A Figure from the Common Lot
Book One: 1870-1871
Chapter One: Cette Illusion de la Mortalité
In the dark, he dressed hurriedly. The windowpanes, even on the inside, were covered in frost. Honoré’s train would leave at the earliest hour; the knowledge had made sleep impossible.
During his convalescence, he had been given the things he needed: his toiletries, and the few articles of clothing he now possessed. These, with an insomniac’s agitation, he had packed in Broughton’s travel case; he had fussed over the folding, the symmetrical laying in place of each garment. Honoré had made his bag’s interior impenetrably tidy. After which, he had nothing to do. He’d lain awake on his cot, waiting.
The large front room was quiet, and bleak, with its shadowed, uninhabited benches. Through the shuttered windows ambient light, strengthening to a grey daybreak, was light enough for his fingers to find the key. He drew back the bolt, and stepped outside, bag in hand. He closed the door behind him, locked it, and left the key on the window ledge. He felt cast out.
Before the house that he believed he would never see again, Honoré paused. A few days earlier, snow had fallen; near the step dried leaves were mounded, pushed there by the wind. He set his bag on these. He adjusted his muffler, and the brim of his hat. He reached into his coat pocket, found his pass and Broughton’s letter of introduction, and took them out. He meant to carry these in his hand. On the street at this hour, he could see only soldiers on duty, uninterested, or able to guess his business by the bag he carried. Still, Honoré did not want to be stopped, detained, kept standing in the cold, questioned and called a troublemaker, because he had lost track of his papers.
At the station, he had asked what trains went to Compiègne.
“Do you have permission to travel there?”
He was disgruntled with Broughton, but Honoré’s faith in Broughton had not yet been shaken. Of course, if he were meant to go to Compiègne, and if some official leave must be obtained, Broughton―who produced suits of clothes, riding lessons, a travel case and a purse of money―would have attended to such a detail.
“Yes, never mind. Tell me what time.” Others waited in the long queue; Honoré had himself done so for nearly an hour, each step shuffling him forward by the length of a boot.
The clerk raised an eyebrow.
“You must have a paper to show me first, or I cannot sell you a ticket.”
“I see.” Honoré undid the top button of his coat and reached inside for his letter. The clerk, after a cursory and disdainful glance, shook his head; he spoke to Honoré, but with a commiserating face, nodded to the man who crowded Honoré from behind.
“I don’t want to see this. Do you not understand me?”
He did understand, now…that Broughton meant to test him.
“Please, monsieur, where do I go, then?” He heard a snort from the man whose business his ignorance delayed, and was told, in a voice impatient and incredulous, “But, where do you imagine you are to go? What house have you come from?” Unable to believe such naïveté, the man pushed Honoré aside and stepped to the counter.
“I am next,” he told the clerk.
Honoré’s friend Hartmann had taken four of his silver coins.
“Herr Broughton is your employer?”
“What is his address in Paris?”
“I will ask him.”
Broughton ignored Honoré’s sullen mood. “You have obtained information of value, Gremot. I had not been aware of this procedure. My own travel arrangements will benefit by your efforts.”
Now, Honoré held, rolled in his gloved hand, his right―being employed as clerk by Edmond Broughton, publisher, whose premises were located on the boulevard Montparnasse―to travel from Sedan to Compiègne. Honoré, with resentment, believed Broughton had known from the start that he would need this.
Shafts of burnished sun crowned a bank of wintry clouds. The street was nearly silent, the air brittle. No vehicle’s approach could have taken him by surprise. He was surprised, however. He had not heard the soft footfalls of the man who had attended him through his illness, walking towards the center of town as Honoré walked away.
“Monsieur! Monsieur Bellet!”
He waved his papers in the air, and crossed at a trot. Now Bellet no longer had reason to visit, Honoré had not seen him for many days, and then only by chance. Bellet waited on the balls of his feet, restlessly poised to move on—a symptom, Honoré guessed, of embarrassment. Nonetheless, he thrust the pass and letter into his coat pocket. Setting his bag on the pavement, he caught hold of Bellet and embraced him. “I apologize, monsieur. I will not detain you for a moment. But I have so much to thank you for. And as you see, I’m leaving now.”
At this, Bellet looked decidedly embarrassed―but in the way of one conscious of having been ungracious.
“You are making your way home,” he said.
Continued from “making your way home”
“No, monsieur,” Honoré told him. “I am sent to Compiègne. I am so much in debt, I may never go home!”
“Well,” Bellet said, “I have been at the hospital, doing my work.”
“I will not detain you,” Honoré told him again. Bellet seemed about to speak, but seeing that his working mouth produced no sound, Honoré added, “You come from a strong family, monsieur. To go so much among sickness, and not to be touched by it. My family, you know…” 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 do not look for me at home. I can just as well go where I am sent.”
Bellet’s face had grown sad. Honoré didn’t know whether this was pity, for these absurdities he spoke, or whether some memory of Bellet’s had been trodden on 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.”
He found 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―Honoré dug into his coat pocket. He withdrew a little book, and from this, the pencil he’d tucked into its binding. He began to write: My dear friend. Broughton had given him this memorandum book for keeping his accounts; and Honoré fell into a worried digression, thinking of money. He did not like to remind himself how his cache of silver coins had dwindled. He might possess a modest fortune in gold…but about these sovereigns, Honoré 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 swaying of the carriage, Honoré did not feel over-conscious. After weeks of digesting the emotion stirred by Biencourt’s little painting, he had come to a private determination. He could not have explained what he hoped to achieve; yet, 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!”
Honoré had heard the shout from the platform. But no, he told himself, they’d had an early start, and Compiègne was not so many leagues away; it was safest not to wander about an occupied town. He would have to change trains at Soissons―backtracking, for want of a direct connection, to Laon―but even for this delay, the journey could not be one of much more than forty or fifty kilometers. He would be in Compiègne, and under, as he hoped, the protection of his employer, by noon. Certainly, that was the hour he had heard a fellow passenger mention. He was comfortable in his corner, and wanted to sleep.
But some hold-up kept the train idling, the cars shuddering each time the stack threw a puff of steam; this precipitating into soot that drifted rearwards and fingered its way through closed windows. Honoré half dozed, was jostled as a bag bumped against his knee; he nodded off again, and was startled by the shrieking of the whistle.
