The Riddle of Ermenonville
© Copyright Elena Rudenko email: firstname.lastname@example.org
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored
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permission from the author.
Translated from Russian by Basil Repin email: Vasily.Repin@usu.ru
Proofread by Bruce E. Harang email: email@example.com
Linda Trusiak email: firstname.lastname@example.org
June - July 1778
This summer day was quite pleasant. An old carriage went at full
speed along the dusty road. A plain-looking young man, sitting by
the window, intently observed the landscapes spreading before him,
and attempted to divert his mind from the incessant chatter of his
fellow traveler. The young man was impatient to reach Ermenonville.
Judging by the young man's appearance one would conjecture that
he was a meticulous formalist. He had attentive blue eyes and thin
lips, which were now pursed in concentration. He wore a neat suit.
His name was Maximilien Robespierre. He studied law at Sorbonne,
but was to spend his vacation at the nice town of Ermenonville.
The travel had tired him very much. Robespierre had been especially
annoyed by the excessively loquacious fellow traveler, whose name
was Henri. He was a little older than Maximilien with red hair and
a freckled, pimply face. Henri was dressed carelessly, and gave
the appearance of a rather disorderly person. He was the exact opposite
of Robespierre, a neat and reserved character. Maximilien had always
attempted to avoid such people, but he was unable to manage this
At first their conversation interested the student, but later he
grew sick and tired of this irrepressible fellow. Henri could not
keep silent a minute, and chattered on about all sorts of intolerable
Robespierre was aware that it might be difficult for him to be rid
of his unrelenting companion after their arrival in Ermenonville.
However, his fears proved to be unfounded.
"Where's my suitcase?" Henri cried in fear after alighting
from the carriage. "Where on earth is it?"
His eyes wide-open with fear, he started circling around the coachman.
The student took advantage of the moment, seized his small suitcase,
and quickly vanished.
Robespierre decided to stay at The Moon and Stars Inn not far from
the village. Having secured a room, he intended to have a rest after
his journey, but with no such luck! Half an hour later the student
discovered that the irrepressible Henri was his neighbor. Robespierre
was not prepared for such a pleasant surprise. Obviously Henri had
never known of any rules of decorum - he entered into the student's
room without an invitation. Not paying attention to Maximilien's
polite hints that he'd like him to leave, he merely exclaimed:
"And why are you so formal? I am not very old yet, eh? It is
wonderful that we're neighbors!" The unbidden visitor uttered
with a screechy snicker.
"Very nice," Maximilien agreed with an insincere smile,
all the while searching for a way to get rid of this relentless
"Haven't you forgotten to shut the door of your room?"
The smile disappeared from Henri's lips, and his freckled face became
pale. "Hmm, that's possible... I must check! The problem is
that I've got there..." he fell silent. "Excuse me, but
I must verify something." Uttering those words he raced out
of the door, nearly knocking down Robespierre.
"Weird customer," muttered Maximilien, thoroughly locking
the door. "And also excessively talkative, though there may
be a time when it will prove unfortunate."
Robespierre glanced at his watch. At this time, the inn's guests
were served lunch, the cost of which was already included in their
bill. So, he headed downstairs. No sooner had he begun his meal
than someone bellowed in his ear: "Bon appetit!"
The bun stuck in Maximilien's throat.
"I say!" exclaimed his new neighbour reproachfully tapping
the coughing Maximilien on his back. "You should not eat in
such a hurry."
Although Robespierre was a quiet and reserved character, he was
burning with the desire to slam his lunch onto the head of this
smart aleck. However, his inherent politeness, as well as the price
of the lunch, caused him to change his mind.
"I'll keep you company!" Henri said, perhaps thinking
that the student would be pleased.
He plunked himself down at the table and started to stuff down his
lunch, chomping and smacking his lips. Naturally, Maximilien lost
his appetite at once.
"Do you know who I am?" Henri asked him, while cramming
his mouth with food.
"No, I don't," Robespierre answered, dumbfounded.
"Now I'm a nobody... But last year I worked as a secretary
for Rousseau himself."
Maximilien mistrustfully scrutinized Henri.
"That's impossible!" he exclaimed.
"And yet true," Henri replied, nodding his head and wiping
his mouth with his sleeve. "I saw him recently, and he gave
me something for safekeeping."
"What a windbag," grumbled the student.
Henri heard these words, and feeling offended, repeated,”A windbag?”
Then he snapped his fingers, and with the skill of a magician made
a leather briefcase appear on the table.
