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Your Wildly Devoted Joly (and also Legle de Meaux)

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"I don't see how you can have lost a shoe, unless you walked home from somewhere in your stocking feet.  Did you do that, Joly?"  She eyed him thoughtfully.

(Joly, she had found, had one or two defects, if you were inclined to call them that.  Musichetta wasn't sure she was so inclined, but his certainty that walking with a bare head in the rain--walking at all in the rain without a very large umbrella and a silk or woolen muffler as well as a hat--would lead to pleurisy, pneumonia, and plague, could be tiresome, even though it was how they had met.  She had been standing under an awning waiting for a storm to pass, three months ago, and had become aware of a young man staring at her.  "You really shouldn't be outside in this," he had said, and Musichetta had walked away.  But the shelter of the young man's prosaic umbrella had come flying along behind her and imposed itself over her head.  "I prefer the rain, sir," she had said coldly--and had received a flowing torrent of apologies in a southern accent in reply.  (Avignon.  Probably they had spent childhood within twenty miles of one another.)  It was only, said the young man, that he had been reading about the particularly damaging effect of magnetism and rain on young people--thunderstorms were the worst but these lingering spring showers weren't much better--he was so sorry to be a pest but would she at least take his umbrella?  He realized that they were unfashionable and thoroughly unromantic, and perhaps she had poetic tendencies--did she have poetic tendencies?--but he was going to be a doctor and he couldn't bear the thought of letting someone die because he had been selfish with his umbrella.  Would she take his scarf?  He had on a good heavy coat and was sure he'd be all right, but--  They had not parted on good terms.  She rolled her eyes with her friends that evening about the glossy little bourgeois bantam that had run pecking after her skirts.  But another rain had found them under the same awning a week later: the hazard of working at a hat-shop near the medical school.  He had abandoned his umbrella to test this theory of elements and illness on his own person.  Her candor on the subject last week had struck him greatly...and...if he could ask without too much further impertinence, was she perhaps from Avignon herself?  And had she been long in Paris?  This little bourgeois bantam had very elegant curls, framing large expressive eyes.  He said I’m Joly; she said, Of course.)

So: "I don't picture you walking home like that.  Barefoot.  With all these miasmas and the weather to contend with."

"Well--no.  I didn't do that."

"So?  How did you lose a single shoe?"

"I loaned it to a friend."

"..."

"...who needed it.  You see, he'd had an accident to one of his shoes, involving a bowl of punch...Courfeyrac's punch, do you happen to know M. Courfeyrac?"

Musichetta raised an eyebrow.  "Our social circles overlapped a bit last year.  I think he was M. de Courfeyrac then?  And I've had his punch, too."

"There you go--you've tried the punch, and you can imagine there might be any number of incidents in which a man might lose a shoe.  A very unlucky man, not like me."  He was trying to flutter a flock of kisses up her hand and her wrist.  Musichetta did not care to be distracted.  "So, what, did he hop here on one foot so you could lend him yours?  This friend?"

 "Well--no.  No, actually.  No.  Actually.  Ehhh, hmm, it's a funny thing, Musichetta, but as it happens he lives here too."

"Oh, he does, does he?"  This was the first time Musichetta had come to Joly’s room, and she hadn't expected a roommate.  She knew, though, about men who liked to surprise women with extra company.  "Will he be dropping in soon?"

"Of course not.  He’s out."  Joly rocked back on his heels and looked terribly worried.  "I'm sorry, my dear.  It's, I know it's not...is it too awkward visiting a man who lives with a friend, even when the friend isn't there?"

It struck her suddenly that he might never have had a girl in his room, or at least this room, being new to Paris.  She kissed his cheek.  She herself felt quite old: twenty-four, and well past that new-to-Paris excitement.  “Hush, it’s all right.  --But wait.  When you say you have a friend, a very unlucky friend, acquainted with M. de Courfeyrac--”

“--just Courfeyrac--”

“--all right, plain M. Courfeyrac--”

“Er.  My friend’s name is Bossuet?  Or Lesgle?  L’aigle de Meaux?  Do you…”

“Ah.  Our...social circles used to overlap.”

“Um.”  Joly rubbed his nose.  “They overlapped closely?”

“Well, rather.”

