Hear Now the Tale of a Jet Black Sunrise
But M. Enjolras still said nothing about Paris, even as he took to skeptically examining Julien at the dinner table. Julien dared not broach the subject further. He might gain Aix at such a time, but the only true victory would be Paris. He was certain M. Enjolras could be brought around, but Julien feared he was being very clumsy. How could he convince France that the monarchy was illegitimate if he could not even convince M. Enjolras to permit his son to go to Paris? Arguments based in the state of nature and willful alienation of rights were hardly of use. Courfeyrac was much better at reading people - if he were here, he could charm M. Enjolras into anything. He had charmed Prouvaire into a close friendship despite however it was they had met. He was right, of course - Julien simply had to hit on the element M. Enjolras cared most for and then subtly keep at it. Easier said than done when he spent dinner wondering how you were going to steal his son. And of course it was impossible to simply ask Henri. “What does your father love more than you?” was rarely an appropriate question.
Thus Julien had to puzzle it out himself, but it was not at all like making a diagnosis. He knew a little of M. Enjolras’ background: he had come from a village near Lyon, he had no contact with whatever family he might have, and he had made his own money through unknown means. After some twenty years of hard work, he had bought the sugar refinery, married a girl of some fortune, and built this house for her. The salt works had been acquired within Julien’s memory. There were lands near Lyon, which Henri had visited once, but whether they comprised M. Enjolras’ original holdings or his wife’s dowry was unknown. There was no contact with his late wife’s family. People did not speak of him as either ambitious or miserly: he was a man of business, never content with what he had but never in a hurry to grasp at an acquisition. Julien rather hoped to get his father’s advice. He suspected his father might have preferred to have someone like Courfeyrac for a son, but he had always encouraged Julien’s friendship with Henri and might even now use what connection he had once had with M. Enjolras in their favour.
In the meantime, until his father might arrive from Paris - it was useless to write after Easter as the family could be on the road at any time - he and Henri were doing what could only be described as a feeble pretense of charity work. They could easily range as far as Cassis on horseback, though Henri seemed to prefer the inland villages. Julien was rather sorry he had not had the idea earlier. While he performed what medical care he could, Henri took an interest in everything but assisting him. It was unfortunate that both of them together had so little of the patois; the tragedy was particularly acute for Henri in his investigations, since Julien had met many immigrant patients at Necker who spoke little or no French. Henri’s spirits did indeed seem stronger, more like himself, when he struggled to question peasants about the rent they paid and size of their holdings; despite the language barrier, at times he was almost at ease as he counted grapevines and olive trees. Julien treated injuries and fevers, the usual spring cares of the local health officer, and more than once had to turn to the family to assist in the bandaging as Henri was oblivious to everything but his own interrogations. He was pleased to see the natural absorption in place of the introversion of the past months. It was not the real work, yet at least Julien’s portion badly needed doing, and it filled those days that were not filled by spring rains.
Precisely twelve days after Easter, coming back along the Cassis road, Julien saw a coach in the distance. The horses were post, of course, but there was something familiar in the coach itself. “Hold up!” he called to Henri, who would have kept going whether he meet the coach or no. “I think that’s my parents.” They watched in silence for the coach to make the inevitable turn.
“Summer has begun rather early.”
Indeed, they were rather before their time, and Julien could only think that a departure was made the day after Easter precisely because of his long months of residence in Marseille. He had never intended that his entire family upend their ordinary plans to better match his own. His father’s arrival would certainly hasten the half-formed plan to elicit his assistance, but Julien felt guilty all the same.
Not long after the young men returned to the house, a servant brought the note Julien expected, and the dilemma: to find his father in town or to more publicly make his appeal? The note was polite enough. “Dear Julien, We have arrived safely. I have missed you and should like to see you if you are able to get away. CC.”
“If you are able to get away” meaning “If you do not wholly privilege your friend over your blood”, but his mother could be far more cutting if she chose. He had no choice but to pay a visit to his mother, but he could, instead, see his father at the office in the morning and his mother at home in the afternoon. It might even be possible that his father find a way to meet with M. Enjolras that very day. Yes, he would see his father at the office.