When they arrived at Soissons, already it was past noon. He knew of nothing to account for this slowness. Again, they were warned. The train to Laon would not wait to pick up stragglers. Luck being what it was, Honoré hardly dared venture from the platform. Each reason he’d had for keeping his seat at Reims had been sound, only the underlying premise―that the journey would end in an hour or two (and that in an hour or two he would not starve)―had been false. It seemed to Honoré, as his indecisive steps carried him towards the station, that the air was awash in the smell of brewed coffee. His elbow was seized. A gloved hand and a brass-buttoned cuff dropped away from Honoré’s arm; wordlessly, the guard smacked the back of his hand against his palm.
“What! Can I not go inside to the waiting room without showing papers?” The words came out. A vision of himself, when he’d spoken with Bellet, stuffing his pass into his coat pocket, electrified Honoré. But only his ticket had been wanted, and as he dug this out, he found the pass also safe where he remembered it. The guard nodded towards the station’s interior, and added, as one tying a tin can to a cat’s tail, “Take care.”
“Yes, I will be arrested, if I can’t keep my mouth shut,” Honoré thought, and thought of the gold coins. And he might, had he known which choice was the wiser, have eaten his lunch already.
Then he saw her. Her skirted jacket, smartly cut from some woolen fabric; the gown beneath, rust against the jacket’s maroon, showed quality. Yet these must be castoffs. The colors were similar, but together, ill-assorted. If she had been as rich as her clothes, she would have worn a coat, and covered her ears with a hat, instead of her foolish lace.
But seeing that she walked with a sense of purpose, Honoré followed her through the building, and out onto the street. He watched as she folded her arms, hugging herself. She then released a hand, delicate as a sparrow, and plucked at her scarf—in trying to tug this close round her face, she loosened it. He saw a gust of wind catch at the black lace and throw it back, lift strands of curling, flaxen hair that floated at her back like cirrus clouds.
Their progress to Compiègne would be slow, the night would pass, they should rely on nothing they had been told as to time. The knowing passengers, those familiar with wartime travel, stated these things with confidence.
“Just here, we waited three hours, while they cleared the rails.”
Evening was coming on. The train, along this stretch, ran with the canal side by side; its image lay reflected on the waters. The man who had spoken sat on the long bench opposite Honoré, crowded by a row of seatmates. His face was hidden, burrowed into his turned-up collar. He added, “The train will go on at this speed, barely moving. They cannot patrol these hinterlands; some francs tireurs might sabotage the metals.”
Night fell. Matches flickered alight, and transferred their flames to cigar tips that against the blackness sketched spirals of orange. Honoré drew up his knees inside his coat, and thought of money, his constant anxiety…of pickpockets and gangs of thieves. No one had come to speak to them. He told himself this was good; it meant they were not in danger. In a minute, the train would move.
Bundled to the eyes, he’d seen his own dilated pupils glint in the window glass three times at the flare of a match, and knew the odd sensation of staring at himself without recognition. He breathed through a swath of knitted wool. He tried to feel his lungs at work, to concentrate away the phlegmy catch that interrupted and forced him again and again to clear his throat. He was embarrassed to be making such noises, even granted that from the car’s inmates a fair chorus of sound—snoring, weeping, loud and barking open-mouthed coughs; delicate coughs choked off behind handkerchiefs, noses blown, a woman’s sigh, a colorless voice humming…and someone swallowing the dregs of a bottle―had grown more uninhibited in the enveloping darkness, as the smokers put away their cigars. Everyone awake must feel himself alone.
“…Rue de Brabant.”
He had not started. He was too cold, he didn’t wish to move in any respect. He wanted to close his eyes and sleep again, but the man continued. “I suppose one in a hundred may succeed. Yet if they understood how to earn money, they would not borrow money. When I find this one, I will arrest him myself. Whatever he has on him, I’ll take…but, it will be nothing, of course.”
Rue de Brabant. But there were streets by that name in other quarters of other cities. In three months from the day on which Honoré had borrowed his four hundred francs, he had promised to pay thirty, one-fourth of a year’s interest. He had once had a note with the date on it. But given such reasonable terms; terms, as M. Eckhold had explained—his eye twinkling like a grandfather’s—custom-fitted to his own case, Honoré had been certain of his promise. The note was lost; the date…the date had fallen in September, he knew, during the time of his illness. Two months more had passed. If he were arrested and made prisoner―
He had been imprisoned before.
He thought of the terrifying, irrational hatred of Émile Baum. He saw his troubles multiply. He thought of the coins he held which did not belong to him. He listened, desperately alert, but heard no more of this conversation. In Reims, in Soissons, he might have fled. Southward, he supposed. And the farther south he traveled, would not his alien qualities be so much more apparent? Yet, he might flee now, creep in stealth from the carriage, unseen.
“They will kill us. So slow. We will starve and freeze to death.”
Indeed, the train had begun to move―so slowly, as she said―that Honoré had not woken. He opened his eyes, and she was next to him. A cold sunrise now cast its light over a disarrangement of bodies only beginning to stir. Some in extremity had sheltered for warmth under their own luggage. She had wrapped herself in a woolen blanket, and Honoré saw the black lace of her fichu peeking from the blanket’s folds, exposing her disheveled hair. She had fetched her carpet-bag from its hook, and had placed one boot on either side of it. Now she pushed with her feet, until she’d moved the bag into the passageway; bent, and worked at one of its buckles.
“Oh, my hands are too cold! Will you open it for me?”
Honoré nudged his right knee against hers. At his left sat a man with a cigarette between his lips, apathetic eyes fixed on the dance of sun and shadow over frosted glass. “Pardon, monsieur.” Honoré nudged aside this knee as well, and gripped the edge of the seat between his legs. His left foot had come to rest on the frigid carriage floor while he slept; it was thoroughly numbed. His spine ached. He took a moment to adjust to these conditions, then launched himself off the seat and fell onto his knees. He examined the way the bag was fastened, and decided he must take off his gloves. She, it seemed, did not have gloves. She did not have a proper coat.
He wedged himself once more into his seat, gesturing with the flat of his hand. Honoré had no intention of pulling the mouth of the bag open, or of looking inside.
“I thank you, monsieur.”
She bent forward a second time. She withdrew a parcel wrapped in newspaper. Glancing over her shoulder at Honoré, she waved this back and forth, meaning him to take it from her, while she rooted further in her bag. “This,” she said, leaning back with a bottle in her hand, which she tilted towards him, “is very bad wine, I warn you. I am not hungry myself. You may have that bread, if you like.”
He unrolled the paper, and sat holding the bread on his lap. She put a hand on his shoulder and peered into his face. He thought she was some years older than himself, but not yet thirty.
