Paris: part two
Their plan, Broughton feared, would likely meet with resistance. Gremot had been enjoying his independence; he was about to be brought up short. He had been taught; he had yet to learn. In the best of circumstances, a matter of months is not time enough…neither to learn, nor perhaps to live. Tweedloe allowed Broughton to dispose of Gremot as he saw fit; Gremot might be, in this endeavor to stir the revolutionary pot, worked to death like a cart horse. The thing had been done before. And in such places as Paris and Brussels, there was no dearth of suggestible and unhealthy young men, whose capture by the police could not threaten those who employed them.
On the other hand, if he wished to keep Gremot, Broughton could put no great faith in the restraining power of debt. Tweedloe’s fifty-two pounds had been a calculated figment, a number designed to snare Gremot’s conscience and hold it poised between gratitude and anxiety. Too large a sum, and Gremot would run; too little, and he would not feel the weight of his deliverance. Tweedloe’s debt was thus (even taking M. Eckhold’s twenty pounds or so into account) merely a device―and fear makes the weakest form of control. Under the influence of fear, the powerless seek safety; they may seek it anywhere.
It was mutual interest which made useful servants. Gremot would like to leave his origins behind and rise in society; yet the well of inadequacy in which he’d been reared might never be filled to equilibrium. The unwisdom of Gremot’s choices bewildered Broughton. Upon earning a regular wage for the first time in his life, he’d first dandified his appearance with the purchase of a closely tailored suit; and had been getting of late, from some source or other, cigars, which he nursed at his desk, puffing and hacking. Gremot boasted, slyly, to Broughton, about the money he saved with his slum-house lodgings, and with a shrug had responded to Broughton’s questioning face―“But I am never there. I only sleep there.”
Once more Gremot had shrugged when Broughton, calling attention to his cough, had asked, “You do not find the arrangement rather―to state the matter bluntly―squalid?” And in the indifferent way in which he sometimes understood English, Gremot had addressed not the house but the habit: “No, monsieur, it is the healthiest thing to fill the lungs with smoke.”
So far as Broughton had observed, Gremot did not possess much in the way of a conscience. His morality was guided by a code of auspices. Should he gain entrée to the middle class, Gremot would readily adopt the moral tone of the middle class. His folkloric notion of retribution, in that case, would be superseded by bourgeois social constraints, and informed by gossip.
“Gremot,” Broughton said now, “I have obtained for you new employment.”
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)