He sent a note to his mother in reply: “I hope I shall have the honour to greet you tomorrow at two. Your adoring son.” It was at least as honest as “I have missed you”.
“I must see my parents tomorrow,” he informed Henri.
“Of course. I shan’t keep you from them.”
“I may be out all day. If you want to do something of use in my absence, you can start to collate the notes you’ve been taking on peasant conditions. I can add the medical remarks when there is something coherent to add them to.”
“You make it sound as though you have a publisher.”
“No, merely an idea. It came to mind that Prouvaire would have an interest, and I’d like to send everything on ahead.”
“Not without you. And I am hopeful that we may very soon both forge ahead.”
“I’m not still afraid of your mother.”
“I never said you were. I don’t mean at all to imply that her presence will force me out of town. My intention is to enlist my father’s aid. He has admitted to being persuasive in your cause before, and he, as a father, can bring vastly different arguments to bear.”
“Considering your father produced you, I fear he may not be the ideal emissary you think.”
“That may be true, but they may also enjoy commiserating over what failures we are. I intend to try.”
“I wish you luck.”
Julien dressed carefully in the morning and even stopped at a barber for a professional shave. His heart was in his throat as he stepped across the threshold of the office and announced, “I wish to see my father.” He had placed all his hopes on the outcome of this visit, and that now seemed a very bad idea. Nevertheless, his father greeted him heartily and asked after Henri’s health.
“His health is quite recovered, for which I am grateful. It has not been easy. My concern now is his spirit.”
“He’s able to let you go for a morning, at least.”
“Oh, yes. He is in no immediate danger. I mean that I am concerned what may happen should I return to Paris. What may happen a month or two months hence, when he is alone in a city that he no longer loves.”
“What of his friends here? I wondered about that, you know. Of course you’d go to his side, but then you never came back.”
“His friends have abandoned him.”
“Some friends.” Julien was always rather intimidated by his father, but there were flashes when he could see what they had in common, that he had inherited his father’s humanity and concern for others rather than his mother’s pure self-interest. M. Combeferre’s obvious condemnation of Henri’s so-called friends was one of those moments where Julien could relax and speak freely, regardless of how embarrassing or shameful the truth, knowing his father would listen sympathetically.
“I had hoped I might win permission for him to travel to Paris with me, but I made a very foolish error.”
M. Combeferre sighed. “I know exactly what you did. You continually allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. You leave no bargaining position. It is one thing for a physician, but you are not a physician.”
“I am trying to learn. It is not easy for a man to change his nature.”
“What did you demand that was vehemently denied?”
“I demanded nothing. I merely suggested that Henri would be better off, for a variety of reasons, in Paris and asked that he be given the necessary three years.” He winced at the memory.
“I knew it was wrong to ask for the full law degree the moment it came out of my mouth. If I could have taken it back unheard, it would have given me a profound joy. Is there any way to repair the damage?”
“When did it happen?”
“Has anyone broached the subject since?”
“At least you have not admitted further destruction to your cause.”
“But what am I to do?” he begged. “From a medical perspective, a change of scenery is absolutely necessary. It has been five months, and he will go anywhere now except into town. And my greatest fear is that after I leave, M. Enjolras will try to push him, and there will be a terrible quarrel should that happen, and neither will ever forgive me, or each other. I know that their relations are not my business, but M. Enjolras asked me here to restore his son to him, and I do not think that can be done if Henri stays in Marseille. It is too dangerous.”
“Very well. What do you want me to do about it?”
“You couldn’t play dumb when you were six. You are here because you think I can do something. What do you think I can do?”
“I’m sorry. You’re right, it is not your business,” Julien apologised.
“I never said that, though it is true that it is not my business.”
“You didn’t have to.”
“Why do you give up so easily at the first hint you might be wrong?”
“I don’t,” Julien replied reflexively.
“You do with me. Have I ever told you ‘no’?”
“No, monsieur, but -”
“But I don’t have to because you tell yourself ‘no’ before ever giving me the chance. How Henri gets on with his father is not my business. Neither is it Enjolras’ business how you and I get on. That has never stopped us from discussing our children. Nevertheless, though I think it appalling how he is ruining his son by keeping him here, I have not said anything along those lines.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Then what would you have?”
