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“La frère, it hurts, it hurts bad,” the cry came from a little girl barely seven years old curled up in pain. There was an older boy, practically a man, holding the girl gently rocking her back and forth. There was pain on his face, but it wasn’t a sickness of his own that ailed him, but the knowledge that he could do nothing for his sister.
Max, the boy, ran his fingers through her dirty-blonde hair that hung limply down her back. He often thought about how her locks might have been curled and bouncy instead of limp and muddy; that is if they had lived I a proper house, if mere hadn’t died while giving birth to Cecile.
“It will get better Cecile, just think about other things and it will stop hurting soon.” Max comforted Cecile desperately hoping that his words were true. In fact Cecile was very ill, and she had been so for days. It wasn’t unexpected considering the situation; the two of them had lived in the streets of Paris all of their lives. The streets were crowded, narrow, and filthy. They were no place for a little girl like Cecile, yet the streets were full of them; infant, mothers, and little children. Cecile wasn’t the first to fall ill, nor would she be the last, but Max found it hard to think about the hundreds of other children while his little sister was lying frail in his arms.
“Yesterday, La Tante was telling me about princesses. I heard a person walking by talking about a princess, but he wasn’t being very nice about her, so I asked La Tante and she told me.” Cecile was making a brave effort to follow Max’s instructions and think about other things but he could still hear a hint of pain in her voice. “I don’t think she sounds like a dirty-rotten spoiled brat who feasts while we all starve. I think she sounds nice. Her name is Mari Therese, she has a brother Louis-Charles and she used to have another brother but he died. She gets to wear pretty dresses and get presents. She never gets sick because if she does her mother tells the sickness to go away, and since she’s the queen it has to listen to her and….”
The next amazing trait of the princess was cut off as a cry of, “Watch out underneath!” split through the air. Max swept up Cecile and leaped out from underneath the window as the contents of a chamber pot was spilled into the streets, and ran into the gutter in the middle joining the ever-flowing river of waste.
“I wish I was a princess.” Cecile stated longingly, “Then we wouldn’t have to dodge other people’s waste all of the time, and we wouldn’t have to sleep without bread like we had to last night. I at least wish we weren’t poor orphans.”
Young children often have the wonderful ability to state things simply. They can tell you what they want without sounding whiney, greedy, or ungrateful; but as though they are just stating a fact. This is possible because they are the innocent. Cecile, although she had been subject to so many hardships, maintained that innocence while still managing to show incredible insight of the world around her. That was what Max loved most about his sister. “You are already a princess Cecile.” “What is my kingdom then, and who are my subjects?” Cecile asked curiously, surprised at her unknown royalty. “Why you are the princess of the Paris streets of course, and your subjects are all of the people who live here, though they don’t know it your highness.” Max replied regally glad to see a happy expression overshadowing the pain and fever on his sister’s face. “Well then, there’s no need for you to call me your highness le frère because that makes you the prince of the Paris streets.” At that moment, a familiar figure came over to the children.
“Bonjour La Tante Amelia,” Max said in greeting her. She wasn’t really their aunt, she had been a good friend of their mother’s and had kept her alive for long enough for Cecile to be born. She had raised Cecile, because though Max would have tried, a ten-year old boy can’t raise a baby on his own. She had brought a single piece of stale bread and a small fish, the fruits of her morning’s work; and one of the best hauls in days. She gave it all to Cecile and though she weakly protested that they should eat some, Max and La Tante refused. The two of them knew that Cecile needed her strength more than they did right then. “Au Revoir, Princess Cecile,” Max called behind him as he left and headed toward the boulevard. “Au Revoir Prince Max,” Cecile replied. Max smiled, but his smile faltered as he heard a sputtering cough in the distance just as he turned off of the street.
After years of wandering Paris, Max knew the streets as well as if a map was etched on the inside of his skull. As a child, before La Mere died, he had often come to the boulevards for some fun. It was a place of joy and filled with noise. Picture a street crammed with every sort of place and person you could imagine; everyone laughing and yelling and cheering. Among the hullabaloo are the noises of the hurdy-gurdy, the hand organs of the magic-lantern girls, the shouts of the peddlers, the calling of the names of the lottery winners, musicians, and people shouting at the entertainers.
As Max was walking onto the street, a little boy around nine-years old came up behind him. It was obvious that he was trying to be a pick pocket, and it was also obvious that he had never done it before. Max turned around and addressed the kid, “If you’re looking for money, I haven’t got any, but you could try that guy over there.” He pointed over at a gentleman dressed in fine silks who was apparently headed for a day at the theatre. The boy flushed a deep scarlet; embarrassed at being caught and told how to do the crime properly by his intended victim. “Merci,” the boy muttered under his breath and he hurried away. Max smiled at the boy, reminded of his younger self. Coming back to reality, he realized that he needed to get to work so he could get some food for Cecile before all of the bakers ran out.
