Bits and Pieces of Chapter 1
Camille Desmoulins sat in a dingy café, and frowned. In front of him sat a tankard of mediocre, watered down wine he hesitated to drink. It would probably claw his belly to the trots, but he was starving. Bending closer, he gazed at it with a jaundiced eye. He’d had very little to eat all day, and ran on the last vestiges of nervous energy.
He decided to wait for the barmaid to bring the bread, and looked out the window to the narrow streets. The day waned, and the city lay in heavy shadow. Soon, it would be dark, the end of a momentous day, the beginning of the States General. He wondered how nature could be so blasé about it. God should rejoice and make the day longer, brighter.
He studied the wine. Tonight, it looked all right, and he took a sip. It wound down to his empty belly and sat there. Camille let it settle. No pain spiked through his innards, so he took another sip.
With a dull frown, he sighed.
Educated as a lawyer and almost thirty, his career of law-copying hardly paid enough to survive. Except for his love for Lucile Duplessis, he despised everything about his life. He lived in a wretched rooming house, ate vile, tasteless food, and his clothes were shabby. Thick, lank hair pressed heavily against his head with layers of powder. The heels to his shoes were rundown with a buckle missing from one, and there were ink stains on his shirt. He could only afford bad wine and coarse bread. He couldn’t even spare a sou for a cut of cheese.
The barmaid bore down on him with a loaded tray. Walking fast, she reached up and pulled off of a chunk of bread. She did not stop or look at him. In a rush, she slapped it on the table next to his tankard.
Camille sniffed. Good bread was hard to get, and the stuff in front of him was probably filled with crawly insects. He broke it in half, and waited for bits of it to move. He scowled as he watched. Vermin had gotten into it.
The barmaid walked by with the emptied tray, and he grabbed her wrist. “Do you have anything that is fresh, or at least, not infested?”She pulled away. “No. You have what you have.”
A man walked up to his table, holding two glasses of wine. Elaborately dressed in bright blue brocade, frothy lace sprouted from his wrists and the front of his coat. Half drunk from the bad wine, the peacock hurt Camille’s eyes. “Well, if it’s not Louis Stanislaus Fréron gracing a poor fellow in a rank bistro. What are you doing, here? You’ll soil your pretty clothes.” He grinned at Fréron.
“I knew you’d be here, drowning your sorrows in this filth of a place. How can you call what you’re drinking, wine?”
Fréron handed him a glass, and taking it, Camille drank from it. Much better. He waved his hand. “Ah then, sit, sit mon ami. I am trying to be in good spirit tonight. There is a small glimmer the States General will change things without violence. Were you at the procession, today?”
“No, I was not.”
Camille wanted to thunder to the rafters how momentous this new States General was, but he only waved his glass. “Why not? You must comprehend it’s the first time in more than a century the three estates have gathered to solve our country’s internal problems.” He drank.
Fréron sighed. “Do not become overheated, Camille. Nothing will come of it.”
Abruptly, Camille mourned. “Oui, mon ami, I comprehend. You are saying the clerics and aristos may sit in the same hall together, but not the clerics, aristos, and the third estate, eh? Our common folk who break their backs for the other two estates are nothing, and should not be counted, n’est pas?” He gazed bleary-eyed at Fréron.
Fréron sipped his wine. “Mark my words, only bloodshed will awaken the monarchy from their death-like sleep. It isn’t too far away, either.”
Camille sagged. “I saw de Robespierre today. He is a delegate.”
Fréron shrugged. “He’s a humorless prig. His arrogance turns men away from him. Do not be envious. As I said, he and the delegation will come to nothing.”
A little wobbly, Camille gazed into the cup with his bread. It looked very soft, now, like a moving mush, and he scowled. The damn stuff played havoc with his innards until it was hard to justify the eating of it, but he must. He was half starved.
With a grimace, he scooped it in his mouth with his fingers, and swallowed it down. It was fetid.
He regarded Fréron, who watched with disgust. Camille cried, “What?”
“What are you eating? It looks terrible. Must you eat it with your hands? Doesn’t this place have a spoon?”
Camille wiped his chin with his sleeve. “What do you think?” He laughed. “Oui, it is incredible de Robespierre should be a delegate to the States General. I wonder how he did it. Who do you suppose he convinced?”
Fréron waved for more wine. “Someone very much like himself, I should think. He is too stiff and puritanical for my taste. It’s not how a man representing his province should be.” He paused for a moment, then added, “There’s something about him that makes me very cautious whenever I see him.”
The barmaid refilled their glasses from a pitcher of wine.
Camille nodded, a stupid grin on his face. He felt the effects of the wine. “Oui, oui. He is fastidious. Turns men away. Too clean, eh, my friend?”
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