“Paris is not a den of iniquity, and the reason Henri’s friends are all lower class is because anyone who is anyone of our age is in Paris?” Julien suggested.
“Yes, that would take a touch you do not have. I shall at least do my best to discern what his motives may be. Afraid of Paris as a den of iniquity - no wonder your mother continues to turn up her nose. He hasn’t even the ambition for his son that most peasants could muster. I will see what I can do.”
“Thank you, father. Thank you!”
“When are you seeing your mother?”
“Good. She’ll like that.”
She’ll like picking at me until she draws blood, Julien thought, though he kept that thought to himself.
Henri was fully surrounded by papers when Julien found him. “My father will speak to your father.”
“Your father never ceases to amaze me.”
“Me too.” Julien did not know why he always expected the worst - he could blame his mother, but that was not entirely fair. He supposed it was just a flaw in his nature, that he could expect great things from anyone except his own family. Perhaps it was Henri’s doing, making it possible to accept that great things could happen, though that did not explain why M. Combeferre had never told Julien “no” to anything, yet it was the first answer Julien always expected.
Cécile was well settled in by two, when Julien came by the front door rather than the garden as was his wont. The visit itself, however, was a nightmare. Julien felt as if he were entertaining one of his mother’s friends with small talk rather than making a visit to family he had not properly seen in many months. It was the effect of Cécile’s best behaviour. The expected claws would come out soon enough, but the suspense was an even greater torture. He was rather surprised by the way in which the blood was drawn this time, however.
“Oh, this is yours, I believe.” She languidly handed him a volume of Alfred de Vigny’s poems, which he accepted with a great deal of confusion. Why on earth was she making a production over a book of modern poetry that they both knew perfectly well was his? “It was very naughty of you. It is much too early for a gift, particularly one of such a personal nature.” Julien let her run on - it was easier to wrack his brain for the meaning whilst she repeated inanities. “Mlle Laurier asked me to send her regards,” she finally ended insinuatingly.
Julien’s first reaction was “Who the devil is Mlle Laurier?”, but he remembered the convent girl just in time to refrain from an unfortunate outburst. Doubtless the volume had been discovered immediately by her mother, a confession of the loan solicited and then gloated over, transmuted into a love token by Mmes Laurier and Combeferre. He was certain that if little Isabelle had sent her regards, it was only because his mother, or her mother in collusion, had sought them. “It was merely a loan, and I am grateful to have it back,” he managed to say. He thanked her and rose to take his leave - there was no point staying to hear more about the convent girl. “Shall I say hello to Charles before I go?”
“He’s probably in the library,” she answered with a dismissive wave of her hand.
Charles was in the library with a young man of perhaps Julien’s age who had to be the current tutor. “Julien!” The winter diffidence was dropped in favour of a tight hug around the waist.
“You haven’t been home in forever!”
“Five months is not forever.” He ruffled his little brother’s hair. “I’m sorry,” he apologised to the tutor. Offering his hand over Charles’ head, he introduced himself. “Julien Combeferre. The elder son.”
“Charles, how old are you?” With a sigh, Charles disentangled himself, as aware as everyone else that at nearly twelve, he was a little big to be hanging on his brother. Julien kept a friendly hand on his shoulder, however. “Were you with us in December?” he asked Vidal.
“I was, but I had an evening out when you came through town. I was sorry to have missed you.”
“Family emergency. I hadn’t intended to blow through quite like that. My reputation has preceded me?”
“Merely that every interesting book in the house is said to belong to you.”
“I could perhaps arrange the continued parental storage of some of my things when I return to Paris. What interested you most?”
“The poetry, mostly, though the diversity of the medical literature was astounding.”
“You’re welcome to it all, if you like.”
“I’m not a physician.”
“Neither am I.” Charles looked up at him, picking up the darkness in his voice, but he did not interrupt.
“I was also pleased to see a copy of Champollion’s book.”
“You are also a student of the ancients?”
“Of the moderns of the region, actually.”
“In the scholarly sense, not the artistic.” His disdain for the fad of pashas and odalisques was obvious, and Julien immediately liked him for it.
