La Nouveau Riche

La Nouveau Riche

Status: In Progress

Genre: Romance

Houses:

Details

Status: In Progress

Genre: Romance

Houses:

Summary

In 19th century France, a prisoner come into fortune seeks to destroy the upper classes by entering them and subverting them on the inside.
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Summary

In 19th century France, a prisoner come into fortune seeks to destroy the upper classes by entering them and subverting them on the inside.

Chapter1 (v.1) - Chapter One

Author Chapter Note

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: January 29, 2017

Reads: 34

A A A | A A A

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: January 29, 2017

A A A

A A A

ONE

In February of 1818, the streets of Paris were so covered in snow that a carriage could easily be stuck in the streets, and trapped until a street rat could be convinced with an offer of a few francs to dig it out. Of course, at that point the horse would usually have gotten itself free and galloped off to the nearest shelter, and had to be retrieved, often by another helpful citizen, which would cost the driver another handful of francs, depending on the weather and the will of the horse. And of course, it cost money to travel through Paris on the best of days. Naturally, the bourgeois avoided travel in Paris, and the only carriages on the streets were those who traveled for a living – the mail, the delivery of goods, the news and the services.

But that was not to say that the streets were ever empty. Those whose daily pay would not cover the costs of housing still slept in the snow, children still ran about the streets for entertainment, the lowbrow and the peasants stood at street corners and in shop doorways, calling for business, which never came easy when the only people within earshot were counting francs to choose between a dinner that night and a breakfast the next morning. In such an environment, slight discomforts were exaggerated, a few harsh words became a slight worthy of a street brawl. Hoodlums were quick to seize their chance, and if a passerby wasn’t careful, and made a turn into a darker, narrower street, it wouldn’t be long before they had no money left to pay for passage to return home.

In the midst of this chaos, Maulais Street was the only refuge for the decent. Maulais was no church,  there were still plenty of thieves and miscreants lurking about, and a God-fearing mother of decent upbringing would never have let her children near it on the best of days. But for the odd lost stranger in the wild streets of the city in winter, Mauvais was a safe haven, always dependable for the same salespeople, who had been there it seemed forever – Boville’s pastries, with plump M. Boville standing outside the door in tattered apron, rattling off the names of pies on display in his window, had been there it seemed since the dawn of Paris, and anyone in the neighborhood recalled begging their mothers to take them there for pie as a child. And the dress shop, where old Mm. Vetement and her five young girls sat day by day, stitching and rolling at rough cloth that would be wrapped around the one standing doll by the door. Each year, they created a new masterpiece, the most expensive dress in the shop, which could never be bought, for the price was always too much for the people of the quarter, and not enough for the wealthy passersby.

And others there, as well – the paperboy at his stand, the fruit stand where thieves snatched an apple for their families day by day, and at the end of the street, it seemed since childhood, the milkmaid had stood with her cow, calling “milk, half a franc! One tankard of Fresh milk, half a franc!”

No one quite knew where the tiny slip of a girl had come from; just like the rest, it seemed she had been there forever. And yet she couldn’t be more than thirteen years, barely taller than the animal she milked each day, wrapped in ragged clothes that never seemed quite warm enough, with the wide eyes and face of a child. Perhaps she was older than her face, some wondered, or perhaps she had simply seemed essential since the first day she arrived. People who were now grown up would wander down Mauvais again and smile with wistful remembrance when they heard her cry “half a franc, one tankard!”. There was something warm and comforting to her, the quality of person who one always assumes will be there, and notices when they are not. In a way, she was like having milk in the home. And yet for all that they knew she was there, no one really knew her name.

She stood there, ankle deep in snow, wrapped in a ragged shawl and shivering her way through each winter, and would sometimes talk to the sellers and squatters near by. But she never moved from her place. Some wondered if she even slept or ate. The cow was a brown and white, the mildest looking creature anyone ever saw, and though she was thin and worn from hunger, she still looked better fed than her owner. And some recalled the cow’s name – Phillipa, the girl called her. An odd state of affairs when the cattle is remembered more than the milkmaid, but that’s is how it was.

