Hear Now the Tale of a Jet Black Sunrise
No one said anything further about Paris for days, however. Julien dared not push his luck - it was for M. Enjolras to consider. And as M. Enjolras became no friendlier, Julien rather feared it would be a long, drawn-out process that he had no idea how to conduct without assistance. For the time being, it seemed prudent to do as his father asked and spend a few afternoons with Charles.
Henri found him saddling Othello. “So you do actually wear your hat.”
Julien smiled. “I’m going for a ride with Charles. One must try to be a good influence.”
“In all things or merely sartorially?”
His tone was off, but Julien laughed as much in relief as in the joke. “I can only do what I can. You can come with us, if you like.”
Henri shook his head. “I think I saw the carriage on the road.”
Julien nodded. “He’s taking advantage of my absence. Very well. Let us meet him as he chooses.” He took Henri by the shoulder. “You must think of yourself just this once. Not what I want. Not what he wants. You must do what you believe is best for you.”
Henri nodded. “The current plan is a couple of months, correct?”
“Take care, brother.”
Julien met Charles and Vidal on the road, though Vidal immediately left them. “Henri isn’t coming?” Charles asked.
“He hasn’t come yet.”
“Am I not good enough?”
“Yes, but -” But Charles dropped it and they rode in silence. Julien was too worried about what M. Enjolras might be trying on Henri to keep up any thread of conversation. Henri could keep his own council perfectly well and not let on that they considered the current plan able to be lengthened indefinitely, though he had agreed to it with Julien. Julien’s fear was that Henri always kept his word, and if his father managed, through guilt or duty, to elicit a promise of a particular duration, Henri would adhere to that timeframe regardless of cost to his health or spirit.
He tried to return his attention to Charles, but everything else seemed so much more pressing. The timing was delicate. Charles would always be here. But if things went very badly with M. Enjolras, Julien feared he could at last force a break between them. Ten years of friendship that had been more than friendship, severed by filial duty. It could kill Henri, but he would obey for fear the alternative would kill his father.
Instead of anything that amused or interested them both, Julien ended up pointing out various of the trees and flowers as a way to attempt to take his mind off events he could not see and to pay at least some attention to his little brother. Charles’ interest was obviously feigned, his disappointment in the outing obvious. They had nothing in common, that was the trouble, Julien thought. Perhaps in another three or four years, when Charles was old enough to have opinions and better-read so that a conversation might actually be possible. But for now, “How do you like Vidal?” and “What has he been having you read?” were quickly exhausted. Charles even looked relieved when Julien bid him goodbye at the gate rather than take him all the way to the stables.
He rather expected Henri to meet him in the stables, but no one came to him while he rubbed down Othello. The servants steered him away from the library, where at least it was quiet enough that there was not an obvious row. “M. Vidal is coming to dinner tonight,” one of the maids told him. Julien feared it poor timing on Vidal’s part, but perhaps it might restore M. Enjolras’ mood as Henri was hopefully being very recalcitrant. The interview had certainly been extended far beyond a reasonable discussion of terms or direct capitulation would have allowed.
Vidal met him on the terrace, where Julien had been pretending to read for the past two hours. “Is everything all right?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Julien sighed. Yes, Vidal was a stranger, but in the absence of his own friends, Vidal might do. “Please don’t be offended if tonight is less amusing than your previous visit. They’ve been rowing all afternoon. Well, perhaps ‘rowing’ is a bit strong. They have been locked in the library for the past four hours or so, but there has been no shouting that I have heard. Forgive me, this must all seem horribly opaque to you.”
“It is none of my business, and I think one gets along best in this line of work if one takes as little notice as possible of what is not one’s business.”
“You are a wise man.”
They were called in for dinner. Henri was already at table, eyes burning, but he looked away the moment he saw Vidal. M. Enjolras greeted his guest with every show of courtesy, however, and permitted Henri to remain in what might have appeared to Vidal a sulk. Julien knew Henri’s moods too well, however, and knew that he had rowed with his father. The shouting he had expected to hear was from M. Enjolras - Henri was coldly insistent, even at the height of anger. And he was at the height of anger.
