It was quite late when my master returned to spend the evening with his friends. I recognized his footsteps on the stairs and hurried to stand by the door to collect his belongings. His eyes looked at me without curiosity, they were obscured by a cloud of wine spirits. With parsimony, my master took off his cape, his Musketeer's uniform and his sword and put them in my hands. As usual, I hastened to hang clothes and his weapon in the pegs next to the door before following my master to the bedroom, where I had lit a candle as darkness fell.
As I knelt beside the bed to help him remove his muddy boots, I thought, not for the first time, that life in Paris was much more difficult than in the countryside. My master was taking off his doublet and I rushed to take and check the clothes, it was my responsibility to mend and keep clean his clothes. This time he had only drunk and not fought. His doublet just needed a brushing. My master snapped his fingers and signaled me that he would leave early, I nodded, understanding his intention. For years, I was forbidden to speak and signs were the the most common way to impart me his orders. I made a bow as he lay half-naked in bed, I had to let him sleep it off.
In the wee hours of the night, I was doing my work quietly, brushing his doublet, polishing his boots so that they would last a little longer. My master changed his shirt every other day, and I chose one to do it the next morning. Once finished my work, I took my cloak and wrapped myself in it to sleep by the fire. My master gave me the option of sleeping on the divan by the window, but the day was cold and wet. I would be more comfortable next to the fire.
While I was waiting for sleep to come, I thought how bad my master would feel going to fulfill his service with a hangover. I would have to put wine on the table for breakfast. Dog hair. That may not be enough, but I could not think what else to do, I had some sausage in the pantry, but I did not think it would make him some good.
I started to nod, but at that time I heard pigs squealing and goats bleating. I swore under my breath that we lived so close to a butcher.
Our neighbor would be taking advantage of the cold to collect the blood of animals and make boudin noir. My mouth began to salivate, remembering times at home when the master ordered to give us servants some boudin, that was a treat, fried with garlic and some new bread, fresh from the oven. Next to my master had almost everything I could want, except delicious food and vast landscapes with clear air.
Peasant foods was what I missed most.
I have never complained about eating the leftovers of my master, grilled meats, cold fat and some bread. Everything was good, it was meal fit for soldiers, but nothing was like waiting for the summer, with the knowledge that berries, fruits and vegetables would be cool, freshly plucked from the earth. Nothing like waiting for winter, knowing that soon you would have roasted chestnuts.
I did not feel sleepy, there was an idea that was around my brain. I rose from my corner, thinking about our neighbor and his animals, about great home cooking...
I left the house.
When I returned, I could hardly believe my luck. I closed the door carefully behind me and pulled the bloody bundle in my arms. Kidneys. Fresh. From a suckling lamb. A real delight. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, trying to contain my excitement. In my mind, I went over each step of the recipe. It had to be perfect, as there would not be another opportunity, my bag was nearly empty.
The first thing to do was remove the skin and fat, which should not be eaten. I stretched the fabric by the fire and opened the pantry, taking the sharpest knife and a plate and a cloth, along with salt, oil, a head of garlic and a bottle of wine. Then I took a moment to breathe and try to hold me or I would make too much noise and wake my master.
In the next few hours, I discovered that life in Paris had ruined something: my ability to cook. When I tried to remove the skin to the kidneys, the blood of the animal jumped to my face. While the salt removes the impurities of the flesh, I cut myself with the knife trying to slice the garlic. Oil jumped on my hands when I put the pieces of kidney in a hot pan and it raised a few blisters. But when I spilled wine on the seasoned meat, the smell told me I had done it very well.
I threw my bloody shirt in the barrel where I soaked the laundry and gave the leftovers to the landlady’s cat. The dawn light was illuminating the Parisian sky and I washed to rid the smell from the kitchen. I returned to the room and barely had time to remove the kidneys of the fire and put a clean shirt on my back, when my master's sleepy voice called me. As every morning, he expected me to help him dress. I ran to the bedroom with his boots, his clean shirt and his brushed doublet.
While I made sure my master would give the adequate image to his rank, I kept thinking about the kidneys... I had not thought of my master's breakfast, just about how much I wanted to taste home cooking. There was not much choice now that he had awakened.
“Do we have fresh bread, Grimaud?” The question let me know that he recognized the smell of my kidney stew and he was thinking about eating it.
I shook my head.
“Go and buy some,” he ordered, putting a coin in my hand.
While I was going to get some bread, I pondered I could not expect anything else. My master was a country boy like me, and his nose was much better than mine. I was sure he could recognize the aroma of any peasant delight. Ultimately, it was my fault for cooking while he was at home.
Even the idea that I was going to eat freshly baked bread could not console me, but when I put the plate with the stewed kidneys in front of my master and I saw his radiant smile, I knew that the expense was worth it.
While he was eating breakfast I, like every morning, brushed his uniform and hat, ready to follow him if he asked me to. Maybe in a few days I could buy more kidneys, if the butcher had them in stock. Pity that they were no longer fresh...
Like every morning, while my master put on his uniform, I knelt before him to ensure that the folds of his boots were well placed. Unlike every morning, my master used his hand to tousle my hair. It was a strange gesture, but it made me smile.
"Stay at home," my master told me, his hat was firmly set in his head.
I nodded and groaned my acknowledgment, but I stood at the door until my master came through the main gate, not eager to enter and smell the ghost of the stewed kidneys. It was almost cruel to leave me locked up with the delicious aroma, but without food to eat.
My opinion of my master greatly improved when I was engaged in clearing the table, as usual, he had left the napkin on the plate and when I lifted the cloth I found half of the ration intact.