Yearning to Breathe Free by Bruce Harris

"The Fournier Bakery" is a historical fiction story set in 18th-century Paris. It follows Claudette, wife of a baker, as she navigates through the tumultuous times of the French Revolution. The narrative weaves her family's struggles with societal changes, including her encounter with a young aristocrat, Marcel, and her son Henri's choices. The story spans several decades, highlighting the impact of political upheaval on ordinary lives, and concludes in 2017, reflecting on the legacy of the past and its relevance in the modern world.

The Fournier Bakery, Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Martin, Paris -- Wednesday June 20th 1778

There were times, Claudette thought, when the Fournier bakery resembled her picture of Hell itself; dark, extremely hot and full of potentially damaging equipment. Her husband, Fournier himself, from a family so steeped in bakery it was named after an oven, was sweating and cursing alongside his eldest son Pierre, and at the moment it was men’s muscle that was needed to deal with and shape the heavy dough. She asked little from squat, strong-armed balding Fournier -- everyone, including her, called him Fournier, or Monsieur Fournier if they were on the make -- but this particular brief breather was one of her few perks.

The street outside was almost as hot and smelt worse, but an occasional waft of breeze was better than nothing. She sat down on the little stool she took with her from the shop, and almost immediately, two boys suddenly appeared from a nearby sidestreet running towards her as if their lives depended on it.

This didn’t bother her at all; boys dashing about was nothing unusual. But they were soon close enough for her to see that the one on the left was her youngest son Henri, aged ten, and both his and his companion’s eyes were wild with panic and fear. She got up from her stool.

He and his friend had no sooner burst past her into the shop when seven men also appeared from the same street and started running towards her at full speed.

She moved rapidly back into the shop and closed the door. So much for her short break and breath of air, she thought, and little Henri was going to need to have a very good tale to tell if she wasn’t to take a stick to his skinny rear.

'Hide us, Maman, please, please -- the boy said. He was almost in tears, and this was very rare for Henri, as tough a pup as could be, able to hold his own with all the local boys, though hardly tall, even for his age.

'I would be very grateful for your protection, Madame’, said the other boy; his careful accent and his odd clothes suddenly made her aware of him. But the men’s thundering boots were coming ever nearer, and Claudette Fournier could think and act quickly when the need arose.

She hurried the boys down to the cellar, bolting doors behind her on the way. In the dim light of the cellar store room, they listened to the men clattering on past and their bursts of language blistered Claudettes' ears, used as she was to men’s talk.

'Now, Henri, what is all this about? This had better be good. And who is your friend?’

They had both managed to calm their panic quite well by now, but Henri still took another deep breath before replying.

'Maman, this is Marcel, son of the Comte de Sevres’.

Momentarily struck dumb, Claudette now looked properly at the boy. Yes, of course; the snooty gait, for all his recent exercise, the front foot elegantly pushed forward, and the clothes simply wrong. Henri was no street urchin; she kept him as decently clothed as her means allowed, but even without the gaudy decorations and fineries, the Comte’s son was clad in cloth way beyond what a baker’s family could afford. Anger suddenly elbowed anxiety away, and Claudette seized a long stick from one of the firewood stacks nearby.

'I haven’t got time for this’, she said. 'Henri, what on earth have you done to cause a whole group of grown men to come chasing after you like maniacs? Tell me, boy, and tell me the truth, because if you have endangered yourself or this family, I will have to beat you long and hard to impress upon you to be more careful. I may not be able to punish his little lordship here, but I can give you enough for the two of you --

'I can take my share, Madame, if I need to’, Marcel said slowly. 'When my father decides I need a whipping, which he rarely does -- he is a dutiful father, but he is not a cruel man -- he has a burly fellow for the purpose, and it might well be my fate when I get home today’.

They both stood there, their eyes still wild and wide from their experience, Henri’s hazelbrown, lively and intelligent, and the little Comte’s a startling ice blue, signalling defiance and independence.

Claudette opened her mouth, but the aristo whelp hadn’t finished.

