“Maman,“ Thérèse called into the kitchen, “I’ve brought a couple of boys for dinner!”
“And how old are these boys?”
“I would say about my age!”
Mme Guyon came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands with a towel stuck in the band of her apron. She was a bit taken aback by the officers, but she extended her hand and tried to put on a welcoming smile. “It is a pleasure to meet you, messieurs.”
“Thank you for your kind invitation, madame,” Gouttenoire said as he shook her hand.
“Well, messieurs, the dining room is through there” - she pointed down the hall - “make yourselves comfortable. I need to speak to my daughter for a moment.”
Gouttenoire and Lucas went into the dining room. They could hear a bit of conversation in the wineshop through an open door that connected the residence to the business.
“Terrible, isn’t it? This morning?”
“Those boys. Bad timing ain’t innit.”
“At least they tried. Monarchy is against God’s will, for it does more damage to his people than disease.”
“And it tries to undermine His authority.”
“Poverty is hell.”
“We should have done something.”
“We would have died, too. Did you see what the National Guard did? I saw ’em picking up the bodies. That boy that was staying with you was shot four times and bayoneted.”
“How do you know?”
“I saw it with my own eyes.”
“Why did they let you in there?”
“They’ll allow an old lost fool anything.”
“Shh. Mme Prouvaire, is it time already?”
Thérèse blew down the hall. “Julie!”
“Thérèse,” a female voice said. “Have you heard anything?”
“Julie, I - I’m sorry. Let me sit you down.” Thérèse led her into the dining room and seated her near Lucas. Julie Prouvaire was very pregnant and not walking well.
“So Jehan is -- ?”
“I’m sorry. I’ll be back in a minute.”
Thérèse rushed back out to the wineshop. The conversation ceased, and only whispers could be heard, then a loud slam, as if someone’s hand had made contact with the wooden counter.
A tall, broad-chested, very dark man came storming into the dining room. “Has Thérèse told you about my mother? Take them upstairs and find them some suitable attire. We will eat as soon as they are fit for your grandmother to see,” M. Guyon said to Thérèse.
“They’re a little protective of her. She has good days and bad, and they don’t want to set anything off with National Guardsmen. I’ll loan you a couple of my father’s shirts, because yours just scream military compared to this quartier. Combeferre nearly set her off about a year ago. The trousers will do, and no jackets or ties.” Up in her parents’ bedroom Thérèse threw a couple of less than white shirts onto the bed. “Hurry up. I’m hungry.”
Lucas obediently took off his jacket and tie and started to unbutton his shirt. Gouttenoire was less comfortable with the situation. “Mademoiselle . . .”
“Fine, I’ll step outside. But hurry.” She closed the door most of the way.
When they had finished dressing, Thérèse came by and ruffled their hair a little. “I’m trying to claim you’re friends of mine, and my boys never looked that refined. Except Combeferre. And Enjolras. But they weren’t really my boys. Say nothing of the revolution or the National Guard, and you’ll be fine.”
“Mademoiselle, we really should leave if we are creating this much trouble for your family.”
“Nonsense. You’re staying here. Just shut your trap and come downstairs,” Thérèse ordered. Gouttenoire meekly followed her down. Why on earth Lucas liked this woman, he could not understand.
“Go on in. I have to get Mamie.” Thérèse went back upstairs, and the officers went slowly into the enemy dining room, receiving glares from M. Guyon and nothing from his wife. Julie kept her head bowed and was silent. They sat down and followed Julie’s example.
Thérèse appeared in the doorway, leading a little old woman. “Mamie, I would like you to meet a couple of friends of mine. That is Gouttenoire, and this is Lucas.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, madame,“ Lucas smiled, shaking hands with her. “Thérèse has said some interesting things about you.”
“It’s all true. Does he talk?” she asked, pointing to the silent and embarrassed Gouttenoire.
