Céleste: Their Heads Off
"Céleste, where are you?" Comtesse Mélodie's clear voice echoed through the room. I stood up from the corner, where I had been packing a little bundle to take home- it was Sunday, and that meant my weekly visit at home.
Her voice slightly trembled, or so I thought, so I, who'd grown rather fond of my young Mistress during the last three years, hurried over to where she stood, in the door-opening.
"Oui, Madame- what is wrong?"
She faintly smiled at my obvious concern, but her pinkish lips were trembling and I noticed it.
"Nothing, Céleste. It's just- my father has just returned from la Ville, and- well, apparently some rascals tried to attack his carriage. The coachman got hit by a wooden stick, but Father is alright."
It was quite the torrent of words, and she wasn't even finished when I, politely yet urgently, inquired
"Jacques, Madame? Is he alright?"
I had grown rather fond of Jacques, ever since our first meeting, three years earlier. It was he whom I owned my position as a chambermaid to, and I knew that. Armande, who was and stayed to me a quite unfriendly, bitter woman, would never have picked me up, right from the streets. It was thanks to him, Jacques, that middle-aged man with the rather ridiculous wig surrounding his broad, serious yet pleasant face, that I earned some money- that we, my family, were able to survive. That Jeanne hadn't died during her first years of life.
The Countess impatiently shrugged her shoulders.
"Yes, naturally he is. But oh, how glad I am that Papa is unharmed!"
It was the first time ever I heard her use the endearing name "Papa" to address her father. It surprised me, a little. I knew she wasn't close with the Count who, despite being a not unkind man- everything except the tyrant Armande sometimes was- seemed not to notice much of his only child. It pained my mistress- I could read it in her eyes- but she never spoke of it. She and her father just didn't talk to each other very often, as far as I knew. And if they did, it was in the formal, awkward manner they also employed whilst communicating with strangers.
I, too, expressed my joy for having the Count return without any injures, but in my heart I thanked le bon Dieu more for the fact that He had so kindly saved Jacques.
I did go home on that day- the way I did every Sunday. I went home in the late afternoon, to be picked up by the Countess's coach in the early morning of the next day.
Going home always was a strange experience to me. I wasn't used anymore to the noise of so many people in so small a room- that was the core of it. My head often ached, but I bit my lips and smiled. Despite everything, the small, crowded, noisy house was still my one true home, and I would still prefer it above every palace in the world. For it held Jose, whom I missed the most of all my siblings during the long week days, and little Jeanne, who was now five and a rather active little girl, and my brothers, of whom the youngest was now fourteen, taller than me and earning money already. And father, naturally, whose hair had gone greyer every single week, but whose tired, brown eyes still smiled every time I knocked on that door again. Sandrine was a good wife to him- that I saw, I wouldn't have loved her as my stepmother had she not been that!- but in a way, I knew he was weary, worn out by life. It pained me to see my strong father becoming an old man so early, but it, so I presumed, was another one of those many, painful things in life that were reserved for the poor.
The question of nobility on one side, and poor people on the other, united in one city was a rather heatedly-discussed one in all the city, so I learnt, and even in our house not everybody shared my calm vision on it. Especially Betrand, my youngest brother, was very ardent in declaring that it was not fair, simply not fair, that "they had everything, and we had nothing". It was a fact, of course, but revolting, as he and apparently many people, spoke of, was something that had never ever so much as popped up in my mind.
"What have they ever done to earn their riches, Céleste? Nothing, I'll tell you! What does that Countess of yours do all day?"
"Reading," I replied. "playing the piano, sometimes, and at night, she and her father dine with…"
"Exactly! She does nothing to earn her beautiful dress, her money, her wealth- while we…"
I poured some more beer into his beaker, so as to make him shut up- it was all so very confusing.
"Bertrand, that's the way life is organized. We have to accept that." was my calm reply.
He shook his head, his mouth too filled with the hard bread that formed our dinner to reply.
I got an answer, though, of a rather unexpected person. Of Robert, my quiet, serious elder brother, who had been observing the conversation of his younger siblings with interest.
"Céleste, Betrand may have a point- think about the death of mother. If the food supplies would be more equally divided… perhaps we should try to make the nobility see…"
"Rubbish!" Bertrand, after emptying his mouth, roughly interrupted his elder brother.
"You cannot be serious! As if talking to them will help! Etienne says we'd better simply cut off their heads!"
I sighed. Etienne was our neighbour- a fat, insolent man who was exceeded in rudeness only by his absolutely tactless wife Marguerite. He would be just the one to promote such violent practises…
"Come on, Bertrand… I mean, cut off their heads?"
I had never seen my little brother as angry as on that moment, when I openly criticized that vision of his. He stood up and leant over the table over to me.
"Yes, we will, Céleste, and if you don't agree, we'll cut off your head as well!"
I helplessly laughed, but I knew it was no joke.
As I noticed everyone's worried looks- even my father looked up from his plate- I knew it was no joke.