'I simply want to understand my people, Madame. Everyone in this street is living on my family’s land. My father is sickly and, much as it grieves and worries me, it is possible I will all too soon be the Comte de Sevres myself. I live my life in a cage -- a luxurious cage, yes, with all possible comforts and tutors provided for my education -- but a cage nevertheless. If I am to look after people who will be my tenants and servants, I want to know something of them and their world, or how else can I do the job entrusted to me by Providence?’

'Very good, Monsieur, but where does my Henri come into it?’

Henri, of course, had been quiet for far too long.

'Marcel and I got talking when his coach had slipped a wheel turning at the end of the street.

He was sitting nearby while it was mended, watched over by one of his men, and he saw me looking at him in all his gaudy finery. He beckoned me, and waved his man back. 'All I ever see is the inside of coaches, the inside of rooms’, he said. 'I want to know what is happening, how people live. If I disguise myself, will you run with me sometimes?’ I said I will if you do what I tell you to do and, above all, keep quiet; you are an aristo as soon as you open your mouth. The next thing I know, we are standing near a café and listening to a group of men talking freely about overthrowing the King and setting up a republic. Suddenly, Marcel is almost shouting at them about being traitors to France and his father will have them all arrested. I managed to get him on his feet and away before the men got into their stride, or I can’t imagine what would have happened to us’.

'Perhaps I deserve to be whipped for sheer stupidity’, Marcel said.

'Perhaps’, Henri said, looking at his friend. 'But how long I would have lasted in your world, Marcel, without making a mistake, I couldn’t say’.

'Is it so wrong for us to be friends, Madame?’ Marcel said. Claudette looked at the eyes again, so young, so alive, and her girlhood running free in the Norman countryside, in and out of the trees and tracks, came vividly back to her. Her anger eased, and her practical sideasserted itself - a son befriending the heir of an aristo was not an opportunity to be easily spurned. If this boy would one day, perhaps one day not far into the future, have the power of tenancy or eviction in his hands, a certain amount of friendly acquaintance could be very useful; some friendships formed in childhood lasted a lifetime.

'No, Monsieur, there is never much wrong with friendship. But true friends try to avoid getting their friends into trouble, not drag them into it. If you are to run with Henri, as you call it, you must remember what he tells you; keep quiet, pretend to be a deaf mute or something, keep away from places where men gather and drink, and don’t forget that Henri has duties of his own and doesn’t have unlimited time to run the streets’.

'Thank you, Maman’, Henri said, and the brown eyes were glistening now. She gathered both of them into her. Henri was the youngest of the five children to survive her ten pregnancies, and the survivors all had such a place in her heart that she could never stay angry with them for long, especially the youngest.

'But what to do now?’ she said, as their little group hug broke up. She was still holding the stick, absurdly, and she threw it briskly back into the woodpile. She thought for a moment.

'Henri is not too badly off for clothes; he has two older brothers and he is much the same size as they were at his age. If you go with him again, Marcel, you will find a quiet spot near the Sevres town house, put on what he brings you and change back when you leave him. For today, I will get Jean-Claude to take you in the delivery cart with a cover over you -- he knows all the quiet routes -- to the neighbourhood of the Sevres house. You could tell your father you were meeting a friend and you got lost. If your father is as you say he is, I doubt whether that is a sin worthy of a whipping, but if it should prove to be, then you are to consider, Marcel, as we humble folk have to every day of our lives, that actions have consequences’.

For the first time, Marcel looked a little embarrassed, even ashamed.

'As you are so good, Madame, I must be honest, and there is not much risk on this occasion.

My father is at his sanatorium and will not be back until this evening, and the burly fellow is not an informer. I don’t doubt you’re right, Madame, but I am safe for today at least’.

They were interrupted by a sound of such ill-tempered rage that all three of them jumped involuntarily, even in the protection of their cellar.

'Claudette, where the HELL are you?’
Fournier’s indignation knew no bounds when any family member wasn’t doing exactly what Fournier wanted them to do. Claudette’s grace and favour break was well and truly at an end. The knot of anxiety that gnawed away at her about Fournier twisted again; Fournier was not violent, or not towards her at least, though the boys had been on the receiving end often enough, but he was ageing quickly and this exhausting intemperance of his worried her.

