To Dern. You're my favourite Jacobin.
1. Quarrels at the Club
"You're the greatest loser known to mankind, and if I now poke you in the chest you'll fall straight over like a bloody log!"
"Go ahead then, hit me! Hit me if you dare!"
Maximilien Robespierre groaned inwardly and tried to concentrate on his writing. The feather scratched over the paper evenly, leaving neat black letters in its wake.
"Why would I want to touch you, slimeball?"
"Because otherwise you're a sissy and don't dare to!"
Laughter was welling up from the benches around the Jacobin club's assembly hall.
"Of course I dare to, you royalist-shagging hound! I'll shove your head up your arse, that's what I'm going to do about you!"
The ink formed a large blotch on the middle of the page as Robespierre looked up sharply. In the clear space in the middle of the room stood a pair of men facing each other, their chests inflated as if they were angry cockerels. One of them had raised his fists and was advancing on the other. He had discarded his jacket and waistcoat and was just in his shirtsleeves, but still sported a broad-brimmed hat, from under which a few long strands of hair hung out. His opponent, a curly-haired fellow wearing a red neckerchief and an unbuttoned black waistcoat, held his arms spread out wide provokingly. "C'mon, hit me if you dare," he repeated.
While the men sitting on the benches and forming a circle around the two laughed again, Robespierre sighed. There was nothing as repetitive as Jacques-René Hébert and Jean-Paul Marat having a go at each other yet again.
The language had definitely gotten worse, though.
"You're a disgrace to the people, and just wait 'til I punch you between the eyes!"
"Shut it, arse-face, you don't dare to anyway!"
Robespierre mustered the inkblot on his writing morosely.
"Ugly wool-headed git!"
"Alright," Robespierre interjected sharply, silencing the two immediately. "Who published a caricature of who this time?"
"He did," both replied at once, each pointing at the other. Another wave of laughter rolled over the assembled.
Ah. They were growing rather predictable. Each of them was the editor of a newspaper, Hébert of the Père Duchesne and Marat of the Ami du Peuple, and recently they had discovered how very entertaining indeed it could be to make fun of the other via snide remarks and silly little pictures published there. But never yet had it caused them to use such language. Bad language, of course, but never quite that amount of rudeness at once. "Listen," he said, "you've done that often enough already. Can't you simply stop it and be friends?"
"Why, we are friends," Marat grinned, scrubbing a hand through his dark curls. The other hand rested on Hébert's shoulder suddenly.
"Best friends," Hébert assured him, putting an arm around Marat and looking disgustingly innocent.
Yes, of course. Have a stern word with them, and immediately they'll pretend nothing happened. But this time he was not letting them off so easily. "I must say," he said slowly – make them uneasy for a bit, let them cringe just a little – "that I did not like what I heard about royalists, Citizen Hébert."
To his annoyance, Hébert just grinned. "Well, it's true. Ask him."
"It's not!" Judging from Hébert's sudden change of expression, Marat had just pinched his shoulder or something. "I never shagged a bloody royalist in my life!"
"Ah, really?" Hébert called over the others' laughter. "What did you do last night, then?"
Marat discarded his subtleties and resorted to open violence, pushing his opponent against a table. "She's a Girondist, and I haven't shagged her yet."
"Well, you can keep that to yourself," Robespierre snapped, wiping the grins right off the others' faces. At least they still listened to a voice of authority from time to time. "All your boasting with your conquests in female territory is plain disgusting."
Marat and Hébert exchanged a glance, shrugged and returned to their previous occupations, which seemingly was flicking through the other's newspaper and marking everything they didn't like in red ink.
The hall began to fill more and more, since the fixed time for the conference was drawing near. And by ten o'clock, most of them were due over at the Tuileries, once city residence of kings and now the place where the Convention met. Robespierre fished his watch out of his pocket – twenty past eight, they had another ten minutes to arrive – and tried to remember what was scheduled for today. Couthon's speech on court organisation, a debate on the finer points of some aspects of civil litigation, Saint-Just's report on the army's current situation, wasn't it? In this case, there was not much time.
Those lazy folks surrounding him! Himself, he had arrived at seven o'clock sharp as usual and read all the reports and taken all the notes he needed. He was well prepared. As for the others, though… Well, Couthon had turned up pretty early as well, he had to give him that, and so had Brissot and a handful of others, but as far as he knew, those had not been involved in yesterday's, for lack of a better expression, excessive partying. When Robespierre had left at around eleven o'clock, Saint-Just and Desmoulins had been dancing on a table, Marat had been busy running from Hébert, who had not exactly appreciated having his hat filled with water and then having it put back onto his head, and his own brother had been sitting on the windowsill with his shirt off and surrounded by a horde of giggling girls, drinking from a suspicious-looking bottle.