The conversation was almost exclusively between M. Enjolras and Vidal. Julien kept looking to Henri in concern since the topic was Paris itself. He did not at all like the tone in which M. Enjolras had said to Vidal, “Julien tells me you have some common acquaintance in Paris.” There was something insinuating in the remark, but it was so deftly made that one had to wonder if one’s own perception was more at fault than M. Enjolras’ tone.
Vidal took the bait, if bait it was. “Yes, it happens that he has attended several lectures with some friends of mine.”
“What sort of friends?”
Vidal named a few, with their professions and scholarly interests. “I cannot remember: do you know Laffitte?” he asked Julien.
“Yes. Not a sharp analyst, but a good memory.”
“Laffitte as in the banker?” M. Enjolras asked with eager interest.
“No,” Vidal tried to correct.
“Really? He always denies it.”
“I once met him at one of my uncle’s parties. He was mortified at being found out to be one of those Laffittes. I was just grateful I had found someone who could hold a conversation for more than two minutes about anything of substance. We ended up talking about Egypt while everyone around us kept repeating inanities about racehorses, sometimes in execrable English. Come to think of it, it was the only one of Uncle Félix’s parties I ever enjoyed.”
“Scholarly circles can be rather singular,” Vidal explained to M. Enjolras. “A man of steady wealth is of course welcomed as a source of funding, but he is often looked on as a dilettante, someone who is currently dabbling in knowledge but will soon grow bored.”
“A law clerk, however, is welcomed with open arms because as poor as he is, his interest is genuine.”
M. Enjolras seemed about to say something when Henri broke in, with a firmness of tone that surprised even Julien, “The law clerk also has the superior mind to the man of wealth. Ease may as well be mental stagnation. Class is not a replacement for intellect.”
Julien desperately wanted to continue the conversation on those lines, but he reminded himself that the argument was not his and permitted M. Enjolras to change the subject.
The subject kept coming around to Paris, however. Vidal did not know of the difficulties Paris was causing in the family, and it was his only experience of a great city until coming to Marseille. He could talk nearly as well on foreign cities, but he had never visited them. Of course, Paris to Vidal was as Paris to Julien - the centre of Europe, the hope for intellectual progress. Vidal was asked to join them in the salon after dinner, which he did with pleasure. Julien could hear M. Enjolras attempting to engage him in a discussion of the women of Paris, perhaps hoping to hear confirmation that they were all indeed either whores or bitches, as he was well known to believe. It at least gave Julien a few moments of semi-privacy with Henri.
Henri was standing in a corner, his arms crossed, glaring at his father. “What happened?” Julien asked quietly.
“I haven’t promised him anything. I want out of here. I don’t care anymore if it is Paris or Lyon or Aix or even Baghdad, but I cannot stay here.”
“What did he want?”
“First, that it be only a trip. He suggested you might enjoy taking me to Italy. What is there to do in Italy unless one is Italian? Then, the conditions. No, I will not put off mourning. My spirit is as black as my coat, and I do not care to change either. Then, I may do anything I like so long it is not in your company.”
“He has not the heart to ask me to leave his house, but he asks that everyone else do it for him.”
“He asked my father to ask me to leave.”
“I fear I would drown without you. You must not leave me, brother. And when I would agree to none of his outrageous conditions, he tried to beg me to stay. As if we had already decided to go. As if I wanted to abandon him. He folded his hands and begged me,” he added with disdain. He had not taken his eyes off his father at all.
Julien slipped his arm around Henri’s shoulders. “We can leave whenever you feel strong enough to go the hôtel de ville for a passport. A man can always find a way to get by in Paris. But can you leave without forgiving your father for loving you above everything?”
“I cannot love him above everything.” There was a hint of anguish beneath the cold anger in his voice.
“Only a fool would ask you to.”
