Chapter 2A Chapter by Charles Konsor
Autumn — 1729
I can see the guillotine from my window.
Patrick’s hand movements were quick and sloppy. The words on the page were barely legible. Umbrellas were popping up in the square below his window like mushrooms after the rain. The old couple who always arrived just as the market opened were already at the apothecary. And beggars were settling into their usual begging locations. He had to be quick.
A sharp diamond within ancient mushroom fields,
Square cut triangles, round about ways
‘No, no,’ he thought to himself and scratched the last two lines out. He tossed his quill into his ink bottle and sat back in his chair.
His neighbor was working late into the night—or early in the morning. Her headboard steadily banged against Patrick’s wall as her customer made heavy grunting noises—like a pig fighting through the others when the slop was poured. The woman, however, stayed silent. Indeed, she had never made a sound as long as Patrick had been there. For a moment he wondered at this. Perhaps she was deaf, or perhaps she found no pleasure in the act.
But no, he was in a hurry. The sun was already peaking over the buildings which surrounded the Cort Marée, reflecting off the blade of the guillotine.
Six days since it last dropped
And already the bloods forgotten
The echo of the twentieth bell
Drifting in and out of urchin ears . . .
The fervor with which Patrick wrote had caused his hair to fall over his eyes. It was long hair—long enough, at least, to reach the collar of his shirt—and it always seemed to gather itself in one big brown wisp which hung over the left side of his face.
Patrick brushed this wisp back and tucked it behind his ear, catching a glimpse of the guillotine as he did so. At first he didn’t take any notice of it—he saw the guillotine every time he looked out his window. There was something in that glimpse, however, which caught his eye. Something which made him look back toward the guillotine.
There was a little beggar boy playing on top it. He was lying on the teeterboard and carving something into the lunette.
And a little beggar boy plays on the guillotine
Patrick look up again. If the blade had dropped the boy would have been cut in half.
Yesterday he had his first kiss in its shadow
Tomorrow he may have his heart broken by the blade
But today he sits alone,
Carving a message into the wood
As the sun rose higher into the sky its reflection bounced off the guillotine into Patrick’s apartment, striking the open cupboards on his back wall. Tea cups, glasses, and plates borke apart the light and the scattered rays moved through dusty air, illumination a mattress in the corner, a pile of books next to it, and a pantry empty but for a loaf of bread. Other than that, there wasn’t much else in his apartment.
The sun rose higher and its reflection moved down from the cupboards onto the top of Patrick’s head, then into his eyes. He gave his head a slight twitch and his wisp of hair fell back over his eyes, blocking out the light, and Patrick quickened his pace.
Twenty Bells lead us
And because his hand was tired from gripping the quill too tightly, he finished the poem abruptly.
I can see the guillotine from my window.
Without waiting for the ink to dry Patrick tucked the poem into his leather binding, grabbed his coat from the back of the chair, and took the two steps it required to cross his apartment. He threw his coat on as he jumped down the stairs and as soon as he stepped out onto the cobble of the Cort Marée he began weaving his way through the crowds.
The broad shouldered butcher who set up shop just outside Patrick’s apartment had recently slaughtered a sheep, forcing the old couple who always arrived just when the market opened to step gingerly over the pools of blood as they made their usual rounds.
“Good day, Mr. Butcher,” the old man said, straightening up his thin and hunched body as much as he could in order to address the butcher proudly.
“Aye,” the butcher grunted back at them.
“Fresh caught sea turtle!”
A man in a red beard with five sea turtles stacked on his head held one out in front of Patrick and the animals head rolled side to side. “Only 5 reales.”
“No, thank you,” Patrick said and ducked under the turtle. Within a few steps he was accosted by the violin beggar—an old man with a gray beard and a tri-corner hat who always played merry tunes.
“Yes, very nice,” Patrick said as the man bounced around him smiling, but he had no money for the man. Nor did he have any money for the little boy with quick fingers who bumped into him a moment later.