'Stay here, both of you. I will send Jean-Claude down to you and you can leave through the back gate, Marcel under cover. Jean-Claude is a good servant who doesn’t ask questions; bless him, he probably wouldn’t understand the answers in any case’.

'Good God, woman, have you walked out on me? In the middle of a working day?


She kissed each small forehead and gave them both an arch look which set them giggling. That’s more like it, she thought as she climbed the stairs; that’s the kind of noise children ought to be making.

Fournier Bakery, Saturday April 25th 1789

The clamour outside was mounting, and Claudette was standing in the stock room behind the main shop, with two burly sons on either side of her, Pierre on her right and Georges on her left. They had both left boyhood well behind and they were big men, with Fournier’s build but height more typical of her own Norman d’Avranches family, who had wanted more for her than angry little Fournier. But Fournier was, after all, a businessman in Paris, with more money potential than any of the small-scale Norman shops in Caen.

Fournier himself was no more, having flown into a tantrum once too often in 1786, his heart finally giving up on sustaining a man irate almost from sunrise to sunset. And Henri, her jewel, with more brains and initiative than all her other children put together, had decided that sweating away in a city bakery was not for him and the only way he could see the world was in the Army. It was over six months since Claudette had heard from him, and as that was from a barracks in France, she couldn’t understand why he was unable to get in contact or visit or do something.

Thank goodness, she thought, as a lump of jagged wood splintered one of the smaller side windows, that Mireille and Esme had been successfully, if not particularly profitably, married off; delicate Esme would never have been able to deal with this, and Mireille would have launched herself into some foolishness which would have made the situation worse.

'If you can’t make bread we can afford’, a coarse voice sounded through the broken window, followed by expressions which made even a woman of the world like Claudette shudder, 'we’ll make sure you can’t make any bread at all, you bitch!’

I can only make as much bread as the available grain allows me to make, Claudette thought, though she remained too terrified to utter it. She was quite determined not to adulterate the bread with the appalling rubbish and street-sweepings that some put in it to make it seem more, and cheap. Grain was more and more expensive after another poor harvest, so the prices had to be passed on. She was running a business, not a charity.

But the mob no longer cared. She knew quite a few of the insane crowd now surging around the front of the shop, and it hurt her to see old friends and neighbours running with the mob, too frightened to argue or defend her business.

A huge crash against the front door forced her to a decision.

'The cellar, boys, now, down to the cellar!’

Pierre, bread knife in one hand and rolling pin in the other, looked at her reproachfully.

'Maman, can we not at least ...'

'No, Pierre, we cannot. They are a mob; they are insane and fighting them might cost you your life. A bakery is not worth your life; the cellar, please, and you too, Georges.'

She nudged and pushed at Georges who seemed frozen with terror, but it took Pierre’s more determined shove to move him. Picking up the weeping Jean-Claude from the grain store, stark as it was, they clattered away even as the mob broke in and started looting what little stores of bread she had managed to hold in reserve. Down, down, down, locking every door after them and hoping against hope none of the mob had found their way down to the little alley which the cellar opened onto. Down to the very spot where, nearly eleven years ago, she had had her one and only close up contact with a bona fide member of the French aristocracy, who she knew had succeeded his father as Comte de Sevres in 1783. While he was a huge improvement on some of the landlords known in her area of Paris, he kept mostly to the Sevres town house and the Sevres chateau miles away in the Vendee, his childish follies now dismissed as such in his mind, no doubt. This time there was no leisure to stand and talk; they were through the door into the mercifully empty alley and shortly enmeshed in the maze of back alleys passing behind the shops and counting houses of the Rue du Faubourg.

By the time they found their way back onto the main street, a good six hundred pieds du roi up from their shop front, they looked down to their left at the diminishing mob outside, with all those who had found any bread, or even bread ingredients, scampering away with them before anyone could stop them. Then a gathering pall of smoke rose from the shop.