“I’m sorry if I disturb you, monsieur, when you are ill. You do not need a doctor, do you?” she asked.
He was disappointed to learn that he gave this impression. He hadn’t recovered much in appearance, he supposed. “No, I apologize. I ought to have thanked you at once. You are too kind to me, madame.” He looked around. In addition to his new friend, only two of the other passengers were women. Dressed in black, they sat shoulder to shoulder, under their two coats layered, and whispered a conversation. He was certain he had caught a word or two of Flemish. They had plain broad-chinned faces, and small blue eyes. And they too had thought of provisioning themselves. Each had a crumb-strewn, greasy paper on her lap.
Some of the men in the carriage wore military uniforms. Others chose to travel under hardship for business purposes he could not guess. They were bundled in their greatcoats; their clothes, which might have told something of their status, hidden. Yet, as Honoré recollected, he could guess at the business of one.
“My name,” the woman said, “is Anne Lugard.”
“Here, madame, you will take half of this.”
He broke the loaf of bread, and gave Anne Lugard back her own portion. She handed him the bottle.
“Well, you are right to be careful, of course. I know it myself. I have been horribly treated, monsieur.”
He wished she would not call attention. He had not told her his name, but the omission would tell just as much. It would tell more, Honoré realized. He must be aware of his pursuer, or he would not take such a precaution. He began to think that, in some unaccountable way, he had been marked out already. What would happen when the train reached Compiègne?
“Still you are not eating, monsieur.”
“Madame,” he said to her, “you have been treated badly?”
“My husband,” she said, “is a prisoner at Cologne. Monsieur, they told me so. And of course, my only thought is to go there. They have bankrupted me with papers!”
Honoré nodded in heartfelt understanding. But when she’d cried out, he’d seen heads raised, faces turned in their direction.
“Madame Lugard,” he said to her, “this train goes to Compiègne.”
“I have no choice. I know a man in Compiègne, a friend of my father. I will have made a bad mistake, if he is no longer there. I have no money. For my ticket, I have spent all I had.”
“And did you write to him?”
“I did. But I have been put out of my rooms. It’s the war. If his answer has been delayed, I cannot help it now.” She touched his face, and as she did so, said, “Your face is very white, monsieur. Will you at least have some of this wine?”
Honoré had half-formed ideas that wanted examining. He wanted her to be quiet. He felt well, but if she liked to believe otherwise, he would take the advantage.
“Let me rest for a while,” he told her, closing his eyes.
He could give the gold sovereigns to Anne Lugard. Broughton had said, “Gold is a currency accepted everywhere.” Why not then, in Cologne? They would have done some charitable good, and Honoré would be rid of them. The man―the moneylender’s agent, as he supposed―might have a confederate at Compiègne, waiting for the train to arrive. Honoré might find his path crossed; yet, he would not have fallen into the deeper trap―
The word conjured a picture. Baum, drawing Honoré’s attention away, while his friend made the first attack. The ambush had been staged. He had been fooled; he could be fooled in that way again.
Anne Lugard had not boarded the train when he’d looked for her. But she sat next to him now. It was true, he thought, once you took a share in another’s troubles, you found yourself bound by obligation. M. Bellet, meeting unexpectedly the patient for whom he’d cared, had been embarrassed on that account. Honoré must also believe that Anne Lugard, though destitute, would for the sake of pity offer her loaf of bread to a stranger―having no rooms, no money, and no certainty of finding her father’s friend. She would wave a hand and say, “I’m not hungry myself.” Well, there are such good-hearted simpletons.
Honoré was hungry, but the train had steadily picked up speed; they were entering the outer streets of Compiègne. He was in a state of nerves. He could not touch Mme Lugard’s bread. He must sort this out.
She had chosen him to be kind to. She had invited him to tell her his name. Her story was like his own story. A man in a prison camp, papers demanded; the last of her money spent on rail fare. Soon, she might find herself abandoned in a strange city. A bad mistake.
Perhaps she had no family. The father must be dead, or it made no sense…she would go to her father, rather than seek his acquaintance in Compiègne. Perhaps she was irreligious. Yet the church would extend its hand to her, even were that so. At a cost, it might be, she would not pay. Perhaps she did not dare approach the enemy. But why, from among a carriage of strangers, should she appeal for help to one whom she herself seemed to regard as helpless? Could she believe that Honoré had wealth, or influence? No. But she might size him up, and find him easily deceived.
If he looked at Anne Lugard, he might never notice her confederate.
Soldiers were permitted to detrain; the other passengers continued held in confinement. A uniformed man, who might have been a station gendarme performing the duties of a Prussian officer, walked alongside the carriage, put his head into each compartment, and asked to see letters of safe conduct, or other proofs of identity and business.
Honoré, with quivering hands, sat attempting a posture of indifference. He watched to see who looked in his direction. His mind was busy searching in imagination for his travel papers. He thought that at Soissons, after separating his ticket, he had shoved these back into his right-hand pocket. He remembered he had done this. Then he’d been distracted following Anne Lugard, and had not given them another thought.
Now, as he explored it surreptitiously, the pocket felt empty. Honoré did not like to stand and rifle through his coat. He would draw every eye. One might watch with particular interest, the others find entertainment in his panic: “Ha! See there. Someone always manages to lose his papers.”
Yet Honoré was afraid he had lost his papers.
“Young man. You…in the knitted muffler. What is your name?”
Then it made no difference. He could not conceal his identity; he must announce it before them all.
“Monsieur, my name is Honoré Gremot.”
The man held out his hand. He stamped a heel, demanding esprit. Honoré stood. He fished about helplessly in his left pocket, and again tried the right.
“Monsieur Gremot.” There was something amused in Anne Lugard’s tone. “Are these not yours?” He saw that papers of some sort lay on the seat, next to Mme. Lugard, and too neatly placed, too plainly in sight, Honoré thought. While he puzzled over the mystery of it, the official went so far as to step inside the compartment. “Monsieur! Are these not your papers?” Taking hold of them, Honoré glanced at the letter. He saw his own name, and the name of Edmond Broughton.
“Yes, these are mine. I apologize, monsieur.”
The official was inclined, after this display, to find Honoré untrustworthy. “This first is useless. I cannot say that it proves anything to me.” He dangled Broughton’s vouchsaving letter from the ends of his fingers. With contempt, he shook it. And with the back of his hand, the official tapped Honoré’s pass. “You are a clerk? With what duties are you entrusted?”
“I travel to…” Honoré stopped himself. Broughton had been secretive regarding arrangements beyond Compiègne. Possibly, he was not meant to talk of Paris.