"If you don't trust me, then, have a look!"
He took a sheet out of the briefcase and handed it to Robespierre.
"He gave me a chapter from one of his unpublished writings
for safekeeping! After his death, I am to publish it... This is
one of the sheets... Do you believe me now? "
"Yes, I do," Maximilien answered, slowly recovering the
faculty of speech. "Excuse me, I must be off."
The student rose from the table and hurriedly left the dining room.
'That's curious,' Robespierre thought. 'This man could have possibly
been a secretary of the great Rousseau. But, could he also be a
boaster who has merely waved a forgery in my face?... hmm, not likely...
If that's true, then he should be extremely cautious instead of
bragging to a first acquaintance. This fool is unaware of the danger
that he’s in!'
Robespierre went up to his room. In the corridor he met another
neighbor who occupied the room on the other side. He was a neatly
dressed short man of advanced years. He introduced himself as Doctor
Lebesgue. Maximilien had heard much about him. He was a friend of
Rousseau’s and the student thought it would be a good idea to have
a talk with him soon.
Robespierre decided to spend the day walking around the neighborhood
and conversing with the inhabitants. Many new impressions made him
forget his strange neighbor Henri for some time.
Maximilien returned late at night. He passed Henri’s room quietly
on tiptoe so as not to awake him, which might prove to be a catastrophe.
But the precaution was superfluous. Obviously his acquaintance was
not asleep. From his room came loud voices, laughter, clinking of
glasses, and general pandemonium.
'Why don’t you just die!!' Maximilien thought in a fit of temper.
The noises prevented Robespierre from falling asleep for a long
time. Only towards morning did all become quiet, allowing Maximilien
to finally doze off. However, his sleep didn't last long - after
a time the student was awoken by a knock at the door. Robespierre
decided to ignore it and he covered his head with a pillow in an
attempt to keep on sleeping. Alas, someone continued to knock at
"That must be the blockhead again!" Robespierre exclaimed,
now fully awake.
"What an unruly fellow!"
He unwillingly got up, slipped on a dressing gown and trudged to
the door. Robespierre was about to disregard politeness and tell
Henri everything that he thought about him, but... he saw the innkeeper
and his wife. Judging by the expression of their faces one could
easily see that something awful had happened.
"Sorry to have troubled you," the woman said, "but..."
She broke off and burst out crying.
“... the young man next door has been murdered tonight,” her husband
continued. “The police are already here. They want to ask you some
“I see,” answered Robespierre. “I’ll be ready in ten minutes. Just
enough time to wash myself.”
Maximilien closed the door.
‘My wish has come true,’ he thought with a sigh. ‘I wonder why he
was killed... Maybe he really worked as a secretary for Rousseau
and there’s a connection between his death and the manuscripts?
It is rumored that some people intend to assassinate Rousseau. Perhaps
that guy, Henri, knew too much and, in his innocence, told something
to the assassin? Or, maybe, someone wanted to get his papers? It’s
quite improbable that he’s been killed for no reason.’
While sorting out different theories, Robespierre cleaned himself
up and went out into the corridor. Two police agents and the innkeepers
were standing at the next door.
“Excuse me,” Robespierre said. “Who is to question me?”
The proprietress introduced him to an agent wearing a uniform. “This
is Mr. Robespierre from the adjacent room,” she said. “You wanted
to ask him some questions.”
“Oh, yes,” the police agent replied. He looked a bit sleepy. “I’m
Captain Renault,” he added.
“Maximilien Robespierre,” the student replied.
“What time did you come back last night?”
“About eleven o’clock. I went to bed at once, but couldn’t fall
asleep, because of the awful noises coming from next door, where
I believe a person has been murdered.”
"Have you heard anything suspicious?"
"No, except for noise and general pandemonium. Do you suppose
he was killed by some of his visitors?"
"Most likely," answered the police agent. "Other
theories would seem rather groundless. Frankly speaking, I doubt
we could find those people now, to say nothing of the possibility
of arresting the murderer. But who'd bother about pursuing it at
this time? Does the fate of a young wanderer interest anyone? We
don't even know who he is!"
"He said his name was Henri," said Maximilien. "He
didn't give his surname..."
"Has he got any relatives?"
"He told me he didn’t and that is probably true. Are you going
to close this case?"
"Yes, I think we'll have to. You see, there are lots of unsolved
cases besides this one, and they are much more important,"
the police agent firmly replied, "hence, we have no time to
investigate the death of a young vagabond... Just get it closed."
