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We didn't speak as we entered a small cafe for dinner that night. Guilt, anger, helplessness — all could attempt to explain how we felt.
After yet another minute of silence wound down, I grew tired of poking around at my perfectly grilled and impeccably presented swordfish. I glanced over at Logan. "What do we do now?"
Logan set down his fork and paused. Finally, he said "What is there to do? Abandon the Tour and donate the funds?"
I shook my head, laughing. "Not the best option. Your family won't accept that. We'd be shamed out of our homes if we returned now. Plus, how would that change anything?"
"It wouldn't, and that's the problem. It's not a small issue. It's massive, and its historic too. But that student felt strongly enough to act. Shouldn't we?"
"And go knife someone, the first gendarme we find?" I asked incredulously.
"Well," he laughed, "that'd fix the problem about going home now. I hear French prisons can be rather comfortable."
We chuckled and poked some more at our fish. After a minute, Logan spoke again. "The damndest part is that we're part of the problem." I shot him a look, but he didn't stop. "You're included because you're practically a noble and—"
"I'm no noble," I defended, interrupting him.
He didn't even bother responding to it. "People in Europe are rising up once more. The French started it years ago, but rich bastards like us put them down. Was it worth it, throwing about England's balance-of-power routine?"
I looked at him, hard. Logan, regardless of his faults, was one of the most patriotic men I knew. "It's not the same in England as in France," I countered.
"Sure it is! I eat lavish meals every day, and even if I wouldn't admit it, I know that in the countryside, some Englishmen are starving. It's just always been a fact of life. I never bothered to care. It's in the system. The wealthy get richer, and the poor suffer."
"And how does anyone, especially two men like us, change that?" I wasn't angry with his line of thought. I was feeling guilty by now as well. I just doubted that anything widespread could be done.
"Change the government!" He slapped the table with his palm.
"Oh for heaven's sake. Now you sound like a revolutionary. That French air, I tell you."
"Don't make jokes Nathaniel. I'm serious about all this. For my whole blasted life, I lived in the Shaded Oaks and watched others cater to my whims. Now, I'm in France, and I see a system that needs changes even more than ours does. They tried at least. We shot them to pieces and burned their lands, but Napoleon and the rest of them tried. What can you and I say?"
"Suppose we try something then. What will our efforts fix? Two people. How big of a difference will that make?"
He looked up and fixed his eyes on mine. A bead of sweat dripped down his forehead, and a vein in his neck pulsated with movement. "Tell that to Robespierre. And all the other men who brought down the king fifty years ago." His eyes flicked away. "How could I be so selfish? How did I miss it!" he said to himself.
"First, what about Robespierre's corruption? How many men were killed because of him? Some Incorruptible . . ."
"That's not the issue. He was a single man, and he made a change. That's all that matters."
"That and Waterloo. But I see your point. And now, in the immediate future, what are we supposed to do?"
"Change something," he said.
"Ah, pure, definite planning . . . 'change something.'"
"You think of something concrete then," he hissed, swigging a large gulp from his glass of wine.
By this point, our conversation had grown heated, and others were beginning to pay attention. Suddenly, a tall man approached us through the crowd, and by his dress and obvious swagger, it was plain that he was an aristocrat.
Nonchalantly, he sat down in an empty chair by our table. He folded his hands and set a bowler hat next to my wine. It drew my attention for a moment, because an interesting diamond-shaped medallion was attached to the hat. Inset into the medal was a Christian cross, bisecting the diamond's angles. The strange headpiece piqued my curiosity, but then I remembered that some stranger had just sat at our table; my eyes flicked toward him.
His English was accented, but I didn't believe he came originally from France. I couldn't place the accent though. "Pardon my rudeness, gentlemen, but your tone was loud, and I overheard. You want change, is it?"
Logan spoke before I could. "And who are you?" The clipped query was not polite. My friend was not in the best of moods.
"Names aren't important, friend. I asked a question." The abrasive voice pooled out of his mouth like some foul drink, and I loathed this interloper immediately. Our appetites gone, I made to stand. The man clamped a hand upon my wrist, buckling it, and I collapsed back into my seat. My eyes flashed, and Logan's arms began to quiver, his face livid.
"I ask," the bulky man continued, "Because you gentlemen aren't supposed to be the complaining type. You're the leading type. You lead. It's in your blood, and it's your duty." He paused, studying our young faces and attires. "On Tour are we?" he finally said.
I snapped my hand back from him grasp. "Why don't you leave, friend," I spit, using his greeting.
His dark eyes glinted, and he grinned. It was not a pleasant expression. "I don't like all this . . . talk recently. Students murdering in the streets and nobles feigning some sort of guilt complex. People like that tend to . . ." His voice trailed off as he spread his hands.
"I don't believe it," I addressed Logan.
"Are you threatening us, sir?" he said in turn.
"Threatening would be telling you we'll kill you and leave your bodies in the gutter if you don't stop your insipid talk of change, the noble's responsibility to give back to the poor, and all that shit. No, I do not threaten." His lips split, the predatory leer reappearing. "Besides, what would you do, anyway?"
Logan punched him.
The man, big though he was, crumpled out of the chair, and blood flowed freely down his broken nose and through his wispy mustache and long pointed goatee. Shocked, I gave a cry of clipped laughter. It was a nice hit all things considered.
Around the restaurant, several things had happened. Three other men leapt to their feet. Each was similar in build and dress to our unwanted dinner companion and all were wearing that strange medallion-studded bowler hat. Their hands were suspiciously thrust into their waistcoats. Not a sound carried throughout the room; all conversation had stopped. Every eye was on us.
Finally, the collapsed villain regained his feet, the goatee still blotted crimson along its lengthy point.
"Satisfaction." He spit blood. "I'll have satisfaction." Logan bowed in complete contrast to his hasty blow. I stepped forward, taking the ceremonial place of a second. Another man, his hand now removed from his coat, mirrored my move as well, walking up to his bleeding friend.
Logan, a smug, if serious smile on his face, left to return to our lodgings as I strolled out of the cafe with the other second.
The minute the other man spoke, the location of their accents came to me. He had the same lilting inflection as our dinner guest, only more pronounced.
"Conditions?" I asked.
"Mister Fuchs will fight your man however you wish. Blood is more important than form." The brute didn't strike me as an orator.
"Certainly. It'll be pistols, traditional form, at sunset tomorrow," I said. His portly neck bobbled in agreement. We set a location and departed from each other's company without another word.
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