A harlot posing as an orange seller started to follow him saying thing like “I’m clean and juicy and all ready for ya sir,” but Patrick blew passed her and she soon started following a chubby fellow in a top hat.
A toothless woman tried tell him all about the end of the world, but here too he brushed the woman off. He had no time for these things today.
Patrick had arrived in Montivello almost a year ago and had yet to publish anything. At first he made excuses for the delay—he needed to take it easy for awhile, his head was too mixed up, he couldn’t face rejection just now—but with the anniversary of his arrival fast approaching he was faced with a concrete measure of his inaction. He could no longer rely on excuses, he could no longer blame the events of the past. Indeed, if anything the past made publishing all the more necessary. The numbness he had felt over the last year was beginning to fade and was being replaced by a strong desire to . . . to . . . to do something.
He had awoken early again this morning and while he was staring up at his ceiling and listening to the dull thud of his neighbor’s headboard, he deiced that today would be the day. It was that simple. He would write a poem and find someone to publish it.
The writing had been easy. He had been scribbling out poems long before he arrived on this
Indeed, he had to sheepishly admit that he rather liked the poem. It wasn’t a masterpiece and it wouldn’t change the world, but there was something in it which stuck with him. Maybe it was the image of the boy playing on the guillotine, or maybe it was the simplicity of the opening line. He didn’t really know what it was, it was just . . . something.
“Finally,” a man said as Patrick passed under the stone arch which led out of the Cort Marée.
“Sorry, Clius,” Patrick said to the bespectacled young man learning against the side of the arch. “I was writing and lost track of time.”
“Writing, ehh? And what are you writing these days?”
“Just a poem . . . about he guillotine and the Roselière and what not.”
“The Roselière, really?” Clius said, perking up at the name. “Can I read it?”
Patrick smiled and started walking on. He wouldn’t have minded showing the poem to Clius, he had shown him his writing before and there was nothing too terribly personal about this specific poem, but they were already running late.
“They’re saying Lord Reinard was going to take up the Roselière’s cause again,” Clius said when he had caught up with Patrick. “But that Brigadier Marcotte had him exiled. I’ve also heard
“Have you read it yet? Suite
Patrick glanced back towards the Cort Marée. The arch that led out of the square bore an inscription which had become habit for Patrick to read whenever he left: The tide flows, the city sinks. The opposite side of the arch, leading out of the Cort Marée, bore a similar inscription: The Tide ebbs, the city rises.
He had always found these words to be unusually poetic, especially since the Foncé Île—the district which included the Cort Marée—was not a poetic place. The streets were too narrow and badly in need of repair. The chief business was prostitution, followed closely by thievery and begging. And the district was literally sinking.
The Foncé Île was surrounded by canals and so was technically an island. This wasn’t so rare in Montivello—a city stitched together by canals. However, because of poor building methods, deteriorating canal banks, and perhaps even the weight of general misery which pressed down on the district, the land of the Foncé Île was slowly sinking.
This made for a peculiar sight along the canals where the bridges would have to drop a full fathom lower on the Foncé Île side than they did on the shores of the neighboring districts. It also created a problem in during the winter when the high tides inevitably over whelmed the canal banks and flooded the district’s streets.
This annual event made the inscription on the Cort Marée arch particularly apt. When the tide rose the city—or at least the Foncé Île—sank.
“I mean,” Clius was saying. “You have to respect what they stood for right? I was able to go to school and it helped me. And maybe I didn’t agree with everything they did, but at least they were doing something.”
“Well, they did kill quite a few people,” Patrick said.
“Right . . . and of course I don’t agree with that so much, but . . . but say they had succeeded and everyone in Montivello were allowed proper schooling. That would have been good. I mean, you have to respect that, right?”
