Les Amis de l'ABC

Chapter 6

Joly and Feuilly were around the corner before they decided to speak -- at the same time.

“So how are you --”

“So tell me about --”

After a bit of laughter about the awkwardness of the situation, Joly, taking charge for once in his life, said, “I’ll go first. How is it that you are involved in the revolution?”

“You mean because I am a woman. Don’t deny it, I know that’s what you’re thinking. I might ask you the same question, since you’re young and rich.”

“Touché. You’ve got a quick mind, Mlle Feuilly, and I’m glad it’s on our side. Since you refuse to answer my question, what was yours?”

“I’d like to know a bit more about the three of you. You and Courfeyrac and M. Lesgle seem so different. How is it that you are together?”

“Ah, you’re looking for background. I understand. You want to see what you’ve gotten yourself into. I guess we ended up together because we come from the same place. Not the same town, mind you, but the same place. We are each the eldest son of our respected families in the south, well, Lesgle is from the north, but he’s of the same cloth, and we have enjoyed the privileges accorded to our rank. We’re in the revolution because we want to rectify the wrongs our parents have done to the people.”

“That’s all well and good, but I want the hear the dirt. How did the three of you meet?”

“The dirt, Mlle Feuilly. You really are direct, are you not? I used to have a flat adjoining that of Courfeyrac. Separate entrances from the hall, but a door connecting the two suites. I had been told that the door had no key, and that it was always locked. I thought nothing of it until I returned home one morning, having forgotten a book, only to find a young woman dressing herself in my salon. You can imagine my surprise. She said that her lover had pushed her through the door and locked it behind her, telling her to dress and wait until his parents had left. The lover next door was Courfeyrac.”

“So maman caught him screwing, and he hid his chick in your flat?”

“I wouldn’t put it that way, but yes, that’s the idea.”

“So Courfeyrac isn’t as stiff as he looks.”

“Definitely not. I ditched class to talk to the girl, a very nice prostitute, and two hours later Courfeyrac came through the door, surprised to find us in discussion. I wasn’t supposed to be at home, but the lovely young woman introduced us and promptly dumped poor René Courfeyrac. After such an introduction, we couldn’t help but be friends.”

“Did you take her up?”

“Good Lord, no. I don’t go in much for prostitutes. I prefer shop girls, myself.”

“Cute,“ Feuilly replied sarcastically. “So who is M. Lesgle?”

“Bossuet? He was a friend of Courfeyrac who somehow ended up with me. He’s a law student, not very serious about it, from somewhere up north, no one knows where. He has the worst luck of anyone I know, but he sticks with us in a vain effort to change it.”

“Why do you call him Bossuet? I thought his name was Lesgle.”

“It is. His full name is Martin Lesgle de Meaux, but he does not come from Meaux. It’s quite strange, actually. Anyway, he’s so completely not a philosopher that Prouvaire has named our poor Lesgle after Jacques Bénigne Bossuet, the Eagle of Words [l’aigle de mots]. Lesgle doesn’t seem to mind; in fact he laughs about it.”

“You’ve told me about René Courfeyrac and Martin Lesgle, but what about yourself, M. Joly? Do you even have a Christian name?” Feuilly asked teasingly.

“My name is Thomas. I’m a medical student at the Sorbonne. I’m not really very interesting. Perhaps you could tell me about yourself?”

“Oh, here we are,” Feuilly announced, completely avoiding Joly’s question. Joly found himself in front of a very run-down building, with a sagging door and holes for windows. The whole street was hot and dark, even though the summer sun was still up. “Come on, in here,” ordered Feuilly. “Renaud?” she called into the building.

Joly was not thrilled at having to enter, and he was a bit upset at having his questions ignored, but he followed her in anyway, against his better judgment.

The room was dark and hot and smelled of stale wine. When his eyes became accustomed to the dimness, Joly could see that he was in a very dilapidated old bar. It was fairly empty, except for the corners. There, groups of men were huddled, conversing quietly. One old man sat at the counter, singing an old Breton drinking song. To Joly’s surprise, Feuilly sat beside him and joined in.

Chevaliers de la table ronde, goûtons voir si le vin est bon. Goûtons voir, oui, oui, oui,” here Feuilly joined him, “goûtons voir, non, non, non, goûtons voir si le vin est bon. Goûtons voir, oui, oui, oui, goûtons voir, non, non, non, goûtons voir si le vin est bon.” Feuilly had a decent voice, sweet, but the old man was very flat.

“You come to sing with me, Marie?” the old man asked pleadingly.

“Not today, Renaud. Maybe tomorrow, OK? I need to ask you where Philippe and Albert are. I need to talk to them,” she said patiently.

“Philippe is a good boy. He’s at work.”

“Renaud, today is Sunday,” she said softly.

“Oh, Philippe is at home with the baby. Have you seen the baby?”

“Yes, I’ve seen the baby. Where is Albert?“

“Oh, you don’t want to talk to Albert. He’s trouble, and you’re a good girl, Marie; you’re a good girl.”

“That’s OK, Renaud. Thank you very much. I’ll see you tomorrow after work, OK?”

“And we’ll sing?” The old man’s face lit up.

“Yes, we’ll sing. Come, Thomas,” she ordered Joly.

Once they were outside, Joly could breathe again. He intended to remain silent, but his curiosity got the better of him. “Who was that man, and why did you call me Thomas?”

