-won lands at Arcis; a letter to his tailor requesting a new cravat.
"When it comes down to it, what have any of us achieved? I almost wouldn't mind so much – " He would, he would still scream bloody murder. "- if I thought we'd actually done it. That the Republic counted for anything."
"Three months," says Danton, and doesn't look up. "I give the bastards three months without us. Then we'll have some company in the quicklime."
The nausea is almost strong enough to cut through the terror. "I keep telling myself that we'll be vindicated – oh, not tomorrow of course, no time for that. But in ten or fifty or a hundred years time they'll go back to the Revolutions or the Old Cordelier and they'll realise - "
"No one thinks you're a counter-revolutionary."
Have the last years really just been an attempt to make people look at him? He finds he can't bear to talk to Georges' back.
"They will do tomorrow."
"Tomorrow we won't much care."
But he will.
He's poured his heart into every pamphlet, every issue, every word for the last five years; he's scored his name across this revolution in bloody letters a foot high; he doesn't regret a single word. And if that hasn't shown him clearly enough – if they still jeer –
He can feel his cheeks wet, as if from a distance. He's only ever been able to read himself through other people's eyes; and now even Danton looks away.
Thank God Hérault isn't here.
"What good are words, really? You get to a point where the words run out. No one will hand you a pen when your neck's in the guillotine. I thought I could take all the blood and shit and dust of the revolution and turn it into – into better prose. Christ. But what good does it do, really? How can beautiful phrases outweigh a basket full of bloody heads? When they look back, that's what they'll see. An iron blade, dropping forever."
The arms around him are a strait-jacket, a reproach, an aegis; the fingers in his hair a benediction.
"Liberty," says Georges-Jacques, close by his ear. His voice is hoarse from the day; Camille so seldom hears him speak softly he sometimes forgets he can do it. "Equality. Fraternity."
"One of yours, I believe," says Camille, muffled against Danton's shoulder. His stutter seems to have got lost somewhere in the folds of Danton's shirt. "You should have got a patent out on it, you'd have made a fortune."
"No point. I'd have lost it when we abolished the old patent system last year, don't you remember?"
"'Liberty, equality, fraternity, or Death'. We're back to the baskets of heads again."
"Well, yes. But I don't think they're very likely to carve the last bit on buildings."
He can't stop himself from laughing.
Georges-Jacques is so sure of his favourable status with posterity, it's entirely possible that he's got a design for his own statue hidden away somewhere, for posterity's use. Georges-Jacques has never written anything important to him down in his life. Georges-Jacques, now and always, feels no need to explain.
Danton's hand cradles the back of his head, delicate as an egg, as his baby son. "Write your last words. No, better yet – write mine. Something they can hear from the Pont Neuf and will be repeating until the Day of Judgement."
Camille smiles. "What's the point? You'll only make up your own on the day."
He'll go back and work on his speech, in a while. Even though he knows they won't let him deliver it. And when he walks from the tumbrel to the guillotine, and doesn't weep, and doesn't stumble, they'll think it's Hérault's sneering, or Fabre's stoicism, or Danton's strength which is steadying him. They always forget, between crises, that he's quite capable of steadying himself.
Now, he settles down beside Georges' chair, on the flagstoned floor, and lays his head in his lap; sometimes they talk about the Café du Foy, about Gabrielle and Louise and beautiful, beautiful Lucile; sometimes Georges continues with his writing (account books? False passports? Letters of credit?), and Camille sits and imagines the sky lightening outside, the first promise of a warm April day.
So how does he want to be remembered? So many famous last words. So many ways of taking control of the narrative, even to the very end. Antoinette becomes plaintive, compliant, 'I beg your pardon, Monsieur. I did not mean to do it.' Philippe Égalité, so dashing, so brave: 'Well, my good man, let's hurry it up, shall we?' Lies. Lies.
He could go to the scaffold as the Lanterne Attorney, crying hell and unleashing vengeance in his wake. He could go as Lucile's husband, crying her name until the blade fell. He could go as lover, father, as lawyer, scholarship boy, journalist, poet. Each of them would have an appropriate epitaph.
But then there are all those whose last words are deemed not real enough, not true enough; whose stories need tidying up by those who know better. Camille knows people who were present when Lepeletier died, who heard him whisper 'I'm cold, I'm cold…' as the blood pumped out; yet the prints and the pamphlets give him speeches, stern and patriotic, far more appropriate to the first Republican martyr.
'I am content to spill my blood for my country; I hope it will serve to consolidate liberty and equality, and to reveal their enemies.'
Liberty. Equality. Fraternity. Or Death. Or all of the above. Will he die with a patriotic slogan on his lips? Will he be made to?
Perhaps it would be best not to say anything at all. He's spent a lifetime confounding people's expectations, after all. If he can't assign a meaning to his own death, then he's damned if he'll help anyone else to do it for him.
When Camille next finds himself with solitude, his desk, half an hour to spare and a pen (which is a rarer combination of circumstances than one might believe possible), he looks back over the manuscript, at his cramped script and Fabre's scrawled revisions. He should probably put some work in on it, if only to avoid Fabre's potentially painful recriminations next time they meet.
He doesn't want to. He's found he doesn't much care for fiction. Fabre has informed him – or rather pointedly failed to inform him, while gleefully informing everyone else in sight and somehow assuming that he wouldn't notice – that he's going to get hold of their manuscript before it goes to the printer and rewrite the heroine so she looks like Lucile. He can't quite see the point. People always do their best to confuse truth with fantasy (assuming you could insert a knife-breadth of separation between those two concepts in the first place). You hardly need to encourage them. Where's the point in writing fiction when everyone insists on reading reality into it anyway?
His eyes keep sliding to the other heap of papers. Of course, no one will beat him for not working on those. Quite the opposite. He'll be amazed if he can find a printer who'll accept it, when it's finished, even though the politics of discontent are so popular at the moment; and if he can, he'll know he hasn't gone far enough. It's like Fabre's salacious book: he'll never know he's gone far enough until he's gone too far. It's a method likely to breed discontent, in the long run, but Camille has always been a discontented person, in all sorts of ways.
The pamphlet – half finished, clumsy, imperfect – fills him with a sort of hunger, or violence, or peace. He feels he can gather up the scattered droplets of his words, run them together into torrents that can carve chasms in the world.
Which isn't to say he hasn't learned anything from Fabre's book; he's learned with painful precision the importance of clarity, polish, immediacy. He's also learned that plots can run away from the authors; that sometimes not even the author knows where the narrative will end.
It's not a question of art imitating life, or even of life imitating art; it's a question of making life your work of art.
And then signing your name across it.