 "He never mentioned--”

 “No one had started calling me Musichetta yet.  I was going by Maria then.  That being my name.”

 “Oh.  ...Well, anyway, that’s all right.”

“How very good of you to say so.”  She began tidying herself up.  It had been a nice evening while it lasted.  Sitting around to hear herself forgiven unnecessarily would spoil it.

 “No, I mean-- Bossuet’s just wonderful.  Lesgle.  Don’t you think?”  Musichetta paused, with hairpins between her fingertips.  

 “Or maybe you don’t.  Er, perhaps you aren’t on good terms.  I’m terribly sorry for mentioning it.”

 “Nnno, we… No.  There’s no ill-will.  I just haven’t seen him in a long time.  He misplaced me at a ball and didn’t find me again.”

 “That sounds like Bossuet.  He’s always losing things.”

 “But I’m a person.”  She was pinning up her hair; Joly began gently removing the pins.  She tapped his hand away--also gently.

 “Of course you are.  No, Musichetta, look at me?  Of course you are.  What a stupid way for me to put it!  I just mean that nothing seems to work for him, he probably meant to get back to you and--I don’t know, something absurd and bohemian must have happened to prevent it, there’s always something absurd and bohemian happening--”

 Oh, dear.  She trapped Joly’s fingers and kissed them.  “Don’t sound so surprised by that, my Joly.  I grew a little tired of all the absurd and bohemian things happening all the time, but maybe I could find my way back to that circle again.”

 “It’s not all absurd.”

 “No?”

 “Er--some of it’s rather political.”

 “Do tell.”

 “Right now?”  He had freed one of his hands and was at work with her hairpins again, freeing her hair from loops and braids.  He had quick fingers.  “I don’t mind talking politics right now, if you want.  For instance, would it shock you to know that Lesgle is a fierce and terrible Republican and has been converting me?”

 She leaned against him despite herself.  “...when I said do tell I didn’t mean right now.  We can do other things right now.”

 

--

 

Even with all that--and for all that Joly talked about him--it was weeks and months before she saw Lesgle again.  He was always discreetly absent, leaving only traces such as slippers very down at the heel or a battered hat.  Sometimes Joly was absent as well, figuratively or literally.  It seemed that she had met him at the beginning of a grand upheaval in his life.  They had met in spring and in August he vanished from her life for three weeks, leaving behind a letter with a thousand apologies: following a grand public demonstration, a funeral, he and Lesgle found it necessary to spend some time quietly out of the way in the south.  The letter was brought by another friend, barely sober enough for the job.  He had been entrusted with something else: one trunk full of odds and ends that Joly would come back for later (another thousand apologies for burdening her thus but she was the first reliable person he could think of, and she was welcome to read the pamphlets if she liked), and another smaller trunk full of books, meant as a gift for Musichetta.  Books, a very pretty umbrella (only a hundred apologies to go with this unRomantic article), and a small careful miniature portrait of Joly himself.

When Joly returned they picked up where they had left off--more or less.  His bed now met the wall at an odd angle.  It aligned the body’s circulation with the earth’s poles.  It also meant that they had to jam an end-table between its corner and the wall so that it wouldn’t move too vigorously--and that meant that things occasionally fell on them.  Generally books and stacks of paper.  (“Oh dear, it’s Saint-Just,” said Joly, retrieving a pamphlet.  “I wonder if he minds.”  “I mind,” said Musichetta.)

So that was how the autumn passed, until November.  Two or three times Joly tried to pay little bills for her.  She declined.  Musichetta was not ready to consider herself a kept mistress.  Once Joly appeared outside the hat-shop with a birdcage and two finches.  They had belonged to his aunt, he said, recently deceased, but they made him sneeze.  Could she--did she know anyone who would like to keep--they were quite tame, sat on your finger if you offered a bit of seed--his aunt had understood them to be a married couple and had called them Monsieur et Madame, but he was sorry to say that his friend Combeferre had examined them and pronounced them to be both males, which explained the lack of eggs despite all the effort, when you thought about it--otherwise they were quite respectable--  Musichetta raised her eyebrows, but kept the birds.  She saw no point in renaming them.  They seemed happy.  