“I could not even love my wife above everything.”
“She did not want it of you.”
“When did he become so petty?”
“All his generation are petty,” Julien reminded him. “You only now see how completely they think everything, even one’s own spirit, can be bought and sold. They cannot help it. The events of their lives could not fail to corrupt their natures. One cannot survive tyranny uncorrupted. Even we are not as good as we might have been.”
Henri finally looked down. “This house will stifle us both if you are not here. Unforgivable things will be said, and I fear they will come from me. I am not myself.”
“May I tell him of your original plans? That I am not taking you away, merely accompanying you on a journey you had sought to take with another?”
“He will never forgive me.”
“I think he will. He’ll forgive me if I can introduce you to a Laffitte.” Henri glared at him, but Julien forced a smile. “We must get you a passport. Then we can try to explain everything.”
“When we are prepared to leave on poor terms.”
“I hope it will not be necessary.”
M. Enjolras seemed to finally notice them standing in the corner. Henri glared at him again and stalked off to bed. Julien forced himself to join M. Enjolras and Vidal for a bit, though Vidal made his goodbyes soon after.
“May I walk you back?” Julien asked him.
“Certainly, if you like.”
In the dark, quiet garden it was easier to ask just how difficult M. Enjolras’ opinions of Paris were. Vidal laughed, but he took the inquiry seriously. “His son is not well.”
“From grief, not mania. He had hoped to be married a month from now, if he could convince his father to approve. But his fiancée is dead, and M. Enjolras is relieved rather than saddened.”
“A marriage of love, but a poor match.”
“Precisely. I wish to take Henri to Paris with me, a course of action any father would approve, one would think - a change of scenery, a wider acquaintance, the possibility of meeting a far more suitable woman - but M. Enjolras is not most fathers.”
“Yes, his opinion of Paris is singular. He has only half the provincial prejudices.”
“The bad ones.”
“I fear I have not changed his mind tonight, though I do not think I have given him additional cause for alarm. Is this a commission?”
“I should drag a stranger no further into a family affair.”
“Of course. But have the family been of no help?”
“You have seen all there is of the family.”
“Your parents, I mean.”
“My father has done what he can, and I am grateful for that service. But it is my business, not his.”
“But - the family - ”
“Forgive me for all the confusion. We have no blood connection to the Enjolras family. My connection is to Henri alone.”
“Ah. That sort of family,” Vidal said significantly.
Julien chose to ignore what he feared was Vidal’s meaning. “You have been of tremendous help to me, and I thank you for it.”
“Give your friend my sympathies if you think he will have them.” They parted in the darkness of the Combeferre garden so Vidal might be seen to be returning alone.
Julien paused to look at the stars. A seemingly infinite number of points of light, perhaps as many points of light in the sky as people on earth. Had one of them winked out in November, never to be seen again?
He ran into M. Enjolras in the garden. “I’ve been thinking.”
“Yes, monsieur,” Julien replied with all the courtesy he could muster.
“You should spend time with your own family.”
He had finally mustered the courage to remove the thorn. “Thank you for your concern, monsieur. I shall pack in the morning and shift myself by noon.”
“Enjoy the rest of your summer.”
Julien went directly to Henri’s bedroom. He knocked and slipped inside without waiting for a response, ignoring the glare Henri gave him for coming upon him in bed. “I’m being removed. Tomorrow morning.”
“What will you do?”
“I will pack my things and go next door.”
“He’ll avoid you all morning.”
“The servants will pack and shift my trunk. You and I will ride into town.”
“I don’t know.”
“You may not want to trod those paths again, but when will we have another chance?”
They clasped hands. “You understand.”
“And I will be at your side,” Julien swore fervently. “You must do what you must do, not want I want, not what he wants. Come to me in the morning with your decision.”
He slept poorly and began packing early. Early enough that when someone tapped on his door, he was certain it was M. Enjolras. Instead, it was Henri, looking as if he had not slept.
“He is gone. We must go.”
