It is never easy being a republican revolutionary while living in an absolute monarchy and for Bossuet, who never caught any of the lucky breaks his fellow revolutionaries did when it came to arriving on time to exams, having pocket money or not getting hit by gendarmes who did not believe in freedom of assembly, it was certainly going to get harder. He was not an optimist by nature; he viewed the world with a slightly sardonic detachment and the constant assumption that Fate Was a Bitch and he expected to never succeed at anything. To that end, he had lost his familial property (unwise speculation cost him the farm land, and an attempt at putting up a lightening rod on the house had, ironically, caused the house to get hit by lightening, catch on fire and burn down), his apartment (his landlady was not happy to find illegal republican newspapers behind her Fragonard prints), his money (Bossuet had since forsworn cards, the stock market, business affairs, horse races, dominos, masked balls, cut-purse prostitutes and eating in cafés), and any hope of passing the bar within the next five years. This was not the worst fate he could imagine, since it meant loafing around Paris doing nothing but occasionally signing his name on the attendance record, but it did entail receiving mail.
He dreaded the arrival of his mail with the sort of paranoid distrust of the universe that his dearest friend and now roommate Joly had when it came to health and the human body. Something was bound to go wrong and that something would probably be at his expense. Bossuet therefore made a great production of opening his mail by taking it to the backroom of the Café Musain. With the air of one of Racine's heroes, Bossuet would thrust out the letters to Courfeyrac who, being at heart a paladin, was always happy to be of service. Since Courfeyrac liked to indulge in extremes of emotion, he entered into Bossuet's self-parody with relish.
Bossuet therefore skipped his lecture for the day and went into the back room of the Café Musain by the back way, up the private stairway on the Rue des Gres. He was fortunate enough to find Courfeyrac drinking coffee with Combeferre.
"Ah, the dread messenger has arrived!" announced Courfeyrac, immediately breaking off his debate with Combeferre over what constituted a legal manifestation of the will of the people. Bossuet assumed that Courfeyrac had been losing but, since it meant a. that Bossuet would not have to open his mail himself and b. Bossuet could, in some small measure, help a dear friend, Bossuet thrust out the letters at once. "That's why you skipped the tort lecture today!"
"You are skipping the tort lecture too," Combeferre pointed out. To emphasize his disapproval, Combeferre took off his glasses and began polishing them with his pocket handkerchief.
Courfeyrac squirmed in his seat. "Yeees, technically, but Enjolras already took the class and give me his notes and—Bossuet, my dear fellow, two letters? You must be faint with terror!"
"My brow and my bald spot are as pale as the parchment before me," Bossuet announced dramatically. "I felt it the moment I walked into Joly's apartment and saw wax seals on the end table in the hallway. Joly was out attending Saint-Hilaire's lesson on the carotid artery—"
"My favorite lecture!" exclaimed Combeferre.
"—so I cannot tell you how much time passed—"
"Why do you need Joly to tell time?" asked Combeferre.
"I lost my pocket watch to Grantaire," Bossuet explained, mildly irritated. He had been getting into his monologue, dragging out each syllable to the point where he started pronouncing even the ones that ought to have been silent. Bossuet reflected that he had been about to give a performance Talma would have applauded if Lady Luck had not decided that he had not been pummeled enough that day and had subjected him to Combeferre while in a more extroverted temper than usual. "As it turns out, he can drink two bottles of absinthe without passing out and I still owe Jehan ten francs. However, I cannot tell you how much time passed, except that I saw the whole of my wretched existence and knew it to be at an end! With the last of my fading strength—" Bossuet grabbed a chair from an empty table and collapsed into it "—I rushed over here. Oh spare me my cruel fate!"
"Alas, I cannot stop the fall of Damocles' sword, but I can try to catch it and…." Courfeyrac trailed off and frowned. Though he had the eloquence of Demosthenes when placed in a courtroom, metaphors still occasionally eluded him. This irritated Courfeyrac even more than the fact that damp weather made his Romantic curls frizz up into something more befitting a gorgon than the dandy he aspired to be.
"Fling it into a nonvital part of his body?" suggested Combeferre, who, did not possess a poetic temperament, either, but was not bothered by it.
"Where is Jehan when you need him?" asked Courfeyrac. "Bad luck, that. Well, if Baron Pontmercy is not to shaken by his run-in with logic and the Republic, I shall beg him for help. Marius writes poetry in between doing his translations, but I think the translations sell better than the poetry. His style is too romantic to be commercially successful, as any true poetry ought to be. Let me see?" He held out his hand with an unconscious flourish that reminded Bossuet that Courfeyrac had a particle before his name and an ancestral home that dated back to Francois Ier.