A deep, strong voice, very well known to him, made him raise his head again. "Higher up on the left," it was saying. "No, not that much! Chaumette, pass the hammer. And where's that box of nails gotten to? Hurry up, you lot!" Under the direction of Georges Danton, a couple of club members were putting up a poster, on which was written JACOBINS FOR THE CUP in huge red letters, and beneath it, a little smaller, City League – starting August 3rd. Balancing on a chair, young Camille Desmoulins was currently hammering the last nail into one of the corners, then leaped down triumphantly, accompanied by cheers and catcalls.
Good for nothing, the lot of them, Robespierre thought with a little smile. And still the most amusing company imaginable.
Wearing a lopsided grin, Danton shouldered his way through the spectators. Due to the scar on his upper lip, his every grin was lopsided, and shouldering a path through a crowd was what he was good at. After all, a man of his size and stature always found the way clear before him. "Good morning, old friend," he said quietly in his dark rumble. "Still not convinced? There's a few free places in the cadre waiting to be filled by good patriots."
Robespierre shook his head, smiling. Danton never gave up, no matter what was the subject. "Of course I'll support our team, but you can't expect me to run after a ball in shorts. It would be plain ridiculous."
"Oh, come on… Goalkeeper tryouts are tomorrow afternoon, there's no need to run much, and no need to wear shorts either, if you don't want to. Although I'd recommend it. You'd get Number One too, and you can be captain if you like."
"You don't tempt me at all."
"You're a chicken."
For a moment they held each other's gaze, then Danton began to grin, and Robespierre could not help but grin as well. "Fine, I'll do you the favour. I'm supposed to appear before a handful of committees, but I'll come and watch once I'm done."
Danton chuckled. "Good patriot. I'll yet manage to convince you. Now… See what I've got for you."
Robespierre accepted the folded piece of paper, ignoring the excited buzz of conversation coming from before the poster. Still he picked up that they were discussing whether Marat or Le Bas should play right-wing midfielder. Had they nothing else to do, for goodness's sake?
"You should have played for the Cordeliers, you know," Hébert called from somewhere among the rows.
"They don't have a team of their own," Desmoulins reminded him across the room. Heavens, do you really have to shout like that?
"Yes, because they wouldn't have put Marat in the midfield," Hébert shouted back. "Gee, pal, I found a spelling mistake in your sorry excuse for a paper."
"And I found a grammar mistake in yours," Marat called from right behind Robespierre, almost succeeding in making him wince. "You shut up, you're only scared you'll be put into the reserve!"
Danton sighed. "Boys, stop yelling. We agreed there's to be no separate Cordeliers team, and that's that." He had originally been nominated captain for the Cordeliers, Robespierre remembered, before they had decided to join their teams to have all the good players in one. As it seemed, Hébert had been against this decision.
"Right, sorry." Marat dropped his Père Duchesne onto the table and let himself slump into the seat at Robespierre's other side. "Man, I'm tired. How long will Convention take today?"
Robespierre mustered him critically, from the crumpled white shirt down to the worn-out trousers. Clearly the fellow had forgotten something. "You know what day today is, do you?"
Marat frowned. "Tuesday, right?"
In this moment, Robespierre felt a strong urge to kick him. "Citizen Marat, may I remind you that today is the 26th of Messidor? That's the 14th of July, if you're not used to the new calendar yet."
"Ah, is it? Well. Fancy that."
Danton chuckled quietly to himself.
"July 14th?" Robespierre prompted. Saint-Just would be proud of him for remaining so calm, he thought with an inward smile. "Special feast day?"
"Yes, sure. You think I'm stupid?"
Robespierre could not prevent his features from shifting into a frown. As he studied Marat's face, the slightly curved nose, the high cheekbones, the lips that eternally wore an expression of slight disdain and at the same time what might best be described as discreet impertinence, he tried to find any trace of spite on it, but could detect no such thing. Marat actually was serious about this. "You want to go over to the Convention wearing this?"
Marat shrugged. "Well, yes. I'm a man of the people, you see. I don't need a bloody wig and fancy jacket." Here he suddenly grinned. "Unlike you, Monsieur de Robespierre."
Normally Robespierre was not a violent man, but sometimes the occasion called for it. So, without further ado, he picked up the paper, quickly rolled it up and whacked Marat around the head with it decidedly. That it was the Père Duchesne gave the whole thing a twistedly nasty touch, even.