'Oh my God, they are burning it down’, said Claudette, retreating into the alley and finally bending her head to weep, as her two boys consoled her and Jean-Claude sank to the ground with his head in his hands.

For once, Georges had a moment of his own. He was the first to see, way down at the far end of the street, a grand coach begin its rapid progress towards them, relying on anyone in their way to get out of it rapidly. They all knew the Sevres coat of arms and the Sevres livery clearly enough. Two men were perched on the front of the coach, one of them armed, and a further two at the back were also armed. Two more guns were emerging from inside the coach, one of them clearly held by the young Comte de Sevres himself, now an athletically built and immaculately dressed and wigged young man. As if that was not discouragement enough for the rapidly dispersing mob, the coach was followed by a group of six horsemen, and as Claudette looked and looked again, her heart almost stopped at the realisation that the one at the front was undoubtedly her Henri, showing the superb horsemanship the Army had taught him. He blew her a kiss and waved to his brothers as he thundered on past.

Claudette and the three young men with her abandoned all caution and went pelting down the street after the mounted men. By the time they reached the front of the bakery, it was clearmthat the shop and parts of the wooden buildings behind it were already beyond saving. The Sevres men were concentrating on getting what water they could from the drainage trenches running down the street and the surrounding shops to help the neighbouring traders stop the fire before it engulfed the whole street.

For some hours, all was chaos and confusion; Sevres’ following and Henri and his men helped the desperate locals fight the fire and some help eventually turned up from the Parisian authorities, which some declared, if quietly, was a miracle in itself. A few brave souls who had an idea of continuing looting were briskly discouraged by gunfire. It went on and on and on, and at the end of it, an exhausted, bedraggled and smoke-blackened Claudette found herself being gently helped up into the Sevres coach.

'Your servant, Ma’am’, said the Comte, and his gorgeous gold and blue clothing was bespattered with dirt and even singed in parts. Even his wig was decidedly askew, but the face and those ice-blue eyes related back only too clearly to the little boy who had once stood forlornly, if proudly, in her own cellar.

'Marcel -- may I call you Marcel, Monsieur le Comte?’

'Of course you may, Madame; perhaps I may even take the liberty of calling you Claudette?’

She nodded. 'Henri alerted me to how things were; he had only just come back from his leave when he heard rumours about the ugly mood in Paris, particularly directed at the supposedly profiteering bakers.'

'I can’t make bread without grain, Marcel. Not proper bread, which isn’t going to poison people. But where is Henri? I have yet to have the chance to speak to him. And why is he here at all.'

A sudden noise outside, and then he was there, Henri himself, climbing into the coach while his brothers and poor Jean-Claude, weeping quietly, waited deferentially outside. Claudette had her arms around her youngest boy once again; she felt the strength and power of him, and her despair began to ebb away, even as the remains of her business smouldered.

'I got indefinite leave, Maman’, he said.
'Most of us have not been paid for months anyway -- the Army is falling apart between the royalists and the revolutionaries - and the boys who came with me also have relatives in this city which seems to be slowly going out of its mind.I was sure Marcel would help, even after all this time’.

Outside, Claudette saw Jean Claude being helped up on to the back of the coach, and Pierre and Georges sharing some of the men’s horses. She felt the sensation of movement as the coach trotted away more sedately than it had arrived. She turned to look at the count.

'As your son says, Claudette, Paris is mad and dangerous, and it is best for us to make thewhole trip to the Chateau de Sevres to consider the future. We are a large and well-armed enough party to look after ourselves. You will be my guests until the decisions we need to take are taken, and I am only too desolate not to have arrived early enough to save your business, Madame Claudette. You may rely on me to make amends’.

As the fetid Paris air gave way to the fresher country breezes, Claudette felt her eyes closing and her head drooping. A nightmare had turned into a dream, and it was time to rest.

Wednesday October 23rd 1793 -- Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Martin

The tumbril turned into the street, with four armed soldiers leading it and two others following. Robespierre considered it amusing to send the Comte de Sevres through the heart of his own Parisian possessions on his way to the guillotine. Robespierre couldn’t know then that his own time would soon come, and his supposed incorruptibility did not stop him from enjoying what he saw as his own little jokes.