 

--

 

About three months after his first disappearance to Avignon, late in November, Joly vanished again.  There were demonstrations in Paris, violent demonstrations violently repressed.  The hat-shop where Musichetta worked had its windows broken and the girls were told to keep home for a few days.  As she stood outside another shop, wondering if she should ask if they had any employment in the short term, Musichetta realized that a young gentleman a few feet away was trying to catch her attention.  She recognized his coat and his hat from Joly's rooms before she recognized the man himself.  

When he lifted his hat in greeting, she laughed behind her hand.  “Oh, Lesgle.  You haven’t grown any more hair since you left me, that’s for certain.”  His answering smile was as warm as she remembered, but he didn’t laugh; her own smile faded immediately.  “What is it?”

“A note for you from Joly.  And I’m to make his apologies in person, as he won't be able to take you to supper tomorrow."

The letter seemed to have fallen into a fireplace at one point.  But the soot didn't make much difference: the whole thing was a scrawl, illegible, the signature only half-familiar.  "What's happened?  I can't read this."

"Well...he's hurt his arm."

“My god.  Was he caught in the riot?  Was it--”  She caught herself from asking anything political.  “Has he had a doctor?”

"Our friend is with him, he's another medical student--I'm sure he'll be all right.  Joly told me specifically to tell you not to worry."

"But you are worried."  He didn't deny it, and he didn't protest when she insisted that he bring her back to Joly's lodging.

 

--


The medical-student friend was in the room with Joly, giving him something in a cup.  He commanded another dose of laudanum in a few hours, then stepped out into the hall with Lesgle for a few words in private.  It seemed Joly had a broken collarbone and cracked ribs.  One eye was puffed shut and his lips were split; it was a challenge to find a place to kiss him and obviously just as challenging for him to smile after she had.  "Bossuet was supposed to assuage your fears.  And take you to supper if you liked.  Dear Bossuet...isn’t he lovely?"  She kissed him again rather than let him struggle with words.

Musichetta and Lesgle sat up while Joly dozed and woke and dozed, and gave him his laudanum as instructed.  "Will you tell me what happened," she asked Lesgle at one point, "or is it a great secret?"

"What?  Not from you, I don't think."  He looked surprised.  "He caught some of my bad luck, and some policemen tripped over him.  A friend pulled him out.  Combeferre says we should expect some fever but that he's confident the bones will heal well."

 "That was Combeferre here before?  How close is this Combeferre to being a doctor?"

 "Well..."

 She closed her eyes.

 

--

 

Musichetta stayed that night, asleep in Joly's extremely comfortable armchair.  At one point she woke and saw that Lesgle had joined Joly in the bed.  She had vaguely wondered whether they shared or whether Lesgle took the couch, and she supposed that now she knew.  Joly’s head was nestled on Lesgle’s shoulder.

The next day Musichetta crept as silently to her little room as she could, to freshen herself up and give the birds some extra seed and water, and pack a few necessaries into a bag.  When she told the porter that she would be in and out attending a sick aunt for a few days she could feel her cheeks flush.  It was not a convincing performance.

She stopped at her hat-shop on the way to Joly's lodging and found it still shut up, the owner not around, the front not swept. A sinking feeling in Musichetta’s heart didn't go away altogether until she was back in Joly's pleasant little domain; Lesgle had nodded off in the chair she'd slept in before, and there was a visitor sitting by the bed.  After a flustered introduction she recognized the man who had brought her the trunks back in August.  He seemed nearly sober today.  It didn't do anything for his singularly unfortunate features, but now his smile was more of a smile and less of a leer.  Grantaire: he was enchanted to meet her, and would she be staying for dinner?  He had engaged himself to prepare a proper meal suitable for an invalid and for some healthy young friends, the more the merrier.

 Lesgle went home with Grantaire that night and Musichetta slept, very lightly, in Joly's bed.  He insisted.  They passed a fretful night.  The fever Combeferre had warned of came, and Joly worried about it, worried about pneumonia, worried about a hundred things: more laudanum helped the pain and the worry but left him alarmingly confused.  He clung to her with his good hand and talked about the future, their future, everyone's future.  He and she and Bossuet and Grantaire and Bahorel and Combeferre and Enjolras! and a half-dozen other names she’d never heard.  In the Republic, they would all…  Dawn found Musichetta awake, smoothing Joly’s black curls around her fingers.  He at least had found real sleep.

