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Hot Chocolate with Thyme

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André Chénier was working on a new quatrain. No more politics, thank you – after nearly getting guillotined by his former brothers-at-arms, he was done with it. From now on, his poetry was going be sweet and harmless and non-incriminating.

Love would not serve at Reason’s court – oh fie!
The path of Love! Who knows where it may end?

He twirled the quill in his fingers, thinking of finishing it on some grand romantic note, Reason paying obedience to Love after all, Love rebelling against Reason and bringing a new order into the world, something like this… It all had been done before, though. Drawing away from modern politics didn’t mean he should start blandly repeating after his predecessors.

Suddenly, a mischievous gleam appeared in his eyes. Why try to be grand and flowery, when you could be truthful instead? Chuckling to himself, André wrote:

Two lovers with each other long to die,
But living with each other they can't stand!

André reread the result and sighed with some sadness – though that sadness was natural, just the usual feeling one had when thinking of the past. He had no regrets. That’s what essentially happened between him and Madeleine de Coigny.

They were already reaching the guillotine, ready to leave this world, united in love forever, when suddenly Charles Gérard, breathless and sweating all over, ran in the wagon's way. He was waving a small piece of paper, which he shortly revealed to be an official pardon personally signed by Robespierre. The wagon's driver and the officers examined the paper once, and twice, and several times more, they smelled it, they held it against the light, until Gérard grew bored with it and implied that if they didn't obey the new orders this instant, the guillotine would get their own selves instead.

Gérard had a unique ability to be extremely convincing, and this time his talent was aided by Robespierre's signature. Before they could process what was happening, André and Madeleine were practically shoved out of the wagon and told to thank their luck and disappear. Gérard was quick to leave as well – André couldn't even catch him to thank him.

It's hard to find a man with a more generous heart! he thought for the hundredth time. He did suspect that Gérard played some part in his arrest, it could have hardly been otherwise, but whatever this part had been, Gérard clearly regretted it. André wondered what strings he had had to pull to secure the pardon. Of course, he knew he would never find it out.

The shadow of execution no longer looming over both of them, André and Madeleine suddenly found themselves facing a future on earth. They were giddy with happiness. Even though both were still impoverished, even though they knew they had to escape Paris as fast as possible (of course, neither of them was naive enough to think Robespierre's one-time pardon meant eternal security from his government!), in their bliss, they barely cared for anything of that in truth.

And then, there came the Thermidor.

Another salvation for them in more than one way.

First, Robespierre himself met his end on his own favorite guillotine – André noticed that even Madeleine's eyes, despite her kind heart, brightened at the news. Second, the new government included Gérard, who rose to an even higher position. Some said that it was him who did all the real ruling.

Third, there was a blessing in heavy disguise for André and Madeleine personally. During the fights that ensued after the Thermidorian Reaction, André was shot in the leg and had a long and tedious recovery.

During said recovery, Madeleine never left his side. By the time he was back on his feet again, they knew for certain that they were not destined for each other in life. Madeleine had a vivacious nature, André was melancholic. She looked for the best in the current world, he looked (in vain) for the better world. It went on and on, down to the merest trifles: Madeleine adored hot chocolate and André only recognized coffee.

When André was able to move by himself, only using a cane, Madeleine moved back to Bersi's little house.

At first, he missed her. While he was bedridden, she had become a constant presence in his rooms, after all. But very quickly he realized how his home was quiet and peaceful again and how he wasn't obliged to smile back at her when she smiled at him (which she did much too often for his liking). Life went back to normal, only now André and Madeleine sometimes paid visits to each other, and André assured her he was ready to help if anything happened.

But one day, early in the morning, he heard a furious knock at the door and opened it to see an outraged Charles Gérard.

"What's happened to Countess de Coigny?" he snarled without preludes. "Where have you lost her?"

That got André rather by surprise. He thought that somehow, one of his poems had been dubbed political after all. Or that someone had framed him for some plot. He never suspected that Gérard would be interested in the whereabouts of his former mistress.

