Read Gastien Pt 1 Online

Authors: Caddy Rowland

Gastien Pt 1 (8 page)

“I do. Mother gave me some. I should be ok for a few days while I look for work,” Gastien said casually.

“How much?”

When Gastien told him, Matt’s heart sank. The boy was so vulnerable. Gastien had enough money to either get a squalid room for about two weeks or two very light meals a day for a month. Not both. He should just turn around, taking him back home right now. On the other hand, that would subject him to God knows what. Jean Beauchamp might kill the boy after what Gastien had done to his father.
Non
, it was better to not get too emotionally involved and let the boy make his own decisions. He cleared his throat, saying gruffly, “When we get to Paris, where to you want to be dropped?”

Gastien immediately replied, “The 6th
arrondissement.
There are a lot of shops and restaurants there. I should be able to find work. And
Académie Julian
is close by in the 5th. There should be artists around, painting, who I can learn from. Unless that is out of your way?”


Non
, that is fine,” Mat said simply. The 6th! Almighty God in heaven! He wanted to be dropped right in the middle of it! People there would have little tolerance for homeless farm boys. There had to be many students and hopefuls just like Gastien in that area. People that had formal training. He prayed again, this time that Gastien would find work quickly. He was so young and so simple. Why would anyone take the time to teach him how to paint for free?

“It is going to be dark in about three hours, Matt. Surely you are not going back tonight.”


Non
, I have a brother in Paris. I stay there whenever I come to the city, to visit him and his family. I will do my business in the morning and then head back home.” Matt smiled again, trying not to show his worry.

“Do you come to Paris a lot?”

“Not a lot, but maybe quarterly.”

“Can you read and write?” Gastien asked.


Non
, I cannot,” Matt stated.

“Oh, too bad. I would have written to you and let you know my progress. Ah, well. Look me up sometime when you come to the city. I will either be in the 6th working my way toward painting, or by the
Académie Julian
. In a few years I will be in Montmartre with my own studio.”

“Montmartre
?
?? That is out in the country and quite rural. Why would you go there?”

“Because that is where the current art scene has been developing. I want to be where the excitement is.”

“I will remember. Montmartre in a few years.” Lord, he even thinks he will have his own studio! Where does this boy think money will come from, he wondered. Doesn’t he know how expensive real estate is? Of course he wouldn’t. Well, he was about to find out. Matt’s heart sank when he realized it would be almost impossible for a boy like Gastien to achieve that dream. He could not take the dream from him, though. Matt kindly kept silent about the studio.

Suddenly, they were on the outskirts of Paris, getting ready to head in. Gastien had always gotten excited when he entered Paris with his father, but this time he noticed how much busier it seemed than before. Everyone was in such a hurry! Many people looked polished, well put together. The excitement was not quite there as much as it had been a few minutes ago. He looked down at himself. He looked every bit the peasant farmer. How was he going to fit in?

Gastien was now strangely quiet. And Matt was afraid to speak, because he was afraid Gastien would hear doubt in his voice if he said anything. They rode through the streets in silence, Gastien trying to appear nonchalant and Matt pretending it took all of his concentration to keep the wagon in pace with the traffic.

Gastien’s stomach was sore with tension. He had waited so long for this moment, had played it out dozens of times in his head! Now that he was here, it was a different story. The story in his head skipped from arrival to being a successful artist. He was not sure how he was going to fill in the blanks. There was a lump in his throat that made it almost impossible to swallow, while his heart beat so hard that you could see a flutter on his shirt. Damn, but he was scared all of a sudden! As he looked around, he did not see one friendly face. There were just a lot of strangers with lives too different from what he had known. He did not even know where to begin looking for a place to sleep tonight.

 

II

The time had come for Matt to drop Gastien off. He hated to do it and knew he shouldn’t, but decided to offer anyway. “Gastien, if you want, you can come with me to my brother’s tonight. He would gladly to give you a place to sleep for a night and share supper with you.” Matt cringed inwardly. His brother was almost as poor as Matt, with a wife and six children. He would not be thrilled with an extra eighteen-year-old mouth to feed, even if for only one night.