 She didn't go home that day, and life settled into a quiet pattern.  She read to Joly when there weren't visitors.  Two days later found them well into Trilby when Lesgle returned from a market expedition, bringing Combeferre with him--and Combeferre’s medical permission for his patient to entertain more company.  Another friend followed close on their heels, then two more showed up…  At first Musichetta tried to make herself invisible. She tucked her book away at her elbow and took out some sewing. This was a close-knit crowd, altogether male, with its own language of private jokes and incomprehensible references even in the presence of a sickbed and a stern-faced protective Combeferre.  It was a club.   But one very young man caught sight of her book--exclaimed over it--had she read Nodier’s other stories?  Smarra?  Ah, and what about the Infernaliana?  Never?  Oh!  He would bring it to her tomorrow or the next day at the latest--that is (blushing suddenly) he could bring it to Joly and trust in its delivery--

 Just as she was coming to the conclusion that this must be the poetical friend Joly had mentioned several times--the conversation had drifted into a cemetery--two things happened at once.  Combeferre began to make tutting noises about his patient needing rest, and the porter let in yet another young man.  He was perhaps ten years older than the present crowd, taller than Joly and somewhat lighter in his coloring but unmistakably family.  He looked around the room with the same bright gaze and the same raised eyebrows, until his eye fell on Bossuet, perched on Joly’s bed.

 “Lesgle!  How nice to see you again.  And...I see that my little brother has surrounded himself with many more friends and nurses.  Father and I have come up to bring you home while you recover.  I thought perhaps I would stop by your rooms myself first while he arranges our hotel...”  

 Clearly, it was time for the crowd to disperse.  

 

--


“Sorry about that.  They’re very pious people, Joly’s family.  Something Evangelical.”

 “Really!”

 “Yes, it’s quite a story.  His father was a Martinique merchant and made the mistake of traveling on one of his own ships once.  They were wrecked--I understand this to be the natural state of things when you go to sea--and he floated for two days and a night supported by a crate carrying Methodist Bibles.  When he was rescued he swore to reform his life, marry and convert his mistress--thereby saving her, as he had been saved, and ensuring that the rest of their children were not born in more sin than strictly necessary--and return to France an exemplary family man.  Did Joly really never tell you that?”

 “He did not.”  Musichetta digested the thought.  “Only that he was the youngest, and that he took after his mother.”  The one who had been saved.  

 “Then I’ve been indiscreet.  With all of Joly’s daily rhapsodies about you, sometimes I forget that we haven’t all been living together for months.”

 “Yes...”  She was still thinking; Lesgle fell silent and they walked the rest of the way to her building.  Joly’s mother: had she been born a free woman?  Did she like Avignon?  In his fever, Joly, dreaming of the future, had spoken of children, his and Musichetta’s, a pretty fancy of education and equality and high hopes, the development of a thousand ideals, that was coming to his mind far too quickly for her to catch his confidence.  His brother’s arrival had sobered the atmosphere.  He hadn’t looked at Musichetta like a man considering a future sister-in-law.  He had not, in fact, looked at her at all: a polite omission, protecting Joly’s privacy.  

 At the door she turned and faced Lesgle.  “Are they really going to take him back south?  I know this...this accident has spoiled his studies for the term, but… What about you, where will you stay?”

 “Oh, I don’t know.  I’m sure he wouldn’t mind my staying in his rooms, but I’d better leave him to his family for tonight.  They’re lovely people, the best you could wish for, but I could feel them caring about my soul when we stayed with them in August.”

 “Ah.”  They studied one another.  “You could come up with me, you know.”

 

--

 

“I think this may have been a bad idea.”  Bossuet was stroking her hair; his hand stilled at her words.  “It’s--well, for one thing, Joly.”

 “Joly!  A wonderful person.”

 “That answer doesn’t help.”

 “Are you sure?  Joly’s wonderful qualities help me.”

 “...I’ve been trying to make my life less complicated.  Not more.  The porter gives me knowing looks.”  Bossuet sighed heavily, sat up, and began hunting for his shirt.  Musichetta flopped back further into the bed with her hands pressed to her forehead.  “I hate to think what she’s telling the landlord, who’s bound to find some way to lean on me for more money, I’m paid through the end of December, but…”

 “You should find a kinder landlord.  Mine treats me with great consideration.”