The Comte de Sevres himself was standing at the very front of the cart. He had been considered important enough to have a tumbril to himself, typical of the Committee’s ambiguous attitude to the leading aristos. Though his only clothes were breeches and a thin open neck shirt and his rather gaunt face had paled considerably, there was nothing in his manner to suggest fear or despair. People near to the tumbril noticed the undimmed ice blue eyes glancing around at the territory he knew so well. Like many aristos, he had been taught from an early age not to display naked emotion, and his mental resistance to what was happening to him was boosted by the absurdity of it; he was a vigorous, well-made twenty five year old man with a promising future, quite possibly in public service, and the nonsensical charges laid against him were unfounded and unproven. Yes, he had many royalist friends -- most of his schoolmates had been royalists -- and yes, he had and did correspond with them. It was hardly surprising, given the chaos that France had become, that the state of the country had been mentioned more than once. But to say it amounted to plotting against the revolution was ridiculous, given that most of it was before the Revolution was even thought of.

As the tumbril clattered sedately down the street -- Robespierre felt that people should have time to look at the condemned and see for themselves the consequences of defiance -- the escorting soldiers became more restless with each passing step. They had become used to people’s hostility, or more usually by now, indifference to prisoners going to their graves, but it was rapidly becoming clear that the atmosphere here was very different. People were emerging from their shops and houses, and the murmuring gradually increased in volume to something like the growls of a pack of animals. Sevres had restored the street at his own expense after the fires and riots three years ago, and unlike many of his class, fleeing Paris and even the country at the first available opportunity, he had stayed to try to protect his own people from the excesses of the regime.

Sevres found himself smiling at the people he knew. I did everything, he was thinking, everything I could humanly do to keep myself alive; I even had the good fortune to fall in love and marry Francoise Bertillon, the daughter of one of the leading lawyers backing the Revolution; such highly placed contacts as this made available should have protected him for long enough to keep him and his people safe. But his intense, instinctive personal dislike of Robespierre and Francoise’s outspoken self -- beautiful, big-eyes and brunette she was, diplomatic she wasn’t -- had ultimately brought him to this. He didn’t even know where Francoise was; he hadn’t seen her since his arrest, and for all he knew she might already be dead, with their first child still inside her; the Revolution spared no-one, even unborn babies.

It was as black as it could possibly be, but his father and his teachers had taught him that the blackest times demanded the bravest men, and he was still the Comte de Sevres.

The leading soldiers saw that the other end of the street was closing to them with the sheer volume of people placing themselves in front and around the tumbril. The officer in charge ordered the tumbril’s driver to accelerate his horse, but the mounting noise was upsetting the animal.

As the tumbril forced its way uneasily past the restored Fournier bakery, everything happened simultaneously. Eight men, led by the three Fournier brothers, suddenly emerged from a nearby alley; Claudette herself came out from her shop, accompanied by Francoise Bertillon, no longer in hiding, and they nodded signals at people up and down the street. The people moved in to surround the soldiers and prevent them from having room enough to use their weapons; the Fournier brothers and their friends smashed the back gate of the tumbril and helped Sevres down. Before the soldiers could fire a shot, the Comte had been hurried away down the alley from which the Fournier brothers and their friends had emerged and within minutes, everyone had discreetly disappeared, the horse had bolted, dragging the wrecked tumbril behind it, and six bewildered and bedraggled soldiers found themselves alone, gazing about them with the air of abandoned children.

Wednesday November 6th 1793, Chateau de Sevres, near Les Epesses in the Vendee region of France, 280 miles south west of Paris.

The main salon of the house gave onto a magnificent stone balcony looking over the splendid Vendee countryside. Marcel had not often been allowed here as a boy, his father regarding it as adult territory, and the fact that he now owned it and could use it to his heart’s content gave him an inordinate amount of pleasure. The day was autumnal, with a stiff northern breeze making its presence felt, but he and his wife had matters of great moment to discuss and neither of them had any doubts about the ability of servants to over hear if they chose to do so.

