Monday, June 28, 2010
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, Autumn 1916. Crale, the ambitious Senator's son, Wynter, the talented artist and Marrok, the football prodigy. Their paths cross in strange and unexpected ways in Poisoned Ivy by Scot D Ryerson, the first book in the Vintage series published by Bristlecone Pine Press. Inspired by antique pictures and photographs, Vintage books celebrate historic same-sex male love stories told in unique and creative ways. Poisoned Ivy is full of haunting shadows and mysterious goings-on, set against the background of the hallowed halls of the Ivy League, its arcane secret societies, the college gridiron, and the artist's canvas. Green-eyed jealousy, blue-eyed ice, and amber-eyed fire all combine to create a delicious and mischievous tale that will leave you wanting more.
Title: Poisoned Ivy (Book One in the Vintage Series)
Publisher: Bristlecone Pine Press (June 17, 2010)
Crale heard nothing of the shouts, the calls, the cheering, as he sat, stiff as stone, in the bleachers overlooking the playing field. His fingers were clenching and unclenching, his eyes concentrating all of his anger, all of his hatred, on the dark figure dashing down the gridiron in the direction of the opposing team’s end zone. The crowd applauded each yard line that that dark figure passed, rooting all the way, lost in a moment of glory for each touchdown, quite forgetting that this was nothing more than a practice match, and that the enemy was their own classmates. Bile rose at seeing the acclamation, the pats on the back that followed.
The carillon tolled twelve.
A few minutes later, Crale saw them—the trio crossing the grass. Beckford, immaculate in his blue blazer, starched shirtfront, and straw boater; Levritt scuttling after him, characteristically untidy, in hat and scarf, and…
Crale’s eyes kindled when he spotted the last member of the group.
They were chatting, Levritt laughing at all the right cues, the witty bon mots Beckford lobbed, Wynter looking less than thrilled at it all, as usual, until…
Crale watched as his beloved reduced the speed of his paces, watched how his beloved drew up at attention, watched how his beloved’s head tilted in that way it did when his awareness was focused on one thing and one thing alone, as if absorbing it through those sparkling eyes straight into his brain, straight into his bloodstream, straight into his soul.
And that one thing alone on which that awareness had been focused?
Crale’s teeth ground.
It struck him just then that he had often seen his beloved so captivated—by an ancient Egyptian amulet, an archaic Greek vase, a Vermeer study, a Whistler etching, a Sargent canvas—by something as simple as the shade of blue in the sky in the morning or the fading splendor of a September sunset, but never—never—before had Crale ever seen his beloved so enraptured by a person. A Roman statue of one maybe, but a living, breathing person…never.
And moreover, he had never, ever seen his beloved stare at him like that.
Crale’s eyes slitted as his gaze followed the three friends. They made their way closer to the edge of the playing field, Wynter mesmerized all the way, shutting out the tumult surrounding him. Next, those resentful green eyes shifted to take in the object of such veneration, and he became perhaps the sole witness to the bizarre event that occurred right before them all.
As Wynter approached, Marrok’s dash slowed. He was more than three-quarters the way down the gridiron, hundreds of feet away, but still he slowed as the pallid young man drew nearer. He raised his head, his blond mane squashed flat under his helmet, leather “dog ear” ear protectors flapping, and then he thrust his nose up into the air, like a dog in search of a lost bone, like a starved wolf sniffing the breeze for an easy meal.
That bastard was smelling his beloved, actually breathing him in, pinpointing his exact location, and that’s when Marrok stopped completely, his great head turning, those amber eyes hunting through the mob, and then…
…then Marrok was taken down.
Four men the size of boxcars plowed into him, bringing him to the grass, pile-driving him into the dirt.
And Crale couldn’t have been happier.
There had to have been some broken bones, enough, one hoped, to end a career.
The crowd roared in horror and dissent, booing and hissing at the quartet who had caused their star to fall.
Crale’s gaze slid to his friends, seeing Beckford wince at the impact, seeing Levritt cringe and look away, seeing the sheer terror on his beloved’s face.
Crale had had enough.
The piercing shrillness of a whistle was heard as Crale stalked from the bleachers and across the green. On the field the four men who had toppled a king gained their feet, panting, while their coach moved in to inspect the damage. The audience could see by his expression that he was not at all hopeful and expecting the worst.
Marrok was down, unmoving.
Wynter was so engrossed in the fallen hero that he didn’t realize that Crale had drawn up to his side. That was, until he felt his arm wrenched and he was spun about forcibly.
“Well, well, well,” Crale spat. “Look who’s here! And I thought you hated organized sports.”
Wynter attempted to yank his arm free from its captor. “Let go! You’re hurting me!”
