“Will you take us to Les Halles?” Gouttenoire asked the driver of the fiacre.
“Not as long as the guns is going!”
“The fighting has ended, and the National Guard controls the city.”
“Thank god. Right always wins in the end, don’t it?”
“Perhaps. Will you drive us?”
“Of course. Two fine young men like yourselves, making the nation safe from upstarts and all, of course I’ll take you to Les Halles.”
“Thank you, monsieur.”
Once the fiacre left the Place des Vosges behind, Lucas heaved a sigh of relief. “That woman weighs heavy on a light heart. The way that servant girl feared her was disgraceful. And incompetent,” he added. “Little Angèle loved him, and this -- this ‘woman’ only thinks of finding a new husband.”
“I will admit the circumstances are strange, and I have no love for Mlle Laurier, but I do respect her. M. Combeferre certainly had his head about him. Mlle Mancion is a woman to love; Mlle Laurier is a woman to respect. I respect M. Combeferre for his dedication. Neither he nor Mlle Laurier wished to marry the other, yet both were determined not to break the vow of their fathers. They have all conducted themselves well under the circumstances.”
“The spooky thing about this is that you would have acted the same way. What am I saying? You are acting the same way! You seek companionship from little Angèle when you have your own Mlle Laurier.”
“It is hardly the same. Marie-Claude is hardly Mlle Laurier. We have reached no understanding. She is free to pursue young Vial, the architect, if he would ever come to call.”
“He doesn't because you still call on her.”
“Only as a favour to my father, and he wishes it only as a favour to her father, who died in the service of the emperor.”
“And you say the situation is hardly the same!” Lucas smiled.
Gouttenoire suddenly became reflective. “How inappropriate would it be for me to call on Mlle Mancion?”
“Highly, if she doesn’t want to see you. That girl has really got under your skin, hasn’t she?”
“You have no idea, Lucas.”
The carriage stopped. “The street ain’t cleaned up here, messieurs. You want me to drive around?”
“No, thank you. We can walk from here. Thank you for your patience,” Gouttenoire told the driver, handing him thirty francs.
“Thank you, messieurs!”
“How much did you give him?”
“I would estimate approximately thirty francs, give or take several sous. He certainly deserved it. The Luxembourg to Montmartre to the Place des Vosges to Les Halles: he worked hard for us.”
“Would M. Combeferre have been so loose with his funds?” Lucas teased.
“I am not M. Combeferre!” Gouttenoire protested.
“Yeah, sure you’re not!”
“Général de Jaeghre,” Gouttenoire saluted his commanding officer. Lucas snapped to attention, a little late, but finally serious.
“Lieutenants Gouttenoire and Lucas, I believe? At ease. I heard from Sergeant Lemaire that you had left the barricade. Why did you quit your posts?”
“Sir, our orders were to identify and dispose of the bodies of the insurgents. Lucas made drawings, and we took them to an address we found on one of the corpses. The young woman was kind enough to help us, even through the grief of losing her brother.” Gouttenoire refrained from mentioning Combeferre. “It was necessary to leave the barricade in order to follow up on Lucas’ drawings. I apologise for the inconvenience we may have caused, sir.”
“Not at all. You have not inconvenienced us in the least. I just needed to verify that you had indeed been occupied with official business. Your uncle was always one for the ladies, you know.”
“But you are a serious man, Gouttenoire, and a good officer. I respect your attention to duty, lieutenant. Carry on.”
“Sir, may I ask a favour?”
“I wish to have leave to inform the families of the insurgents of the night’s events. If they were an opposing army, if would be proper. As it is, they were only schoolboys. Their parents must know.”
“Very well, do what you must, but on your own time. It is only proper that the families be informed.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Good day, lieutenants.” Général de Jaeghre walked past them into the rue St Denis.
“At what time do you believe we will be dismissed to return to the barracks?” Gouttenoire asked Lucas.
“I’d guess around four, or as soon as this mess gets cleaned up. University offices should still be open.”
“Will you come with me? It would appear more official if there were two of us.”
“Of course. I’m almost as intrigued by the whole thing as you are. It's like the old musketeer legends in reverse.”
“How do you mean?”
“They were all friends, and they all died together. All for one and one for all. Except they died fighting against the king instead of for him.”
“The opposite of the brave musketeers.”
“But no less brave.” Two men carrying a corpse walked by the officers. “Félix, would you stop a bullet with your hand?” Lucas suddenly changed the subject.
“The girl in the alley. She had powder burns on her palm, as if she put her hand over the muzzle of a rifle and someone pulled the trigger.”
“What are you saying?”
“We shot her. And she wanted us to. She had a smile on her face. She died happy, Félix.”
“She must have loved him very much.”
“Why else would a girl stop a bullet? She saved someone's life.”
“And we killed both of them.”
“We killed no one, Alexandre. We were never in a forward position. I have never fired my weapon outside of practise, and I know that you have not, either. We did nothing but sit back and find the bodies later.”
“But the National Guard shot her in cold blood.”
“No. A single man shot her. And if she were a man, you would seek the person who pulled the trigger so you might congratulate him. I notice you have no sympathy for the young man who was taken prisoner.”
“He shot at us with a pistol.”
“Perhaps the girl had a weapon. Alexandre, they wanted war. We gave it to them. If they are dead, it was their will to die.”
“You speak with such sympathy to Angèle Mancion, yet you feel so little?” Lucas cried, almost in anguish.
“I feel for her, not for the people she has lost.”
“Can you be so hard?”
“Alexandre, you are an artist. The poetry of the girl’s death has affected your reason. It would be better if we were to leave this place and go immediately to the medical school. Come, let us find Major Dautin.”
“D’accord,” Lucas agreed reluctantly. “I place myself in your hands in matters of reason, Félix.”
The young men plunged behind the barricade. Enlisted men had just finished loading the corpses onto wagons, and a chain gang had been brought to restore the street. A few officers stood about, watching the labourers and talking.
“Major Dautin,” Gouttenoire saluted his immediate superior. “I would like to take this time to pursue a lead on some traitorous survivors. I believe that the medical school may be the best place to start, based on some information I have gathered.”
“Will arrests result from this venture?”
“I hope so, sir. We must make an example of those who abandoned their nation, their king, and their friends.”
“Very well. Take Lucas with you. I give you the rest of the morning and the entire afternoon. You must return to the barracks by seven tonight.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
“I still can’t figure out how you do that,” Lucas said to Gouttenoire.
“How I do what?”
“Manipulate our superiors with conflicting stories.”
“It is a gift,” Gouttenoire bowed in jest. “If you always tell a man what he wishes to hear, then he will always approve all your actions. It is a skill that has served me well. But come, let us find a fiacre. The day grows too warm for walking.”
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