“…begin my employment with Monsieur Broughton. I do not yet know what he will require of me.”
Once again he found himself balking on a platform. Not because he waited for her. Nor did he spot Anne Lugard among the dispersal of unfortunates who tottered, haggard and wan, from his own car; these he allowed to pass by. As station clocks tolled in a close but imperfect duet, Honoré found he had left his train at a few minutes past nine. Twenty-five hours in transit from Sedan to Compiègne. After a night of broken sleep, hunger and fright, he had only this idea: to stand and wait, until the crowds thinned, and he was alone. Honoré had decided that, should the moneylender’s agent call him by name, undertake to arrest him here on the platform, he would run. That was all.
Bitterly he resented Broughton. Certainly, Broughton had sent no one to meet him here. And, no doubt, Honoré told himself, these agents of the moneylenders had at some point, and by some means, contacted Broughton; therefore whatever employment Broughton had once intended for him was now out of the question. Adding detail, as detail occurred to him, Honoré for a time lost himself in the bulwarking of his grievances.
He became aware of how long he’d been standing in place. He abandoned the self-serving philanthropy of which he had nearly convicted Broughton (for of course, Tweedloe had a purpose in grooming Honoré; to spare himself censure, Broughton would first need to convince Tweedloe the task had been hopeless). Honoré could see it: how Broughton had tempted him to steal the gold coins and flee to Bruxelles…stupidly, he had not guessed Broughton’s mind, and had come after all to Compiègne, where soon he would be punished for this theft he had not committed.
He squinted into harsh late autumn sun. He stood outlined by a black ellipse of shadow. Honoré began to feel vulnerable. It was no use having distanced himself from the approach of others, if he couldn’t see them approach. Confounding noises echoed around him. The tread of footsteps rose above the tick and hiss of cooling metal and the rumble of rolling carts. He looked to his left. At once the clanging of a bell obscured all other sound. He spun to his right. Seeing nothing there, Honoré turned in every direction.
He saw a man approach; to his eyes, this man looked suspiciously nonchalant, pulling a porter’s cap onto his head. Could he be a railway employee, when otherwise he was dressed in an ordinary worker’s blouse? The man gazed fixedly at Honoré’s bag. Another sound, that of voices in low conversation, originated―if this were possible―from below the platform.
The distraction, he thought. The attack from an unexpected quarter.
He bent, snatching up his bag, and burst through the entryway into the station building, nearly blinded by the contrast between the sun’s outdoor glare, and this dim, grey glow through overhead glass.
Some minutes later, Honoré emerged from the men’s waiting room, his mind benumbed and surrendering. He sheltered near the wall. He could not track the movements of so many. Already, he’d been shoved from behind, and his heart had lurched; its beat still rattled in his chest. He realized there would be no help for it. He would not see the hand that must soon clamp his shoulder. He could only try to reach the door, over which he could see a sign, one that pointed to freedom:
Place de la Gare.
Telling himself to look calm and self-possessed, to move as though he were at his leisure, Honoré darted and skipped across the concourse. His fingertips touched the door handle. He took a second to crane his neck and peer side to side through the glass. For this hesitation, he found his passage blocked; he could see nothing. Nothing but the large figure of a woman who cradled a tiny dog, while the corner of her bag protruded from beneath her wrap. She’d jumped the curb in a hurry, ignoring strangers who dodged, or failed to dodge, the bag as it swung towards them.
The dog’s eyes bulged, its miniature legs milled the air, the woman’s cossetting arms enfolded it, and in a high-pitched voice, she sang out nonsense syllables. A man using both hands to shift a portmanteau came up on Honoré’s heels; his and the woman’s path converged. Honoré was flattened against the door. They parted like a stage curtain, the woman entering, the man exiting; and before Honoré, Anne Lugard, who had called his name, appeared…as mystifyingly as she had vanished earlier, having slipped through the crowd like a footpad. She took his arm.
When he’d been embarrassed over his papers, she had laughed at him…and he’d evicted her from his thoughts. But pressed against her, looking down into her face, Honoré felt inclined to find some new way of explaining Anne Lugard. He could not scurry away from her, as though she were a detective; the notion was absurd.
“You waited for me,” she told him. His mistrust grew stronger. Why say such a thing when she could not believe it? She had waylaid him going out the door.
He said: “Give me your bag, Madame Lugard.”
“You sound like a thief.”
But if she rebuked Honoré for rudeness, still she allowed him to carry the bag, and as they crossed the street, Anne, her burden made light, turned at the corner and strode ahead, moving in the direction of the river. Honoré felt over-weighted with luggage. All the while, as he trailed her, he expected her to tell him where they were going.
They came to a narrow lane that ran between two hotels. Anne’s boot heels clicked; she bobbed along like an unmoored raft, while Honoré, with a bag in either hand, threaded among passersby in her wake, murmuring apologies. Without warning, she had side-stepped into the lane, saying:
“Here…it will be easiest to go this way.”
Before he’d quite got himself turned, he saw her vanish.
He began to fall behind, his way obtruded, not by strollers, but by the wooden hand-grips of delivery carts, projecting along the way at reckless angles. She had got well ahead, and was now a dark figure, her hair’s bright tendrils haloed against the sun, where the lane at its other end opened onto the street. For a moment Honoré’s doubts halted him. He told himself to throw her bag aside; to do it now, rather than wait until she came back with the gendarme, to accuse him of stealing it. But even as he thought this, he hastened to catch her, while trusting her less. He emerged onto an avenue of shops, and breathed, to his great self-pity, the potent smell of hot bread and roast meat. Duck, with a mustard sauce, it might have been.
But Anne had moved already to the opposite side; he saw her standing before a corner window, under a dress-form draped in blue, she in her red jacket, waving to him. In the distance above her head were tall trees that bore a paper brown scattering of leaves; farther away, he saw a belfry flanked by spires.
“What will I do?” he asked himself.
And every few minutes, as Honoré jogged after her, then slowed to rest, Anne would slow her pace as well, throw him a glance, fall into step with him, reach to tap his shoulder and call his attention to some inconsequential thing. She broke Honoré’s concentration, behaving in this way, as though they were two heedless holiday-makers. Stopping to deplore an ill-kept garden, Anne was reminded of a Paris acquaintance.
“…Sylvie, she is a sort of aunt of mine…it’s a bit awkward for her, this new government. What will she boast about now? Her husband, Honoré, before he was made general, was always asked to attend these country affairs. Because if he hadn’t been there, at some point, they would have had to send for him!” She laughed. Her laugh danced up the scale, and Honoré was enchanted; but if she’d told him why her remark was amusing, he had not listened.