"I see... May I have a look at the scene of the tragedy?"
"Sure. But the corpse hasn't been removed yet. A distressing
Maximilien entered the room. The body lay on the floor, a bloody
spot could be seen on the chest. The face had been covered with
"He was found with a knife in his heart," the police agent
explained with the intonation characteristic of someone who was
confronted with similar incidents every other day. "Around
five in the morning the landlady passed by his door. It was open.
The spectacle struck her eye. The poor woman almost fainted."
Robespierre looked around. Everything was turned upside down. Empty
bottles and mugs lay about on the floor, a typical sight after an
all night drinking session. Robespierre made a round of the room
and approached the window, which was ajar.
"Have you opened the window?" He asked the police officer.
"No, we haven't. Probably they opened it themselves... last
night it was pretty hot."
"I see... could I have a look at the murder weapon?" Maximilien
"If you wish," the police agent answered with indifference.
He took out a knife whose edge was stained with blood and turned
it round before the student's face. Maximilien felt unwell.
"What can you say about it, young man?"
"An ordinary knife which could be bought anywhere... a rather
old one... May I ask if you’ve discovered a leather briefcase with
some papers when searching the room?"
"No. We have carefully examined everything, but have not discovered
anything similar to what you describe. Now, why would you be interested
"Hem... curiosity will lead to no good..." the police
agent pensively said. "Excuse me, I have other demands on my
Maximilien knowingly nodded and, having apologized, retired.
Robespierre decided to take a walk along the lake to collect his
thoughts. The murder continued to make him uneasy. During the stroll,
Maximilien saw a young girl sitting on a bench near the shore, painting.
Her clean figure in a light white dress harmoniously complemented
the morning colors of nature surrounding her, delighting Maximilien’s
eyes. The girl was so intent on her task that she didn't notice
the young man who had stopped at some distance away and was admiring
the charming scene before him. A green gleam flared in his blue
eyes, and his pale face was lit by a smile. All thoughts connected
to the murder instantly vanished from his mind. Maximilien quietly
came closer to get a better look at her. The girl was still unaware
of his presence. Maximilien slipped and, losing his balance fell
down on the grass near the bench.
"What an unlucky day!" she said in a melodious voice,
tinged with some disappointment. "It’s not working! How horrible!
The colors are running together!"
The young girl put aside the ruined sheet and took a clean one.
"Perhaps I'll make some sketches."
She reached for a pencil, but it slipped from her fine thin fingers.
The girl was about to rise and retrieve it, when suddenly Maximilien,
still on the ground after his fall, found the pencil and handed
it to her.
"Thanks,” she laughed. "But for you, I'd have to get on
my hands and knees searching for it."
Maximilien smiled. Her naïve, playful thanks impressed him
greatly. The girl was quite young - about fifteen, barely past childhood.
She had large gray eyes and curly fair hair beneath a white bonnet
with a blue ribbon. The girl was observing Maximilien with curiosity,
her beautiful eyes wide open, a nice smile gracing her lips.
"Sorry, I didn’t notice you," she said guiltily, but not
without some flirtation.
Controlling himself and recalling the bothersome, and yet obligatory
etiquette, Robespierre rose up and bowed.
"It's quite pardonable for such a charming girl to ignore people
of my sort,” he said almost in a whisper - it was difficult for
Maximilien to utter any more eloquent words.
The young beauty put a finger onto his lips and flirtatiously whispered:
"That's enough! You'd better tell me your name, my stranger."
Due to that somewhat familiar gesture accompanying the request,
Maximilien’s blue eyes widened.
"Maximilien de Robespierre," he introduced himself.
"Nice meeting you... Your last name is so long, and I doubt
I'll be able to ever pronounce it correctly. May I just call you
"Certainly!" Max exclaimed joyfully.
"So, now that we've become acquainted, I can converse with
you!" she said. “You see, I'm not allowed to talk to strangers,
but since we are no longer strangers, we may talk as we please!"
She smiled. Robespierre felt himself blushing.
"And may I know what you're called?" he inquired.
"One doesn't have to call me, I come myself!" The girl
burst out laughing. Then she promptly added: "It's a joke...
please don’t be offended. It was rude of me to behave so, I should
have introduced myself at once... you're angry with me, aren't you?"
All that was said in a slightly flirtatious tone.
"Certainly not, nothing of the sort!" Max hurriedly replied,
completely enchanted by her childlike spontaneity.