Bossuet tossed the letters to Courfeyrac, who broke the seals on each of them and skimmed through them. Bossuet never knew if Courfeyrac really understood, as Joly did, how much Bossuet really did dread opening his letters, or if he had just started opening Bossuet's correspondence because it was something to do when there was no more wine and Combeferre once again could not be provoked into losing his temper.
"Be not alarmed, the first is from your uncle Jacques Dupont," said Courfeyrac, "thanking you for the legal advice and for confirming that his lawyer was not trying to cheat him. I have spared you the excess punctuation, as I doubt you would enjoy this very provincial garnish, but, alas, his thanks comes only in this form, and the observation that it must be extremely difficult to be a lawyer since there is so much to know!"
"And none of it examined very strenuously," replied Bossuet. "Still, I have yet to take the required number of courses to be eligible for my license, though I doubt they are necessary to pass the bar. What of the next one?"
"Euh…." Courfeyrac frowned. "Not quite so… oh lord, you have one of those aunts."
"Aunt Agathe Wodehouse?" asked Bossuet. "She wrote me a letter? She was supposed to be in America… no, her husband died two years ago, now that I think about it, and she moved back to France. I got enough from his will to attend enough classes to pass my first year of law school. Well, hello Guignon, old luck. It has been two days since you took the form of a bored pugilist out for my blood. Perhaps you had just better read the whole thing aloud, Courfeyrac."
"You will not take some anesthetic?" asked Combeferre, deftly removing Courfeyac's hipflask and pushing it towards Bossuet.
"You had better follow our doctor's advice here," said Courfeyrac, looking up from the letter with a comforting smile. "I have an aunt like that too, Aunt Mathilde, she who nibbles on broken glass when she feels peckish and who kills rats with her teeth. When I was misbehaving as a child, my parents would threaten to send me to stay with Aunt Mathilde." Courfeyrac shuddered histrionically. "I still await the day when my father asks me why I mean to go for a doctorate in law if I never go to any lectures and threatens to send Aunt Mathilde to check on me."
"My Aunt Agathe is… not going to… check up on me, is she?" asked Bossuet, so startled by this round of bad luck he could not keep up his attitude of good cheer.
"Oh, my poor little eagle," said Courfeyrac. "She certainly is." He tilted his chair back on two legs and read the following:
To my nephew Legles:
My brother Georges has informed me that you have at last put your education to some use and have provided him with sound legal advice. He also noted that since your father's house burned down you are without funds of your own, and had to pay sixty francs (highway robbery!) for each class. It is no wonder that you have yet to pass the bar. It is not, as I thought, merely an indication of your laziness and your father's peasant blood, though I never said my dear sister had married beneath her. It is merely because Paris is expensive, as Boston is more expensive than Springfield.
No longer having children of my own, and no patience for the whining, sticky-faced creatures my late husband's sister passes off as my nieces and nephews, though I would never call them such, I am determined to come up to Paris and see if you are worthy of assistance. I will arrive….
Courfeyrac trailed off. "Oo. She arrived today. La de da, posh address near the Luxembourg Gardens and more instruction:
Do not attempt to visit me. The porter will certainly send you away as a vagabond, since I have seen what some of the students at Harvard wear and it is enough to cast aspersions on the parenthood of a Lee of Virginia, though I would never say something like that, and your bloodline is not nearly as good. Write to me before the week is out, or I shall not count you as a member of the deserving poor.
Mme Bertram Wodehouse
Bossuet opened Courfeyrac's hipflask and drank.
"I have never liked the phrase, 'deserving poor'," Combeferre said, to break the silence. "How can one judge whether or not someone is deserving?"
"I know how Aunt Agathe will," said Bossuet. "Am I a good Catholic Royalist, not plotting the overthrow of the government and not sharing chambers with a medical student convinced he will die if his bed points east? At least Joly's father is a fonctionnaire, even if his grandfather was a watchmaker. I never thought I would say it, but Bonaparte was good for something."
"Do you even know the name of any churches?" asked Courfeyrac.
"… St. Petersburg?"
"That was truly impressive," said Courfeyrac, after a moment's stunned admiration.
"I would say 'good luck'," added Combeferre, "but, as much as I hate to credit luck with anything, I would say that this endeavor seems… doomed to unequivocal failure. At least you have us to help you write a reply."