They rode together silently. When they arrived before the hôtel de ville, and he sought a couple boys to hold the horses, Julien noted that Henri did not look around at all, and in such a public setting, he refused the touch Julien had intended to comfort him.
Before the clerk to whom such business was delegated in a large city, Julien prodded Henri to explain their errand. Presenting his identity papers rather stiffly, and without any of the polite trivialities that convention prescribed, Henri stated that he wished to travel to Paris in the company of his companion, who maintained residence in the city. Papers were presented, examined, questions asked of Julien as to his address and what their business might be, but no objection appeared.
The issue came when the description for the passport, as a travel permission separate from the identity documents, had to be prepared. “Have you any additional distinguishing marks, scars, etc?” the clerk asked in a thoroughly bored tone.
Henri looked at Julien as if there had been some sort of betrayal. “Just show him. They’ve got mine on record.”
He pushed up his sleeves and presented his wrists for official examination, glaring at Julien all the while.
“Any others I need see?” the clerk asked, no more interested than before he had seen the angry marks on Henri’s arms.
Henri transferred his glare to the clerk, who did not even notice because he was still writing. “That is all,” he said firmly.
“I just need the mayor to sign off. When are you planning to leave?” He looked up at last and seemed rather shocked to be stared at in such a manner.
“As soon as possible.”
“Whenever we might be permitted,” Julien amended. “It is not that pressing.”
The clerk took another look at Henri, but quickly turned back to Julien. “Come back at three.”
Henri stalked out, and Julien had to hurry to keep him from running away. “I am sorry for that, but it is entirely necessary.”
“That’s part of the official description now, is it?” His voice was icy. “Henri Romain Josèphe Enjolras, 181 centimeters of height, complexion fair, eyes blue, distinguished by a nasty suicide attempt.”
“Left wrist, underside. Puckered scar, white, so many centimeters long, cutting across older scar, so many centimeters long. Right wrist, underside. Puckered scar, red and white, so many centimeters long. The official description. You and I both know it means nothing.”
“It means everything.”
“It means they can identify your corpse should you turn up in the morgue,” Julien rather snapped. He apologized quickly. “Forgive me. That was an unfortunate example. But the official description is just that, a means of distinguishing the confidence man with the false papers from the unfortunate gentleman with the true. It means nothing.”
“I wasn’t officially marked until today.”
“And now you are. Recognised for surviving your struggles.”
“Recognised for my failure. If I could set them aside like a coat of mourning, I would.”
“And I would not. The state of your heart, made manifest.”
“We will speak no more of it.” Henri mounted his horse, but Julien tugged at his trouser leg.
“You may not be able to come back at three o’clock if you go home.”
Henri sighed, but he did step down. “Then what am I to do?”
“I must see my father. He has been an ally in our plans. Dine with us.”
Julien could see in Henri’s face that he wanted to say no, but he followed almost meekly. M. Combeferre was surprised to see them both. “What are you doing here?”
“I’ve been forcibly removed at last. My trunk should be arriving at home as we speak.”
“I see. Good morning, Henri.”
“Good morning, monsieur.”
“Why are you both here?”
“We’ve been to the hôtel de ville to procure a passport.”
“But you’ve been thrown out of the house.”
“The implication being that M. Enjolras does not give his permission to the two of you going to Paris.”
“I have decided that I will go anyway, monsieur.”
“I’ll have no part in anything that smacks of schoolboys running away.” But he took them up the hill to the Rabbit, and Henri permitted Julien to explain both the original plan, were Emilie still there, and the current plan. He interrupted only with corrections to Julien’s rather hot characterization of the previous afternoon’s discussion.
“Permission has not been decidedly revoked, but you are continuing anyway.”
“It will be worse if Henri stays,” Julien insisted.
“You will do nothing for a week,” M. Combeferre ordered. “Neither of you give a man time to think. Julien, it will be pleasant to have you at home. You are not to provoke M. Enjolras. Henri, you will be pleasant to your father. As pleasant as you can be, at any rate. You will both have a little patience.”