"Very well, then. Now, for some people I'm Mademoiselle de
Tavernais, and for my relatives and friends I'm Madeleine!"
"And for me?"
"Madeleine, of course. I'm very pleased to meet you!"
She held forth her hand to Robespierre. Hesitantly, he kissed it.
"Would you visit us some day?" she asked. Then she added:
"I am staying in that castle over there. It belongs to an acquaintance
of our family, Marquis de Girardin. I'm here on a short visit. It’s
really a pleasant place and one can paint such adorable landscapes.
And then, I'm betrothed to the son of the marquis."
"So, you have a fiancé?" Maximilien asked, half-surprised
"Yes, I do. But he doesn't understand me at times and..."
Here she paused. "After the wedding all will change... Fernand
is a very clever young man, it occurs to me that I'm no match for
him! He's a friend of Jean-Jacques. Fernand goes to see him quite
often in his Summer House."
Maximilien felt overcome by envy: a marquis' son having such a sweet
fiancée and having formed a friendship with the great philosopher.
"As for me, I managed to have a talk with Rousseau about a
month ago," he boasted.
"Oh, really?" Madeleine asked in surprise. "It's
remarkable that he agreed to converse with you. Rousseau has become
somewhat unsociable lately - he is afraid of something. I often
see him strolling in the park, but I can't bring myself to start
talking with him."
"On what do you think his apprehensions are based?" Robespierre
"I don't know... they say, he's afraid of being assassinated...
let's not discuss it. I don't like somber thoughts... Let's talk
about my fiancé..."
That suggestion brought Max back down to earth. To endure words
of admiration about a person for whom he was near to hating? Maximilien
did not wish to.
"Excuse me, mademoiselle, I must be going," he muttered.
Madeleine held forth her hand.
"I've liked you very much," she said merrily. "Let's
Robespierre reservedly thanked her and retired. His confusion did
not escape Madeleine's attention. Already at such a young age, she
had learned to easily identify young men in love with her.
'Oh, he too has fallen in love with me!' The girl thought. 'But
I love Fernand, who is much better than this ordinary-looking young
man. Ah, Max, why have you grown fond of me? Unfortunate man, you
are faced with the prospect of an unrequited love!'
Delivering those words, Madeleine gathered her painting kit and
headed for the castle where her dear intended and morning coffee
The Fiancé of Mademoiselle de Tavernais
Mademoiselle de Tavernais agilely ran up the steps of the castle.
She ordered the liveried servant to take her belongings to her room.
Then she approached the large mirror in the lobby of the castle,
took off her bonnet, and turned round to look at her reflection.
The clock struck nine.
"Oh! It seems I am late for breakfast!" She exclaimed
while adjusting her ringlets crumpled by the bonnet. "Fernand
will take offence again..."
Throwing the bonnet on a seat in the lobby, she hurried to the terrace
where the inhabitants of the castle usually sat at table for meals
"Madeleine, where have you been?" Her fiancé asked
her as soon as she appeared on the threshold.
"I've been painting," she answered. "You've allowed
me to, haven't you?"
"That's not the point. I just can't understand why you’re up
so early this morning. Aren't you in the habit of slumbering till
lunchtime? Waking you up for breakfast is a hard task indeed!"
"Yes. To my great surprise, I really wanted to get up at dawn
today,” Madeleine said with a smile. "It's true that I've never
awakened so early before!"
"Was your painting successful?” the marquis asked.
"I haven't done anything noteworthy, but on the other hand,
I've become acquainted with a pleasant young man."
"How?" Fernand asked with indignation. "You conversed
with a stranger?"
"No, I didn't," Madeleine replied, and then added on the
defensive: "First I learned his name."
"Incredible! How could you behave this way?"
"I do not understand, Fernand, what's wrong with it? We just
exchanged a few words, that's all!"
"All right, then," he said, calming down somewhat. "And
what is he doing here?"
"No idea, he didn’t tell me. By the way, he recently managed
to see our philosopher and even have a talk with him."
"Seems strange," the marquis muttered, "Jean-Jacques
doesn't want to see anybody nowadays. Why should he have conversed
with a visitor just like that, for no particular reason? I wonder
what they talked about?"
The girl shrugged her shoulders and answered: "Who knows, maybe
about the weather?"
"Outright nonsense!" Fernand exclaimed. "Such an
absurdity could only occur to you."
Madeleine guiltily lowered her eyes and mumbled: "Just a joke."
"You are a very irresponsible person!" Her intended said.
