While waiting to pick up Janet in Dubuque one noontime recently, I pulled out the trusty old red Harrodʼs notebook and started writing more of the Villon novel (tentatively entitled Morte Saison). Still working for the Census, I must have felt starved for writing because I got about a thousand words down in the fifteen minutes (maybe) that I sat in the truck for her to get out for lunch. Those words, continuing what I intend for the third chapter of the story were the first thing I dictated once my recent employment (which sparked into a strange mini-life on Thursday when I was asked to contact my crew for possible immediate extra work out of town) ended. Needing a post for today, and having developed a habit of using weekends for literary samples, I thought I would provide a little more on that book for your delectation and criticism (?).
I hadnʼt thought of the Villon story in quite a long while, being more interested lately in finishing the Sepharad fantasy and new ideas for the Mantorville/Quetzal County horror story. But as I pulled out the notebook and looked through the pages available, I was drawn back to Françoisʼs situation. I had previously completed only a few paragraphs of this chapter, ending with “Four rogues and he one of them.” I knew they were off to commit a robbery, but I had no plans for which one. Villon was (later) involved in an important theft, and I had in the back of my mind when I started writing the book originally that this dark night would be that (later) evening. But by that time François was a much more hardened criminal than the queasy boy that Iʼve invented so far.
So I had to imagine another crime to be heading off to commit, and on that sunny noon in Iowa I hit upon Françoisʼs working as a copyist for the opportunity, as you will see. I think I want to develop his copying experiences at greater length, but I also didnʼt want to hold back the plot too much (yet), so the references here may have to be enough for the time being.
You can click the link to the story in the first paragraph above, but if you recall, young François was drinking in a tavern on the verge of committing himself to a huge turning-point in his existence, which, it turns out, is a crime, a robbery. His contact arrived at the end of chapter I, and now in chapter III, the group of thieves are on their way to the scene of the crime.
Chapter II remains pretty brief still, but this is the third chapter, continuing the plot, albeit with more recent flashbacks.
more from Morte Saison
The night was cold. François shivering wished he were back in the tavern. But what good was that? Without money, as he was, he would be out on his ass in the cold again immediately. At least now, traipsing along with his companions, he had the prospect of cash — however ill-gotten.
If he could trust these fellows. He knew them all or if he were honest, knew of them. He had seen them many times, been introduced to each long before this night. Some were actual friends, for now. Not a large crew. François looked at them in the moonless night ahead, dark silhouettes nearly invisible, keeping to the shadows and the darkest side streets.
Four dark figures skulking fast in the cold air toward their destination. Four rogues, and he one of them. Five for a crime.
He was their key, for he knew where the scrivener Amboise des Rouges had his strongbox in his illsecured stall, so conveniently backed on a black alley. And he knew that tonight that box would be heavy with coin, he and Amboises’s two other clerks yesterday having finished the copies of an immense project for the Church of the Madeleine, complex legal documents for an immense bequest from a near-royal family. The priests and deacons had hovered like black flies as the convoluted Latin was assiduously copied four times — some fifty pages all carefully reproduced without blots or errors. And the nobles themselves, completely illiterate, also clustered, also pestered, abetted by servants who always thought each letter they saw inscribed was incorrect somehow. More flies, lice, to be brushed away. Fleas biting all day long.
But the documents were finished, the priests and majordomos satisfied. Amboise had formally presented the copies to both parties and received from both the stipulated munificent fees, early this morning at the church itself, and with François and his two fellow copyists, Jehan and Bertrand, both fellow students and much more industrious and scholarly than himself, effectively standing guard, marched the bags, heavy with coin, back to the scriptorial stall, from which François knew, no coins nor bags had reappeared all day. Therefore, the coins lay waiting in Amboise’s supposedly secret strongbox. QED.
As his right foot moved forward for his next step, François felt in the darkness a heart-stopping qualm that he had ever mentioned over the dice his accidental knowledge of the strongbox and its hideyhole. Nearly six months ago, as evening drew its long shades over one of the long, hot sweltering days of August, François in all innocence had started back from his high stool and table in the forechamber, the actual scriptorium where the parsimonious Amboise had calculated barely the necessary room to fit three such stations, to beg some more ink from his master. He had fingered back a corner of the leathern hanging that separated Amboise’s private area from the rest and stopped, astonished at the sight of the text merchant’s wide back and buttocks bent low over the floor. Just as the youth was wondering, “What is the old coot doing?” with a thunk of wood the master straightened and pushed at the straw that overlay the floorboards. “Something’s hidden there,” François realized, releasing his hold on the curtain and stepping back — so as not to be caught spying, which he was not, then coughing audibly and putting the curtain aside forcefully to reveal Amboise seated as always counting a few coins on his table. That evening, with Amboise at his supper and Bertrand carrying a completed document to a court attorney for payment, François finding himself alone — Jehan having departed for a few weeks to visit an ailing relative in Tours — felt the fangs of curiosity gnawing at his soul, fiercer and sharper with each passing minute until, almost too late, he had left his desk and gone back into the private alcove, brushing aside straw and filth with his foot first and then his hands, discovering easily the loosend plank that exposed the carefully created hole beneath the stall and the strongbox therein. Almost horrified at the realization, the youth had not even touched the box but replaced the board and recast the straw, returned to his seat and made six letters before Amboise unexpectedly returned early, well fed and unaware that another now knew his secret.
It was the end of September before François unwisely first hinted at his special knowledge late one night at the Pomme de Pin, his enriched companions mocking his urgent need to return to the House of the Red Door and silently sneak into his upstairs room for a few hours rest ere his kindly but (deservedly) concerned the guardian awakened his wayward ward before dawn to commence his studies.
They were free men, not boys to bestir themselves, shivering with fear of reprimands from a demanding stepfather. They would remain out, adrinking and wenching so long as they lordly pleased. Long, loud laughs sent him on his way home, and lewd remarks, suggestive of relationships other than paternal between the aging priest and François, greeted him two nights later when the boy returned for more wine and dice. And losing again over the cursed bones, François suggested he was not such a boy as they believed — not him, one who could if he wished lay his hands on enough cash to keep losing at dice for months. At first impressive, his boast gradually turned sour in his mouth as some newer acquaintances in October and November began to press for details on this cache of wealth. Was his guardian about to leave him a bequest? Had someone decided to pay for his rhymes? More sneering. Still no respect. And those new others gazed with interest but held silent.
So he told them, and those newer not-friends told some harder men whom François only knew slightly. One of whom he owed money, and that debt rose up to make all the young man’s hours hell. All leading up to this dark night.