“And after a week?” Henri dared ask.
“You may review the situation. Go home. Both of you.”
“We have to pick up Henri’s passport at three o’clock,” Julien told his father.
M. Combeferre sighed. “Then you will stay here until then, where you can stay out of trouble.” He ordered an early luncheon. Henri sulked. Julien made the barest of conversation with his father. When M. Combeferre finally left them, with two hours more to wait, Henri at last began to speak.
“Why do you trust him?”
“Because he has bought you every summer freedom you have ever had. Well, except for that incident with Duval and the chambermaid, of course. My father has been very convincing in the past, and he thinks your father is ruining you.”
“Does he realize what we will do in Paris?”
“He must think fear of arrest will chasten us. He has been intensely grateful that I have had any friends at all, and he hates that your father has kept you from the benefits due your station. I have to agree. My father is concerned that you make excellent connections and, eventually, a brilliant marriage, neither of which will happen if you are kept so tightly at home. My concern is that we need to leverage what benefits we have, even if those benefits merely be freedom of movement and money. France will be better if you have the freedom of the student rather than the servitude of the clerk. I am grateful for the advantages I have had, and I would like to extend them to everyone. Shouldn’t I start with my brother?”
“You trust him.”
“He trusts us. Despite everything, he trusts us.”
They did as they were told, mostly. Julien stayed at home, was as polite as he could be to his mother, took Charles riding and for walks on the beach, and sat reading poetry aloud in the garden. But it palled after a couple of days, and it was a great relief to see Henri come striding through the garden.
“I need a rest,” he replied when Julien and Charles, in various states of shock and glee, asked what had brought him there.
“Can you stand a little poetry?”
“Right now, I can stand anything that is not my father.”
Julien read a bit more of Heine, mostly for Charles’ benefit - it had been Charles’ New Year’s present to him, after all, delivered terribly late - before setting it aside to walk with Henri in the garden, Charles in attendance.
“Things have been going ill?” Julien asked in English, hoping to keep Charles from becoming too interested.
“You must speak more slowly if I am to follow. I am not the Englishman like you. He has said nothing. Patience is hard.”
“The English say ‘Patience is a virtue’. Only one of many, but it sounds more attainable that way, does it not? You may come as often as you like, if you do not mind him,” Julien added with a brief gesture towards his little brother.
“Thank you, my brother.”
The rest of the week passed much more quickly for Julien. Henri found a way to come every day, though never at the same time, and he even succeeded in being perfectly polite to Mme Combeferre the one time they happened to meet.
“That is the Enjolras boy?” she asked Julien when Henri had left. “He takes after the mother. Let us hope it extends only to his looks.”
“What do you mean?”
“Naïveté is not as attractive in a young man as in a young woman. No wonder your father is so anxious that he go to Paris. That face could almost make up for his utter lack of blood. I don’t know that I want you in his company too often. You are a positive thundercloud in comparison.” Henri had not even smiled, but Julien had long known his mother was unhappy with her sons’ dark complexions. After the collapse of the Empire, olive looks had fallen out of fashion, and he would not put it past his mother to have selected little blonde Isabelle Laurier precisely to lighten the family bloodline.
The agreed week had nearly run out when Julien and Henri met M. Enjolras as Julien was walking Henri back to his own property. M. Enjolras gave them an odd look, but Henri walked silently past his father and up toward the house. Julien bowed politely and was about to turn and go when M. Enjolras beckoned to him.
“If it please you, monsieur.”
M. Enjolras said nothing more, simply walked back up to the house.
Julien was startled when Vidal came to him the next morning with a note. “He’s making you his messenger?”
“I wished to bring the news myself.” Something in his expression reminded Julien so strongly of Courfeyrac in a good mood that he had to refrain from embracing him. Instead, he tore open the note.
Unsigned, but in M. Enjolras’ handwriting, the single line read, “Not before next week, but yes.”
Julien thanked Vidal with an enthusiasm he only later feared was inappropriate.
