Excerpt: A Figure from the Common Lot (Passage)
He did not know what he was saying to Bellet. He was making an excuse of stopping here, clinging to conversation with a man who had been something of a friend. “You see it’s no difference…they don’t look for me at home. I can just as well go where I am sent.”
The sadness on Bellet’s face was pity for these absurdities he spoke, perhaps, or for some memory trodden by his inept words. Bellet at last found words of his own: “You must write to me. Send a letter to the hospital here. If you address it to Pierre Bellet, it will be placed in my hands.”
Honoré chose an unoccupied corner next to the partition between compartments. He braced himself in this right-angled space; when the train jerked forward once again, and began, this time, to build speed, he dug into his coat pocket. He withdrew a little book, and from this, the pencil tucked in its binding.
He began to write:
My dear friend
Broughton had given him the book for keeping his accounts. Honoré fell into a worried digression, thinking of money. He did not like to remind himself how his cache of silver coins dwindled. He might possess a modest fortune in gold…but about these sovereigns, he had misgivings. Suppose he should be accused of stealing them? His ignorance of their value would tell greatly against him; whereas, the story that his English employer had given him the coins, would ring like the typical canard of a thief.
Bending his will to the task he’d set himself, Honoré wrote, as though he composed a letter to Gilbert:
The weather is still dull but the sun comes out and shows everything covered in dust. If I had my charcoals, I would make a portrait of the woman who sits across from me. She wears a black fichu, and like a gypsy, she has it draped about her face. We passed a town where the guns had knocked away half the church spire. I could see a man hanging there, suspended from a rope―dangerous work!―but, from where I sat, I could not guess what he did.
He was writing in this fashion, simply to force himself to practice. Here on the train, the shaking of his hand covered by the sway of the carriage, Honoré did not feel overconscious. After weeks of digesting the emotion stirred by Biencourt’s little painting, he had come to this private determination. He could not have explained what he hoped to achieve, but he was certain he needed to work more seriously at it.
The train stopped at Reims.
“Stretch your legs! You may not have another chance…but be quick!”
(2017, Stephanie Foster)