Clius wasn’t a revolutionary, nor was he a gossip. When Patrick first started working with him he thought he was both. He loved to talk about big things like the Roselière rebellion or the Censure Garde’s tyranny and e seemed to know all the latest gossip about Brigadier Marcotte, the Konstantine, and anyone else who was somehow involved in the failed revolution. But he also told stories about how the districts were named, or how a certain family came to power.
Unlike the rest of the Montivello peasantry, Clius had been allowed education—a gift from his uncle who had recently made his fortune in the spice trade. While there, Clius developed a taste for history, and that was why he liked the Roselière so much.
They were a part of living history, a part which Clius had lived through. For years people would be talking about them. Stories and myths would arise, historians would debate the revolution’s worth, and some child somewhere would hear the story and decide to take up their mantle and fight the battle anew.
Clius loved the Roselière because they had tried to do something historical.
Patrick loved them simply because they had tried to do something.
“I’ve heard of a similar revolution that took place some fifty years ago,” Clius said as they reached the Coulé Pont—the bridge which connected the Foncé Île with the neighboring Cloche district. “Led by someone from the Marcotte family I think. My, how they’ve changed, ehh? There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t hear some new tale of Brigadier Marcotte’s tyranny.”
“Please sir,” a beggar woman said, following them onto the bridge. She was holding a young girl in her arms and both of them had the dry brittle leaves of autumn stuck in their hair—bushy hair swept wild by the winds blowing along the canals. “Please. My husband, he’s been imprisoned for debts. I need just a little money so I can get him out. Just a little.”
Patrick had no money. All he could do was quicken his step. In his head, however, he penned a line: Brittle leaves cover the drag of brittle bones. Like badges of poverty, each one heavier than the last.
“And so this poem of yours,” Clius said when the woman had turned to follow another man. “What exactly is it about?”
“Nothing . . . well, maybe I can read it after work.”
Patrick ignored Clius. “I have a little business to attend to.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you could just tell the boss I had to do an extra delivery or something, and pick me up at the Pont Marais in a few minutes.”
“Why? Where are you going?”
“It shouldn’t take long.”
“Thanks Clius,” Patrick said and turned to go.
“Alright, but be careful Patrick,” Clius called after him. “Now is not the time to have secrets in Montivello.”
Clius’ words stuck with Patrick as he navigated the Cloche streets. “Now is not the time to have secrets in Montivello.”
He knew nothing about the printer he was going to see. Indeed, the only reason he had chosen this publisher was because he put out a rather popular journal of poetry. The journal was never too controversial, but who knew what else they printed. Most printing houses published under dozens of different names, and if the printer hoped to make any money at least a few of their book would be illicit.
Rumors of the Censure Garde’s raids had been floating around since Patrick first had arrived in Montivello, but recently—with the rise and fall of the Roselière—these rumors had become more vibrant and much more credible. Wouldn’t that just be his luck—he finally decides to publish a poem and he gets arrested as soon as he steps in the door. But there were hundreds of printers in Montivello and what would be the chance that the Censure Garde raided this one during the few minutes Patrick would spend there?
The shop was in the shadow of the Cloche bell tower. There was a dog outside the shop who was staring up at the top of the tower and Patrick watched him for a few minutes, trying to see what he was looking at. He never figured it out, but as he pushed open the door reading Beringer Press he penned another line: Like dogs who stare blindly into the sky, we dream of taller things.
Half a dozen presses were in full operation just inside the door, but none of the printers took notice of Patrick. Instead they were all listening to a tall man with short red hair who was relaying a story.
“The countess told everyone that the mark on her face was a mole or a beauty mark.
The printer’s laughed at they continued their work—painting the type with ink, setting a fresh sheet of paper over it, and lowering the press.
“Of course with the countesses countless other misadventures, the rash spread throughout the
The storyteller wasn’t a very handsome man; or rather he was very nearly handsome. His features—a long flat nose, a strong jaw, powerful hands, and pale blue eyes—were all quite attractive on their own, but when combined together they gave the man a makeshift look, as if he hadn’t been put together properly.