“He’s just quiet. And stuffy as hell, but he’s part of the package. Get Lucas; get Gouttenoire.” Thérèse sneezed again. “Damn. Sorry, Maman.” She carefully pulled out a chair for her grandmother, then sat down beside Lucas, squeezing his hand under the table. “Julie, are you alright? The baby’s not coming, is it?” Julie’s eyes were red and puffy, and she looked ready to cry at any minute.
“No, not yet,” she replied sadly. She picked at her salad with her fork, eating nothing.
“You must eat something, honey. Otherwise the baby will be hungry, too.”
“I’m fine, Thérèse,” Julie said defensively. But a few minutes later she did take a few bites.
M. Guyon shovelled huge forkfuls of salad into his mouth, one after the other, obviously avoiding having to speak. His mother watched the young officers, never taking her eyes off of them, even to take a bite. The younger Mme Guyon watched her plate, eating slowly. No one spoke.
Lucas threw a questioning glance to Thérèse. She mouthed back, “They know.” He decided to ignore the stares of the elder Mme Guyon and try to enlist himself in the good graces of the family.
“This is very good, madame,” he said politely to Thérèse’s mother.
She looked up in surprise, startled by the attempt at conversation. “The dressing is my mother’s recipe.”
“I suppose you’re not used to this sort of thing, the kind of work you’re in,” M. Guyon began argumentatively.
“Pierre . . .” his wife pleaded. He quieted down, and she got up from the table, returning with a small roast and potatoes that formed the main course.
Gouttenoire stood and bowed. “I am sorry for creating a disturbance in your family.”
M. Guyon glared at him and began to slice the roast, serving the officers last. Then, he began to stuff food into his mouth again.
Gouttenoire grew even more uncomfortable and proceeded to follow the course set by M. Guyon. Lucas was unsure what to do. He looked to Thérèse for help.
“So, Lucas, what do you plan to do when you’ve finished your - uh - studies?” she asked, trying to make conversation.
“My family owns a librarie-papeterie in the rue de Lyon. I expect to learn the business from my father, since I am the eldest son.”
“What about you, M. Gouttenoire?” she asked.
“Oh, I shall be selling books to Lucas. My mother is a Hachette, and since she has only sisters, as the eldest she will inherit the company. My father is the second-in-command, handles the bookkeeping, and has final say on hiring and contracts. I will take over for my father someday.”
“Rather scholarly businesses!” M. Guyon threw in.
Thérèse gave the boys a look telling them to keep silent. “Yes, they are, Papa,” she said warningly to her father. “Mamie, tell them about the revolution.”
“The real revolution?”
“Of course, Mamie!”
“What can I say? My Georges was a real fighter. We had meetings, right here at this table. Citoyen Marat sat right where Pierre is, and Citoyen St-Just sat just where you’re sitting, boy,” she said, pointing to Lucas. “We were a meeting place before there was a revolution. I pulled down the Bastille. We knew there weren’t many prisoners inside: it was the principle of the thing.”
“The principle?” Gouttenoire asked, interested in the old woman.
“Do you know how many people died in abject poverty to build that mountain of stone? Millions. Hundreds of thousands of peasant women raped by the king’s tax collectors to finance the bloody thing. Why? In the shadow of the king’s power, anything can be done. Monarchy is blood; nobility is poverty. Georges and I gave the damned aristos a taste of their own medicine. We never missed an execution. Even gave the executioners a cask of wine every Bastille Day.”
“Mother, that’s enough,” M. Guyon cut her off. “Not in front of these guests.”
“Papa, they’re enjoying it!” Thérèse pleaded.
“I don’t know what’s going here, but it’s evident I’ve stepped in the middle of something. Non, merci, I will not stay for a bit of cheese. I am going to my room, where people can be civil to guests.” Little Mme Guyon nodded to her son and daughter-in-law and left.
“You have brought disgrace on this family, bringing them here,” M. Guyon said coldly to Thérèse.
“Monsieur, we are terribly sorry. We should go. Madame, thank you for the delicious meal.” Gouttenoire bowed, and with a military turn, went upstairs to change back into his uniform.