Gastien was tempted. That would give him a safe place to sleep. He knew, however, that the longer he put off parting ways with Matt the harder it would be going it alone. His heart wanted to scream, “O
ui
! I would love to come with you for the night!” Instead, he silenced the voice of his heart and forced himself to smile at Matt.

“Matt, I really appreciate the offer. As much as I would like to accept, I think I need to get off of this wagon now and be on my way. Otherwise, I might be sorely tempted to turn my back on my dream. In fact, I would like to be dropped off up ahead by that small park on the right, across from those cafes.”

Matt swallowed hard, steeling himself to keep his voice steady. “All right, Gastien. I understand. If you can remember, my brother lives in the Pigalle area of Paris. It is not a very nice area, but it is what he can afford. If ever you need help, his name is Pierre DeBough. Tell him you are my friend, and he will feed you or give you warmth. Do you hear?”


Oui
. Pierre DeBough. Pigalle. I will remember,” Gastien said soberly.

Matt pulled to the side of the road. Gastien’s legs seemed to be made of wood. Those wooden legs felt glued to the wagon bench. He forced his legs to work, getting down from the wagon. He put his coat back on and reached up to retrieve his tarp full of belongings, securing it to his back. Gastien felt very conspicuous on the street with that bundle on his back. Like some gypsy coming in that did not belong anywhere near the city of Paris. His eyes filled with tears. Once again, he found himself biting down on the inside of his mouth to keep from crying. It would do him no good to stand on the city corner in the middle of Paris, looking like a bumpkin and crying like a boy. He forced himself to think about color. It is all about the color. It is all about the color, he told himself over and over.

Matt also had jumped down, coming around to say good bye to Gastien. He reached into his pocket and held out a small amount of money. “Son, this is not much, but it will get you a warm meal tonight. Please accept it.”

Gastien looked at Matt kindly. “Matt,
non
. I cannot and will not. I have some food for tonight and some money. I will find work. You have a wife and family. They need you to be responsible for them, not me. I could never feel good about taking food away from them. I very much appreciate the thought. Put it away.”

“Gastien, please – “

“End of subject, Matt,” Gastien said roughly. “If you don’t follow my wishes I will walk away without a goodbye.”

Matt could see Gastien was resolute in this, so he put the money away. Gastien was right, of course. His family desperately needed every bit of money they had. But, still, his heart hurt for Gastien. In a very short time, this brave, foolish boy had gotten under his skin. He stared at the young man and suddenly enfolded him in his arms. Hugging him, he softly said, “You are a dear friend in a short time, even though you are young enough to be my son. You know where to find me if you need me.”


Oui
,” Gastien whispered. He could not trust his voice. He cleared his throat. “Again,
merci
for the ride. Please tell Mother and Paul that I made it to Paris.”

Matt replied, “The pleasure was mine. I will let your mother and Paul know. Learn quickly, and don’t give up. Something tells me you will make it.” He stepped back. Arm on Gastien’s shoulder, he advised, “Think carefully, Gastien. Stay safe. Please, stay safe!” Matt turned to walk back around the wagon. Suddenly, he just could not let Gastien go off on his own. He whirled around to tell him to get back in the wagon – now – and come home with him.

“Gastien, I – “

But Gastien was already walking away. Matt knew that the boy had heard him, because Gastien lifted a hand over his shoulder and waved his fingers, but he did not look around. If he had, Matt would have seen the tears running down Gastien’s face.

Getting back up on the wagon bench, Matt sighed. He sat for a moment, watching Gastien walk down the sidewalk, blending into the crowd. Matt clicked the reigns and drove away, trying to forget the look of fear in those huge brown eyes. They were the eyes of a handsome young boy, whose dream would be impossible to achieve, because he simply would not have the money or the connections to achieve it.

 

III

Had Gastien been calmer he would have noticed that there were artists in the park and young students milling around the area, many of whom were not from the city. But he was scared and did not notice anyone else at the time. He simply walked as fast as he could, forcing himself not to think for awhile. He needed to clear his head, get some air.