“I can’t exactly call you ‘monsieur’, can I? And I was sure as hell not going to call you ‘Joly’ in that place. I’d be laughed out of the quartier for entertaining ‘joli garçon’. As for the man, that’s just old Renaud. He kinda looked after me when I was a kid so I wouldn’t end up a street rat. Did a better job with me than with his own son. Albert, the youngest, has been in prison for a while, but he’s out now, so we’re looking for him. I hope he’s at his brother’s flat. That’s Pierre, the older one. Now I’m warning you, don’t get freaked out. Pierre works in the chemical factories, so his appearance is a bit dark, to say the least.” She paused a bit, as if to think, then went on. “I feel so sorry for Renaud. His mind is failing. Some days he doesn’t even recognise me, and there’s nothing you can do. He didn’t know today was Sunday, since he spends every day at the Berger Grec [Greek shepherd, name of the bar]. And he asked if I’d seen the baby. The baby is only three months old, and I delivered it while Renaud was there. It’s just so sad, what happens to old people. I tell you, I don’t want to get old. I’m going to die in some revolution, perhaps one I start, by the time I’m fifty, if Paris doesn’t kill me first.”

“You’ve got some real great plans for your future,” Joly replied sarcastically.

“There is no future here,” she answered. “You should know that. Without revolution, we have no future. If only I could convince Pierre of that. Albert will follow me to the ends of the earth, and definitely to a barricade, but Pierre won’t listen to a word I say about revolution. He thinks his son can rise out of this hole without violence. The idiotic bastard. I don’t know what to do with him. Here we are.” They stopped in front of a very run-down old house. Rags hung out the windows, where there were windows. There was a doorway, but no door. The summer sky was still light, but none penetrated this quartier or the hideous visage of the building. It smelled vile, and a drunk was passed out on the rickety stoop. Everything exuded hopelessness and death.

Joly did not want to enter. “I’ll just wait out here.”

“No, you won’t. I don’t trust my people around you. It’s safer inside, where ’Parnasse won’t see.”

“Who is this ’Parnasse?“ Joly asked.

“It’s better that you don’t know. Panchaud,“ Feuilly kicked the drunk, “Printanier, Bigrenaille. Wake up, ya bastard, the cops is comin’.” She kicked him again. Still nothing. She turned to Joly. “He’s out cold. Just step over him.” She got up the stairs fairly easily, her long legs clearing Bigrenaille with little effort. Joly, on the other hand, needed her assistance, but he ended up inside, making a great effort not to touch anything. Feuilly took him by the hand, and led him up the dark stairs to the first floor, almost as if she know he was here against his will and scared to death. She stopped at the first door, and knocked three times, softly. Light footsteps were heard behind the door, then a hoarse whisper asked, “Patron Minette?”

“Albert?” asked Feuilly in a surprised whisper.

“Who’s there?” the voice asked fearfully.

“Marie Madeleine. What are you doing answering the door?”

“Come in.” The door slowly creaked open. A fairly average looking man appeared in the doorway. “The baby and Sabine are asleep. She needs ’er rest pretty bad.” Feuilly entered quietly, pulling Joly after her. “Wait. Who’s that with you?”

“It’s just Thomas. He’s a friend, don’t worry. He’s with the revolution.”

Albert smiled. “You’re one of Marie’s boys? Come on in.”

Feuilly pulled Joly inside, and Albert closed the door after them. The room was close and very dark. On a pallet in one corner, a pale, thin woman lay asleep, breathing hard and shallow. A very tiny baby was next to her, there being no bed in the room. In the opposite corner, a man sat staring at the wall, periodically looking over at the woman. He was big and powerful, but there was something about him. He stayed in the shadows for a reason. Years of work in the chemical factories had turned his skin black, not like an African, but like Satan. The woman’s breathing got worse, and the man went over to comfort her. They made an odd contrast, Pierre and Sabine.

Joly was frightened of Pierre until he saw how gentle he was with Sabine.

“So, what are you here for?” asked Albert, still whispering.

“I need a favour,” Feuilly answered in the same tone. “Thomas here is trying to move a wardrobe to a different flat, and I know him and his friends cannot get it up four flights of stairs. I came looking for help.”

Pierre looked up. “I can’t leave Sabine. Not on Sunday, I can’t.”

“I don’t expect you too,” Feuilly answered. “I came here looking for Albert, and I found him.” She turned to Albert. “I’d like you to find a couple of guys, and a cart if you don’t want to carry the thing five blocks.”

“Okay, sounds right enough. Anything for you, Marie Madeleine. I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

“We’ll meet you outside here.”

“Albert.” Pierre looked up. “Albert, be careful. Don’t get nipped for nothin’, right?”

Albert looked at his brother. “I’m not doin’ nothin’ to nobody. It ain’t against the law to move a wardrobe if the owner tells you to.”

“Just don’t get seen.”

“Alright, alright. I won’t get nipped.” Albert left. Pierre turned back to Sabine.

“How is she?” asked Feuilly.

“She’s better, she’s better.” Feuilly didn’t believe it. Joly could tell by the look on her face. She took Pierre in her arms. He whispered in her ear, “She’s dying, and the baby too. Have you ever seen such a small, quiet baby? I’ll lose both of ’em before the month is out.” He began to weep. Feuilly stroked his hair. The baby started to cry, a very thin, sickly cry. Pierre started, and began to quickly wipe his eyes.

“Relax, I got ’im,” Feuilly said. She picked up the tiny little thing and began to rock him and sing quietly. “Les bleuets sont bleus, les roses sont roses, les bleuets sont bleus, j’aime mes amours.“ Sabine stayed where she was, too exhausted to do anything. Pierre hid his head in his hands. Joly felt as if he and Feuilly were alone in the world. The baby had stopped crying, and just looked up at Feuilly through dim eyes. Pierre roused himself.

“I’ll take him now. You need to get down to Albert. Keep an eye on ’im, Okay?” Feuilly nodded, handing over the little one.

“I’ll be by soon to check on you.” She patted him on the hand and went out. Joly followed quickly, too afraid of the dead family to say anything


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