“I quite agree. Do we lay the blame on Ingres or Byron? Or on the poor Greeks? A friend of mine was at the Salon and told me it featured Greeks as far as the eye could see.”
“I hesitate to blame a valiant people for bad taste, but they are seen as an Eastern people, and exotic, and so are the Turks who oppress them. Indeed, it is interesting that such a barbarian race has come to power and maintained it so long. The Turks are not natives of the region, you know.”
“I did not know. Next you will tell me the Greeks are not Greek. Actually, the Greeks are only as Greek as the Egyptians are Egyptian, aren’t they?”
“You have it precisely. The Turks followed the same path as the Mongols, and like the Mongol horde, they took on the trappings of the civilisations they trampled under their hooves. In this case, it was the Islamic caliphate that once produced art and literature from Baghdad to Granada. Now they are ruled by Turks. Egypt too, of course. All the Arabic lands. And they remain Arabic at heart, not only in their religion. The Turks merely skim off the bounty. But your family understand that, don’t they?” he asked, looking around the room.
“Have you been taken on the Grand Tour?” Julien asked, unable to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
“Your mother’s pride in the paintings might well have made of them a tour of classic antiquities.”
Julien laughed. Vidal would fit in very well with certain of his Paris acquaintance. “Those show off the blood. Here we have the produce of Western and Eastern civilisation. The table is Florentine Renaissance, the porcelain is Chinese of the seventeenth century, the busts were at least purchased in Italy though they may not actually be Roman, and the Egyptian gentleman was a gift from one of Bonaparte’s men.”
“From Napoleon himself!” Charles corrected.
“Charles is the true believer. I’m skeptical that the portraits my mother so loves even show our family. I think we bought them off the neighbours.”
“Who are the neighbours?”
“Historically, a noble house who lost their heads in the Revolution but their fortunes long before. Which house was it?” he asked Charles, but Charles just shrugged. “Mother knows. It isn’t even her family, but she knows. The current neighbours, with whom I am staying, are M. Jean-Pierre Enjolras, who owns a sugar refinery and the government salt concession in Marseille, and his son Henri.”
“Henri is Julien’s best friend. Mother doesn’t like him.”
“This is all true,” Julien confirmed.
“Are you coming home?” Charles asked hopefully.
“Only if I must.” Charles’s face fell. “I’m right next door.”
“It’s not the same,” he protested quietly.
“You know, while I’m here, shall we take the Egyptian down?”
“Why?” Charles asked warily.
“Because his name is carved on the back, and I’ve got some friends in Paris who can puzzle it out for us.”
“The cartouche is intact?” Vidal asked excitedly, his light voice rising in pitch.
“If I remember rightly. We’ve only ever had him down once that I know of. Would you like to help me?”
They threw their coats down on the table to provide some padding for the ancient bust and freedom of movement for themselves. As the shorter one, it was agreed that Vidal would mount the ladder to hand the bust down to Julien. Once it was safely ensconced on the table, Julien pointed out the cartouche, and the three of them stared in abject wonder at how something so old had survived at all, much less came to sit before them. Julien copied the symbols into his notebook as Charles asked, “Does this mean you’re leaving?”
“No, but I’m not sure I’ll have another chance to get him down before I go.” He started to attempt to sketch the Egyptian’s face, or what was left of it, but Charles grabbed the pencil away.
“You’re making a mess of it. Let me do it.”
Julien fell into easy conversation with Vidal while Charles drew. They were about the same age, and Vidal’s accent reminded him of Bahorel - Languedoc overlaid with Paris - but in a higher octave, a tenor rather than a bass. His knowledge of Egypt was quite as good as Julien’s own, so that it was a real pleasure to chat as Charles performed his task with childish intensity. Indeed, in the end, he produced a nearly flawless full-faced drawing and a quite good profile view of the old Egyptian. Julien thanked him for his trouble. “This is very good. Did you teach him?” he asked Vidal.
“No, he does that all on his own.”
“This is very good, indeed.” Charles grinned at the praise. “Don’t ever let Mother tell you otherwise. You stick with this.” He turned back to Vidal. “It was a real pleasure to meet you.”
“You’re going?” Charles complained.
“I must. And I have completely interrupted your lesson.”
