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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Visualizing a Scene: It's Good if You Can Do It...

'Artist Sketching' by Constable 
I tend to be visually oriented.  Something, whether a graphic or an item, can serve to express and summarize my thoughts about a scene, a character, a setting.  Sometimes things fall beautifully into place.  And sometimes they...just...don't.  But ah, they do come close at times.  I have a scene in my Work In Progress in which one of the characters, Larouche, a 7 year old street urchin, encounters 'Monseigneur', his name for a high-ranking police officer that he met in the first book of the series, initially hated, and grew to like and admire in the course of the story.  The growth of their liking is a theme throughout the series, and this scene, the second time they have actually come face to face, is pivotal.  The child, who has found a position at a small bistro as a hired boy, is sweeping the yard: 

**   **   **
         Larouche watched as Jean-Claude led the big gray horse from the stable.  Nice-looking fellow, he thought. Tall, strong: maybe some Percheron in him? His dark coat dappled down to white with a white mane and tail. Elegant and strong, Larouche thought, and remembered the horses ridden by the helmeted officers during reviews.  This one could easily be one of those mounts.
The horse had been gazing toward the door of the taproom.  He raised his head and nickered as Monseigneur emerged into the early afternoon light.
Larouche drew back against the wall, suddenly breathless.  The row of bushes was beside him, offering shelter and concealment.  He lifted his chin, stayed where he was, and watched.
Monseigneur was in uniform, the sun flashing from the gold-washed bronze buttons of his coat, the dark blue cloth rich in the sunlight.  A brief conversation with Jean-Claude... Nods all around, and Monseigneur came farther into the stable yard.  He was bareheaded, the cocked hat tucked under his left arm. Larouche could see the sunlight glinting on strands of silver in his dark hair. Monseigneur getting old? The thought sat oddly, as though it expressed something Larouche did not want to be true.
The gray was tossing his head. He settled as Monseigneur approached, took out a small snuffbox and shook some candies into his palm.
The gray's ears flicked back and forth. He lowered his lead to lip at the treats.
"He's ready for a good trot," Monseigneur said. Larouche caught the accent again. "I will be obliging him shortly." He took the reins from Jean-Claude, smiled as the man cupped his hands for a leg up, and sprang into the saddle.
Larouche watched Monseigneur slide his feet into the stirrups and gather the reins. The hazel eyes settled on his, caught and held. Larouche thought it was like the time Monseigneur had seized him by the ear. No escape possible. But did he want to escape?
He raised his eyes and smiled as the moment deepened, lengthened. Larouche realized that Monseigneur was as caught as he was, unable to break the connection, unable to speak.
...and then Larouche found that he could draw breath and take a step forward, and he saw that Monseigneur was also leaning toward him, smiling and stretching out his hand—
"Sir!"  The voice, strident and anxious, cut the connection between them.
Monseigneur's hand fell to his thigh as he turned, frowning. "What is it, Trinchard?"
"A mob assembled! They are threatening headquarters!"
"What? When was this?" 
"Twenty minutes ago—a half hour! We have been seeking you all this time!"
Monseigneur's frown deepened. "You have found me," he said. "Lead me there."
Larouche watched Monseigneur gather his reins, and then, almost as though he were drawn, turn back toward Larouche.
Their eyes met, held for a long moment.
Monseigneur's lips parted as though he meant to speak. Larouche waited. But then he turned his horse and was in the street.
Well, that was that. Larouche took up the broom he had laid aside and started sweeping the leaves away.
          The clack of iron on cobblestone made him look up..
The gray was snuffling at the remains of the ivy on the post while Monseigneur watched Larouche with a warm smile. Larouche could see a group of mounted officers in the street beyond.
Monseigneur leaned down, his hands braced on the pommel of his saddle. "I must go," he said. "I will be back. I don't know how soon that will be, but I will be back. I give you my word.."  His smile deepened.  "I want to speak with you.  Will you wait for me?"
Larouche nodded. "I'll be here," he said through an answering smile. "I promise."

Monseigneur bowed, touched his heel to his mount's side, just behind the girth. The horse turned on his haunches and they left at a gallop.

** ** ** 
I had the scene in my mind, I'd been to Paris and scouted the location of the tavern and the lay of the streets.  I knew what the hero looked like, and I knew what the little boy looked like.  In thumbing through images, I came across one that was...almost...perfect.
So close, and yet so far...
Almost.  It has some issues.  For starters:
1.  They meet in the courtyard of a small tavern, not the esplanade before the Tuileries palace, which was across from the Louvre. 
2.  Larouche, though better dressed than previously, and with a job, is still almost penniless.  He does not own a suit like this boy is wearing.
3.  While Malet (the hero) is in uniform in the scene, the police uniform of this era, while dark blue with a red front panel, gold buttons, and a high collar like this one, it also had a cravat.  The uniform coat would have covered his abdomen. The chicken guts ('aiguilettes' - can you tell I'm a military brat?) would not be worn by him.  The bearskin shako would have been worn by Malet in the artillery during his service between 1810 - 1814.  The Police of this era also wore the bearskins.  That stopped after the fall of Napoleon. Breeches and waistcoat would have been a lighter buff for police.
4.  The rider appears to be sporting a queue.  Malet never approved of them.  They are a good way to be disabled and killed (just grab that ponytail and hold on) and they were no longer worn in the military after about 1806.
5.  The horse is black.  Malet's preferred mount in the book is what they call a 'white dapple' with white mane and tail and a dark coat that dapples down to white.
I did bring the horseman and the child 'forward' by making the other rider and the crowd in the background paler (adjusting opacity; you can see it if you look).  I am toying with fiddling with the image, removing the shako, adjusting the uniform...  Just for my own amusement, you understand...
Maybe I'll update this post if I succeed.  (For those who are curious, the series is The Orphan's Tale, and I am working on the second installment.)


  1. Lovely scene, Diana. I can empathize with Larouche, the recognition and hope tempered by experience, then when they make contact the excitement, only to be cut short byTrinchard. When he promises to return, I sense the joy LaRouche would feel.

    I wish I had some artistic ability to sketch out scenes, but they usually stay inside my head. Words give a glimpse, but no the whole picture. I'll look forward to your updated picture, and to the next installment of Orphan's Tale.

    1. Thank you so much, Beth - I loved the scene, myself. Isn't it wonderful how the characters are alive, themselves? I'm still polishing (and composing in some spots).

  2. Personally, I don't think you have any problem visualizing a scene - based on what you wrote. Lovely work; well done.

  3. ...and now I am blushing - thank you! (Anyone have a camera? I don't blush very often...)