After a few blocks his heart began to return to normal. He was still scared, his stomach hurt like hell from anxiety, but he was not in a panic. This is what you wanted, he told himself. This is the beginning.
Oui
, it is scary. So what? You must calm down and, actually, you must savor every minute of this. Someday, you will want to remember the beginning of your life in Paris. Try to memorize every detail. Look around you and absorb.

And look around he did! As he started to take in the surroundings, he began to notice that there really were a lot of people who did not look so polished.
Oui
, the sophisticated people were there, but there were people his age and people of other cultures, too. He did not stick out as badly as he feared. He chuckled. After a few days of not shaving and no way to clean up he would stand out a lot more! He saw that there were some artists, or students painting in the park. Many of them had unshaven faces, and no one seemed to mind.

His stomach relaxed a bit. He met the eyes of a young female who appeared to be about his age. She shyly smiled at him as she walked by. He smiled back. Well! Maybe he did not look like he had three heads after all!

Another young man, who was reading a book, bumped into him. “Excuse me! How clumsy of me!” the young man exclaimed.

“No problem!” said Gastien quickly.

The young man smiled. “
Bonsoir.”


Bonsoir
,” Gastien replied. Now he was beginning to enjoy himself. There would be trials to be sure, but fitting in would not be the problem. Food and shelter would be. For some reason, though, he felt much better knowing that he appeared to fit in with at least some of the people.

Gastien sat down on a park bench. He needed to think for a minute. What is most important for me this instant? Well, I suppose that I should eat. Now that my stomach is calm, I am quite hungry. It would be smart to eat while it is still light out. He decided to move further into the center of the park, by a lovely fountain that was shooting into the air. That was a peaceful place to have his dinner.

He sat down, taking out the bread, cheese and fruit. He divided the bread and cheese in half, saving the second half for tomorrow morning. Oh! There was the sweet that he had saved for when he arrived in Paris! He better eat that tonight, before it got too dried out to enjoy. Perhaps the fruit would keep until morning. He inspected the fruit.
Oui
, it would keep. Now he had fruit for breakfast and bread with cheese for dinner tomorrow. He would go without lunch, because he would be kept busy learning his way around and observing.

This might not be so bad after all. There were a lot of restaurants around. He would start asking for a job tomorrow. Gastien forced himself to eat the small amount of bread and cheese slowly. He needed to let his stomach realize that it was being fed, however meagerly. Perhaps making the meal last longer would make him feel full.

As he ate, he looked around. Over there was a well! Oh, how wonderful! He could drink as much of his water as he wished, because he could refill his canteen. Gastien waited until he saw people using the well. He knew better than to drink his water before he knew it was a working well! After a couple people filled water containers, he tipped his canteen back to drink his fill.

Gastien got out his sweet. Just when he was going to start eating it, he saw an old woman digging through a garbage can several feet away.
Mon Dieu
, she looked old! The poor woman. It was too late for any dreams of hers to come true. Gastien broke a small bite of the sweet off for himself. Then he got up and walked over to her. When he tapped her on the shoulder, she jumped, spinning around to face him. There was fear in her eyes. Gastien reached out a hand to steady her as she stumbled.

“Don’t be afraid,
Madame
,” he said gently. “I am not here to hurt you. I have just finished my dinner in the park. I am wondering if you would enjoy the sweet my mother packed for me. I am too full to eat it. If it is not eaten tonight, it will be dried out tomorrow.”

The old woman eyed the sweet hungrily. She looked at Gastien with sad eyes, put out her hand and whispered, “
Merci beaucoup, Monsieur
.” Her face burned with shame.


Merci
for helping me out,
Madame
. My mother would be very disappointed if the sweet went to waste.” He smiled at her kindly. “
Bonsoir
.”

He turned and walked away. He did not want to embarrass her. When he got out of her line of sight, he popped the small bit of sweet into his mouth, savoring the fine taste of it. His mother was an excellent cook and an even better baker. He would sorely miss her sweets. He almost wished he would have kept the whole thing for himself. Then he remembered the woman’s sad eyes, the sight of her digging through the trash. He realized with a shudder that in just a matter of several days, he might be wishing someone would share some food with him. Suddenly, he was very glad he had given it.

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