Now she crouched before the wrought-iron gate, and held out her hand, palm up, waggling her fingers to attract the attention of a white cat that lolled on the step and rubbed its chin on a broken corner. Outside the fence, a tree grew from a hole in the pavement. It had scattered a circle of leaves that lay on the walk like copper coins.
This, Honoré thought, is the house. He may ask us to come in…and will give us lunch, I hope.
She rose, adjusted her fichu and shrugged her shoulders. She had lost interest in the cat. Frustrated, Honoré asked, “What is the address of this man you know?”
“Why should you care? You don’t know the street or the man.”
Continued from “street or the man”
He wondered…had he insulted her? They seemed to have devolved into bickering. But if this were a sort of game, Anne began to weary of it; languid now, she led him back in the direction of the station. In silent disbelief Honoré found himself plodding along what seemed an endless march of stone-arched windows, the façade of some great banking house, where well-to-do travelers would bring their letters of credit.
He fell back against a metal grill that covered a basement window. He dropped the bags, sank to the walk, and as the brim of his hat collided with the ironwork, Honoré closed his eyes. He might follow this woman beyond the heart of the city to the other side. The sun would set; she would have him climb in the dark to knock at the door of a stranger’s house. He would be told, “I don’t know you. No one by that name lives here. Go away!” It was more than he could face. He could not walk so many steps carrying this weight. Yet in decency, having taken up with Anne Lugard, he would have to provide for her.
To his surprise, she crumpled. Not in a faint, but in tears.
“I am no use to anyone! Leave me, never mind about me! You came to Compiègne on some business of your own…go!”
He saw the two of them depicted as a tableau, the subject of a newspaper illustration, with their baggage, their abandonment, their wretchedness; the scene would be entitled “Les désespérés”. Despite the cynical intrusion of this thought, Honoré could do nothing but crawl, kneel next to her, draw her into his arms and offer words of comfort. “No, be quiet. But you must tell me how far we have to walk. I am only a little tired. You must be tired yourself.”
“I am horribly tired. I wish only to sleep.” She opened her eyes wide, and looked into Honoré’s.
“There,” someone said. He could hardly believe the voice was that of M. Michelet…and yet—Honoré felt puzzled, as though remembering a dream―what had he been thinking? Michelet was Broughton’s hired man. He guessed, by the sound of footsteps approaching, that Michelet was not alone. But Honoré held Anne’s head on his lap, and could not stand without attending to her. He looked over his shoulder. Michelet was accompanied by a policeman.
“I apologize, monsieur le gendarme. Here is Monsieur Gremot, assisting this woman. She has fainted, I think.”
“Then,” the policeman said, “we will do what is sensible. I will assist Madame Lugard. I have done so before. You and your friend, now you have found him, will go about your affairs.”
Honoré eased a palm under Anne’s shoulders. At this touch, she sat up readily enough. He crouched on aching feet, and reached behind, bracing himself on a crossbar…but Anne shooed away the hand he offered to her. She dipped him a curtsy as she rose unaided. Then, with a closed-mouthed smile, Anne swept her carpet bag high above her waist, let go the grip and snagged it again in mid-air.
“Hmm! This is not so heavy.”
He had seen that unfriendly laughter light her eyes before. He’d suspected her of looking at his papers, and wondered how she’d managed it.
Michelet picked up Honoré’s bag. “Have you found a hotel, monsieur?”
But Honoré was watching the policeman walk Anne up the street. He could not be sure she smiled as, supported by an elbow, she leaned back and tossed her head. And she could not be the woman she reminded him of…the one he had stared at from the hotel room in Paris, before his father had pulled the curtains tight. Anne Lugard, growing small, looked over her shoulder into Honoré’s eyes. Breaking the hold of her gaze, she raised her brows. She might even have wrinkled her nose. It was as though she’d asked him, “Do you understand?”
Michelet tapped him on the shoulder.
“Or,” he said, “have you given this woman all your money?”
Had he? Honoré took sudden alarm. But a pat-down of his pockets found Broughton’s purse where he had kept it from the start. He unbuttoned, topcoat to waistcoat, dug this out, and was in the act of emptying its contents from one hand to the other, when Michelet said, and without disguising his contempt: “You have escaped being swindled the first time; now you will stand and count your money on the street corner.”
Honoré put his money away.
Michelet, nodding then, as though he’d given an order, turned his back and bored ahead past the bank’s entry, driving aside a well-dressed cluster chatting at the bottom of the steps. Honoré watched Broughton’s trusted servant jerk at the sight of a Prussian uniform, tap the brim of his hat, hump the bag sideways, and begin to walk in the street. He appeared to make up his mind that he had meant to do this; he straightened, and crossed at that point, after a sharp turn round the running board of a carriage. But Honoré found in Michelet’s churlishness a perverse gratification. He did not need to thank Michelet for carrying his bag.
Broughton’s bag, he reminded himself…filled, that he would feel beholden, with Broughton’s rummage on his behalf. He could lose this, if need be. He walked on at his own pace, allowing the distance to grow, until he could no longer see Michelet. He was alone. His mind seemed entirely blank.
“I do not wish to be responsible for you.”
He’d come circling behind; using the bag, Michelet now thudded the back of Honoré’s knees, by this assault urging him to move faster. Michelet marched ahead and stood off a few paces, walking in reverse and courting danger, staring at Honoré from beneath the brim of his hat, his mouth twisted in irritation.
“I do not ask it.”
“It is immaterial what you ask, monsieur. I am not employed by you.”
Intuiting a lamppost in the nick of time, he spun, and fell in place beside Honoré, remaining there until Honoré’s indifferent gait had tried his patience…a distance of about twenty meters. Michelet then seized Honoré by the coat sleeve. They descended a short flight of steps, one leading to a deserted promenade along the river. Michelet exhaled the heavy breath of a man burdened by unwanted duty.
“The place I have in mind is not far.” He struck off again; forgetting, in his eagerness to be free.
Honoré came upon a bench, littered with leaves and fallen twigs grown over in lichen. He stopped, brushed these aside, and sat. He felt the coldness of the metal invade his limbs. His eyes rested on the water, where red and white birds’ wings dipped and floated hypnotically; these were the painted colors of idled barges reflected against the green of the river’s shallows. Where the current ran, the Oise was the color of iron. He saw an algal slime lapped by water along the stonework…and Honoré dreamed of a canvas covered only in splashes of pigment, yet so arranged as to make a picture―red, white, olive, and grey; the yellow of the sun and sky’s pale blue.
