Corner of the Sky


Part 22

They were both bent over the paper, Feuilly’s loose hair shading it from one side.

“This is very good,” Sophie told him, “but should the Holy Mother be the symbol or should it be Christ?”

“The Holy Mother could be confused at first for Marianne, and that’s the point.”

“Then the Christ Child in her arms should be making the blessing. You need fewer people in the crowd if we are to produce any great number of these.”

“What do you think of the reverse?”

“That one is perfect.”

He smiled. Sophie had called his design perfect. But there was still work to be done on the primary design. He quickly sketched out a replacement Virgin for Sophie’s approval before beginning all over again on a fresh sheet of writing paper.

“And instead of a crowd, try one or two representatives of each estate, not all of France.”

“Six people behind the king is going to look ridiculous.”

“No, let me show you.” She grabbed the pencil out of his hand and started sketching in the margin of the original sheet. Her sketching was nothing like his, very light and white and open, without detail. She may have had lessons once, but she was a child then and still drew as a child, though she painted as a woman. Not that Feuilly was complaining, really, but he knew that copying the rounded fullness and shading of the etchings led to a better result than her light, flat, blank figures. “And then you simply add in some lines here, to suggest a crowd, not to draw it all as you did here. We can wash it all in darkness and it will look like a shadowy multitude.”

He did not want to give in, but she made an important point. It was a fan, not a painting. It was for use, not for show. “I keep the cardinal, though?”

“Yes, I like that he will add a bit of colour.”

The evening had already grown late. M. Albert dozed rather than filled his duty as chaperone. They drew by lamplight, and there would be no opportunity to have a painted version as well as the original drawing for Cartoux. Feuilly was doing all the work, but then, Cartoux had said he wanted to see what he, not Sophie, could pull from the Salon. He could have gone home, but it was nice to use M. Albert’s lamp oil and have Sophie’s opinion. And with M. Albert asleep, it was the only chance he had yet had to be alone with Sophie.

But to be alone with Sophie was to remember that he was permitted to be alone with Sophie. That she could think it wrong that he engage a gentleman in conversation but appropriate that he sit and work for her approval. If he were a threat to her virtue, M. Albert would not be asleep. How could the servant threaten the lady of the house?

Feuilly knew that they trusted him, not merely because they did not know his history, but because he had kowtowed to the authority of the father, the church, and the employer. He had never made any sign that he was there to court Sophie, because he knew he could never court Sophie. It did not even matter that she was a lady; he, as a thief and a murderer, was certain he could never bring himself to tie an honest woman to him, and he would never take a dishonest one. And Sophie could ask for his help and sit with him in the kitchen because, as a lady, she had the privilege of choosing how she saw him rather than worrying about how he saw her. What he feared was not that he would lose control and kiss her as he so wanted to do; it was that someone would start to talk about him as Sophie’s caller and all the acceptance he had gained in these months would have to end.

But as long as he was the lackey, the trusted family servant, just as M. Albert was to his lord, he was permitted to do his work with Sophie in their companionable flat. Even if she thought him acting above his station when participating in a conversation a gentleman had started.

Cartoux praised the drawing, particularly when Sophie explained how she could colour it with a few washes since the details would be printed as part of the outline. “The shading is a nice touch,” he said in respect to the fleurs-de-lys that flanked the portrait of Charles X that Feuilly had designed as the simple reverse.

But the drawings were for the palace, not for Cartoux, and the painters were relegated to following the directions Aleçon had developed for dying and preparing the montures for a mourning pattern. He had cleverly edited the original carvings to insert a silhouette of the late king to make a product none of the undertakers of Paris could have supplied on Saturday, and he had preparations for false jet fleurs-de-lys for the guards, but everything had to be black before he and Laforêt could insert the decoration. It was quick work, though repetitive, as alternating washes of iron and gall had each to dry before a final layer of soot and, at last, varnish could be applied. Ordinarily, when Cartoux worked mourning fans, he ordered ebony montures and the inlayers added additional details. But the ordinary mourning fans were exported to rich Spaniards; these had to get to the Parisian bourgeois markets before the week was out.

Because this merchandise was an entirely speculative venture, the pay was significantly reduced. Moreover, since he was attempting to curry favour with the Palace, Cartoux did not open the workshop on Thursday, so that his workers could instead support the funeral cortège. They had, with long hours the previous three days, produced several hundred fans of Aleçon’s design, which had been delivered late Wednesday night to various shop owners with whom Cartoux had friendly relations. If they sold well, then more would be produced during the month Louis XVIII’s body lay at St Denis before the burial proper.