“So that’s the story of how one stable boy single handedly saved the Montivello makeup trade. Though it should be noted that Lord Claremont’s face never had the privilege of bearing the blemish.”
The printers all laughed again and the storyteller, who was the only one who had noticed Patrick, took the opportunity to address him, “Yes, what do you need?”
“I’m looking for Mr. Beringer,” Patrick said, stepping forward. “Are you him?”
“And what do you want with Mr. Beringer.”
“Well, I just . . .” Patrick started. All the printers had stopped printing and were looking at him. “I had a poem which I wanted to show him . . . you know, in case he wanted to publish it.”
“And where are you from?” the story teller asked, having picked up on Patrick’s accent. It wasn’t so different from the Andora accent—perhaps a little less eloquent and delicate—but people in Montivello always seemed to be able to pick it out.
“And what do you want with me?” a new voice asked. Patrick turned to find an old man standing in the hallway behind the presses.
“Oh . . . are you Mr. Beringer.” Patrick asked. The man nodded. “I have a poem and I just thought that perhaps . . . maybe you’d like . . .”
“Come on back,” the old man said and motioned for Patrick to follow him down the hallway.
The printers all returned to their pressing as soon as Patrick left. That is all except for the storyteller who watched Patrick walk down the hall. Patrick could feel the eyes watching him and halfway down the hall he stopped, turned, and met the man’s stare.
The storyteller hadn’t expected this and his look of suspicious quickly changed to one of curiosity. Curiosity with a touch of envy and what seemed like admiration. But no, Patrick thought to himself, envy and admiration couldn’t go together.
“Hurry up boy if you please,” the old man called from his office and Patrick was foced to break the stare and hurry into Mr. Beringer’s office.
“Thank you sir for agreeing—”
“Your poem,” Beringer said, holding out his hand. Patrick flipped through his leather binding for a moment before finding The Guillotine. The old man took it, leaned back in his chair, and began to read it. As he did so, however, he also reached into his desk drawer, pulled out a pistol, and calmly placed it on the desk in front of him.
Patrick shifted his weight nervously and his wooden chair squeaked. Mr. Beringer looked up at him for a moment as if scolding him for having moved, but then let his eyes move back to the poem.
He was a surprisingly old man—at least 60—and his face showed much of the age. It was full of wrinkles and the skin was very loose, almost as if it had begun to melt. Indeed, the skin over his eyes seemed to hang especially low so that Patrick couldn’t see their mood when Mr. Beringer turned back toward him.
“So who sent you here?”
“Sent me? No, I just thought if you liked the poem—”
“Was it Blundell? Him and his Censure Garde? Is that it, you’re part of the Censure Garde.”
“No, no of course not. I’m just—”
“Or Marcotte? Has he finally come after me?”
“Marcotte? No I . . .” Patrick started to say as Mr. Beringer let his hand rest on the handle of the pistol. “No, I’m not a spy sir . . . I’m just a poet . . .”
“Mr. Beringer cocked the pistol and Patrick spoke more quickly. “Well, not a poet per say . . .I mean I haven’t published anything yet . . . but I thought if you liked the poem—”
“And how did you find me?”
“Well . . . I just asked someone where the Beringer Press was,” Patrick said. He let his eyes glance down at the pistol. “Plus . . . it says Beringer Press right on the door,” he said, pointing over his shoulder in the general direction of the front door.
Mr. Beringer continued eyeing Patrick for several moments. Again, the skin over his eyes made it impossible for Patrick to decipher the meaning of the stare. Eventually, however, the old man un-cocked the pistol and leaned back in his chair.
“And did it really happen?” he asked.
“The stuff in the poem.”
“Oh . . . well, there was a boy playing on the guillotine, but he didn’t have his first kiss there . . . at least I don’t think he did . . . I guess I could watch tomorrow—”
Mr. Beringer gave a wave of his hand and Patrick fell silent.