 “How much?”

 “Um?”

 “How much consideration?  Are you two… Never mind.  Don’t tell me.  It’s probably complicated.”

 “Um.”  

 She covered her eyes and laughed.  “Oh, Lord.  Oh, Lord.  This is what I mean by complicated, here you are seducing a young man and his girl at the same--”

 “Seduce!  I hate that word.”  He had come back to bed, and was resting his cheek on her shoulder.

 “Too calculating?  Fair enough, I know you, things just happen--”

 “I hate it when it obscures the word love.

 Oh Lord, she thought again.  He went on.  “If a man can be struck down in the street, all at once, by a falling roof-tile--or a flower-pot thrown out of the third-story window by a girl in a tempestuous domestic scene, that happened to me my first week in Paris--why can’t he be struck down all at once by--don’t laugh, you’re laughing while I expound on philosophy--why can’t he be struck down by Cupid’s arr--Musichetta, I asked you not to laugh!”

 “Bossuet--” she caught her breath.  “Bossuet, just remember to feed the finches on your way out.  I need to think.”

 

--

 

Her desire to laugh left with Bossuet.  For a moment she thought of throwing on her dress, her shoes, running out after him.  And what sort of a scene that would be, for the neighbors’ entertainment!  So: thinking.  Thinking took her the rest of the day and well into the next.  This was not unusual for November, a month that brought on melancholies and spells of deep introspection.  The strangeness of the last few days had merely pushed the inevitable mood away.

On the third day a note arrived, brought up by the porter, who described in detail the shabby coat and muddy boots of the young man who brought it.  “You know, the one who was here before, not the pretty little curly-haired fellow with the good tailor or that broken-nosed drunk.  It was the bald one, who spent the night recently.”  Musichetta took the note with a frosty look.  The handwriting was Joly’s--he had gotten better with his left hand, and she recognized it immediately, and then with a pang recognized herself recognizing it.  Oh, hell, what was she doing?

The note was short and much underlined.  Joly was going with his father and brother--would be back certainly in time for the start of April classes, hopefully before that--January? February?--would run away from his parents’ home in the middle of the night if necessary.  It will be very little of a Christmas without you and our dear Bossuet.  I’m cursing the haste I write under, no time to say to you all that I want or need.  Another letter will follow from Avignon soon.  Please continue in good health, my dear Musichetta, for the sake of

your wildly devoted

 Joly.

She put it down on the table by the bird-cage and went back to bed.  In the afternoon--the nearly-winter sun already hidden by Paris--she walked to the hat-shop and found it still shut up.  Someone had pasted a notice on the door: out of business, employees could apply for their back wages care of so-and-so at such-and-such an address.

Well.

So that was that.  She had no back wages owed; she had no desire to track down her employer and hear the story.  She went home by way of a genteel café she knew, where she spent everything in her purse on cakes and sweet wine to share with a few acquaintances she found there.  And--that was that.

She cleaned her little room the next day, fussed at her finches, put her modest library back into order.  The knowledge that she had no employment made the day vastly longer than the one before it.  She washed all her dishes.  She tried a new hairstyle, then shook her head at it in the mirror: these were the rituals of breaking with a lover, and whatever was happening, that wasn’t it.  But experience had not yet provided her with a ritual to settle the spirits after sleeping with her lover’s--well, whatever you wanted to call the situation.  So she went back to washing her dishes and airing out her linens and making a few alterations to her summer dress.  Dinner should have been an austere affair, considering her new financial circumstances, but she put off poverty for tomorrow.

And then she put it off for another week.  Her rent was paid until the end of the month; she had some savings… She had come to Paris with a slim inheritance and had invested it prudently, and it brought in enough of an income to feed her finches and herself as well if she kept her tastes as modest as theirs.  But she didn’t want to.  Musichetta liked her cup of chocolate and her brioche in the afternoon; she liked her little egg in the morning and her glass of wine at night.  