"What, and actually see Aunt Agathe? I would prefer to have my doom in a written form that can be flung onto the fire and burned out of my memory instead of said doom being not-quite-shouted at me from across the dinner table, though of course she never said anything about it!" He scratched his balding head. "At the same time… Aunt Agathe has a widow's jointure that makes the gross national product of Poland look like Feuilly's income and my pockets are out to let…."
Bossuet's income came mostly from relatives who liked to say they had a nephew/ cousin/ grand-nephew taking studying to be a lawyer in Paris and who had no idea that to be a practicing lawyer, one only needed two years at university, or, as one of Courfeyrac's friends had done when his savings ran out, a week spent cramming to pass the bar. Bossuet had spent five years at law school without ever bothering to take the bar exam, since he could never interest himself enough in attending the requisite number of classes. It was much more fun to stay in a café and debate the Rights of Man and Citizen than go off and learn how to correctly file an appeal in a law court that was corrupt and arbitrary anyways.
Upon receiving the generous donations of his relations, Bossuet tended to spend it all within a month. If Joly was around to open his letters, Bossuet would pay his tabs at all the cafes, bookshops, boulangeries, etc. that he patronized and then get thoroughly drunk on the rest; if Courfeyrac opened his letters, Bossuet would wake up about a week later with an empty pocket, a hangover, vague memories of how he had spent the past seven days and the certainty that he had enjoyed himself immensely and simply had to do it again when Uncle Moreau's check cleared. To fulfill his day-to-day requirements, Bossuet made very bad translations of English articles for French newspapers and very good copies for anyone willing to hire him. Since Joly, his particular friend, had a father who was a fonctionnaire, Bossuet always knew he had someplace to stay, someone to cheerfully invite him to dine and a friend who, though fake-scolding him about it, would lend him whatever sum he needed badly enough to borrow off of someone. Though Bossuet honestly saw a life of borrowing off of Joly as his realistic option for the future, it was oddly appealing to think he might, whenever he wished, yank the magnets from Joly's hands, announce that they were going to the Comédie Française to heckle the classicists and then hire a box where they could hiss at the members of the Académie Française at will. Or rather, Bossuet would. Joly would probably be overcome by giggles and, completely ignoring the point of the theatre, focus on what was happening onstage. Joly had an odd susceptibility to Moliere. Bossuet mentally revised his plans to include Bahorel and Courfeyrac, so as to have the pleasure of hissing at the classicists in three-part harmony.
"It cannot be as bad as you are making it out to be," Bossuet said.
"If your Aunt Agathe is anything like my Aunt Mathilde then yes, yes it will be," said Courfeyrac. "Do you remember when you actually had a decent coat, and I invited you as part of a group of… oh, what was the phrase, jeunes charmants, to go to my Aunt Therese's ball? Do you remember how, after you lost a game of cards, a wrinkled old harpy sniffed and said that gambling was the first step on the road to hell and then, when you said something quite witty that I have entirely forgotten, just as I have forgotten the location of my hat, she harangued you for an hour?"
"I also dropped the punchbowl on her pug," pointed out Bossuet. "She had reason to be angry with me."
"Not to the point where she attempted to baptize you with that same punchbowl in private. And remember, Bossuet, old fellow, your aunt has been living in Chateaubriand's America, where the force of the elements and the Puritan legacy has no doubt strengthened her voice and hardened her yet further against your degenerate bohemian lifestyle."
"Still," said Bossuet, nerving himself enough to pick up the letter and look at it himself. "If I do nothing, Aunt Agathe will tell the rest of my relatives not to bother helping me and I will have to find a job."
"What a dreadful situation, Legles," Courfeyrac said, with a wince. "I always hate to be the bearer of bad news."
"I bear worse," Feuilly said, coming in and locking the door behind him. He lowered his voice. "Our printer's been arrested."
"What?" asked Courfeyrac, the legs of his chair abruptly coming into contact with the floor. "He hasn't…?"
"No, not as far as I know. Enjolras is trying to finagle his way into being our printer's legal representative since he has passed the bar." Feuilly took off his cap and scratched his head. "It's enough to make one think of the violent seizure of Poland—"
"Yes, but what charges?" asked Bossuet, who had no interest in Poland at this particular moment, sad though it was that Poland was being forever partitioned.
"I have no idea," said Feuilly. "And besides, Enjolras told me that it was not… an entirely sure thing that they will give our printer a trial."
Courfeyrac took the moment to swear so creatively all the rest of them felt impressed by his hitherto unknown reserves of literary talent.
