From Childhood’s Hour

Chapter 13: Work he hath begun / Of fortitude, and piety, and love



Cécile ignored Julien for some time, as he knew she would, before finally asking, “And what have you been doing with yourself?” Children were supposed to be seen and not heard.

“I walked over to Les Goudes today.”

“How nice.” She was looking at her embroidery, not at him.

“Père Bornat says Tonette’s husband died in the spring.”

“Good riddance. He was probably drunk and fell overboard. Not that that will teach Antoinette Féal any better taste in husbands. I suppose he left her with another baby, too.”

“I don’t think so. The littlest one I saw has to have been last years’.”

“It could have been worse, then.” She changed the subject, but she left early the next morning, in the carriage, heading east along the road that would take her to the village.

With both his parents out of the house, Julien had the library to himself. The constant back and forth meant that other than the schoolbooks, which went back and forth every year, the library somewhat fluctuated between Marseille and Paris. O’Brien had left from Marseille, of course, yet some of his books had migrated to Paris. Julien couldn’t entirely remember what ended up where. And what had happened to any of the volumes of Rousseau? It would be easier for Henri to read rather than for Julien to have to translate. But Second Treatise on Government looked as good a place as any to start, so he pulled it and the dictionary to set aside for later.

Henri had gone home and was very quiet during dinner. The usual three courses, served on china and in crystal, seemed far too elaborate for just the three of them. Neither his father nor François paid him any attention, and though he wasn’t hungry, he ate his dinner anyway. He had been in trouble for wasting food before, and it wasn’t as if his dinner could be saved and given to the children who needed it. Which was sad, but he could think of no simple solution for it.

“Is something the matter?” his father finally asked after they retreated to the salon.

“No,” Henri replied reflexively.

“If you’re going to be sulky, you might as well go to bed.”

So he did. It was better to sit by himself in his room and think rather than listen to his father worry about what might be wrong. To Henri, it seemed entirely possible that if he asked any questions that admitted where he had been that afternoon, he would be forbidden from seeing Julien again. They were not supposed to be running around the countryside alone. And if he asked François anything, it would get straight back to his father. But he had so many questions.

The next morning, during his Greek lesson, it seemed too pressing to continue to ignore, even if his father would find out. He would have to formulate his questions very carefully. “Monsieur, why are some people poor?”

“You should have grown out of questions like that years ago,” François said.

“I don’t mean it like that. Of course people are poor because they don’t have money. I’m not a baby. But why do some people have lots of money and some people can’t feed their children? The real reason.”

François sighed. “I’m still trying to work that one out for myself. Back to work.”

“If no one knows, then can it ever be fixed?”

“I am paid to teach you Latin and Greek and history and mathematics, not to contemplate the inequalities of society. Some things must be reserved for our leisure time. Come on, back to work.”

He didn’t sound angry, or even annoyed, really, so Henri pressed on. “You work for us, so does that mean you’re poor?”

“Not in the sense I think you mean. I’ve never had to miss a meal, and I’m not sure your father can even say that. Your father and I both work for a living. The money he earns by careful attention to his enterprises pays my salary, and I am grateful for it. Soon enough he’ll decide to send you to school, instead, and then his money, and the tuition paid for all the other pupils, will combine to pay the salaries of several other men. And I will find a new situation if I must. When you grow up, you will work to oversee your father’s enterprises. It is merely how life is.”

“And some people have very small enterprises?”

“Some people have no enterprises at all. They earn a salary, as I do.”

“Will you ever have great enterprises like my father?”

“It is not what I seek in life. Not everyone wants the same things, therefore how can everyone be equally wealthy? Back to work.”

There was a friendliness in his tone that led Henri to suspect that this time, his father might not hear about the conversation. That would be nice: he liked François better than his previous tutor anyway and would like him still more if he did not constantly play the spy.

A couple afternoons later, Parker heard Julien’s rather ringing voice in the woods. “‘To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider what state all men are naturally in, and that is a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and person as as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.’” At last, he saw the boys sitting in a tree, each with a book in hand, Julien translating aloud.

“What on earth are you reading?” he called to his pupil in English.

“Good afternoon, sir!” Henri called down.

The Second Treatise on Government of Mr Locke,” Julien replied.

“You would do better to skip to chapter six.”

So Julien did. “‘Of Paternal Power. The power, then, that parents have over their children arises from that duty which is incumbent on them to take care of their offspring during the imperfect state of childhood.’” He translated quickly for Henri, then replied, “Father lets me read all the books. I have not disobeyed his law.” Parker just shook his head and walked away.