“I am glad there is finally some good news.”
“I wish there were good news for you.”
“We shall see.”
Julien dashed downstairs to catch his father before he left for town. “Thank you. Whatever you’ve done this week, thank you.”
“I haven’t done anything this week.”
“What did I tell you? Patience. Let him think it over before you hammer him again.”
“Thank you, Father. For anything you have said to him, all the advice you have given us. Thank you.”
“What is the final deal?”
“I intend to see to it this evening.”
“Remember, patience,” his father ordered indulgently.
“Yes, Father. Thank you.”
The details were simple. M. Enjolras would permit a stay of two months in Paris, the only condition being that Henri leave off mourning before his departure. “Your six months are up, and no one needs to wonder what errands take you around the country at such a time.” They would stay in the Combeferre family home. Julien would introduce him to a wide variety of trustworthy people, preferably anyone from Provence or Lyon. Henri agreed to the limits and the condition, though it had been a sticking point just a week before. There was an agreement at last. Julien said he would make the arrangements.
He returned to the house feeling more cheerful than he had in months. Charles took one look at him and frowned. “You’re leaving, aren’t you?”
“Yes. At last. The gods have finally decided to smile on our plans.” He turned to Charles and ruffled his hair. “But I still have a whole week with you.”
Not that Charles was having any of it, he quickly discovered. The only time Charles was in a good mood was in the intervals when Henri came over. Henri paid him very little attention, but Charles did not seem to mind. He looked more satisfied to watch as Julien and Henri made plans than when Julien tried to do brotherly things. Julien soon gave up the pretense and just let the boy do whatever he wanted. It was easier. Just as it was easier to pretend to listen when his mother spoke of the families to whom Henri was and was not permitted to be presented. He had already tried logic. “Mother, we are leaving next week. By the time we can see anyone, it will be June. Everyone will be gone to the country.” Logic made no inroads.
He dared once suggest that Henri might like to say goodbye to the Duchamps. But Henri looked away and shook his head, and Julien could not bring himself to mention the matter again. For himself, he sent a letter, uncertain how else to explain what was now happening. He was careful to mention the exact date and time of their departure.
By necessity, they spent the final night in Marseille with their respective families. Julien was certain that M. Enjolras was making everything terribly awkward and emotional. In his own family, Charles was sulking in a corner, dragging the mood down for everyone. When he bid his parents goodbye in the morning, they were polite, but they were all thoroughly accustomed to goodbyes, and the October return to Paris would come soon enough. Charles did repent long enough to give him a very tight hug, and he managed to thank Vidal one last time.
The carriage left him in front of the inn where the diligence would load. The Duchamps were already there.
“Thank you for telling us.”
“I cannot promise you he will have anything to say.”
Mme Duchamp nodded. “He did write, at last. The poor, dear boy.”
“Half of it was illegible from the tears,” M. Duchamp explained. “The rest is now illegible from her tears.”
“He took the blame on himself and said he understood you could never forgive him, didn’t he?”
“For three pages.”
“It is best that he go.”
M. Duchamp was dry eyed but neither disappointed nor angry. “Yes,” he echoed evenly. “It is best that he go.”
The Enjolras carriage arrived as the diligence was starting to load. Henri saw the Duchamps, looked away for a moment, but finally came to them with tears in his eyes. No one said anything at all, but Mme Duchamp embraced him, crying. M. Duchamp took his hand; they both nodded at some unspoken agreement. Finally, he embraced his father.
“You will look after him?” Mme Duchamp asked Julien.
He kissed her hand. She always flushed when he treated her as a lady. “His welfare is my only concern.” He looked to M. Duchamp and patted the pistol he still kept in his pocket, sharing a nod of understanding. He then shook hands with M. Enjolras.
Henri climbed into the diligence and stared straight ahead. Even as it pulled away, Julien waving to Henri’s assembled family, Henri merely looked straight ahead.
Chapter 16 ~ Fiction ~ Home