“Let him go,” Beckford whispered, bending close to Crale’s ear. “There are members of the Theoi Olympian here, and they’re watching…”
Crale’s fingers released from his victim and he took a step backward, trying to compose himself. He couldn’t let anything go wrong now, not when he was so close.
“What the hell is the matter with you?” Wynter confronted him, his outrage bitingly cold.
“I-I’m sorry,” Crale stammered, not knowing what else to say, fearful of those anonymous eyes’ surveillance.
Wynter shot Crale a bitter smile. “Was that apology for this or for what you did last night?”
Crale’s temper flared, but he swallowed it back, almost choking. “For both,” he muttered. “I’m sorry…for both…”
Wynter found himself the sudden center of scrutiny. Beckford, Levritt and Crale were staring, waiting for the expected lenience, all charges dropped. Wynter sighed.
Beckford gave Crale a sideways glance, one that clearly read, Nothing more, not here, not now. Crale nodded, eyes on the ground, inhaling and exhaling a few cleansing breaths, about to give thanks for the pardon. But when he looked back up, he saw that Wynter’s attention was once again on the playing field and the huddle standing over that kicked mongrel.
“We were just watching the gladiators spar.” Levritt spoke up. He shook his head sadly. “There goes our only hope of trouncing Harvard this season…”
Crale sidled up alongside Wynter, his voice low. “Why didn’t you tell me Marrok came to your room last night?”
“How could I? I haven’t seen you ’til right now.” Wynter answered without turning his head from the gridiron, his face blanching an even whiter shade of pale when seeing the stripe-shirted medics running out of the locker-room.
Crale glowered. Damn, he couldn’t argue with that.
“So,” Wynter went on, still choosing not to look at the young man next to him. “If I am forced to make a confession here, then, yes, forgive me Father for I have sinned. Marrok did come to my room last night, right in through the window, believe it or not—don’t ask me why, don’t ask me how. He apologized for not showing up earlier, saying that Camp had kept him late. We spent the next two hours together—he in front of the fireplace, me on the window seat, sketching him. All of the drawings were awful and I tore them up. He’s supposed to come again tonight at ten to pose…”
Wynter chose that moment to face his interrogator. “And as for his posing, he was fully clothed…so how many ‘Hail, Marys’ is that?”
Crale’s cheeks flushed a brilliant scarlet. Beckford’s eyes slipped shut, praying that no one else had been privy to the remark about Crale’s modeling in a state of undress, while Levritt’s eyes darted back and forth between the combatants, trying to make sense of it all, and when he did, they went wide and bore the distinct expression of a scandalized Connecticut matron. Beckford elbowed him, glaring. “Not a word,” he warned. Levritt nodded hastily and looked back to the fracas on the field.
But Wynter was not finished. “And just how, may I ask, did you know that Marrok was in my room last night? You were out getting pie-eyed.”
Crale shot Beckford a furious glance. Beckford raised both hands in surrender, shaking his head hurriedly, wordlessly declaring, Not me! I’d never tell! Headsman’s honor!
Wynter noticed this bit of silent communication, and let Beckford off the hook by saying, “Robbins told me this morning. You threw up right outside his window.” He turned to Beckford. “And please accept my gratitude, Florence Nightingale, for taking him in and sobering him up.” Wynter then spun, his back once again to the two older friends, his attention on the field.
“He’s something else,” Beckford noted in Crale’s ear. “You sure you want him?”
“He’s mine…” Crale said, possessively, and in such a way that warranted no argument.
At that instant a rousing cheer went up, deafening, drowning out whatever else Crale was going to add, and all eyes were on the prone shape just then getting to its feet. Marrok was rising, as if Lazarus from the dead, the medics shaking their heads, confused; the coach flabbergasted, the multitude praising the heavens above.
Crale fumed at the sight of divine resurrection. Beckford leaned in, playing Iago once more, whispering, “The second coming, my lord, and you thought him slain…”
“He’s a Spartan,” Levritt enthused. “I’ve never seen anything like him!”
It was Beckford’s turn to fume. “Steady, boy. Spartan, indeed! The Spartans were smart, they always tossed the puny and deformed ones into the chasm.”
Levritt revolved, his gaze hard, taking his friends by surprise with his sudden show of backbone. “You mean me, right?”
Beckford paled. “Of course not! I would never confer such a criticism on you, my dear man…never!”
“I know what you all think of me!” Levritt practically shouted. Luckily for them his voice was hard-pressed to be heard above the continuing jubilation. “Poor little Levritt…I can see my knighthood now—Levritt the Frail, Levritt the Timid…King Levritt the Fainthearted, lost in a world of fantasy, of ghosts and goblins, of devils and demons…”
With that declaration, Levritt flounced off.
Beckford let out a long sigh. “That time of the month again, I’m afraid. I do apologize. Let me see if I can pour oil on the waters, or lift the curse…” He nodded to Wynter, who nodded in reply. Then he inclined again toward Crale. “Tap Day can’t come soon enough,” he said softly and was gone, leaving Crale and his beloved in each other’s company.