"Do the police know who was publishing the paper?" asked Courfeyrac, once he had drawn breath.
"Not as far as I know. The atelier where I work is right next the print shop. There was some sort of scuffle when I was leaving to pick up lunch for everyone so I hung around until I say the gendarmes dragging Choderlos away. I sent Gavroche to annoy, that is, to interrogate the gendarmes boarding up the shop. The printer was arrested for slander against the king. Since it was slander and not libel, Enjolras guessed the printer had said something indiscreet. If he said something about us…." Feuilly trailed off.
"But Citoyen Choderlos is a good fellow, and a stalwart republican," protested Combeferre, after a moment. "Since he fancies himself a new Coleridge, the worst I can see happening is him taking more laudanum than is good for him and saying something seditious in a café while thinking himself in the company of friends. He would not betray us. Still, this will spook the other printers and our pamphlets and papers will be momentarily halted. This might be a good thing; indiscreet as we sometimes may be—" this with a somewhat reproachful look at Bossuet and Courfeyrac, though Bossuet could not remember what exactly he had done to earn Combeferre's scolding "—there are those with even less of a sense of caution. Revolution but civilization; we cannot tear down without building up something new, something better in its place."
Bossuet remembered heckling a couple of actors while seated with Courfeyrac in the Gods, at the Comédie Française, but he could not recall what he said, or if he had said anything along the lines of, "Down with the absolute monarchy" instead of "Your Tartuffe is an abomination and you are too fat for your costume". That had happened fairly recently. Was that it?
Courfeyrac thumped his fast against the table in a suitably dramatic fashion. "We must get word of this illegal arrest out to the people!"
Feuilly pulled a chair up to their table, Bossuet and Combeferre moving over to make room for him at once. "I met Bahorel on the way over. He said he would start in the Ile-de-la-Cité and move on from there. Joly is supposed to meet him for lunch somewhere around there, and Bahorel said he would send Joly back to the Latin Quarter to send word through the students. I haven't much time myself and Enjolras is really the one who knows all the leaders of the associations—"
"No, I mean the people," insisted Courfeyrac. "The wider public has to know about this. The Chamber of Deputies refused to pass the censorship bill Polignac tried to push through! The king has no right to do this, we have to tell—"
"How?" asked Feuilly. "They have arrested our printer and destroyed his press. Do you really think the Constitutionel would be willing to print a law student's defense of the free press when it is becoming very clear the king no longer needs the permission of the Chamber of Deputies to do what he wants to do? They have already arrested our printer and smashed his press; no working man is going to risk the same thing happening to him."
No one quite knew the answer to that. There was relative safety in publishing an anonymous newspaper; a policeman could always overhear someone whispering about revolution and drag him off to the prison, but it was harder to arrest someone who might, perhaps, have written something in a newspaper that bore no trace of his handwriting.
Courfeyrac had once been to prison because he had been extremely glum over living in an absolute monarchy and believed that the best thing to cheer himself up would be by getting himself a policeman's hat, even if the policeman was still inside it.
The policeman had not agreed.
Courfeyrac had not enjoyed his stay in prison, even though his ultraroyalist father had bribed Courfeyrac out of prison within days and obliviously warned Courfeyrac that, even if a group of older students told him he absolutely had to steal a policeman's hat to be part of the Freemasons, it was decidedly not part of the initiation rites to the Freemasons and, here take this handful of louis d'or, as he would be better off flirting with some grisette in a café or going to the Voltaire (it was still the Voltaire, was it not?) to play billiards. Courfeyrac's complaints had imbued the rest of the Amis with a lingering distaste for incarceration and the awareness that they did not have titled, ultraroyalist fathers to post bail.
At this point, Jehan came in and, looking at the glum faces around him, timidly asked what was the matter. Feuilly and Courfeyrac explained, until Combeferre looked up and said, "Perhaps…?"
"Yes?" said Bossuet.
"We could try and buy our own printing press," said Combeferre, slowly. "Enjolras still lives on the second floor in a respectable area near the Sorbonne and has a very Spartan approach to using his apartment. He wouldn't mind if we set up a press in what used to be my bedroom and is now his study. How we would raise the money, though…."
"Oh, I spent my allowance this quarter," said Jehan, deflating. "I wish I had known—I would never have bought that Ming vase, even though it sets off my violets very prettily."