'Yes, Marcel, we are safe here’, Francoise said, leaning towards him, her dark eyes wider than ever and her very physical presence exciting him, as it always did.
'I knew when Henri told me what he had in mind that this was the safest place for us; he urged me to trust him and I did. For the moment, the whole Vendee has risen against the Revolution and it would take an entire army for them to prise us out of here’.

He forced himself to be rational; not easy, with her flushed beauty at such proximity.

'Yes, that’s true. But it cannot last. The Vendee cannot conquer the rest of France unless the country rises up with them, and it will not. The Vendee might want to restore the idiotic Bourbon monarchy; no-one else does. Paris will soon send armies big enough to crush the Vendee, and then the retributions will be terrible indeed’.

She registered a gesture of exasperation, but she knew he was right.

'Henri thinks we should go to America, all of us’, Marcel said.

'America?’ She said the word as if she had never heard it before. She gazed at him in amazement.

'You, an aristocrat with blood ties to the King of France, would go to a country which has just successfully rebelled against its king? Do you think they will welcome you?’

Marcel moved towards the front wall of the balcony and gazed down over his land.

'They were happy enough to accept help from the French monarchy to win their independence. Some people think that war caused the Revolution; France bankrupted itself helping the Americans break free of the British and hadn’t got enough resources left to feed and house its own people. They were also happy enough to take the assistance of a French aristocrat, the Marquis de Lafayette. They are a new, young country, needing and welcoming immigrants, and looking to build a future rather than fight the same old battles over again.

The choice for those who stay in France is between a murderous tyranny which has slaughtered thousands of its own people in cold blood, and an inept monarchy which keeps itself in the lap of luxury while its people starve’.

¿Â¿Â¿ñYes, there is much in what you say, my darling’. Francoise considered the practicalities, as she tended to do. ¿Â¿Â¿ñWe could sell everything; there is no shortage of local worthies who would want to get their hands on this chateau. We could charter a ship out of La Rochelle; there are enough standing idle at the moment. We sail far enough south to keep out of the way of the British Navy, and we make sure our ship is fast and has guns’.

Now she was on her feet, her whole being active and involved, and he loved her all over again. A discreet tap on the windows behind them; Henri Fournier stood there, now Master of the Sevres horse, gazing a little nervously out. Marcel went and flung the doors open.

¿Â¿Â¿ñYou will catch your death, Monsieur Le Comte, out here in the November wind’. He smiled.

¿Â¿Â¿ñWhen we get to the United States of America, Henri, you really must stop calling me that’.

¿Â¿Â¿ñYou mean ¿Â¿Â¿“ ¿Â¿Â¿ñ

¿Â¿Â¿ñYes, darling Henri, we do mean’, said Francoise, and for a moment, they looked at each other like three wild children contemplating the naughtiest prank imaginable. Then Henri’s face was suddenly disconsolate.

¿Â¿Â¿ñMy mother will not go. Neither will Pierre and Georges. I have sounded them all out about it. We know it is still too dangerous to go back to Paris. My mother wants to go back to her parents in Caen and help them run the Auberge d’Avranches; they are trying to run it on their own now, and her father is not well at all. This is the world they know, Marcel, and they will not abandon it, however difficult it might be’.

¿Â¿Â¿ñAnd they will have my help, Henri, at the very least with the passage there, which will need organisation and support in the teeth of this remorseless fighting. But does that stop you?’

A long, long pause, as Henri gazed at his feet, and then at the view over Sevres country, and then at his two companions. His back straightened and his face set.

¿Â¿Â¿ñNo’, he said, quietly but firmly. ¿Â¿Â¿ñI love France, and I hope one day to return, when the poor country has done with its desperate turmoil, at least for a while. But I need something different; I need to live without bowing and scraping to every arrogant fool with a title ¿Â¿Â¿“ forgive me, Marcel, but you are not typical, by any means ¿Â¿Â¿“ and above all, I need a chance to make a life away from this endless, pointless bloodshed’.