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Monday, June 21, 2010
In the novella Tributary by Erastes, part of the Last Gasp collection, it's 1936 and a generation of disaffected youth waits in the space between a war that destroyed many of their friends and family, and a war they know is bound to come. Guy Mason wanders through Italy, bored and restless for reasons he can't even name, and stops at the Hotel Vista, high in the mountains of Lombardy. There, he meets scientist James Calloway and his secretary, Louis Chambers, and it's there that the meandering stream of Guy's life changes course forever.
Tributary (Last Gasp collection)
Noble Romance (May 23, 2010)
The shell lit the sky with red and white, hit the dugout behind them. His legs were trapped in the debris and mud, and the orderly was calling to him. The machine gun rattled over their heads, its rat-a-tat slow, like auditory treacle. That wasn't right. That wasn't right . . . .*
He awoke to find that someone was knocking and he was tangled in his sheet.
"Wait a moment, please," he said. Shaking his head to rid himself of the dream, he disentangled himself from the sheets, pulled his dressing-gown from the chair, and opened the door. He was greeted by a bellhop he’d not seen before. With a brief nod, he slid past Guy into the room, laid Guy’s evening clothes on the bed, and left without a word or even the customary pause for a tip. Guy's head was still a little too full of mud and explosions to care much, but he called out before the bellhop disappeared around the corner. "What time is dinner, boy?"
"Eight o' clock, sir." The young man had nothing of the gamin charm of Georges, being rather spotty and far too thin to do justice to the frugal cut of the uniform. "They'll ring the gong fifteen minutes before, though."
Without bothering to acknowledge the information, Guy went back inside, gained the bathroom and leaned against the sink, staring at his reflection in the fan-shaped mirror. The dreams were lies. He dreamed things that had never happened—or at least, never happened to him. No doubt a quack would say they indicated some sort of buried guilt or other clap-trap. Guilt for spending the war safe and dry in England while everyone he knew died, or came back so changed they were different men. But while it was acceptable to have psychiatric treatment during the war—what would they think now? And what else would they find out about him, if he went down that route?
So bloody long ago. The world had moved on.
*So why can't you?*
After a quick wash and brush up, getting his hair under Brylcreemed control, and a change into his dinner clothes, he felt better. He enjoyed a cigarette on the balcony, and he was ready to leave when he heard the gong sounding from down below.
He took the stairs at his leisure, allowing himself time to scout out the much-changed scene below. Middle-aged ladies stood in small groups, and he caught the eye of one and was forced to nod in polite acknowledgement before he moved on. He could hear the whisper of curiosity, like a shallow seaside wave dragging the sand of gossip in its wake. John stood at the end of the reception counter.
"The bar is through here, sir," he said.
There weren't many people in the bar; most guests, it seemed, preferred to wait until the dining room opened, but there were about four or five residents dotted around. The barman asked him what he wanted, and Guy ordered a scotch and water. He was just savouring the first hit of it on the tongue when Signora Sabbioneta entered and made straight for him. He'd not even had time to look around. I hope the wretched woman isn't going to be a nuisance, he thought. She wore a wedding ring, but it was quite possible she was a hopeful widow. And damn it, he thought, I like it here.
"Mr. Mason," she said. "I'm glad I caught you before you went in for dinner. Please, allow me to introduce you to some of our guests." She caught hold of his arm and he had no choice but to follow her along the small bar to a gentleman standing on his own. "Captain Mayhew? I'd like to introduce Mr. Mason. Captain Mayhew comes here for a few weeks every summer." She drifted away to speak to the needlework lady Guy had noticed earlier.
Guy nodded and shook hands. Mayhew was about forty, and slim in that way some officers are, never seeming to fill his uniform or civvies, slightly hunched, still wearing his war-time moustache like peace-time camouflage. He was the type who never stopped calling himself Captain, although it was likely he'd not earned that title for ten years or more. The look in Mayhew’s eyes though, Guy had seen time and time again—the one so many men had, and would never lose. The one Guy never saw in his own shaving glass.
"Good to meet you, Mason. Going to stay long?"
He'd mastered his stammer, Guy noticed. Nothing remained of it but the smallest of gaps here and there. Not many people would spot it, unless they'd made a career of cataloguing men like him, safe behind the shelter of a desk in Whitehall.
"Not entirely sure, to be honest. Just driving around."
"Not exactly the best time to be drifting about. Italy, I mean."
Guy gave him a sharp look. "Perhaps not. One place is much like another. Especially in these times. May I get you a drink?"
"Thank you, no. I should get in for dinner, but it was nice to meet you. Perhaps later."