“You see.” Like a cork, Michelet again re-surfaced. “Now I don’t know what to do with you.”
Waking briefly in response to a series of stimulants―his shoulder shaken, his collar tugged, his hat lifted―Honoré murmured, “I apologize. My bag has become lost somewhere. As soon as may be, I will leave.”
“You misery! Get up!”
Yet Michelet pitied Gremot…only, he pitied Michelet more. He dropped beside his charge, hurting himself somewhat by his effort to rock the bench (bolted, as it proved, to a pair of concrete footings). He was about to let the bag fall, but changed his mind, raised it over his head, and with force hurled it earthwards. The noise made no difference.
To Michelet’s mind, by far the most appealing notion was to leave Gremot. It was close to mid-day, and he wanted his lunch. “Why,” he asked himself, “do I sit here? I will come back another time.” But at the instant he felt persuaded to this plan, the thought came to him: Gremot will be robbed of his money.
It brought Michelet up short. He had had time enough, in these last months, to brood on the lies that had made it seem good to him to serve a foreign army, thus to share its fate. Michelet saw himself grown hardened in his heart. His degradation had rendered him bereft and friendless, dirty, tired and ill, ugly in temper, repellent to others…and they―no less the French than the Prussians―had treated him with cruelty. Cruelty beyond any justification…as though, if the victim were only some despised beggar, brutality pleased them.
He badly needed his present employment. And Mr. Broughton had hired him, not for charity, but because he considered Michelet competent. To manage horses, certainly; but also competent to do an errand as instructed. Which of himself, Michelet knew to be true. Therefore, he would not betray the trust on which his future depended. He took out his watch and held it in his hand, checking it from time to time. He allowed an hour to pass.
Once again, he shook Gremot awake.
Disoriented and surprised, his chin still resting on his chest, Honoré looked at the flowing river, at one or two withered leaves that had drifted onto his coat; at Michelet, who, he now remembered, had come to fetch him. He had dreamed a vivid dream, of riding on a train destined for Paris. He had even heard the wheels shiver along the rails.
“I apologize,” he told Michelet.
“You always say that you apologize.” Michelet shrugged. “If you felt sorry for anything, why should you always be apologizing instead of making your behavior less offensive?”
“I apologize,” Honoré said, “because I do not mean to disagree with anyone. I have never asked you to help me, but I’m sorry also, if you offend yourself by doing so.”
Michelet snorted. “I am to report to Mr. Broughton that you have arrived at Compiègne. He asks me to find out your hotel. None of this should be so difficult.”
Honoré stood and stretched, and grasped the handle of his own bag before Michelet could anger himself with more helpfulness. He said, “Monsieur Michelet, do you know Anne Lugard?”
“Why should you think so?”
“But you say that her story was a lie?”
“I have never heard her story.”
“But,” Honoré persisted, “you think she could not have been telling the truth. You said it yourself, that she tried to swindle me.”
“It’s an old game,” Michelet said.
The hour was late the following morning, when Honoré left the Hôtel de Picardie. Although shying from its evident luxury, he had agreed to this hotel…because Michelet had been determined to lead him here, and because he had no argument to make against Michelet’s wish to be rid of him. Honoré’s nerve failed at the thought of asking Michelet for money, and he’d been too famished and travel-worn to strike off on a search of his own. The bill would come due in the morning. This Hobson’s choice invited the embracing of his fate; Honoré had therefore signed the book, and meant to sample the hotel’s every amenity.
After flannelling away a quantity of black dust from the stubbled and sunken-eyed face seen in the glass, he had gone downstairs again, to sit at the table d’hôte, surrounded by Prussian officers billeted at the Picardie. Honoré kept his eyes on his fork, and ate from every course (of these, there were not many).
Sleep restored some portion of his common sense. He woke and found the decision made: he must confess to Broughton. His face was this morning closely shaved, his hair trimmed; he had bathed, breakfasted in bed, dressed himself in a brushed-down suit and polished shoes. He looked as much at home in the Hôtel de Picardie’s lobby as the gentleman in the fur collar, asking his questions of the concierge. Yet Honoré held back, while his eyes traced the design of the carpet’s center medallion, and he listened to their talk. He was not eager to settle his own bill.
“I have heard there is a train to Le Havre, but the news changes every day.”
The concierge shrugged, and the traveler, discontented with what he had to accept, pushed Honoré aside as he left the lobby. Honoré watched him through the door, seeing that no one loitered there, within or without, looking like a detective. He’d expected he might come down the stairs to find his pursuer coolly waiting for him. He surveyed the rows of plush chairs along the walls. His gaze passed from the fountain bubbling opposite the marble fireplace to the restaurant’s arched entryway. He peered back up the staircase; finally, craning to study the shadowed nooks behind and to the side of the reception desk, Honoré advanced a pace or two. In his hand he clutched one of the gold sovereigns. It was a reckoning to which he’d known he must come.
He glanced again towards the door, to the right and to the left, as he approached the alcove near the desk, then shuffled backwards to stand next to a luggage trolley. He was certain his mannerisms bore all the marks of criminal knowledge.
“Do you believe that,” he asked the concierge.
“Eh?” Thinking perhaps that he’d heard a soft voice speak to him, the concierge raised his head. A moment’s peering side to side found Honoré in his hiding place. The concierge raised an eyebrow. Honoré cleared his throat. “Do you believe that you could accept this as payment?”
He flung himself at the desk, leaned breathless on his elbows as he slid the coin across, and said those things he had admonished himself not to. “I was given it by my employer. You see, Monsieur Broughton is English. I don’t.” He laughed. He suppressed this laugh. “Know if it will be enough. I have another of these…” The concierge picked up the coin and turned it head to tail; tail to head. He threw it against the desk’s mahogany surface, cocked an ear to its to ring and spin. He took it up a second time, and held it to the lamplight.
“Well,” he said to Honoré, “I can’t say. I must go into the office for a moment, and speak to Monsieur Dufoy.”
Honoré circled his bag, kicked it the desk’s length, and kicked it back. He lifted the bag and tried Anne’s trick of tossing it in the air, and catching it by the handhold. He did this twice. He wondered why he ought not to run. Now. The concierge bounced through the swinging door from the office into which, an interminable time ago, he’d disappeared, and said, “There is, of course, a fee for the exchange of foreign currency.”
