Excerpt: A Figure from the Common Lot (Imprisoned)
“Honoré, I am not wanted yet…and I am off to the cellar anyway to fetch my lamp and stick. I can show you how to work the press, if you care to learn. And there are one or two chores I will let you take over.”
He had allowed Honoré the privilege (or chore) of producing nearly all those things for the club, which he printed at no profit to himself. Dogneaux could compete with the newspaper presses on only the smallest of scales, but landed now and again a paying job, a run of advertising handbills, a small tradesman’s letterhead and business cards. This work he preferred to oversee himself.
And rarely did Dogneaux have a centime to spare for Honoré in payment of wages. On that first night, he’d thrown a blanket over the cellar cot, telling his new lodger: “For the time being, I’ll take service for rent…I don’t mind another pair of eyes looking after things down here.”
Autumn came. The cold that at night began seeping through the walls made Honoré shiver; his discomfort, despite Mme Dogneaux’s extra blankets, leaving him sleepless for hours, and late to rise in the mornings. She clucked over his pallor, and said to him, one November day…after she had called him to breakfast for the second, perhaps for the third, time; after he had pulled himself up the stairs to the kitchen, and dropped into a chair by the stove: “I think you had better go back to your father.”
She put a lilt into her words. She did not insist, only tendered a possibility.
But Honoré, so pleased to have a room of his own, shook his head vehemently, drank from his cup of cocoa…and blinked.
“Cod liver oil,” Mme Dogneaux told him. “It puts iron in the blood.”
He would teach himself, also, to do his own engraving.
They would not have the nerve to shut the door against him. Oddly, these words seemed dictated in another’s voice…but what was it he had been telling himself? What mattered most…the phrase he must scribble down, before he’d forgotten it, as soon as he could find the pencil. It occurred to Honoré he’d been trying, over and over, to leave his cot and search for it. No, he had done this. The act flashed back, a picture of himself, pencil in hand, sketching a perfect likeness.
But…why would he have drawn it, his sister’s face, pocked by disease, a thing he’d never seen? But not hers, after all. The face was Feriet’s.
He opened his eyes in the cellar’s blackness. His gift…he had been telling himself, this was what mattered. Because there must be others of his class equally gifted.
Sevier agreed―it was a good saying, and when he addressed the congress, Honoré would permit him the use of it.
“Excellence waits to be mined from the wealth of humanity.”
(2017, Stephanie Foster)