He stood aside as the captain walked by, and without a pause or a comment the signora reappeared to whisk him on to another set of guests: a mother and daughter from Barnstaple, treating themselves to a year abroad. After that it was one of the ladies he'd seen sitting alone on the veranda, two old gentlemen who didn't look like they could make it into the dining room without bath chairs, and one or two others.
Guy had forgotten most of their names by the end and was grateful when the signora released him into the dining room, with the threat of more introductions after dinner. At least he was alone during the meal, alone at a small corner table where he could survey the room at his own leisure. True to her word, and as if by magic, the signora reappeared after the dessert had been cleared away and whisked him into the residents' lounge. It was a large, comfortable room, set off to one side between the veranda and the dining room and accessible from both. It was filled with comfortable chairs, a couple of chesterfields, and a few card tables under a small arch at the back. To Guy's relief, the mother and daughter he'd met earlier made a beeline for them as they entered, claiming the signora's attention.
"Ah, Signorina," said the mother.
For the life of him, Guy couldn't remember her name. The daughter flinched at her mother's faux pas.
"The tap in our room is still dripping most terribly, and the balcony door won't lock, we've just discovered," the woman continued. "I can't possibly sleep in a room where anyone could walk in; I have my daughter's well-being to think of."
Guy exchanged a sympathetic look with the daughter, and ended up smiling at her. Judging by her pinched and repressed expression, she wouldn't actually mind a night time adventure.
"Mrs Darnley," the signora said, transferring her immediate attention so smoothly, Guy couldn't help but be impressed. "I can't apologise enough. Sadly, our maintenance man comes in from Rasa de Varese in the morning, so there's nothing of a permanent nature we can do for you this evening." She took the arm of the older woman and led her away, the daughter trailing in their wake. "However, if you like . . . ."
Left alone again, Guy spotted Mayhew by the phonograph and went over to him. "Do you mind if I join you?" he asked, surprising himself. He'd not been this sociable in years, but it looked as though keeping himself to himself in the Hotel Vista was going to be rather an impossibility.
"Not at all," Mayhew answered, putting down the magazine he was reading.
“Please, don't let me disturb you," Guy said. A waiter approached and asked if Guy wanted coffee and liqueur. "Just coffee, no milk."
"You should try the local stuff," Mayhew said, indicating a small, spiral glass on the table, filled with a deep amber liquid. "Deceptively aggressive."
With a grateful smile, Guy acquiesced. "One of those, then," he ordered, "Whatever it—"
He broke off as a vision came through the door from the reception, and only his self-control, honed with years of practice, stopped him from catching his breath. Beauty personified, a Roman god brought to life. The man was not in the first flush of youth—probably ten years younger than Guy himself, but his hair made him look a little less. Blue-raven-black, and set in boyish loose curls, it reflected none of the artificial yellow light. And yet his face, serious and searching, as it scanned the room, had been what had truly attracted Guy’s attention. A little long, but with high cheekbones that gave distinct shadows to his cheeks. He glanced around the room, as if looking for someone.
*Make it me*, thought Guy hopelessly. *Make it me*. Not since Arthur had his heart leapt so at the first sight of a stranger.
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Monday, June 14, 2010
In Normal Miguel by Erik Orrantia, Miguel Hernández is a teacher who has left Mexico City to complete a one year student internship in the rural hills of Puebla. He came to the school intending to focus on his teaching and his students but quickly learns that it is impossible to keep his private and professional lives separate—particularly as his experience turns into a voyage of self-discovery.
His students, the Directora of the school, the baker, and other people from the town all contribute to his growing awareness. But most important is Ruben, the owner of the candy store who progresses from merchant to friend to lover. He will be the man who has the most effect on Miguel — who, in turn, is transformed by the impact of Miguel on his own life.
This is a lyrical story that brings to life the countryside of rural Mexico, with its grinding poverty but care of the people for their native land; expressing prejudice and hate but at the same time affirming the power of love and acceptance in overcoming obstacles. As a slice of life in the year of Miguel, Normal Miguel will certainly capture the hearts and imaginations of those who join him on his journey in the pages of the book.
Publisher: Cheyenne Publishing (print) (June 1, 2010)
Bristlecone Pine Press (ebook),
ISBN: 978-0-9797773-9-4 (print)
ISBN: 978-1-60722-019-0 (ebook)
Excerpt: (from Chapter 11)
Horseback riding was awkward, the back and forth swaying that was not jerky like the buses in the city but unstable, like riding a see-saw for the first time. His hands were like those of a school boy at his first dance, unsure where to be, because there was no place to grab at the saddle and no way to hold on to the horse’s rump beneath him. Ruben’s waist was a most tempting handhold and, because of that, forbidden. His hands settled onto his own thighs, his lower legs clinging ardently to the creature’s ribcage. Unexpected jolts caused his hands to grasp at Ruben anyway. Miguel was not convinced that the equestrian life was for him.
