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 Category:  General Fiction
  Posted: August 1, 2018      Views: 1008
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Tony Fawcus, ex-RAF Navigator and Junior School teacher, now living on South Australia's Fleurieu Peninsula where he runs a small farm and a B&B cottage.

He is an accomplished novelist and is currently at the #18 spot on the rankings.

He is an accomplished poet and is currently at the #29 spot on this years rankings.

The Seal of Quality committee has rewarded him with 2 seals.

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This work has reached the exceptional level

Chapter 1 of the book The French Letter
The beginning
"The Envelope" by tfawcus

Chapter One - an envelope falls into the author's hands.

Midsummer sunshine filtered through the horse chestnut leaves, throwing dappled shade on the stalls, each one constructed from a simple iron frame with a canvas roof ribbed with wooden struts, frail protection for the rows of memories stored in boxes and in albums, or hanging in plastic envelopes from hooks, to tempt and fascinate passers-by, like Peking ducks in an oriental market. These weathered stalls were manned by a handful of seasoned enthusiasts, the few remaining traders of the Champs Elysées stamp market, a place I last visited in the 1970s when it thronged with people and bustled with trade.

Gabriel Avenue, a heavenly place to be sure, embraces the whole world, stretching from Archangel to Zanzibar and all places between and beyond and, on this particular Sunday morning, the stamp of perfection was upon it.

A sultry morning breeze lifted the red, white and blue tricolour that could just be seen beyond the trees, flying from the Grand Palace and languidly proclaiming its message of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. A pair of impertinent young sparrows foraged at my feet without fear, as if to emphasise the truth of this unlikely assertion.

Only four stalls now remained out of the legion that I remember so well. There were few customers to disturb the gentle cooing of wood pigeons and the rise and fall of friendly reminiscence among old men sitting on a low wall conveniently placed between the pissoir and their stalls. An atmosphere of peaceful somnolence dampened the background grumble and hum of city traffic, and their good-natured banter was broken only by occasional ripples of laughter and a sudden exclamation of greeting, welcoming the arrival of another of their dwindling number. 

I confess that my own interest in philately, in common with that of the general population, is not as strong as it used to be, but vestiges still remain of a schoolboy romance with the colourful scenes depicted on the sixpenny packets of colonial stamps that were all my budget could afford in my younger days. Of course, like most of my friends at the time, I dreamed of one day owning a Penny Black or a twopenny Mauritius Blue but, in the meantime, I was happy with my lurid pictures of the flora and fauna of the colonies.

In those days, exotic places like the West Indies, the Pacific islands of Samoa and Fiji and the East African triptych of Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika were all still coloured pink in my school atlas, the colour not only of empire but of its florid civil servants, and of their ladies, gently perspiring under parasols in their prettily concealed corsets, petticoats and bloomers.

However, today, underdressed in casual trousers, open-necked shirt and floppy hat, my time is spent idly flipping through a box of old envelopes, imagining what ardent missives might have been constrained within each fragile fragment, and what manner of person might have merited the sweep of cursive script now fading across these tattered surfaces, browned with age.

It was here that I made my first acquaintance with Mademoiselle Suzanne Daudeville, late of La Rue de Paradise in Versailles, the envelope date stamped 9.15 a.m. on 13th February, 1903, in the department of Seine and Oise. The imprint was clear and repeated twice, as if for emphasis, the first heavy blow having almost missed the pink fifteen centime stamp stuck at the top right-hand corner. The austere, laurel-wreathed figure of Marianne, Goddess of Liberty, could just be made out, seated alongside a placard proclaiming The Rights of Man - a figure now almost completely obliterated by the second over-stamping of the municipal postmaster.

Friday, 13th February, 1903 was an auspicious date marking the birth of Georges Simenon, author of the character of that famous Belgian detective, Jules Maigret. Could Maigret, perhaps, have been able to solve the mystery that was to unfold from the events of this unlucky day? What rights would man hold over the petite and sylphlike figure of Mademoiselle Daudeville who lived, as it seems, on the street of Paradise. Lastly, and very much to the point in those heady days of the Moulin Rouge and of the can-can, was the pinkness of that ancient stamp to turn red, in time, with shame?

With questions such as these buzzing in my mind, I handed over two euros and pocketed the envelope. A small price to pay, as I thought at the time, though in this, as in many things, I was soon proved to be wrong. Entering the life of another can have many hidden costs and dangers.



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