“Don’t soil your best shoes! Hire a gutter leaper to carry you across the stinking streets! Low prices! Only one sous!” Merely minutes after he began calling out, a woman dressed well better than most on the streets approached him saying she needed to go down to the Les Hulles market. “Oui mademoiselle, you just ride piggy-back style and I take you where you want to go. When we get there you pay me, it’s simple enough.” Max explained this to the woman after she asked how the operation of a gutter-leaper thing worked. Apparently she was from the countryside and had come for a visit with her sister. “Not the best time for a visit though as it turned out, it’s filthy in these streets!” The woman had been talking constantly since they had set off from the boulevard. She was easily distracted and constantly interrupting herself with observations on the state of affairs in Paris. “The streets are always like this Mademoiselle,” Max told her and she looked aghast at this fact. “Always! That must be….oh look, there’s my sister’s street. She just had a baby you know. What street do you live on?” Max paused for a moment, taken aback. At first he considered ignoring her, but then she might get mad and not pay him, and he needed the money to get some food. “Eh, all of them in turn Mademoiselle. Oh look we’re here.” Max tried to draw her attention away from his answer and it seemed to work as she reacted only to the last part of his statement. “Oh, are we already? Well that was a short trip wasn’t it?” She then handed him the money and walked away, although he could have sworn he saw her glance back with a look of pity on her face.
Thinking that this had been the longest trip down La Rue ever, Max looked down at the money she had handed him and saw that it was not a Sous, but a gold Lirres. Either the woman had been very bad with money, or she had pitied him even more than she let on; Max expected it was the latter. He was torn between his excitement at the extra money and how much he hated the pity that people felt when they heard about his situation. It stemmed from when his mother had died. He had sat there in the corner of the poor house crying as he tried to help La Tante clean off his new baby sister. Sad looks of pity were all he saw through his blurry eyes. He had been angry at them for just sitting there watching as his mother died, without so much as naming her daughter, or bidding her son adieu. Even at the time, the small logical voice in the back of his mind knew that they couldn’t do anything to help her, and every single one of them had enough problems of their own. However, as so often occurs, the logical voice was ignored and every pitiful glance from then on reminded him of the worst day of his life.
As these thoughts were running through his head, Max had walked over to a meat shop and gotten a small piece of meat. With his change, he headed over to the bread line. So absorbed was he in his thoughts, that it took him nearly five minutes to notice that something was odd. Although the people in the breadlines rarely looked happy, today they looked furious. The cause of their anger was revealed to him soon, as the baker cam out to make the crowd go away.
“Look, there is no bread for the millionth time. Leave, don’t bother going to another bread line, there’s no bread anywhere in Paris.” The people in the lines swore at him angrily. Among the unhappy were the ladies of La Poissonnerie. The women who worked at the fish market were tough; there wasn’t a dainty bone in their bodies. At the moment they looked mutinous and spoke of going straight to the palace of Versailles and strangling King Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette with their bare hands. By the sound of it, max figured they were serious. Not wanting to get caught up in this, he took his small parcel of meat and started heading back to where Cecile was with La Tante.
When Max found them, Cecile was in a feverous sleep. Her hair was matted in sweat, and she kept tossing and turning. “Thank goodness you’re back. We need to get her inside, but I haven’t been able to carry her myself.” La Tante said as soon as he was in sight. As they lifted the still sleeping Cecile and began to carry her inside, Max could feel the fever burning in her body. “Has it gotten worse?” Max asked, although he already knew the answer. “Much, even before she fell asleep it was as though she wasn’t there. She would barely respond to me,” came the quiet sad reply.
Eventually they reached the nearest poorhouse and found a small space in the corner. Max began trying to mop Cecile’s brow with a small rag when a memory came to him. In this same building seven years before, with a much small Cecile in his arms, his mother had died. The distant memory of this time terrified him even more than he already was.
“Max, she needs something, herbs, medicine, anything. Just take whatever money you have left. It’s her only…..” She couldn’t bring herself to finish that last sentence, and Max was rather glad of it. Hearing it out loud would have made the situation seem even direr. “Au Revoir Princess Cecile,” Max whispered into the sleeping girls ear, and then he left her.
It was afternoon already when he stepped outside and started off towards the market. However, he had hardly gone a block when his path was blocked by a huge mass of people led by the ladies of La Poissonnerie has had seen earlier. The women had not calmed down, quite to the contrary. They looked even fiercer, not to mention that now they were fully armed and had been joined by the “Revolutionaries,” as they call themselves. These people had torn down the Bastille, and were joined by some who looked like they had just gotten caught in the crowd, just as he was about to be. Max looked around for an alley that he could go down until the crowd passed; but before he could find one, he got pulled into the growing mass of marchers.