“It’s a good poem. Quite a good poem.”
“Well, thank you . . . and . . . and does that mean you’ll publish it?”
“Oh . . .”
Patrick shifted in his chair. He felt like this was the moment when he was supposed to get up and leave, but he didn’t. He was determined to publish something and he sat back in his chair. “And may I ask why not?”
“Because I like my head and I’d rather not lose it.”
“You think it’s too controversial?”
“You can’t publish a poem about the guillotine and not expect to meet with it.”
“Well, it might be a little divisive—”
“A little,” Beringer said with a laugh which made his wrinkly skin shake. “You’re directly attacking the Konstantine for her use of the guillotine.”
“No, I don’t have anything against the Konstantine,” Patrick said. “Besides, I was just writing down what I saw.”
“Well, that’s precisely the problem, isn’t it? You’re supposed to see the world as the Konstantine wants you to see it, not how it really is. Why do you think the Censure Garde has to approve every publication whether it be a poem, pamphlet, or play? And let me tell you, there’s no way they’d ever approve this. Especially with all that Roselière business of late.”
“It’s not exactly about the Roselière . . . I mean maybe, but not necessarily.”
“Right . . . but you thought the poem was good?”
“Listen,” Mr. Beringer said, leaning forward slightly. “Bring me another poem. One which doesn’t damn the Konstantine or insult her way of rule or show her cities flaws. If you bring a poem like that, I might be able to publish it.”
“You might be able to publish it?”
“. . . so . . . so if I ignore what I see and write a bunch of lies, you might publish it.”
“Precisely,” Mr. Beringer said cheerily. “Or if you prefer, you can write erotica. That always sells well.”
Patrick considered him for a moment. He couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or just comical. Whatever it was, it didn’t suit Patrick. He plucked the poem from the old man’s hands and made for the door.
“Wait,” Beringer called after him, but Patrick continued out into the hallway.
“Wait!” he shouted again and Patrick stopped. He didn’t turn around, but he waited for what the man had to say.
“Let me see it again.”
Patrick hesitated for a moment. He wasn’t going to change his poem or write flowery pieces just to get published. He was young enough, still, to have principles. More important though . . . he was also afraid that Mr. Beringer was right, that if he did publish The Guillotine he’d soon find himself lying beneath it.
But today was the day he was going to get published. It had been almost a year and he had to do something. He had to accomplish something and so he stepped back into the office and handed the poem back to Mr. Beringer.
“Well,” the old man said, considering the poem anew. “. . . perhaps . . . perhaps I can convince the Censure Garde that it’s a warning against revolution.”
Patrick didn’t say anything. Inside his head his principles had suddenly been replace by excitement, but he didn’t want to admit it, so he stared blankly at Mr. Beringer.
“But only if you promise to bring me another poem as well. One that has nothing to do with the Konstantine. It doesn’t have to be fluff, but it can’t be so damn contentious.”
“Consider it done,” Patrick said. He stood and held out his hand, mostly because it felt like what he was supposed to do at that moment.
“And your name?”
“Your name. The name you want it published under.”
“Oh . . . Patrick Darby.”
“Your real name?”
Mr. Beringer shook his head as he moved out from behind the desk. “Well, Mr. Darby,” he said, shaking Patrick’s hand. “I think it will be a miracle if you make it through the winter with your head still attached.”
“Oh, well, I’ll try to hold onto it tightly,” Patrick said. “At least until I get you that other poem.”
Patrick thought the joke was alright, but Mr. Beringer didn’t laugh.
“Right . . . well, good day to you sir,” Patrick said and made for the door. Before he could cross the threshold, however, Mr. Beringer grabbed him and pulled him back into his office.
“What are you . . .” Patrick started to say, but then he noticed Mr. Beringer pointing down the hallway to the printing room which was now filled with the black uniforms of the Censure Garde.
© 2008 Charles Konsor
Shelved in 1 LibraryAdded on February 7, 2008
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