Paris: part one (A Figure from the Common Lot)
« Ma sœur, mon frère, je m’adresse à vous. Je m’adresse à votre cœur. Nous sommes malheureux. Nous portons trop. Cette disgrâce est insupportable. Nous n’avons pas cessé de pleurer. Nous entendons la voix d’un fantôme; nous avons mis le feu à notre maison; nous ne pouvons pas nous lever, car nous avons enterré notre patrie dans les cendres ! Ma sœur, mon frère, je m’adresse à votre cœur. »
“You see my idea?” Honoré asked Broughton. “I say, you, my sister, I speak to you, your heart.”
“I suspect that much of your time in the cafés is spent in making such addresses. The nation of France finds herself in reduced circumstances, beyond doubt; however, what have you to say that is material to our purpose?”
“That the government, and our Monsieur Trochu most especially, love the people of Paris, as God loves his children; and so like the mysteries, their meaning is for us to gain the wisdom of contemplating. And I say that, for the economy of the nation, if we give to the generals all the cannons… You see, monsieur, they retire from war.”
Honoré paused, sorting his English. He had never heard Broughton speak his own language with any fluency. He had begun, though, to take note of his ways. Broughton did not squander an advantage he found continued useful.
Yet Honoré preferred this, that their conversations be in the language he hoped to learn well. He had a plan, as he had mentioned; he must begin pronouncing his English words correctly.
“They retire, you see, monsieur, and the guns are melted to make coins. So they will not print paper money and make the cost of everything high. And the generals are paid without taxes.”
“Well, that is wonderfully specious.”
“It may be,” Honoré said, looking carefully at Broughton. “But you don’t like my other idea.”
“I thought you had ventured dangerously close to satire. You mustn’t fail to appreciate the hazards imposed by martial law.”
Tweedloe, in his latest communication, had told a story.
He kept greenhouses, and allowed his gardener, Allenby, a liberal purse when ordering specimens. Over the cultivation of these, Tweedloe and Allenby together pottered cozily.
Broughton, there is a lesson in this that I am about to relate.
One day, a box had arrived from Southern Africa, clearly the worse for its travels. Unwrapping the sacking that had seemed all it contained, they came at last upon a desiccated portion of root. Its label―if ever there had been one―had gone missing.
Undaunted, Allenby potted it up; he exercised temperance in watering, taking the root’s origin into account. His care of the lifeless article was, “…an act of pure faith, but Allenby’s heart is in sympathy with his roots and cuttings.”
More than a month passed. And then a leaf, overnight, shot up, unfurling itself in the shape of a heart streaked with gold.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)