"What an impetuous habit of conversing with everybody without
distinction! You will land yourself in trouble, my dear."
"I don't quite see your point," Madeleine said.
The marquis burst out laughing and said: "He is simply jealous!"
"Oh, Fernand, don't worry!" Madeleine exclaimed. "We've
merely talked a little. He was even ashamed of taking me by the
"I am not jealous!" The Count interrupted her. "I
don't think that anyone, except for me, would lay eyes on you, Madeleine
- you don't have any merits, you have only shortcomings."
The girl bit her lip.
"Fernand, how can you say such a thing?" His father asked
The son snapped out something incomprehensible.
"Let me retire," Madeleine said, desirous of avoiding
"But you haven't eaten anything!" Fernand exclaimed. "It's
not good for your health. I don't want my fiancée to starve.
I insist on your having breakfast!"
A gleam flared in the large gray eyes of the girl, but it disappeared
"Really, Fernand, I wonder whether I've done anything right
since we became acquainted?" She asked guiltily, dropping her
"Certainly: you agreed to be my wife. Just don't be offended,
you know that I love you..."
"Yes, I do," she answered with a smile.
Madeleine sighed and started to eat breakfast without any appetite.
"The poor girl," the marquis muttered. "Does she
hope to find her soulmate in my son?"
He did not love his son. Marquis de Girardin constantly asked himself
how it was possible that Fernand had grown so spoilt and self-enamored.
The Marquis was from a strong line of noblemen who had acquired
their wealth and well-being by their own efforts. He was able to
transform a ruined manor into a grand one.
That was why his son's haughtiness toward the others irritated him,
and so did the fact that he continually emphasized his superiority
and aristocratic origin. The marquis was aware that Fernand would
never attempt to achieve anything through his own efforts.
When strolling in the park after breakfast Madeleine came across
Madam Lavasseur, Rousseau's mother-in-law. Madeleine feared this
obnoxious old woman. Madam Lavasseur was hideously fat, had malicious
beady little eyes and a disagreeable squeaky voice. But Madeleine
was not so much intimidated by her appearance as by the mean spirit
emanating from her. The girl felt that it was better to steer clear
of this witch.
Madame Lavasseur cast a mocking glance at the girl, made a curtsy
and asked: "Have you slept well, Mademoiselle?"
”Quite well, thank you,” Madeleine answered politely, “and you?”
"As usual, intense backaches prevented me from falling asleep."
"That is troublesome."
"Not by half! And what about your fiancé? Did he sleep
well?" The old woman asked acidly.
"I don't know. Each of us has a separate bedroom."
Madame Lavasseur came up to the girl and forebodingly whispered:
"In your place I would be more attentive."
Madeleine nodded. She was frightened. The old woman giggled and,
with a bow, made way for Madeleine.
"This maiden is even more stupid than my daughter," she
"I really don’t grasp her meaning," the girl muttered
while watching the unpleasant woman leave. "What's the purpose
of those obscure questions?"
"She is mocking you!" someone answered.
"Oh!" Madeleine cried with a start.
"Don't be scared, it's me, the Marquis’ stableman, at your
Madeleine turned around and saw a tall broad-shouldered man. His
looks were showing his beaming good nature. He smiled at the girl
and gave her a profound bow.
"Ah, that's you, Nicholas... but why should the old woman laugh
"Such is her character; I personally don't respect her at all.
The marquis himself is rather afraid of this old hag. And yet, I
must say I've heard that she doubts your future husband's fidelity...
By the way, do you trust him?"
"Certainly. We love each other... I do trust him!"
Madeleine pronounced those words with inspiration and confidence.
Nobody would dare oppose her.
"I see, but..."
"Could you really suppose that he..."
"Well, maybe some woman has seduced him, and he can't part
from her though he loves you... Possibly he has been involved in
something a lot worse!"
"It cannot be true!"
"God grant that I am mistaken, but I don't want such a young
and lovely girl as you to be unhappy. You should know the truth."
Nicholas sympathetically glanced at her.
"What truth? What are you speaking about?" she asked in
"I don't know myself yet, but I'm ready to serve you and find
out everything," he answered with confidence, "I'm ready
to be a spy for my future mistress."
"Oh God!" Madeleine exclaimed. "What for? I believe
The stableman bowed and said: "Just as you like, Mademoiselle,
but, perhaps, we'll have to rescue him."
"Yes, only you can help him, but you don't even want to know
what's happening. It seems your intended has somewhat changed, hasn't
"I am ready to help you rescue him, though I don't know from
what exactly. The point is that something suggests to me that he
is in trouble."