The solution, obviously, was to seek out another job at another shop.  Putting ribbons on hats, embroidering gloves, stitching up waistcoats, sewing sleeves on dresses.  Instead she took long walks through the city and looked about her.  She would catch her reflexion in windows, in puddles, in the glances of other Paris walkers who didn’t hesitate to appraise a girl on foot alone.  She tried on notions of herself in her head: a lost woman, a wise woman, a carefree woman with two strings to her bow, a poetical and wild woman, a Parisian woman.  Was she a grisette?  A girl-flâneur?  Her savings shrank.  A letter from Avignon came and sat unopened under the other note.  She tried out its contents in her head as well: perhaps Joly had spoken to Lesgle and was furious at them both.  Perhaps he had spoken to Lesgle and was hurt.  Perhaps he had spoken to Lesgle and was indifferent? forgiving? pleased?  Perhaps he had no idea of that entanglement at all and was only writing with small Avignon news…perhaps he was never coming back to Paris.   

A second letter joined it at the end of the month, and then a third, one week into January.  She had paid only two week’s rent this time and was no longer living on cakes and wine.  Today was the day she had set herself to look in earnest for work.  Christmas was over.

Still, it was hard to make herself approach these shops.  She ignored several streets that she knew to be filled with milliners and bootmakers, got on an entirely wrong omnibus and stubbornly refused to acknowledge her mistake (and stubbornly refused to think about Lesgle, who made a habit of such things) until she was in quite another neighborhood, one with windows filled with prints and journals instead of fashion dolls.  The man next to her got up, releasing the edge of her dress which he had pinned under his knee without noticing it, and Musichetta rose as well.  

Her search for work did not progress.  Musichetta leafed her way slowly through one bookstall, until the owner began to ask personal questions; then she moved on to a little shop full of maps.  Next were a flock of canards, a group of fashion plates, another bookseller…  A sign on a door reading WANTED: A WOMAN WHO CAN KEEP ACCOUNTS.  She picked up another book, eyed the sign, went back to reading.  Went two doors down past the sign and studied a few cheap ballads.  Crossed the street, spent more than she could afford on a cup of chocolate, gazed at an encyclopedia that was missing two volumes, and then--just as she spotted an omnibus that would take her somewhere more useful--surprised herself by darting back across the street and hurrying into the printshop with the sign.

She was, for what it was worth, a woman who could keep accounts.

Two women occupied the printshop, one young and one middle-aged.  They were both dark-skinned, brightly dressed; they both studied their visitor with interest.  Musichetta felt herself being sized up and squared her shoulders.  “Have you come in about the sign?”  That was the younger woman, a girl more or less her own age.  Evidently a plain speaker with a sharp eye on a possible new employee.

“Yes.  My father was a greengrocer and I kept his books for two years before coming to Paris.”

“Hm, two years.  Do you know the printing business at all?”

“Not a bit.”

“Fashion?”

“Certainly.”  The women behind the counter looked at one another--surely they were mother and daughter--and the elder took over in a soft voice: they sold fashion plates here and some theater prints, as well as running a very small press of their own.  Not a large business but they had held their ground here for ten, twelve years.  The husband had died two years ago: and now her eyesight was failing.  “And my Sophie does not like to keep books,” she finished.

Mother, I’m too busy.  --I’m the one who sees to the press business.  So you can talk fashion-plate to customers and manage accounts too?”  

Before Musichetta could formulate an answer, Mother piped up again, pulling the conversation back into genteeler tones.  How long had Musichetta been in Paris, and where had she worked?  Did she have any references?

 This was an awkward question, but Sophie burst into the pause.

 “Hold on, did you say Musichetta?”

 “Or Maria if you prefer.”

 “No, no, I’ve just heard that name--oh, now--hold on--are you the Musichetta who knows Joly and Bossuet?”  

 And that was just too much.  Musichetta covered her face with her hands and began to laugh helplessly, since it was that or to cry.  The older woman began to apologize, but soon her daughter was laughing along with Musichetta, coming around the counter and putting a friendly hand on her shoulders.  “No, it’s--I’m sorry, it’s only that I--oh, I shouldn’t laugh, but I know that ass Bahorel and Bahorel knows Joly and Lesgle--I’m not talking to Bahorel right now, we never fight but I am not in the mood for his anything right now--but he mentioned your name and it stuck in my head--oh hush Mother, of course she has references.”