“I’m sorry, monsieur, that my duty to my family displeases you. I didn’t want to join the National Guard: I’m an artist, not a soldier. I’m there only because it was what my father wanted. He didn’t think a university education was necessary for a businessman, so a tour of duty in the National Guard is supposed to make me more fit to serve customers or something. When I go home, I’ll be working at the counter, and I suppose he thinks that if I’ve been with the Guard, it’ll be good for business. I only have a month left to serve, and then I will never go back. This whole situation will be over in a month, and when my circumstances are more favourable to both me and you, I hope to see you daughter again. But I cannot expect you to understand that I like your daughter very much, and I think I could make her happy. I deeply regret the trouble I have caused you and your family, monsieur. Good day.” Lucas turned and left. M. Guyon had not lowered himself to giving one word to the young officer.
Julie was crying. “They - they’re the ones who . . .”
“No, they’re not. They just had to take care of the mess their cohorts made of our lives. They cared enough to do something about it,” Thérèse said rapidly, before her father could snap about the officers again.
“Thérèse, you are not to see either of those boys again.”
“Papa, you’re being unfair! I’m not a child anymore. I’m twenty-six years old, and I’m sick of thinking I might be an old maid. I’m sick of living here, with the same people and the same memories. I turned the corner this morning to Bossuet’s flat, and I nearly broke down in tears. Do you really want me to cry? To betray my weakness? Of course not. I rather like Lucas. Had circumstances been different, he might well have been one of my boys, and he might be my last chance. I don’t want to burn any bridges, but I don’t want to give up my last chance to get out of here!”
“We should not have this discussion now.”
“You’re right: we shouldn’t. I’m going to talk to my friends now!” Thérèse shouted, slamming her chair into the table.
Lucas had listened to the whole argument from the top of the stairs, but now he rushed into the bedroom where Gouttenoire was nearly dressed again. He pulled his shirt off and announced, “Guyon is really pissed.”
“You created this mess. It is up to you to remedy the situation.”
“I know. You’ve got to get out of here, fast. I think I can get Thérèse to smooth things over with her father.”
Thérèse came stomping up the stairs. “Sorry about that. I didn’t think he’d take it quite so hard. I guess he still isn’t over Guillaume’s death. Gui was my brother. The National Guard accidentally killed him two years ago, the first day of fighting. His was the first barricade where the National Guard surrendered, too, which I think is what makes Papa a little crazy about it. I’m really sorry, guys.”
“Thank you for dinner, mademoiselle. I deeply regret the trouble we have caused you,” Gouttenoire apologised.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Can I see you again?” Lucas asked hopefully.
“I’d like that, even if Papa is making an ass of himself. You two had better get out of here fast.”
“Go, Gouttenoire. I’ll be out in a minute.“ Gouttenoire bowed to Thérèse and disappeared out the back door and around the corner. “I’ll come back when my circumstances are better. The first of July. I promise.”
“I’ll be waiting for you in a papeterie in the rue de Lyon in three days.”
“You are not serious.”
“I am. I will see you there, as you really are. Not in this silly uniform. You’re better looking without it.”
“Personal prejudice, I fear.”
“Whatever. I must go take care of Julie. The baby is due any day now, and the father lies on a barricade.”
“Who was her husband?”
“Jehan Prouvaire. Give me your pictures.” She flipped through, finding Prouvaire’s face. “This one.”
“He wasn’t on the barricade for long. He was executed the first night. A prisoner, I was told.”
“How did Bossuet die?” She went through the pictures again, pulling out Bossuet’s.
“Bayonet wounds. I didn’t want to tell you.”
“I had to know. I really should go, and so should you.” Thérèse managed a smile as she turned to go.
“Wait.“ Lucas kissed her on both cheeks, the sign of a little more than friendship. “Au ’voir.”
“Au ’voir, Lucas,” she called as she rushed out of the room, flushed and rather happy with herself and Lucas. Lucas heard her sneeze and curse one more time as he snuck out the back, smiling to himself.
Chapter 8 ~ Fiction ~ Chapter 10 ~ Home