Despite the scorn of Michelet, who was not present to offer his opinions, Honoré openly counted his money. He’d trotted to the foot of the hotel steps, allowed the bag―he had conceived for it a certain animosity―to tumble from his hand, and foraged about in the pocket where he’d thrust the unlooked for sum he’d received in change. Albeit M. Dufoy, having discovered an error on the original, had re-totted Honoré’s bill; and added to this, the fee mentioned by the concierge had meant breaking his second sovereign…yet, of the three coins Honoré drew out and dropped into his left palm, one was a ten franc piece.
“I would jot those figures down at once,” Broughton said.
And continued, giving no sign that Honoré was now on his hands and knees, picking up the money that Broughton’s voice at his back had caused to slip through his fingers: “I have found it true of myself…although I have age for an excuse…that I forget things when I put them off, imagining that at another time I will get around to them. When you are finished bringing your accounts up to date, I will have a look at your book.”
The book was filled with nonsense. Honoré had meant to discard the pages he’d used to practice his writing. He could do nothing about that now. He’d meant to deduct the price of the lunch bought from a cart after he’d lost Anne at Soissons. He had never done it. With no excuse to offer, he reached into his pocket, and handed the book to Broughton. He felt humiliated.
“I find,” Broughton said, “that you have recorded two transactions, and that you have calculated the sums correctly.” He returned the book. “If you like to keep a diary…an entirely commendable practice; I keep one myself―your funds are adequate for the purchase. I do not deny you, Gremot, the liberty of spending your allowance on any article which you consider material to your work. I ask merely that you keep careful records.”
Along the rue de Compiègne, Honoré rode seated next to Broughton; holding to, for the most part, an austere silence. Broughton had pointed out a cab, which Honoré had thought was nothing to do with them, but which stood so close by the curb that, in the act of restoring his coins to his pocket, he had glanced up and seen the driver grin.
“Gremot, will you tell the cabman I shall be along shortly?”
Honoré could see no reason to repeat what had been overheard; but, after marveling that Broughton now entered the hotel—(A moment ago! he told himself, I paid my bill. Can it be that he wants to know?)―followed his employer’s instruction. The grin changed to a grunt.
“Are you getting in?”
Well…Broughton had not said so; but Honoré, simmering, supposed he was, and did. Broughton returned. Honoré moved aside to make room for him.
“I hope I find you well this morning, Gremot?”
“Oui, certes.” Honoré’s eyes were on his own gloved hands, which rested on his lap.
“Have you had your breakfast? We have yet one stop to make before we set out.”
“Je ne veux rien.”
“Your handwriting,” Broughton said, “has very much improved.”
The cab deposited them at an inn close to the city’s westward boundary; thus, by that distance, closer to Paris. They met Michelet in the stable yard. Here Honoré saw, to his surprise, Mignonne, tossing her tail and showing her teeth to the younger and fatter horse Michelet had bought for himself, and had ridden―always cantering ahead, never, in courtesy, keeping to Honoré’s side―on their jaunts to overlook the Iges peninsula, and the place where the canal widened, mingling with the Meuse.
Aloof from the others stood a small grey with a cropped mane. Broughton, catching hold of its bridle, his voice cutting across the conclusion Honoré had just begun to draw, said, “There is a pleasant road that runs along the Oise. We will make our way in easy stages. We are in no particular hurry.”
Why had he suffered by himself on the train, if they had planned all the time, Broughton and Michelet, companionable and traveling at their leisure, to bring the horses down? Honoré was angry with Broughton, and was lost so deep in his brooding on this matter of horses—while Michelet cleared his throat and coughed, tugged at Honoré’s sleeve, jingled Mignonne’s bridle, slapped his hand against her saddle―that only Michelet’s last snort of exasperation woke him to the fact that he had climbed onto her back.
Michelet tossed up the reins, and Honoré, taken off guard, let them drop; then dropped himself with rigid caution over Mignonne’s neck, and groped for them. Michelet spun, jumped onto his own horse; thudding his heels into its tender belly, he shot away, while Honoré was reminded minute by minute of another skill he’d shunted to the back of his mind. Mignonne swayed into a slow walk, following in the wake of her stablemate. Honoré wrapped the leather around his hands until he’d got both the horse and himself on a short rein, and did what Michelet had many times admonished him not to―“You must keep your eyes on the road ahead, or you will never learn to balance!”―he splayed his feet in the stirrups, heels out, and kept his eyes on his own hands. He was afraid Mignonne would break into a trot.
Broughton, following after Michelet, made a smart turn onto the street and pulled up, waiting for Honoré to quit giving his horse contradictory signals, upon which release Mignonne quit advancing with a side-to-side motion. Broughton caught her by the halter, and with the one-handed grace of an experienced horseman, led her in tow until they’d begun to close on Michelet. Broughton then lifted his hand, and left Honoré to guide his horse alone. They moved from the town to the highway, becoming part of a slow stream of vehicles; most commandeered for the ferrying of supplies to the encamped armies that now surrounded Paris, while along the rails the inexorable siege guns made their way closer to the city walls.
Again, Honoré put his thoughts aside, irritated by the traffic that called for so much more concentration than his lessons had demanded; and noted also that Broughton’s other servant, far from being sprung upon, called to account at short notice, sent unaided to make every choice without advice, rode―pointing and jerking his head to indicate something behind him―at Broughton’s side, their conversation out of earshot.
As Honoré’s right hand fell to his thigh, the reins slackened; he remembered then to turn his heels down and inwards. He sat up straight and tapped Mignonne on the ribs…and did not kick his mount in the belly, as Michelet in anger had. She quit allowing herself to be driven, then, by the shifting hooves of a riderless horse tethered to the back of a wagon, towards the ditch. Honoré was astonished and proud to have pulled from some recess of stored experience this sudden mastery. He tapped Mignonne with both heels at once, and she picked up speed.
No, it was not so much that Broughton’s expectations, as he stated them, were unfair. Broughton had not spoken abuse to Honoré; he had done no more than call attention to a shortcoming. Yet, on the other hand, and contrary to his promise, Broughton made mysteries; worse, in making them, he played favorites. To Michelet he confided. Honoré felt maltreated, and felt also that Broughton had a low regard for his intelligence.
Should he suppose that Michelet, having lost him at the station, where, as Honoré calculated, he might for an hour or more have been found waiting on the platform―
“But Monsieur Michelet arrived at a particular moment! And he found me in a place where I had not myself expected to be.”