Much of the rocky river bed was still dry and the horse’s hoofs slid on the smooth boulders at times before finding solid ground, but it plodded on without complaint. Ruben looked at the canyon walls on either side that not long from now would be wet with the winter’s rain. Random logs, branches, and dry vines littered the river bed, testaments to last year’s storms that flushed them down from the hills above and left them like bodies on a battlefield.
In Ruben’s silence, Miguel focused on the fine hairs on Ruben’s neck. He imagined his muscular back shirtless and the feel of his forearms on his palms. He was quietly aroused, but embarrassed, too, for thinking only of sex at a time like this. Perhaps it was the liberty of the canyon, empty of people and garbage, loud children and watching eyes. The moving air refreshed him as it passed through his hair. He felt as if he had escaped. Then he reflected on the irony—his coming to Comalticán had been the escape. He had already escaped. What was he escaping from now?
They must have been ten kilometers from town by now. Ruben pointed into the trees. “Do you see the power line?”
Miguel followed his fingers and saw where a heavy black wire was hidden in the thick of the leaves.
“It’s the only sign of people out here…and the only source of electricity for all of Comalticán. They’re always worried about it going down in the winter storms like it did a few years back.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” replied Miguel. “You’d think they’d have put it in a better place, then.”
“Yeah, but they put it up in the summertime when the river bed was dry. They found it easier to use the river bed than building a road for it. Maybe they’ll fix it next election.” He shrugged his shoulders. “We’ll stop up there beyond the bend. There’s a small beach that formed this spring where I like to rest.”
Ruben had always tended toward tranquility. He hadn’t fallen into the bad crowd at school, hadn’t hung around at the park and gotten shit-faced at parties like the rest of the guys. He hadn’t enjoyed talking about fucking this or that girl or arguing over which was the best soccer forward or which was the fastest four-wheeler. Mostly he had hung around with the studious school girls. He had had a serious air since early childhood.
Perhaps it was his Christian upbringing that set him apart, at first, or at least the dedication that his mother had to it. She would read him Bible stories and talk about the greatness of God. She would pray with pathos and sing with eyes closed and hands raised toward the heavens. She preached honesty and sincerity, and challenged others in tight spots with “What would Jesus do?” She was a good woman, Ruben knew, and he loved her dearly. But he didn’t believe what she did. He found her religion dogmatic and, at times, self-righteous or simply unbelievable. He had acquiesced through his adolescence to keep the harmony at home, however.
Indeed, he had been the perfect child—quiet and obedient, not easily led astray, always striving to achieve in school, help around the house, and save his money for a rainy day. He was his mother’s pride and joy. He had been afraid for a long time that he might destroy that pride and joy. He knew he was different from the other kids in another way.
Once he had finished preparatory school and began having serious feelings for a long-time friend, there was no more denying. His mother had instilled honesty in him, so how much longer could he ignore what had to be said?
The worst part was that he was right. His mother had been devastated when he told her he was gay.
The roof caved in and the storms came down. It was a good thing that Ruben had saved some money in anticipation of disaster. When a friend’s parents were selling the candy store in nearby Arbolito, Ruben was ready to start anew. It was the perfect opportunity, a godsend, for studying at the university in the big city held little interest. Despite the problems with his mother at home, he was a small town guy…and a Mama’s boy, after all. He believed she’d eventually find a way to rationalize loving him. He believed in love.
The rift hadn’t been entirely healed. Until it was, his horse Micha would be his solace. Ruben loved the solitude and solidarity he found with her. She was also a symbol to him of his modest financial success, and the tranquility of being alone with her was a luxury, a short-lived vacation on lunch hour.
Recognizing the little beach, Micha stopped at her resting place beneath the tree at the river bank. The two men dismounted. Then Ruben took the blanket from where Miguel had been sitting and pulled sandwiches and sodas from a knapsack. After eating, they lay together on the blanket in the cool November afternoon, watching the gray clouds sweep across the sky, and chatted awhile.
“Captain sent you greetings,” Miguel said, finally finding the confidence. “I think it was ‘Fuck your mother!’ to be exact.”
Ruben looked over at him and laughed. “Typical macho man! He’s so pathetic.”
“I guess you know him pretty well?”
“Are you kidding?” Ruben shook his head. “He started suspecting that I was gay and would come to see me at the candy store. Starts grabbing his cock and looking at me in his ‘sexy’ way, as if I’m gonna stop what I’m doing and suck his dick right there.” Miguel’s confidence began to waver as Ruben continued. “He thinks any queer will fall for that. I have more dignity than to let some fat slob fuck me who just wants to blow his load. I told him he’d have better luck baking himself two buns and drilling a hole in between them.”
Miguel nodded and chuckled in agreement, silently relieved that he had rejected Captain’s last come on.