The day of the funeral procession was grim and threatened rain. Curiosity brought Feuilly out, though M. Albert had to work and Sophie preferred to stay inside. Standing among the crowd, he felt profoundly out of place. The urchins gamboled, the cortège was impressive, he could almost picture volunteering to be one of the torch-bearing “paupers” as he had been a rented mask for Mardi Gras in past years. He was surrounded by the labourers, the honest working people of Paris, and he felt more kinship with the paupers in the cortège and with the urchins looking for stray bourgeois who might have something in their pockets. The army battalions with their plumes and polished rifles left him unmoved. The lack of clergy in the procession was an odd comfort while Feuilly believed in God and the church, what Aleçon had said about Monsieur’s preferences made him uneasy. Faith was such a beautiful, necessary thing, and to force observance without faith was monstrous. The primacy of the army in this cortège was perhaps the last symbol of the secularism Louis had chosen.

The crowd on the other side of the street, seen through the gaps in the procession, attracted his attention more than the procession itself. Here he could see the gamins, the whores, the thieves, the honest workers, fathers with children on their shoulders and mothers with babes in their arms, given an unsought holiday and taking their children to see the greatest public display Paris had seen since the fall of the Empire. A sight for a generation. And something in the back of his mind wanted to strike at it, smash it down, wipe the cortège from the street, for what right did it have? Was it mourning a decent king or celebrating the passing of the crown to a divisive, reactionary figure who thought nothing of the people standing here? Louis gave us the Charter; Charles will give us the Church. Not the Church I know, that I ran to, that speaks morality and duty and charity, but the Church of the past, that had to be destroyed by the Revolution, that supported the nobility and ambition and power, the old Popes with their mistresses and illegitimate children.

And cathedrals, he reminded himself. But would the bourgeois permit cathedrals?

The crowd died away, chattering gaily about the spectacle they had just witnessed, and Feuilly was uncertain whether he should shout that they should be mourning or just move along in silence. Deciding that he would only end up bruised or arrested if he did what he wanted, he selected silence and went into the nearest café to read the newspapers over a bowl of coffee he could not really afford.

The papers were mostly filled with eulogies of the late king. One of the remaining leftist papers had a brief note confirming earlier rumours of a massacre at Psara, in Greece the entire civilian population had been destroyed by the Turks.

But the papers did not hold his attention, and he soon took to wandering the streets. He got as far as the Louvre, which was closed due to the funeral celebrations, then pushed through the slums of the Cité to approach Notre Dame again. He had not tried to climb the towers for some time, and the old bellringer was gone. Staring at the familiar wooden door that had been shut in his face, he realised his dissatisfaction, and he went inside the nave.

A mass was being said, the clergy’s response to how few were permitted to participate in the funeral cortège. Feuilly leaned against a pillar and listened to the Latin chants. Can beauty be forced on a population? Will a stronger church and sympathetic monarchy bring all this back? Or will it become defaced by power? Michelangelo argued with his church employers over the necessity of beauty rather than their narrow beliefs. I may wish I lived in the time of cathedrals, but how many men died carrying the stones? How many men die from working on the docks or the scaffolding or the roofs of the city? My talents are with the brush, not the chisel. The altars would be painted by M. Ingres or M. Delacroix or M. Géricault. They would paint martyrs to God rather than martyrs to man. And what would I do? Carry the stone? Work in the glass mill? Die on the scaffolding and never come near a brush? Is this what Monsieur would bring back? The town dying and subordinate, forgetting that it had been the town rampant in the days of the Revolution? Forgetting that the town had sent men out across Europe, had restored Warsaw to Poland, had marched out to defended freedom?

He knelt and prayed. Lord, I know you are here. Forgive me, but I do not feel you in the church I go to. You reside here, in this decayed, collapsing vault, in the memory of what men once did for you. I feel you here. The Revolution tried to destroy you here because here you are powerful. Here you live. Please tell me why I feel you only when the priests sing in Latin, not when they speak in French. Please tell me why I need you, when everyone around me is without faith. I do not seek salvation or forgiveness, for I know my sins as well as you do. But please, if it so pleases you, tell me what I must do, for my soul cries out for more than I deserve, and I must disobey my soul or disobey society. The priests would tell me, as Sophie tells me, that I mustn’t look above my station. But did you or Satan put these desires in me? You created me. You must have given me this great capacity for learning, for understanding, these great talents that belong ordinarily to the bourgeois, to M. Delacroix and M. Ingres and M. Géricault. You gave me so many ways to serve you that have been denied to everyone else of my class. Please tell me how I must serve you, through obedience or through thought? Because they no longer seem to reconcile, not with Monsieur on the throne. Forgive me if I have gone in the wrong direction, tempted by Satan instead, but if you sent your son with a message of peace, to cure the blind and crippled and bring them back into society, if the Greek war is a true crusade for the deliverance of a people, then duty and obedience are to you and these ideas, not to the priests and the king, but to the people. All the peoples.

Protect our late king, he added, a bit lamely but it only seemed right in the middle of a funeral mass. I think he tried his best for the rights of all. Amen.

Outside, the clouds had grown thicker, but there was still no rain. The river breeze had kicked up, and Feuilly walked east along the quays, his hat in his hand so the breeze might whip through his hair. The dockers and water taxis were still at work, though the swimming school was deserted. He felt disgustingly idle for walking about in the middle of a work day, but the river breeze was a breath of God.

 

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