On one February morning, icy and fierce as could be, the street was suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a strange man. Not a young stranger, lost and searching for a friendly street, but a man who moved about the street as if familiar with it. But he was not a man that the mainstays knew; Boville, Vetement, the newsboy, the fruit seller, the thieves and children and mainstays, they watched him with caution, for he was a man who’s appearance did not readily invite trust. He was unnaturally tall, broad of chest from exercise and strong enough that he was frightening. His arms were long and thick with muscle, recalling a gorilla, an impression not changed by the thick black hair that grew all across his arms, chest and face, framed by an equally wild mane that grew past his shoulders and nearly concealed all but his eyes and nose. A frightening beast of a man, one might say, as he lumbered down the street, towering over everyone else, causing a nervous hush in his wake. The sort who might be there, the thought crossed the collective minds, to cause trouble.

Apprehension gave way to fear as he turned his feet towards the milkmaid, whose back was to him, and seemed the only one on the street oblivious to the atmosphere of tension, for she was still calling for half a franc per tankard. The man’s towering looks gave the impression of a giant dog bearing down on a tiny mouse.

The milkmaid at last turned to see the approaching behemoth, but rather than fall silent or turn pale, she cried out in joy – the joy of recognition.

“Why – Volveur!”

And at last moving from the snow where she always stood, she hurried down the street to throw her arms around the stranger, who in turn embraced her, patting a hand larger than her head on the damp brown hair. With such an assurance that the man was no threat, activity upon the street resumed, carts were pulled, the aura and bubble of talk arose, and life went on as usual, with no one bothering to watch any more of what transpired – a shame, for if they had, much would have been heard and rumors would have spread.

“You’re so cold, Amaline,” he said, pulling her to him as she looked up to meet his gaze. “You shouldn’t be out here.”

“Where else can I sell from?” asked the girl, as she pulled away, wrapping an arm around his waist, the highest she could reach, and taking him down the street to her cow, which too seemed to recognize the stranger.

“I suppose that’s true, but all the same – “

“Phillipa keeps me warm, do you not, Phillipa?” These words were spoken as she stroked the creature’s neck in a familiar manner; the cow replied with a long, low moo.

“At least buy yourself an outer coat, a blanket – something more than a shawl,” statedVolveur, keeping his arm about the girl’s shivering shoulder.

“We don’t all make cargo mover wages,” she returned, taking a tankard to the small pail of milk as the two sat down in the only part of street that had been cleared of snow. At these words, Volveur did not meet her gaze, and his faltering smile caused her mood of cheer to die as well.

“You still work for the Navire, do you not?”

“I’m afraid my services were no longer needed.”

“Oh, dear – well, you’ll find another, won’t you? You’re so strong, they can always use another pair of steady hands. Here,” she added, as she passed him the tankard, filled to the brim with creamy white milk.

“Here, take this – free of charge.”

Volveur turned pale and shook his head, pushing away the offered tankard. “No, no, dear, I could not accept it. I don’t have half a franc to my name, and you need your milk more than I need my strength.”

“I want you to have it. Phillipa has pleanty more, and today is a slow day in any case. I have to throw it out by the end of the day, and unless a huge crowd comes in, this will be thrown out. Take it, you need it more than the snow.”

After some more persuasion, Volveur accepted the gift, and sipped it in.

“Do they purchase more when the milk is cold, or warm?” he asked, keeping one arm around the shivering girl.

“They prefer it to be warm in the winter and cold in the summer, but of course that is impossible – I can keep it a little warm by storing the pail near Phillipa, but by nightfall it starts to form crystals on days like this, and no one wants to drink frozen milk in a snowstorm. And in the summer it curdles much more quickly, so I have to get more when the day is half over, and Phillipa gets awfully tired of that.”

“Perhaps you could store it in bottles – keep the temperature more consistent. They ‘ve started to deliver milk that way – in glass bottles.”

“I don’t have enough for glass bottles.”

“You must be freezing – and starving, I’ve never seen anyone so thin.”

“I won’t deny I’m hungry, but I’ve always been hungry, since I was a child. I’ve grown accustomed to it. I’d feel strange if I were not famished – one day I had a good turnout and bought myself a whole ham, and ate it too fast – and I felt just terrible.”

“You sound like the king – always talking about how the poor are used to hunger. I’m not used it – I never have been.”

“What would you eat, if you could buy more than a crust of bread?”

“I have so rarely tasted more – but one day, in a market, I smelled the most ravishing meal, cooking on a spit – something for the wealthy patrons, they cost several hundred francs.”

“Several hundred! How could anyone have that much?”