"Calm down!" he said. "I haven't lost her anywhere, she's long been back in Bersi's house where she lives!"

"You mean she doesn't live with you?"

Gérard's eyes lit up, and his face reddened – but not with fury this time. André gaped at him, mouth open, as it dawned on him what the matter was.

"You and her?" he whispered. The head revolutionary in love with an aristocrat, whom he had served in the past, no less!

"No!" Gérard was so vehement that André's last doubts vanished.

"Is it why you rescued us? Because of Madeleine?"

"The woman I have loved all my life..." Gérard said feverishly; he must have seen it was no use to deny it. "It was the worst of torments when I thought I sent her to death. But when she came to plead for you..."

"She came to plead for me? She never told me."

"Of course she didn't. When she came to plead for you, I realized I would lose both her and one of my greatest friends and allies."

André was touched. As he had long suspected Gérard's involvement in his arrest, he wasn't shocked by that, but the depth of Gérard's remorse astonished him.

"I just... I want nothing now... I only wished to ask you both for forgiveness," the fierce Thermidorian leader suddenly seemed lost and helpless, tears shimmering in his usually calm eyes.

You both. It wasn't hard to figure out the details.

"Did you order my arrest to get Madeleine for yourself?"

"Yes," Gérard breathed.

"Did she reject you when she learned?"

"She did."

Despite everything, André was struck by the irony. It's usually me who's sensitive and tearful and him who's doing the interrogation!

"Did you... hurt her?"

I'm ready to forgive the arrest, but if you laid a finger on that sweet, innocent girl...

"If by hurt you mean forcing her, then no. Just barely, but no. She looked... like a lamb in a slaughterhouse, but her gaze was like steel. I've never loved her before as much as at that moment. I realized I wouldn't... couldn't bring her any more harm."

André sighed with relief. For a moment, he was sorry he had revealed Madeleine's location. Bersi was often away, and Madeleine stayed alone. Gérard could do anything... But then, André had another look at his friend-turned-foe-and-back. Gérard was looking utterly crushed and repentant. Nobody could pretend like this. André knew for sure that now the man wouldn't hurt Madeleine.

"I forgive you entirely," he said. "I really do."

"For what I did back then – and for how I lunged at you today?"

"Yes."

André still felt the painful memory of his arrest, trial and death sentence, and in all honesty, he seriously doubted that his former friendship with Gérard could ever be mended. But even if he hadn't fully forgiven the man, he felt sorry for him. Refused forgiveness, Gérard could go literally mad with despair and guilt.

"But," he added hurriedly, "I can't answer for Madeleine. After all, she suffered more."

"I know," Gérard nodded. "I will go and ask her... try to ask her."

"I can tell her of your visit beforehand. I will say you truly regret everything..."

"No – André, please don't do that. Thank you, don't mistake my meaning, I'm very grateful, but she will be polite with me for your sake, and I don't want that. I'd rather she slams the door in my face."

As he got ready to leave, he paused:

"Er... if it's not a secret and if I dare to ask, why have you separated? I am sure she loves you with all her heart."

There was a laced warning in Gérard's voice. As in: had it been your fault, had you harmed the girl in any way? 

"Oh," André smiled, "it was pretty inevitable with the two of us. Wait a moment, I've just written a poem that fits the occasion."

He went into his study and fetched the quatrain. 

Gérard read it, and his eyebrows rose:

"This is true?"

"Absolutely. Ours was a love in the face of death. It wasn't suited for life – we weren't suited for living together."

"Oh," said Gérard uncertainly. "I see. I'll be going, then. If you need anything, Monsieur Chénier, don't hesitate to ask. As long as I have my position in the government..."

"Yes, for sure," André smiled. To himself, he added: Only as a last resort! I will not be begging anyone – much less the government! – for anything! Besides, I have a suspicion that, with Robespierre gone, my literary career might go upwards again.