“He’s probably put the make on you, too, huh?” Ruben asked.
“Yeah, something like that.”
“What a pig.”
“So,” Miguel shifted. “You’re gay?”
“Am I gay? Yes. Why did you think I asked you out here?”
“Okay…I just wasn’t sure.”
“I figured you were,” Ruben said, “you know, for taking naked boys down to the river and all.” He laughed and elbowed Miguel in the side. “As you can imagine, there are not that many open gays out here. And when they are, they’re usually practically drag queens or hair stylists. I don’t have many friends like me.”
They lay silently, reveling in the moment, the liberty and solidarity. Miguel thought of the Captain and of his students. What if the world knew the truth about him? What if Ruben knew about him and the Captain? What if his students knew about him? Then where would he escape to? He thought of Abimael, whose warts were displayed for the world to see. Those warts didn’t affect his usually happy disposition. Why couldn’t it be so easy for him?
On the way back, Ruben put Miguel in the driver’s seat. He instructed him on the use of the reins and the kick of the heel. “You have to show the horse who is in charge,” he said. But Miguel could hardly concentrate as he felt Ruben’s arms firmly wrapped around his waist and his body pressed against his back.
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Monday, June 7, 2010
The Memoirs of Colonel Gérard Vreihac by Anel Viz encompasses the Reign of Terror and extends through the French Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, the Bourbon Restoration and the Second Republic in France. Gérard Vreilhac is the son of the of the Count d'Airelles' head gardener and also the lover of the Count's youngest son, Julien. After Julien leaves the chateau for the Military Academy, the Count's daughter, the Baroness Berthe de l'Envol takes him on as a house servant in her Paris hotel. In the meantime the French Revolution has begun. When Julien's regiment is sent to the front, Gérard leaves the Baroness's service and finds lodgings in Mme Leforgeron's boarding house, a hotbed of Jacobinism, finding employment in a Jacobin publishing house, where his abilities come to the attention of Robespierre (known as l'Incorruptible), who arranges for his transfer to clerk for the Revolutionary Tribunal. Then Charlotte Corday murders Marot in his bath, and the Jacobins institute the Reign of Terror.
The Memoirs of Colonel Gérard Vreihac
Dreamspinner Press (May 14, 2010)
Excerpt from Part I, chapters 3 & 4:
Nowadays everyone knows the name Charlotte Corday, but few remember what she looked like. I know I don’t. But who among us cannot picture David’s famous portrait of Marat in his bath, deathly pale and slumped to his right, his dangling arm still holding a quill, and the livid red gash in his chest? Yet when I think of Marat, what comes to mind is not David’s portrait, but the inconsolable grief of a populace that clamored unremittingly for the blood of all and sundry, and their lamentations.
Corday’s brave but senseless act sealed the Girondists’ fate. Less than a month later the Incorruptible established the Committee of Public Safety, and from then on one event followed another with dizzying rapidity. On days when Clément had no loads to deliver—and there were many of them, for few people had money to pay to move their belongings—his cart was used to carry people to the guillotine. The bodies piled up in Paris as on a battlefield, while life went on as always and people pretended that everything was normal.
Not long afterwards, the former Count and Countess d’Airelles and their very pregnant daughter-in-law, Marie-Catherine, and even Berthe’s former maid Henriette, came up for trial. I hadn’t known they’d been arrested. I wondered why Berthe and the others were not with them. I learned that Olivier was an émigré in London when they read the accusation. I thought him despicable for having left his wife behind. But more than anything, I felt relief that Julien was not there and that his name was nowhere mentioned in the accusation. Surely he was safely out of the country. An officer at the front could easily desert and escape across the border.
They were condemned to death; everyone always was. They deferred Marie-Catherine’s sentence and sent her back to the Conciergerie because she was with child. With luck they would forget about her; it had happened before.
I kept my eyes glued to the page in front of me, but I felt the Count’s piercing gaze forcing me to look up. He was glaring at me. Had he been permitted to speak, I’m sure he would have unleashed all his hatred on me.
When we had finished for the day, one of the judges came to me and said, “He recognized you, didn’t he, Citizen?”
“That ex-Count Something-or-other. You knew him, too. Your hands were shaking.”
“D’Airelles,” I said. “My father used to be his gardener.”
“Then I’m sure his execution is one you won’t want to miss.”
I didn’t, though I kept well back in the crowd and observed in silence. I didn’t want the Count to think I had come there to gloat. As he mounted the scaffold, I caught sight of Julien a short distance away from me. We had not seen each other in nearly three years. He was not in uniform. I was certain he recognized me. I moved toward him; he seemed to back away, but it might have been the press forcing him deeper into the crowd. Then came that terrible whishhh! and heart-stopping thump!, and a roar rose from the crowd. Samson was holding up the Count’s head for all to see. When I turned around to look for Julien, he had disappeared.