Here, he came close to unseating himself, unable to subdue the extravagant sweep of the hand called for by this exclamation. Was it possible? Michelet had not really answered Honoré’s questions about Anne Lugard. And why should Broughton, who would have learned from Michelet that Honoré could be found at the Hôtel de Picardie, surprise him there on the steps, rather than send his card to Honoré’s room?
Fetching up at last near the others, he heard Broughton say, “We are not far from the town of Verberie, Monsieur Michelet. I have it in mind to stop there.”
“If we stop every two miles, we’ll be a long time making our way to Paris, sir,” Michelet answered. Honoré listened, intent, to this command of English. Michelet was Canadian. He had once had unfriendly things to say of the British…but yet, coming down to it, he was perhaps more British than French. He and Broughton were compatriots. Their understanding of each other went beyond a shared language. Honoré felt an alienating awareness of his own deficiency.
“Nevertheless, evenings come on early at this time of year. I find it practical to stop at a well-provisioned town…” Broughton interrupted himself with a small laugh.
“…assuming that we find it so―and to take no chance of being caught past nightfall on the road. Tomorrow, we will begin after breakfast and ride, I hope, as far as Creil; on the third day of our journey, we must present our passes at the north gate. It is imperative that we reach Paris at an early morning hour. We may be made subject to delays that we cannot anticipate.” Broughton raised his voice, “Gremot, you are falling behind.”
“Monsieur.” Honoré, as the main of Broughton’s remarks had not been addressed to him, changed the subject, and said, with an ill-suppressed indignation: “In privacy, I ask for your advice.”
“Assuredly.” A few moments passed, and Broughton added nothing more. Honoré wondered whether he had made himself understood. He must speak to Broughton alone.
“Now we are well outside the city,” Broughton said, “we have this portion of the road substantially to ourselves. Nothing better affords privacy than a country walk, should you have a matter to disclose that you wish no ears to overhear. I will ask Monsieur Michelet to lead the horses ahead and to take stabling at the Hibou. But only, Gremot, if you feel it would not be disagreeable to go a mile or two on foot.”
“No, I agree,” Honoré said.
Broughton then addressed Michelet directly, “Will you ride ahead with the horses, Monsieur Michelet, and will you secure for us two rooms at the first inn you will come to along the way―if they have so many available…else, certainly, take whatever they have got. Do you have money?”
Michelet said, “I can manage well enough, sir.”
Honoré, with more difficulty than the others, brought his horse to a halt. He dismounted, led her forward, and handed the reins to Michelet, who tipped his hat, and said in English, “I thank you, squire.”
Broughton walked in peaceful quietude at Honoré’s side for several minutes, and made no attempt to urge the conversation. His other servant, last seen rigging a train from the horses’ tackle, soon passed them with a clatter of hooves, a pointed stare for Honoré, and no word.
“Monsieur Broughton…I may be arrested.”
“You are at odds, Gremot, with the law?”
“I am not. I obey the law. But I did not have the intention, Monsieur Broughton…my expectations were not this.”
“Shall I surmise that you are troubled over a matter of debt?”
“I heard,” Honoré began, after a long silence.
He recalled his fear that Broughton had spoken with his pursuers; that Broughton knew already the thing he was now confessing. Broughton would tell him, “There is nothing I can do for you. You had better leave.” And this―Honoré could see it at once―was the reason Broughton had sent Michelet away with the horses. Next, he would demand the return of his money. Vividly, this pictured affront affected Honoré’s pride. He brought one foot in line with the other, and took no further steps. He pulled off a glove and unfastened his coat, so that he could dig out Broughton’s purse. He would hand the money over and be done with it.
“Gremot,” Broughton said, “you are feeling quite well?”
“Your money.” As had the station gendarme with his letter, Honoré held the purse with the tips of his fingers; and with equal disdain, shook it at Broughton.
“I am afraid,” Broughton said, “that I have managed things badly. I apologize for that, Gremot. You have likely never had an allowance. I ought to have sat down with you over your accounts…I must offer the poor excuse of having been in something of a rush. But you were about to tell me what you had heard.”
Stopping to put his things in order, Honoré lagged; he then said, with a cold hauteur…and after catching up to Broughton, “Rue de Brabant.”
“You are cryptic, Gremot, but I will suppose that the name carries a special significance. You heard someone pronounce the name of this street; you feared, as a consequence, that you might be arrested. Forgive me, if I have gone astray in my conclusion―you have provided me only two pieces of information.”
“He said he would take what I had, but I had nothing.”
“And who was this man?”
“I could not say.”
“Can you describe his appearance?”
“I heard him speak…” Honoré saw his case weakening. But why did he need to argue with Broughton? Of course, though it had been dark, he knew the voices had come from the opposite corner of the carriage. He ought to have studied the passengers seated there; yet, no sooner had he been awake, than he was distracted by Anne Lugard. She’d embarrassed him, offering charity, saying again and again that he looked sickly and pallid. He had only thought of surveying the others to know their reactions. And if Anne Lugard had changed her place, so might anyone have done.
“You heard him say, ‘I am hunting for a man named Honoré Gremot’,” Broughton prompted.
“No, no, he said only what I have said.”
“I believe, if one were seeking to arrest a man, one would not make such a rather obvious mistake. Why, if you will consider the question, should a detective wish to discuss openly circumstances of professional interest, in a rail carriage where he suspects his quarry to be sheltering?”
He’d racked himself over this manhunt, which now took on the semblance of illusion. Honoré again began to feel embarrassed. “That may be so…but then, Monsieur Broughton, why do they say these things?”
“Gremot, you present to me that you overheard part of a conversation. You did not hear the whole conversation; I submit to you, that you must know what a thing is, before you can determine why it is.”
They passed by a shuttered cottage, its garden in neat trim, the abandoned appearance a ruse, perhaps, to protect the larder. “Did you tell Michelet we stay here, at Verberie?” Honoré asked. “Or do we have our lunch, and go on?”
“I intend that we will stay the night here. As I have said, easy stages. Gremot, while we yet enjoy the privacy of the open road, I will ask you a question. Are you aware that a debt may be purchased? Gremot.” Broughton’s voice sharpened. “Twice today you have allowed this nervous habit to get the better of you. You must not start.”
“I apologize. These men on the train…”
“We will have no more of the men on the train. Tweedloe permits me, at my own discretion, to inform you that he has taken possession of your debt. He has paid to one with whose establishment, I believe, you are familiar—one Monsieur Eckhold—the full value of your borrowings and interest thus far accrued, for you were scarcely in default. Tweedloe has added the amount to your other debt. And so you see, no one seeks to arrest you.”