“The bourgeois were buying dozens of them – long skinny things they were, only as long as my finger and roasted on a spit, but they smelled of meat and butter and spices – I stood there for hours, merely taking in the smell.”

“I like smelling Boville’s pies – most of the time he makes the normal kinds, you know, the berry and pear and lemon, the sorts that sell well, but sometimes he bakes them from curious things – something brown and silky. I watch him baking through the window sometimes, when no one is buying, and I always wanted to buy one of those silky brown ones.”

“They call them chocolate. I’ve tried chocolate once – the most divinely sweet thing I’ve ever put into my mouth.”

“Some day, if I ever save enough francs, that is what I’ll buy.”

Volveur took a sip of milk. “Chocolate is divine with milk, they tell me. A friend of mine on the docks said he was a youngest son of a bourgeois family, and they used to serve chocolate and milk on special days.”

“Will you miss the docks? You seemed to enjoy working there.”

The smile once again slipped from Volveur’s face, and he turned away. “No, I don’t think I’ll miss it. The docks are grueling work, and the people are always looking for a reason to fight.”

“Did they hurt you? I mean, were you ever in a fight there?”

“Maybe.” He finished the drink and handed it back to her; she filled it with snow, washing away the old to prepare for the new. “Perhaps I didn’t like a fellow on the dock, and perhaps he spoke to me in words I won’t repeat to a young girl like you, and perhaps I blacked his eye and broke his wrist. But I don’t particularly wish to speak of that.”

“I know. I’m so glad I do not work for anyone – no one can ever fire me.”

“Have you thought of finding Phillipa a mate?”

“Why? Do you think she looks lonely?”

“No, so that she might have calves – produce more milk, perhaps have someone to carry on after she retires.”

“I can’t look after a whole litter of calves – looking over one cow is hard enough. I’d have to find the money to buy them feed, search around the edges of the city for more grass – Phillipa would be always nursing them, rather than giving milk for me to sell. And as for once Phillipa is gone – well, I do not wish to think about then.”

“No, I don’t suppose –“

The rest of these words were drowned by the arrival of the first carriage anyone had seen in days – a fine one, pulled by two horses and driven by a well-dressed coach. All eyes turned in that direction, as the carriage rattled down Mauvais. The newsboy called out louder than before, the fruit seller shooed away the usual human flies, Boville hurried outside carrying a fresh-baked pie, the smell of which drifted all around the street, and Amaline jumped to her feet to call “Tankard of milk, half a franc! Fresh milk!”

The carriage at last stopped upon Vetement’s, and the coachman sprang from the box, trod through snow to the door, and helped a fat old lady in an exquisitely beaded gown down the steps. Everyone watched, calling louder than ever, as she opened the door into Vetement’s, where Mm. Vetement and her army of seamstresses swarmed about her with offers and swatches of fabric.

“I wonder what she’s going to buy,”Amaline murmured to Volveur, having stopped shouting once the door had closed. “I always like watching what they get – sometimes they buy the most ridiculous bonnets, covered in fruits and dead birds – they make their heads look like nests! Why spend so much time arranging your hair so it won’t look like a nest, and they buy a hat covered in birds?”

“Why indeed,” said Volveur. Unlike Amaline, he was not smiling; in fact, his face was clouded in something like anger as he watched the old bourgeois ordering the girls about, examining fabrics and commanding them taken away.

At last, she had settled upon something – an order was given, and a very large handbag of money was produced. Amaline’s jaw dropped as she watched the woman drop handfuls of francs onto the counter of Vetement’s, in exchange for which she was given a tiny corner of fabric, with some sort of name sewn in.

“What on earth is that?” said Amaline. “Just a bit of fabric? Why did it cost her so many francs?”

“A handkerchief,” said Volvuer, the disdain in his voice growing stronger. “A bit of fabric fussy rich women use to dry their eyes.”

“That seems a bit much for that,” Amaline said, “why can’t they simply use their sleeves like everyone else?”

“Because they can spend more money on something useless like than most of us pay for food in an entire month,” Volveur replied, one fist clenched upon the ground. The patron had emerged from the shop, folding her purchase into her bag. “It’s disgusting,” he added, “they can spend so much on nothing.”

“Perhaps,” said Amaline, as the carriage, the occupant having entered and seated herself, rattled away down the road, “but Vetement is going to eat well tonight.”


© Copyright 2017 Laura Colette. All rights reserved.

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