“How much longer are they going to hold out?” Captain Gouttenoire muttered as he shivered in the February cold. Already a full day and night, and there seemed no sign of the émeute abating. And no sign of artillery to assist him - the last messenger to get through had brought word that he was merely to hold his position and continue the semblance of resistance as this particular barricade was of no strategic significance.
Shots resumed from the barricade, and he ordered his men to fire. However, a small group removed themselves from formation, stripped off their uniform coats despite the cold, and rushed toward the barricade, shouting “Vive la république!”
“Hold your fire! Back to your positions! Back to your positions!” Gouttenoire attempted to order, but the rebellious soldiers now had assistance scaling the barricade from their comrades on the other side. “Anyone who defects will be shot, is that clear?” he shouted to his remaining troops. No one paid him much attention, however, as the gunfire started up again, a stronger rain that brought down four men in the front rank. Though his instinct was to duck for cover, he believed any movement on his part might lead to the complete breakdown of order among the remaining troops. To join with the rebels was absurd, but here seven had already succeeded.
As he surveyed the situation, his shoulder exploded in pain. His lieutenant ran up to him as he fell against the wall. “Keep order, dammit. Keep order at all costs.” A flash of white caught his eye. “No surrender! No surrender!”
“Take that flag down or I’ll shoot you for treason!” the lieutenant warned the wayward infantryman, pushing his way through the ranks to confront him face to face.
Gouttenoire barely had time to realise the situation was completely out of control before he fainted.
He came to in the back room of a tavern, lying on a mattress next to a workman in a leather apron and bloody bandages around his head. Gouttenoire tried to sit up, but a female voice sharply rebuked his efforts. “You just lay there, Félix. We don’t want your wife more upset than she already will be.”
He turned his head towards the voice, but while it was familiar, he could not quite make out the stout woman’s face. “You mistake me for someone else, madame. I have no wife.”
“Alexandre was the one who picked you up; I don’t think he’s mistaken.” She knelt by his side. “Last we met, I was still Thérèse Guyon. Alexandre and I married about a year later.”
“So you succeeded in corrupting him.”
“I wouldn’t call it corruption. We knew you wouldn’t understand. He was never like you. You always had more interest in the status quo, proper bourgeois and all. We keep a paper shop. We’re about a step up from the grocer. And the past year has been terrible for us, what with depression and repression.”
“You still think this nonsense will fix things?”
“No, I think this action today will show our anger at being ignored. And I hope my son will remember it all his life, that the people cannot be shunted aside when all production, all national wealth depend on the hard work of millions, not just the king and his favourite industrialists and bankers.” She stood in order to reach a pitcher on the table. “Drink some water. We’ll get a doctor in here as soon as we’re sure it’s safe.”
“Why am I here?”
“Your men surrendered. This was the best place to bring you for the moment. Alexandre and your lieutenant carried you in. I’ll get Alexandre to see you now that you’re awake.”
“I’d rather talk to Lieutant Carrière.”
“Plenty of time for that later. Julien! Go get your father!”
Gouttenoire half-perceived a boy run out, but his vision was blurring again. Thérèse Guyon had only become worse since her marriage. The kid was probably a brat, and who in their right mind brings a kid to a revolution? But she had never been in her right mind. Lucas had been a fool to marry her. No wonder they had not bothered to invite him to the wedding - it had probably taken place over the objections of both families, in any case.
“You’re awake. That’s a good sign.”
“I can’t believe you’re here. Whatever happened to that last shred of common sense, Lucas?”
He grinned, accentuating the lines at his eyes. “I never had any. You know that better than anyone. I thought you were just serving your tour and getting out. Things didn’t work out with Angèle Mancion?”
“Left without a forwarding address.”
“So how is Marie-Claude?”
“I don’t know. Married Vial, the architect, years ago.”
“So you kept to the army.”
“Why not? Someone has to keep order.”
“Yes, order must be kept. But like this?” Lucas dropped, cross-legged, to the floor. “The more help is needed, the less attention anyone pays to those who need help. Prices rise, wages fall, jobs disappear, and then our rights of peaceful complaint are taken away. That isn’t how to keep order. Why should England be ahead of France in political rights? We gave the world the rights of man, and we are still under a despot who happens to have a few friends who were not nobles when he first came to power. All we want is recognition that the system is wrong and a republic is the only solution. You can’t deny us the justness of our cause.”
“I can deny anything I like.”
“I was told Captain Gouttenoire was in here,” a young voice interrupted.
“Right here. Message from headquarters? Don’t worry, young man, we won’t eavesdrop.” Lucas got up so the messenger could take his place.
“Sir, I’m sorry for the bad news.”
“Worse news than the fact I’ve been shot?”
“Fight’s over. The king has left Paris. Abdicated.”
Gouttenoire could not bear to look at the young man. Abdicated. Defeat. “Go tell Lieutenant Carrière. He will make the announcement and whatever official niceties the rebels demand. I am incapacitated.”
He closed his eyes and tried to ignore the cheers that soon erupted, even among the wounded. The vindication of their bloodshed. Of his, no one seemed to care. Alexandre and Thésèse Lucas did not even appear again at his bedside. He dozed off and was woken by a group of men who had brought a wagon to transport the wounded to St Lazare.
“This is it? Authority finally crumbles to a bunch of schoolboys, unemployed labourers, and a few fools who buy into their nonsense?” he asked the nun who tended to him. When she did not answer, he asked again, more violently.
“It is God’s will, monsieur le capitaine. It is God’s will.”
“God’s will,” he repeated. Why was it not His will the last time, or the time before that, or the day Lucas and I had to choose our paths in life due to a different group of crazed students? Because I will never understand whatever he has discovered. Because Angèle gave up on me before she ever began. Because I am not Julien Combeferre, and I have no desire to be. I am Félix Gouttenoire. “I am Félix Gouttenoire, do you hear me? I will not be toyed with, confused, or silenced!”
The poor nun approached with a bottle. “Some laudanum, monsieur le capitaine. You need your rest. So do all the other patients.”
He fell asleep soon after, a sense of laughter ringing in his ears.
Chapter 11 ~ Fiction ~ Home