My most difficult moment at the Tribunal came when they condemned Citizen Brotteaux to death on the most ridiculous charges imaginable, for conspiring with a well-to-do society lady, an innocuous, simple-minded priest, and a good-hearted girl they called a notorious prostitute. The list of accusations was such a jumble of contradictions that they made an exception and called on him to answer them. They were particularly curious about the little book he had in his pocket, which they had seen him reading while they called the others on trial to stand before them and summarily sentenced one after the other. When he told them it was a copy of Lucretius they asked if he was a revolutionary. “Yes,” Brotteaux replied, “in his own way, he was.”
Brotteaux accepted his fate stoically and smiled at me kindly when they pronounced his sentence. “Here,” I thought, “is a man who will die with a clear conscience and does not blame me for the atrocities of the Terror.”
Artémis was unmoved. In fact, she had been present at his arrest and had not spoken up to defend him. And I had thought she was fond of him!
“He amused me,” she said.
I no longer read aloud when we got together in the evening. We had put our last novel aside unfinished shortly after Marat’s assassination. We hardly spoke anymore about the war or the problems of daily life. The bread shortage was attributed to hoarding, our army’s reversals to the generals’ sedition. We spoke only of guilt and punishment, of tracking down the culprits and chopping off their heads with all possible speed.
“When all the enemies of the Revolution have been destroyed, then we can have peace and justice,” Artémis repeated nightly, like a litany.
“Yes,” I thought, “but who will be left to enjoy the new order when everyone who doesn’t agree with you on every insignificant detail is an enemy of the Revolution?”
I lived in fear that sooner or later I would let something slip and open my thoughts to the most rabid Jacobins, the enragés, who were now in control. I saw myself mounting the steps of the guillotine. I was doomed.
One night, when Sandrine and I had walked up to our rooms together, she turned to me on the landing and whispered, “Madame Leforgeron terrifies me.”
I immediately suspected a trap. Had someone asked her to draw me out. “Artémis?” I asked, feigning innocence. “Life terrifies me. Living in Paris terrifies me.” I stopped short, realizing how my words would probably be taken. “Paris is surrounded by enemies, inside and out,” I explained, “and we’re all of us at their mercy. Why single out Artémis?”
When I left the Conciergerie late one cold, wet evening near the beginning of Brumaire and headed for the Pont au Change, a man wrapped in a greatcoat stepped out of the shadows of the building and followed me across the bridge. The streets were nearly empty because of the weather, but my path along the Quai de la Mégisserie was well traveled and it did not surprise me to hear his footsteps on the paving stones behind me. Something, however, aroused my suspicions, and I tested him to see if he was following me. I was not mistaken. He stopped when I stopped, waiting for me to move on, and kept four or five houses behind me. Had the Terror sent its spies to watch my comings and goings? Had I inadvertently said something to compromise myself? Perhaps one of my former fellow clerks, jealous of my transfer to the Tribunal, had dredged up some idle comment I had made in the past, a bit of Jacobin dogma that had since become anathema, and turned it against me?
As soon as I turned into the small side streets and alleyways surrounding Artémis’s house, I ducked around a corner and waited for him to catch up. His footsteps sped up as soon as he lost sight of me, and, when he turned the corner, he ran straight into me.
“Monsieur le chevalier!” I exclaimed. It was Julien.
“Don’t call me that,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to know me as a ci-devant.” He paused and added, “I need your help.”
“Are they after you?” I asked, relieved that he had sought me out. It meant he didn’t think I was one of them.
“No, I don’t think so. Marie-Catherine had her baby. A boy. She named him Phébus.”
“They took him away from her and said they would give him to a wet nurse.”
“How do you know all this?”
“Through a neighbor whose uncle was in prison with her. For forgery.”
“They guillotined her this afternoon.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“You wouldn’t. There was no need to send her before the Tribunal a second time.”
“Then you know where I work.”
“I saw you at my parents’ trial.”
“You were there? I didn’t see you.”
“No, you kept your nose buried in your papers.”
“I saw you at their execution. You avoided me, as if you thought their blood was on my hands.”
“Nobody’s hands are clean anymore, Gérard. I don’t blame you. What could you have done? People have to put themselves first to survive. Will you help me?”
“What do you want?”
“I want you to find the infant, my brother’s son.”
“To make sure he’s safe?”
“To bring him to me.”
“Julien, are you mad? A man on the run? Because if you aren’t now, you will be soon.”
“I want to take him to London and give him to his father.”
“Does he deserve to have him, abandoning his mother like that?”
“She was pregnant, and he had to leave France in secret. You know—going on foot, wading across rivers, sleeping under bridges. He was afraid she’d lose the baby.”
“And the others? Berthe…”
“Some other time. Do you think you can help me get out of the country?”