"I'll find out about it myself! I'll go and ask him what ever
he has done," Madeleine said decidedly.
"He won't tell you anything, as he is afraid of something.
If he wanted you to know his secrets, he would have told you about
them long ago. You should clear up all the questions yourself."
The girl asked with a sigh: "But how?"
"I'll help you, Miss. I'll learn what's happening with your
intended, and, perhaps, it's not too late to save him. I'm your
friend indeed. Do you trust me?" The stableman asked while
looking at the girl devotedly.
"Yes, of course!"
"I swear I shall clear it up!"
Nicholas gave another profound bow to Mademoiselle de Tavernais
"I think he's right," whispered Madeleine. "There
is certainly something strange about Fernand..."
The Sad Noble Woman
Having parted from Madeleine, Robespierre decided to go to the Under
Chestnuts tavern to have breakfast. The tavern was jammed, and finding
a free table was difficult. At last he succeeded, and, taking a
cup of coffee, his mind plunged into reflection, which was not at
all optimistic. He was disturbed by the events which had occurred
on the outskirts of Ermenonville. Vivid images crossed his mind.
He was pondering the different possible motives for the death of
the unfortunate windbag, and all of them were connected to that
fragment of writing by the great Rousseau. Maximilien began to worry
seriously over the philosopher's safety. Max considered him to be
his teacher. An agreeable female voice interrupted his reflections.
"Excuse me; may I take a seat at your table?" Someone
Robespierre, his mind still up in the clouds, muttered without glancing
at the interloper: "Yes, by all means."
Then he looked at the lady. It was possible to call her an elderly
woman, but she hadn't yet lost her youthful grace. She did her best
to hide her age, and she was obviously successful in those attempts.
"I'm sorry. Please don't think that I'm thrusting myself into
your company... I feel miserable, I'm alone, but I need to talk
to someone!" The woman trembled. Then she added: "You
seem to be a decent man one can rely upon."
"I will gladly listen," Max said. "Would you like
to order something?"
"A cup of coffee?"
"Oh, yes. I'll have one with pleasure."
Robespierre beckoned the waitress and asked her to bring one more
cup of coffee.
"Thank you," said the woman, "you are a gentleman...
Oh, if only you knew how depressed I am! In former times I was a
noble court lady. But, having become a widow, I lost every protection.
I have no relatives. My son perished... I remain all alone."
Maximilien was attentively listening to his breakfast companion.
"Fortunately," she continued, "I still own a manor
in this village, a small old castle, where I intend to live out
the remainder of my days. By the way, in this village there lives
a man with whom I was very close at one time. We loved each other,
but we had to part. He understands me and has given me good advice
about dealing with my grief. Besides, I received a letter from him.
Are you interested in knowing who this man is?"
"Yes," Robespierre answered, "but I will not insist..."
"He is Jean-Jacques Rousseau."
Max stared at the woman. Her face covered with a light web of wrinkles
reminded him of an image.
"So, the Julie in his immortal novel is you?" He asked
in a whisper.
The woman smiled.
"You've guessed right," she answered. "It's true
that her character was based on me, but I was much more attractive
She took the cup of coffee with her left hand and asked: "Do
you happen to know how he is?"
"I saw him only once, a month ago. We talked. Rousseau looked
very tired. I felt that he feared something."
"I can guess exactly what he fears," the lady said, and,
having looked around, she whispered: "He thinks that there's
a plot on his life!"
Maximilien started. Some anxiety flashed in his blue eyes.
"Can my fears be true?" He asked himself. "I must
undertake measures urgently... Madam, may I ask you whether you
believe that... that someone wants to assassinate Jean-Jacques?"
The lady was about to say something, but she changed her mind. After
a moment she took out a notebook and a pencil. Holding the latter
in her left hand, she wrote some words, tore out the sheet of paper
and handed it to the student.
"Just in case, here is my address," she said in a low
Being mentally adrift, Maximilien took it. Anxiety overcame him
more and more intensely. The memory of the murder the previous night
increased his fear.
"Ermenonville is so beautiful, but I've got an impression that
there is something else here... I can not explain," Robespierre
said having decided to confide his apprehensions to his table companion.
"It's death," the woman said. "Unless we take action,
something awful may occur!"
She looked steadfastly into the young man's eyes, trying to see
whether he understood her.
"I see. There are reasons to believe that the great man is
in danger. I'll try to look into the matter," Robespierre said
"Thank you. Just be careful."
