Excerpt: A Figure from the Common Lot (Imprisoned second)
Glancing up, he found himself regarded narrowly.
“It is no matter to send for references. I am newly arrived in Paris…this was what I had begun to say. Today you will see for yourself the sort of work I’m able to do.”
“You have a cough.”
“No, monsieur, I don’t.”
“I would not hire you, not even to sweep crumbs from the carpet. I cannot have that sort of thing.”
And that, to Honoré’s indignation, was the end of it. Such an excellent idea had come to him, and he was not prepared, just so, to abandon it. Given the chance to serve the guests of the Feuille d’Or, he would benefit in two ways—his money, first, would last so much longer. Second, having seen the quality of the guests, Honoré could see as well that a waiter, eavesdropping here where the best class of society gathered, hardly could escape overhearing the important talk of important men. He might make himself of particular help, then, to whomever he wished to cultivate.
As a poor journalist Honoré had not needed to dress well. He was aware the clothes he could afford were not good. He looked like a student; he walked about with his sketchbook, and was taken for an artist. But he wished to be the gentleman, there, the one who turned away, with equal indifference to his silk-lined opera cape, and the girl behind the counter who accepted it from him.
“No, I am in complete agreement.”
He had entered with four others. Engrossed in conversation, Honoré’s exemplar now tossed aside his hat, presuming again she would take charge of it. Hinges creaked as a door swung open, but portent could not trouble Honoré. In defiance of the Feuille d’Or’s proscription, he was studying this ensemble and their mannerisms…eavesdropping, regardless.
“Of course, they like this socialist dream of equality among men. And…” (He was droll, this gentleman.) “We who guard the people’s inheritance, and have all the while made our little improvements to their property, have…to our misfortune, no doubt…made revolution’s prize the more enticing. But, it is because these young men of the army have lost their pride. A small war will give this back to them; they will then return to their barracks in a generous spirit…”
Honoré felt a hand close on his arm.
“I know you.” The hand was that of his interviewer. “How did you get in…? Never mind. I am going to ask you—”
With his other hand he pressed Honoré between the shoulders, forcing him in the direction of the door, where the porter, alert, had already put his thumb to the lever.
“Merely to ask you, if you will not leave these premises.”
(2017, Stephanie Foster)