“It’s quite all right,” Vidal said. “This was far more interesting than puzzling through Ovid.”
“Ovid would be more interesting if you used my unabridged copy. If it wasn’t in Paris, then it’s somewhere here. Let’s get him back up,” Julien suggested, gesturing at the bust. “I don’t want the maids to take the blame if he’s shattered.” Once the Egyptian was safely back on his shelf, Julien started again to bid Charles goodbye.
“Can I walk back with you?” he begged.
“Very well. Come with us,” he invited Vidal. “We’ll go through the gardens. You can see more of the property.”
Julien spent the walk chatting with Vidal, with Charles dancing attendance. It turned out that Julien and Vidal did know a few of the same people in Paris, and Vidal was only teaching until he might save enough money for an Arabian expedition.
“Not the Holy Land, mind you. Any fool can join a package holiday. To the cradle of civilisation itself, and the great Arab cities, or what the Turks have left of them.”
“Do you speak the language well?”
“I have the classic, which is more useful than the classic Greek, I must say, being of more recent vintage, but the dialects are quite diverse. I’ve been learning the Egyptian, but I do not know how far it will carry me.” They talked along in this manner, much to Julien’s pleasure. He had been months without this sort of conversation, and he felt the lack exceedingly. The walk was over much too quickly for his taste.
“Can I say hello to Henri?” Charles asked.
“I will ask. But you mustn’t be upset if the answer is no. He is still recovering from a very difficult illness.” Leaving Charles and Vidal in the garden, he found Henri still at work in the library. “Charles would like to say hello. Only if you do not mind. I can send him away.”
“No, it’s fine,” Henri agreed, through without enthusiasm. He met them on the terrace outside the library.
“Good afternoon.” It was awkward - Charles was staring, rather, and Henri was in quite good spirits for how he was these days, but not quite as Charles must remember him from previous summers. Julien introduced him to Vidal, then asked after his father. “He is not yet home. Dare I hope it be to our benefit?”
“I have hope.” Julien kept wondering why Charles was staring and Vidal seemed to think nothing amiss. Henri was in mourning, yes, but that was no call to stare. Charles did find his tongue at last and exchanged a few words with Henri, but it was only going to get more awkward, Julien feared, so he put a stop to the unsought visit. “Come on. You’ve got lessons.”
He walked Charles and Vidal back to the boundary between the properties. “I can see why Mme Combeferre disapproves.”
“I don’t think Charles has been permitted to see a Romantic before.”
Julien was utterly confused by what Vidal might have meant, but it did recall to him the conversation with his mother. “Speaking of Romantics, I left a copy of Vigny’s poems in the library. You can have it, if you like.”
“A very kind loan.”
“No, I mean you can keep it.”
“He is not to your taste?”
“I’ve had what I need from him, that’s all.” If his mother wanted to transmute de Vigny into a love token, let her see it in the hands of the tutor and draw whatever conclusions she wanted.
“It is very kind of you. Thank you, monsieur.”
“And please, you needn’t address me as ’monsieur’. I’m not the one paying your salary, and if you weren’t working for my family, I rather think we’d be friends. Let’s not let permit ourselves to be defined exclusively by labour relations.”
Vidal smiled and shook his hand. “Agreed.”
Julien liked Vidal, and a part of him wanted to insinuate the young man into the Enjolras household as part of their coterie, but it would be profoundly unfair to Charles. The other part of him was intensely jealous that his father had procured an Eastern scholar, and he would never forgive Charles if he did not take this opportunity to learn at least the rudiments of the Arabic language.
Henri met him down in the garden, and only then did Julien note why Vidal called him a Romantic. It had been more than five months since Henri had ventured near civilisation, and knowing him, several months before that since his last visit to a barber. His blond hair had grown long enough to flow over his shoulders. Julien had not fully noted it in the day to day concerns, but it must have been a shock to Charles, revising all his memories. But what did it matter? There were barbers enough in Paris; Romantics, too, for that matter.
He said nothing to Henri about something so trivial. They merely spoke of Vidal and waited for M. Enjolras to return, hopefully bearing a change of heart.
Chapter 14 ~ Fiction ~ Chapter 16 ~ Home