They plunged into silence. Both were consumed by gloomy thoughts.
Maximilien was the first to interrupt the silence.
"You have been so candid with me," he said. "If I
tell you a bit about myself, would it interest you?"
"Yes, certainly," the lady replied with a smile.
"I won't go into great detail. At the age of nine I had to
become head of the family because of our parents’ deaths. Two sisters
and a brother were in my charge. Fortunately, our grandfather Carraut
was a rather well-to-do man and he supported us. I went to Paris
with a view to get into the Louis the Great College. When our grandfather
died, we lost all protection. At the age of seventeen I had to care
for my sisters and brother.”
"My God! How ever did you cope with your studies?"
"I was the best at the college. Then I worked as a secretary,
and later I entered the law faculty at the Sorbonne, where I now
study. Our kin were from Ireland. My ancestors arrived in France
approximately in the sixteenth century. They settled down at Carvin,
near Arras. All the Robespierres, from generation to generation,
were officers of the court. It was Yves Robespierre who was ennobled;
he was the brother of my paternal grandfather. This man was a tax-collector
at Epinois and was able to buy a title of nobility. He even had
his own coat of arms: a black shoulder belt to the right on a gold
field, with a silver wing across it. This privilege of nobility
belonged only to Yves Robespierre. Nevertheless, I always sign de
Robespierre, out of my damned vanity which I can't resist. Also
I usually introduce myself as a nobleman."
"Oh, forgive me," the lady whispered, "I've taken
you for a genteel prodigal, whereas you had to endure so many hardships.
And you, I suppose, haven't told me everything. The fact is that
I was confused by your appearance. Nevertheless, how vexing that
you are not a careless son of a marquis or a baron."
“Pardon my being less than tactful, but if I was of such an origin,
you could hardly expect me to listen to you and understand you.”
“You are right. People of that sort are concerned only about themselves.”
“As for my dress and shoes,” he added, “they look neat just because
they’re carefully cleaned. However, they are already three years
old! I’m not like those people who, while having bags of money,
have no idea about caring for their garments, and then, having squandered
all their money, turn at once into pigs. I personally, though not
being excessively rich, am quite successful in caring about my outward
“Please excuse me, I seem to have hurt your feelings.”
“Never mind. You know, sometimes I can’t restrain myself and I speak
very plainly. As a result, I acquired many enemies when at college.”
“I see. Well, it’s time for me to say good-bye, young man. By the
way, I’ve forgotten your name...”
“Maximilien de Robespierre.”
“Hem, I should remember... I’m Madame de Printemps.”
The strange breakfast companion left. Maximilien sat for a while
at his little table, pondering over what he had heard. With these
thoughts still on his mind, Robespierre went out of the tavern.
As Max disliked inns, he decided to hire a country house from Mme
Lemousse. She had known his grandfather and, so, offered him the
dwelling free-of-charge, but Max declined the privilege. In any
case, he was able to earn a sum of money for his summer holiday.
"Hey, Max!" Someone hailed him from behind.
Robespierre turned back and saw a tall strong fellow with an open
face proving his good nature. He had a huge mouth, a wide pitted
face and a bulbous nose. He was holding a big bottle of wine in
"Hello, George,” Maximilien greeted his acquaintance.
"How's life? It’s rumored that you've fallen in love with the
fiancée of the Count," George cheerfully said. He was
obviously bragging about being well-informed.
Robespierre noted with surprise that gossip spread at an astonishing
speed in the provinces.
"The countling has rats in the attic, and there's also something
repulsive in his disposition," George said. "Besides,
he has a hysterical temper. I guess when he knew about your conversation
with his intended, there was a scandal, as sure as fate."
"Poor Madeleine!" Robespierre said with a sigh.
"This is my point. And yet, she does love him, pah! I understand
you: this girlie is really sweet. I must say though that you stand
little chance of success with her. I pity you. So, what are you
going to do?"
"What are you talking about?" Robespierre asked. At that
particular moment he was concentrating on other problems which made
all romance secondary.
"Not what, but who! About Madeleine, of course! Win her away
from the Count!"
"Hem, I don't know ..."
"You don't have to know, you have to act. He's far more boring
than you... as to appearance... I cannot comment as to men, but
I can assuredly say that you aren’t uglier. And, if this Madeleine
isn't a silly girl, she will reject the Count once and for all and
will choose you!"
"Easier said than done."