Many times on the march through Paris, Max tried to break free from the crowd, but he was caught in a rip current of angry Parisians heading to the palace of Versailles. Around him he could hear the men speaking loudly of political injustice, while the women invented gory tortures for the hated Marie Antoinette. Through the racket he heard small sobs of a small boy, and as he looked to his left to find the source of the sound, he saw the small pickpocket from the boulevard. He was around Cecile’s age he noticed, and he had blonde hair similar to hers. Max reached over and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. The boy looked up in surprise and said, “Hey you’re that boy from earlier!” “Yes, I am and I know how you feel. I don’t want to be her either.” The boy smiled trustingly up at him and Max had an idea.
It was nearly evening when the National Guard arrived. The general led the guard into the crowd and marched at the front, but he still looked apprehensive; as though he didn’t think that this was the best plan of action. Max saw only Cecile’s face as he was pushed out of Paris and into the countryside. A heavy rain had begun to fall, but the angry mob didn’t falter.
Max whispered his plan to the boy who had told him his name was Andre, and they immediately began to put it into action. Andre let out a spectacular cry and fell dramatically to the ground. “Mon frère, someone help him!” Max cried. At first the effect was as desired; most people ignored them. Either they hadn’t heard over the angry roar of the crowd, or they just didn’t care. They just pushed around the two boys; which of course is exactly what they wanted. However, when the back of the group was finally nearing, their plan had been ruined by a kind-hearted soul. This was just what they had been dreading, and who would very nearly bring about the downfall of their plan but the talkative woman that Max had taken to the market earlier. “Not her again,” Max muttered under his breath. Of course she would ruin his chances of getting back to save Cecile.
“What was that?” The woman asked suspiciously but before she could go on Andre shouted out,
“Look they’ve passed! We are free!” He punched his fist into the air and jumped up and down jubilantly. Andre began to run back towards Paris and the other two set off after him although the woman was slightly confused.
“Why were you in such a hurry to get out of there anyways? Ouch my feet hurt from all of this walking.” She inquired after they had started back towards Paris.
“Well neither of us wanted to be there in the first place mademoiselle, by the way what your name is?
“Annemarie, my sister’s name is Amelia and my cat’s name is Muffles; what’s yours?
“Max” he told her wearied by her manner of going on about unrelated topics “You’re a really strange Mademoiselle, Annemarie.” As the lady, the gutter-leaper, and the beggar boy walked back to Paris they talked companionably which Max couldn’t help but think about how odd it was. Of course, Annemarie did not seem to be a very conventional woman. He was almost enjoying himself except for the fact that for all he knew his little sister could be dead.
He was standing outside the door of the poor house afraid to walk in. As he stepped over the threshold he tried to steel himself but he couldn’t stop his eyes from filling with tears. The walk over to the corner where la Tante sat seemed to take a lifetime. Max kneeled down and picked up his sister whose breathing was shallow. La Tante looked at him expectantly but he shook his head sadly. He hadn’t been able to get Cecile any sort of medicine, he would explain what happened later but he couldn’t do it now. Cecile’s breaths were becoming wild gasps and her skin had stopped burning and was now becoming cold and clammy. It was in the early hours of the morning when her body gave a final shudder and went still.
How long he had sat there sobbing he didn’t know but he needed to leave this hated room or he would just sit there drowning in his grief forever. Trying not to think he got up and walked from the room. La Tante called after him but he just kept walking. His head was spinning, it was his fault, and maybe he would have been able to save her if he went and got medicine. No, it wasn’t his fault the money he had in his pocket wouldn’t have been enough for the medicine she needed. Was it the revolutionaries’ fault no it was the King’s fault he was the reason the revolutionaries were there in the first place. The King took all the grain so Cecile had never had enough to eat, and she was always so delicate. If the upper estates hadn’t restricted everything lower class people did, maybe somewhere along the lines someone in his family wouldn’t have been homeless in the first place and both she and his sister would still be alive. Unconsciously he had brought himself to the perfect place for revolutionary thoughts, such as the ones he was having; the Palais Royale.
Max walked into one of the taverns where a passionate revolutionary was making his speck. As Max listened; ideas that he had before ignored or scoffed at started to make sense to him. He took a pamphlet that a boy a bit younger than he was handing out and began to read. On the cover was a cartoon showing an old farmer bent over and the weight of members of the upper estates depicted as animals he was forbidden to kill ate his grain. It spoke of injustice to the people of France and how the King did not have the divine right to rule as the royals believed that they did.
Max found himself thinking of the marchers still on their way to Versailles, and he kind of wished he was still with them. He wanted to help bring the King to justice. Suddenly in his mind it was directly the King’s fault that his little sister was now dead. He decided that he wasn’t going to rest until the revolution succeeded, he was now a revolutionary.