Les Amis de l'ABC

Chapter 21

Sunday afternoon was grey and cool. Fall was trying to encroach on summer’s territory. Feuilly started watching the entrance to Corinth at one. Enjolras came at one-thirty. Feuilly approached him cautiously. “M. Enjolras?”

“How may I help you, mademoiselle?” he asked, abandoning the familiar and revolutionary “tu” for the formal “vous“ in the presence of the young woman.

“Don’t you remember me, monsieur? It has only been two months since we saw each other last.”

“I am sorry, mademoiselle. I do not recall having met you before.”

“Les Trois Glorieuses? St Martin? You do not remember?”

“I was very busy at St Martin,” Enjolras said coldly, “and I cannot believe that you were there.”

“Yes, you were busy directing the barricade. But you did listen to me once. Not so much as M. Combeferre, though. Combeferre was the one who spoke to me the most. You have spoken to Combeferre quite recently, I believe?”

“How do you know Combeferre?” he asked accusingly.

“Why am I not allowed in your revolution? There were no complaints when you heard about the victory in St Antoine.”

“I do not understand. Say what you must, then allow me to continue on my way.”

“Then I may as well walk with you since I know your destination. Corinth, at the end of the street.”

“Who are you that you dare speak to me thus?” It was a good question. Enjolras, though certainly not dressed perfectly, wore quite a good grey suit and pure white linen. Feuilly’s dress was badly patched near one knee, and the faded colour could once have been either burgundy or navy; it was impossible to say which. She lacked both collar and kerchief, and her hair, in contrast to Enjolras’ smooth ponytail, was rather a mess, pulled up with a comb but falling out in spite of it.

“Didn’t anyone tell you? I am liberty,” she smiled, rather taken with Enjolras’ hard beauty and cold manner. I’d love to break him, she thought.

“I am serious, mademoiselle.”

“Well, I thought Jehan Prouvaire was serious when he said I was liberty to him.”

“Who are you?” Enjolras asked coldly, with a note of finality in his voice. His meager patience was wearing thin.

“I’m a soldier as much as you are. I worked intelligence during the last revolution. My name is Feuilly.” She held out her hand for a handshake.

Enjolras ignored it. “You! You are this factory worker whom Courfeyrac has tried to foist upon me?” His eyes narrowed as he looked her up and down, taking in her fine features and decent, uncorseted figure. Even dressed as she was, Enjolras could not help noticing that she was a striking woman. “I see why he invited you.”

“Look, I’d do something about this” - gesturing to indicate her body and dress - “if I could, but I can’t. I won’t disturb your barricade with petticoats. You probably don’t remember me from St Martin because I was wearing trousers and a cap. You probably didn’t even realise I was a woman, you never really paid attention to me. No, don’t talk, I’m not done. All I want is to fight for a republic. So much good can be done with a republic. I’ll sit in a corner and never speak until I am spoken to. I can do that. Just please let me sit there.”

“I will present you the same argument I presented to Courfeyrac. Your very presence here is a distraction. These are not trained soldiers - they are merely schoolboys. By sitting among us, you invite distraction. They will think of you and not the revolution.”

“Bullshit! I am no more a distraction to them than Grantaire is. Yes, I know Grantaire. I’ve met everyone. And let me tell you, they never thought about revolution until I took charge at that meeting. Your second-in-command, Combeferre, is absolutely worthless without you around. No direction. I got those boys thinking about revolution for the first time in their lives! How long have you been working on this?”

“Nearly two months. Why?” Enjolras could not believe he was talking to the girl.

“Since Lafayette’s betrayal. From how that meeting went, I would have thought you started the day you kicked everyone out.”

“That is a lie. They left of their own accord.” Now he was defending himself to a gutter rat. What on earth has come over me? he thought.

“Because you were being unreasonable! Why am I really not allowed in the revolution? I am certainly more qualified than Courfeyrac. I’ve got more experience than everyone besides you and Combeferre. They said you were Puritanical - I didn’t think that meant afraid of women!”

“I am not afraid of women!”

“Then why am I not allowed in your revolution?”

“You are far too impertinent. You do not know your place.”

“My place? I know my place quite well. I’m not one of your blind followers, monsieur. I can’t lead because I’m a woman, but I will not be content to follow someone blindly for the rest of my life. I can get you support in the working classes. I want to work with you, not for you, and dammit, doesn’t impertinence have a place in flaunting the status quo? See, I’m not stupid and I’m not ignorant. I’m on a level with you. That’s my place. Impertinence goes up.”

“Please leave me alone.”

“Oh dear, I’ve offended your upper-class sensibilities,” Feuilly said sarcastically. “That really won’t do, will it?”

“Why do you persecute me in this manner?” Enjolras cried, almost in pain.

“It’s really the only way to do things. You must insist. That, and sleep with the bastard if you have to. That’s how I got to be temporary foreman.”

“You should not speak of such things.”

“Why not? You fight against injustice, right? Well, it’s certainly not fair that I had to sleep with my boss in order to keep my job, and it’s nearly as bad that I had to keep it up to get a promotion and pay raise I clearly deserved. I’m an artist, and canvases don’t come cheap, you know. If no one talked about it, it would keep happening. I’m not proud that I succumbed, but I do know injustice. And it’s ten times worse if, now that you know, you allow it to continue.“

“Why on earth are you still talking?”

“Because you keep listening. And you know I’m right.”

“How did Courfeyrac find you?”

“Fell over me in the park. Brought me here because I’ve been reading about the American system and the failures in Poland. Foreign affairs are my specialty,” she finished with a bow.

“You will sit in a corner and not speak until you are spoken to?”

“Oui, monsieur.”

“No, I cannot do this. I cannot believe I - No, mademoiselle, this is impossible. I suggest that you go home immediately.”

“Whatever you say, monsieur,” she said mockingly. “Just don’t expect to win this bloody thing without me!” She dashed off down the block, leaving Enjolras completely bewildered.

What an odd girl. I cannot believe I let her get under my skin like that. It certainly will never happen again, Enjolras told himself.


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