Bossuet scratched his hairline, mentally noting that it was, alas, even higher than yesterday. "I doubt you alone could afford it, Jehan. Let me think… of all of us, the ones most likely to contribute would be... Enjolras, obviously, you, Combeferre, you, Courfeyrac, you, Jehan, me, Joly, Bahorel, and potentially you, Feuilly and perhaps Pontmercy, if you have managed to win him back over, Courfeyrac. You were a little harsh with him Combeferre. Now, of the eight of us, Enjolras, Jehan and Courfeyrac are actually wealthy, but—"
"Spent my allowance," Jehan sighed.
"Funny thing about betting on cards," said Courfeyrac. "It is much more difficult to win at them than popular novels would have you believe."
Combeferre polished his glasses in disapproval.
Bossuet decided to continue on. "Joly is well-off as opposed to wealthy, as in he has a two-bedroom apartment, albeit on the fifth floor, in a good part of the Latin Quarter, he can afford new clothes and his parents still pay his bills, but all his extra income is going to wooing what's-her-name, Musichetta. He would pull out for the good of the republic, but he is mad for the girl. I am growing mad just listening to him."
"So no on Joly," said Combeferre. "Bahorel…?"
"I never know if he's finished wasting his allowance for the quarter or not," said Bossuet. "I assume he has because he only came over to say hello to me and Joly yesterday after we'd opened out bottle of wine. Feuilly?"
"I make three francs a day," Feuilly said. "That's not going to help at all."
"No, not really. Combeferre, you are…?"
"In Joly's position, only a little diminished," replied Combeferre. "After rent, what money I get goes towards books and, if there is anything left over, I buy food and clothes."
"You would bring in Erasmus," said Feuilly. "But can you do anything?"
"No, unfortunately. I only have my food allowance until the end of the quarter."
"I know for a fact that Grantaire just poured the last of his allowance into a prodigal amount of hashish," said Bossuet. "I cannot understand why he likes the stuff. There are ways to doze among the stars without smelling like a Turkish harem. I fear he is in great danger of losing his title as the jolly prince of drinkers. Ah, Jolllly, the dear fellow, keeps a very bourgeois reserve of francs in his mattress, lest he ever fall ill enough to have a successful self-diagnosis. I have very little doubt that he would object to using it to doctor our ailing republic with actual news."
"Ah ha!" exclaimed Courfeyrac. "There's a good fellow for you, transforming his bourgeois practices into treatment for our nascent republic! He was made to be a doctor."
Combeferre began absently sketching a moth on the tabletop with a fingertip. "Still, Joly's reserve, plus whatever Enjolras has… Bossuet, you have gone back to living with Joly, so you—"
"Now know that betting anything against Grantaire is a stupid idea, even if Grantaire's math skills are abysmal."
"—and Marius, who was showing such progress before the unfortunate Corsica incident, has yet to be converted him from—" with a grimace of distaste "—Bonapartism."
"Even then the poor fellow is hard up," said Courfeyrac. "He has next to nothing and no idea how to live on that."
"I cannot see how we can afford it. The best we can do is provide our printer with legal counsel and hope to find another printer… though, blast, they will all be spooked by this and pull back. Bossuet, you work as a copyist sometimes…."
"I am not copying out fifty newspapers," Bossuet replied flatly. "Placards to post by the Hotel de Ville, yes, newspapers, no."
"We could have cut costs earlier on by giving our free copies only to the literate," pointed out Feuilly, with whom this was a particularly sore point. "I try to make my political cartoons as accessible as possible, but even they use words sometimes."
"Yeees, well," said Combeferre, clearing his throat. "Unless we make mistakes, how can we know how to proceed correctly? We managed to provide new soles for a number of shoes the first few editions and after that, we managed to find our actual target audience."
"Or actually awaken the souls of our fellow Parisians?" quipped Courfeyrac. "Ah, Bossuet old fellow, luck seems to have tired of playing with you and has moved onto us."
"That or we see again the pitfalls of arbitrary monarchy," replied Combeferre, quite dryly.
"I could sell my long narrative poem on André Chenier," Jehan said doubtfully, having lost track of the conversation some time ago, "but the meter's off in the seventeenth stanza and I have no idea how to fix it."
"Well," said Bossuet. "This is not exactly a promising way to start the day. I lose another sixty francs skipping class without getting someone else to sign the attendance sheet for me, I receive word that my Aunt Agathe, who I strongly believe turns into a werewolf around the time of the full-moon, is coming to visit, and our printer gets arrested. All I need now is for Joly to give me his cold."
"Does he have one?" asked Jehan.
"He's gone to a lecture at the medical school," replied Bossuet. "He will come back with something."