In the silence following his words, a stiffening breeze brought them the sounds of the Sevres estate stretching out below them to the very horizon; the plod of horses drawing their ploughs; somewhere, the buzz of playing children; the clunking of carts along makeshift roads and, mercifully distant but nevertheless audible, the spasmodic dull thud of cannons.

Thursday April 20th 2017, Restaurant Chez Fournier, Rue du Fauboug-Saint-Martin

Anthony J. Sevren, attorney at law, a slim, well-dressed man with an easy authoritative air and disconcerting ice-blue eyes, and John Furness, archivist and historian, more casually clothed and more academic and detached, had just enjoyed a three course Parisian dinner and were at their ease on the terrace outside the restaurant, enjoying two glasses of very old Calvados and watching the evening strollers pass up and down in front of them.

¿Â¿Â¿ñI had to pull in a favour or two to get this trip at all, John, I don’t mind telling you. But I’m glad I did. Ever since you got in touch with me last year, I’ve felt the whole fog of my family history has been lifted and I can feel ¿Â¿Â¿“ connected, I suppose, is the word’.

¿Â¿Â¿ñYes, and that’s good to know, because that’s a lot of what I’m trying to do. Families might spread themselves all over places and time, but the roots business is as it ever was’.

¿Â¿Â¿ñSo we know that Claudette did come back, judging by the name of this place?’

¿Â¿Â¿ñShe did. In 1800, well after the Terror had subsided, Claudette and her sons moved back to her bakery. Both of her parents had died by then, and the Auberge d’Avranches taken over by her cousins. She’d been sending Pierre on regular trips to check up on the situation in Paris, and by 1800 they felt safe enough to go back. The case against Sevres collapsed, in any case, after Robespierre’s death, and the fact that she and her family had helped Sevres to escape was more in their favour than against them. Exactly when the bakery turned into a restaurant we don’t know, since for a while it seemed to function as both, but Pierre Fournier’s grandson Michel proved an artist at cooking generally as well as baking, and that swung it towards the restaurant’.

¿Â¿Â¿ñBut Henri never went back?’

¿Â¿Â¿ñNo, he didn’t, which is sad, I suppose, but it wouldn’t have been feasible while the Naploeonic Wars continued, and in 1812, of course, Britain and the U.S. were at war for a while. He couldn’t possibly have returned before 1816, and by then Henri was 48 and not too well, with a family of his own to look after. Oddly enough, considering his youthful aversionto it, he set up as a baker, with Marcel’s help initially, your great however many times it is grandfather, but as an American baker; by the turn of the century, he had twenty shops, and by 1816, over fifty. He didn’t get back to see Claudette before she died in 1817. Henri himself died in 1836, and it was his grandson Philippe who anglicised the name to Furness in 1866 after the Civil War, when everyone without an American name was seen as suspicious’.

¿Â¿Â¿ñAnd Marcel the Comte, my noble ancestor, prospered in the States?’

¿Â¿Â¿ñYes, he did. He bought an estate near Boston, and staffed with a mixture of American people and French emigres ¿Â¿Â¿“ not all the people who fled France back then were aristocrats; in fact, only a minority of them were. Francoise adapted her knowledge of law to the American codes and made herself legally useful, also to both American and French clients, so they did well enough for themselves and started the dynastic legal tradition which continues in you, Anthony. Exactly when they anglicised the name by changing one letter of it, we don’t know, but Marcel’s grandson Hugh was a precise, fussy man and we think it was probably him, to stop himself from having to keep on pronouncing the name to people’.

They fell quiet and sipped their drinks, watching the remorseless drift of passing people, whose racial and ethnic diversity was very obvious.

'They’re coming here now, John, aren’t they?’


'The huddled masses of Emma Lazarus. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free’.

They were all ours once, and now here they are in Europe, and thirty years down the line, who’s going to have the ageing population and more sick old people than people of working age, and who’s going to have a more youthful population and a more diverse and adaptable culture? We gained from the English religious wars and the French revolutionary wars, and now the tide flows away from us rather than to us. Welcome to the New World, John’.


Taken from 'The Guy Thing' a collection of short stories published by The Linnet's Wings Press in 2017

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