A Figure from the Common Lot
Book One: 1870-1871
Chapter One: Cette Illusion de la Mortalité
Readers, A Figure from the Common Lot is off the blog, as I’m preparing a fresh edit; next to send it out for consideration by publishers. But I’ll leave behind a sample, below.
In the dark, he dressed hurriedly.
During his convalescence, Honoré had been given those 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; minutes spent over the folding, the symmetrical laying in place of each garment. He had made his bag’s interior impenetrably tidy. After which, he had nothing to do. His train would leave at the earliest hour…the knowing made sleep impossible.
He had lain awake on his cot, waiting.
He saw the windowpanes, even on the inside, covered in frost. The large front room was quiet, and bleak, with its shadowed, uninhabited benches. Through 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, 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’d 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.