 

--

 

Sophie, it turned out, was a radical.  

Within two weeks, she and Musichetta were friends.  She kept a portrait of Toussaint Louverture in her room--a loft over the shop--and several numbers of L'Ami du Peuple and Père Duchesne kept in protective papers.  She had been born in Paris, her parents in Saint-Domingue.  She smoked a pipe.  She wore a fuchsia dress that seared the eye.  She gave Musichetta analyses of Saint-Simon to read, and texts on economics.  She told Musichetta cheerfully that her mother despaired of her morals and her politics, but that they were equal partners in the print-shop all the same.  She sat Musichetta down between stacks of newspaper the first time she visited upstairs, and showed her a pike that was said to have belonged to a true sans-culotte.  "If the police ever came up here I'd end up on a hundred secret watchlists," she said blithely, "but it hasn't happened yet.  My mother keeps entirely to the correct side of the law.”  

But with all this candor, she asked very few questions and spoke very little of their shared political acquaintances.  Tact or caution?  Whatever it was, Musichetta appreciated it.  Rather shyly, she invited Sophie to a dinner up in her little room early in February.  An advance on her wages allowed it to be a pleasant affair.  As they were picking over the last of the calissons and brushing crumbs off their sleeves Musichetta found herself explaining about the finches.

“...So he gave you his dead aunt’s finches to take care of?”

“Yes.”

 “That’s serious.”

 “Yes.”

 “And I see you have quite a heap of correspondence next to the cage.”

 “I...I haven’t read it.  No, really, I--I thought we might have had a reason to quarrel, so I didn’t open one and then I couldn’t open the next without reading the first, and then, you know...”

 “Oh, Musichetta.”  They thought about this.  Sophie got up and poured out two more little glasses of vin santo.  “Should I open them for you?  I won’t read anything that looks juicy but I can take a quick glance.”

 “Oh God.  Yes.  Yes, God yes, will you do that for me?  Just tell me how they’re signed, then I’ll know where we are.”  Musichetta drank off her sweet wine and pillowed her head in her arms in preparation for disaster.  The little birds hopped and buzzed anxiously a few feet away.  Paper rustled.

 “Ahem.  All right, this is the first.  Your madly devoted Joly.  Next, your passionately devoted Joly.  Your very lonely Joly who wishes you were here so that he could--mm, mm, mm, well, I said I wouldn't read any of that.  Your loving Joly.  Let’s see, this next one is on a different sort of paper--ah, dated from Paris, so he’s back from the Midi--your adoring Joly (and also Lègle (de Meaux)), two sets of parentheses and a drawing of a...seagull?  Now there’s a dramatic one: Vive l’amour--vive l’avenir--vive la République--your dizzy-drunk Joly.  Goodness!  And here’s one from your faithful-in-every-meaningful-sense-of-the-word Lègle de Meaux, with another seagull.  Hmm.  Your desperate Joly--I’m afraid that one’s got a lot of vous in it and I see at least one Madame.  But don’t lose hope, there’s two or three more to come.  Now it’s your worshipful Joly, and you’re back to tu.  Your nearly-funereal Bossuet?  Hmm.  Three close-written pages from your infinitely respectful and forever enchanted Joly.  And that’s the last, that one’s from four days ago.  Shhh.  Shhh, no, everything’s all right, you can see these silly boys think the world of you.”  

She was rubbing Musichetta’s shoulders now while Musichetta sobbed.  I’m an idiot, said Musichetta; and You aren’t, said Sophie.  “No, I mean it, you aren’t.  So you took a little vacation from love!  I do it all the time.  You took a little vacation from love, you looked about yourself, you found a new profession and new friends, you caught up on some reading, you put yourself firmly on your own two feet.  Musichetta, you will be well. What you need to do is set up a proper arrangement with this young man--these young men? Well, never mind.--Write yourselves up a fine social contract, that's what I'd do.  But listen, shall I mention to Bahorel that a visit from your Joly wouldn’t be taken amiss?  I’ll do that.”

 

--

 

Two days later, Joly appeared in the doorway of the printshop.  He was thinner and his eyes looked enormous; he was tailored to a degree of perfection that could not be ignored.  He took off his hat and stammered three words before his face was buried in Musichetta’s hair.

And that was that.