“I’ll do my best. You know I’d risk anything to save your life, don’t you, Julien? But first I have to find the baby. Do have any clues who this nurse is?”
“None whatsoever. I thought you might ask. You have contacts.”
“It will take some time. Asking questions makes people suspicious. How can I get in touch with you?”
“You can’t. I don’t stay in one place for long. Who knows where I’ll be when you find my nephew? I’ll contact you.”
“Well, goodbye then.”
“Goodbye. And thank you.”
We shook hands, and he disappeared into the fog.
It took me only two days to locate Marie-Catherine’s baby, but what would I do with him until I found Julien again? I told the woman that I knew a barren couple who were looking for a child. They would pay handsomely.
I named a price, more than I could afford. Once she accepted, she’d take less if we couldn’t honor our promise. Perhaps Julien had something he could sell. His cavalry sword?
“And what will I tell the police if they come looking for it?”
“Tell them he sickened and died. As I said, they’re willing to pay, but it may take a while before they can raise the money.”
“I can wait. This brat isn’t going anywhere.”
I waited for Julien to contact me. Time passed, and I grew anxious. I told the child’s nurse that the woman who was to be the child’s mother had fallen ill and did not want to take it into her home until she had recovered. She complained that her milk was drying up because of an inadequate diet, and I gave her money. I was relieved to learn that nobody had inquired about the child since he was first given to her.
Julien came looking for me during the last days of Nivôse. As before, he waited outside the Tribunal and followed me home. As soon as we had turned off from the main thoroughfare, he ran to catch up with me and grabbed me by the arm. His first words were not about the baby.
“The Committee of Public Safety is on my trail,” he said breathlessly.
“How long have you known?”
“Three weeks. I’ve been on the move ever since, staying with friends when I can, or else sitting up all night in cafés, sometimes sleeping under archways or wagons in les Halles. I heard this afternoon that they arrested a man who put me up for a day or two after I left my lodgings.”
“They must be closing in on you.”
“They are. I’m sure they’d never find me once I was out of the city but there are guards posted at all the gates.”
“Wandering the countryside alone at this time of year? Where would you go? How would you keep warm? What would you eat?”
“Oh, I’d be all right. My time in the cavalry taught me how to survive in the wild. Gérard, do you know of anywhere I can hide until I find a way out of Paris?”
I answered without hesitating. “In my room.”
“Didn’t you hear me? They arrest people who let me stay with them.”
“My room is the last place they’ll look. The house I live in is a nest of the some of the most fanatic sans culottes in Paris. Their devotion to the Revolution is beyond question. Our only problem is getting you past my landlady, who’s a Jacobin Cerberus, and once you’re in my room you won’t be able to leave and will have to be as quiet as mouse.”
“Then how will we get past her?”
“I’ll think of a way. Here’s the address. Wait for me somewhere where you can see the doorway without being seen yourself. I’ll leave the house a little after midnight. But disguise yourself somehow. Do something to change your appearance. Shave that mustache and take the ribbon out of your hair so it will hang free. Dye it if you can. Most important, find yourself a red Jacobin cap.”
Sneaking him into Artémis’s would not be easy. To reach the stairs to my room you had to cross an inner courtyard, and the Leforgerons’ ground floor windows looked directly into it, and Artémis often stayed up all night. Her husband’s cough, which had all but disappeared over the summer, had returned with a vengeance when the cold weather set in, and he hadn’t left his bed in over a month, hacking incessantly and spitting blood.
I kept a small bottle of brandy in my room and also a few packets of herbs I used to make infusions to warm me on cold nights. I would bring a cup down to the kitchen for Artémis to fill with boiling water. That night I made a mixture of the strongest smelling herbs, broke off the end of a stick of licorice, and put them into a vial with a measure of brandy and a little oil, had Artémis fill my cup, and set the vial to stand in the hot water so the ingredients would blend. Toward midnight, I slipped the vial into my coat pocket and left the house, aware that Artémis had seen me go.
I joined Julien and waited with him in the shadows. He had altered his appearance in the way I had instructed. After half an hour, I handed him the vial and whispered, “Follow my lead and play your part well. Now come.”
We entered the courtyard and knocked on the Leforgerons’ door. “You husband’s coughing woke me three flights up,” I told Artémis, hoping that Citizen Leforgeron was not having a quiet night. “I went to get my friend here, Citizen Mautal. He’s an apothecary.”
Julien made a show of examining Leforgeron’s sputum before handing the vial to Artémis, telling her to empty its contents into a glass of hot wine and have her husband drink it slowly. She thanked us and reached into her purse for a few coins, but Julien refused, saying that free Frenchmen should not have to pay for a doctor’s care. We climbed the stairs to my room while she was busy administering the medicine.
When I closed the door behind us, Julien whispered, “I can’t stay here forever. How will I get back out?”
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