"Right you are... what would your prospects be? You're a character
who can decide on a marriage, and yet the noble young women are
so choosy and delicate. If one endeavours to maintain one, one risks
going a-begging. It's true, I've heard, she'll come into possession
of her deceased father’s legacy, as soon as she is seventeen. The
legacy is now held by her uncle. Judging by rumors, he is an abominable
fellow, but he does love his niece. So then, you'll marry her, she'll
come into possession of the legacy, and you'll live in clover."
"No!" Robespierre exclaimed, as if he had suddenly stepped
on a snake. "I would never live at the expense of a woman.
The mere thought of being a gigolo is repugnant to me."
George laughed and said: "Then I do not know."
"For a start," Maximilien continued, "I need to complete
my education. Besides, it cannot be denied, everything is very difficult
when one has to deal with Madeleine. For the time being, she has
offered me her friendship, and this makes me really happy. You can
consider me a cretin."
"Oh! At the very first meeting she has offered you her friendship.
I wonder, what will she offer you at the second?"
" George, you turn everything into a joke! I say, Madeleine
is absolutely different! By the way, George, have you ever participated
a booze-up in the Moon and Stars inn?
"Sure! And why did the question come into your head?"
"Because I understood a long time ago that if there's a booze-up,
you would be there," Robespierre pointedly explained.
A pleased smile spread across George's face. "And what's the
matter?" He asked.
"Simple: the hospitable landlady has found a dead young man,
my neighbor... "
"It means, you were in the next room!" George cried. "Damn
it! I didn't know! If I did, you wouldn't have wriggled out of coming
and drinking with us! Hem... Do you think I've knifed that guy?"
"I don't think anything at this particular moment... Tell me,
George: at what time did you leave?"
"Ur... at about three."
"Did you leave alone?"
"No. In fact, we all left, and that fool remained alone. I've
no idea who knifed him."
"When you were leaving, did you notice anyone suspicious loitering
about the house?"
"You see, Max, we were in such a condition we couldn’t have
tracked down any suspicious fellows," George answered with
"Aha! I should have thought about it! Can you give me the addresses
of your drinking companions?"
"I don’t see why not. But I don't know all of them..."
Robespierre took out his notebook.
"Well, write them down!" said George pompously.
Maximilien decided to postpone his affair of the heart and try to
prevent the possible murder. Without hesitation, he went to seek
advice from a certain Monsieur Herbert who passed for a friend and
admirer of Jean-Jacques. Robespierre hoped that this man could explain
the situation to him. Alas, his hopes were unrealized.
Monsieur Herbert, a cheerful well-educated short man of advanced
years, met Max very hospitably and had an agreeable talk with him
on some abstract topics. However, when Robespierre got down to business,
Monsieur Herbert sharply interrupted him.
"These fears are groundless!" He confidently said. "I
understand that Jean-Jacques, as well as all great people, have
some enemies, but it is unlikely that they are capable of murder."
"On what do you base your opinion?" Robespierre asked
He didn't like this point of view and the self-assurance of Monsieur
Herbert. Max began to doubt whether this man really was a friend
of the great Rousseau.
"The point is that enemies always undertake actions capable
of weakening or humiliating their opponent," Monsieur Herbert
dogmatically continued. "They blast him; hinder him in his
work and so on. But to commit a murder? It is unbelievable!"
"And how do you explain Jean-Jacques' fears?"
"It's the age," Monsieur Herbert answered shortly. "At
his age people become very timid..."
"Then, I think it's no good continuing our conversation,"
Robespierre said stiffly. "Excuse me, I must be going."
Monsieur Herbert seemed to be a disgusting hypocrite. Observing
his face, the astute Maximilien realized that this man simply did
not want to take any action. He didn't care about what was happening
around him. Thus their talk ended.
After the failure with Monsieur Herbert, Max intended to talk to
Doctor Lebesgue, but this plan proved to be impossible. Robespierre
learned that the doctor had moved from the Moon and Stars Inn and
was now staying at a private residence. His attempts to find the
doctor were not crowned with success, as the latter was absent from
Ermenonville that day.
Max undertook another step: visiting Marquis de Girardin with a
view to discuss with him Rousseau's apprehensions. At the gate of
the park Robespierre encountered Madeleine. They exchanged warm
"What can I do for you?" The girl coquettishly asked.
"Madeleine, I urgently need to talk to the marquis, it is important!"
Robespierre answered with emotion. "A question of life and
"Certainly!" She said, bursting out laughing. "Why
not! Come along!"
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