“Should we not be reading this?” Henri asked.

“Mr Locke is as well known in England as M. Rousseau is here,” Julien explained. “And this isn’t even one of the dangerous books. But we have to start at the beginning, in the state of nature, to see how we came to where we are.”

“But being English, won’t M. Locke say how England came to where it is?”

“Political philosophy is supposed to be universal. It explains the German states, the primitive kingdoms of Africa, the Roman Empire, just as much as it explains what we are right now. And I can’t find the Rousseau,” he admitted. “He talks about the same thing in a pamphlet called the Social Contract, but our copy must be in Paris. I know we have some Rousseau, but not here. So we can start with Locke instead.”

“Fine. Go on.”

“‘A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another: there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should by any manifest declaration of his will set one above another, and confer on him by an evident and clear appointment an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.’ Can you look up ‘promiscuous’?”

“How do you spell it?”

“With a P.”

“‘Consisting of a number of dissimilar parts or elements mingled in a confused or indiscriminate manner,’” Henri sounded out slowly and carefully. He had the English dictionary because he could climb a tree with it, not because he could do much more than sound out the definitions. “What does that mean?”

“Random, without deliberate selection,” Julien explained. “The sentence doesn’t actually need it except that the reader is almost certainly used to discriminating among types of people. People cannot be separated in this because they are all born exactly the same.”

“If men are equal, by birth, then why are the fishermen little and dark and poor and we’re not?”

“Charles looked just the same as their babies when he was born. Man comes out of the womb equal, capable of anything. It is after birth that the differences can be assigned, and those differences are not based on nature. That’s all Mr Locke is saying.” He continued, “‘The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone. And reason, which is law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it that, being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.’”

“Does that include the Africans? Or are they not men?”

Julien looked confused and started flipping pages. “Here, there’s a whole chapter on slavery.” He was silent as he read to himself, until he found his answer. “‘As freedom of nature is to be under no other restraint but the law of nature. This freedom from absolute, arbitrary power is so necessary to, and closely joined with, a man’s preservation, that he cannot part with it but by what forfeits his preservation and life together. For a man, not having the power of his own life, cannot, by compact or his own consent, enslave himself to anyone, nor put himself under the absolute, arbitrary power of another, to take away his life when he pleases.’” He closed the book, looking pleased. “Since it is against nature for a man to take his own life, it is against nature for him to give his life wholly to another man. And if a man cannot put himself into slavery, then it is doubly wrong for him to be taken as a slave. He does mean the Africans.”

“Good. Did your family sell Africans?”

“We were in the Levant trade and then the China trade. We move things, goods, not people. I’m sure of it.” He was not entirely certain that the family had never made a slave run, since one of his aunts had moved to Louisiana after her marriage and they had sent ships back and forth to the Indies, but he had at least never been permitted to see a ship outfitted for slave runs, and he had seen several of the family’s ships.

Henri wedged the dictionary into the crook of a branch and hung upside-down for a moment. “It’s all very interesting, but when do we come out of the state of nature? Because we’re in society now.”

“I don’t want to accidentally skip something important.”

Henri pulled himself back up. “Ok. Keep going.”

They read somewhat further, through the state of war and the full chapter on slavery, before it seemed time to consider going home. Henri clambered down first, being the better climber, but he slipped and fell hard.

“Are you all right?” Julien called down.

“I’m fine,” Henri winced. That hadn’t been fun at all. He took a step and cried out. His ankle really did not want any weight put on it.

Julien was at his side in a moment - he was ordinarily a careful climber and had never moved up or down a tree so quickly. “Is it broken?”

“I don’t know.” Henri felt like an utter baby for the tears that were flowing, but it hurt, and he just couldn’t seem to get the tears to stop. He wasn’t crying, really - he would swear to that if he had to.

“Lean against the tree, and let me wrap up the books, and I’ll leave them here.” They still had the piece of oilcloth from last summer that had enabled the book swaps. Tightly wrapped, the books could easily sit out for several days at a time. “Alright, give me your arm. No, other arm, I think that’ll be easier, since you’ll have to hop. Around my neck. There, I’ve got you. Ready?”

“You must think I’m such an idiot.”

“You lost your balance, that’s all. If we can get you up to the house, or at least into the gardens, we can put you in the carriage home. Are you ready?”

“I guess.” His ankle hurt so very badly. After a few hops, they changed sides again, as the first attempt had been rather clumsy. “This would be easier if you weren’t so tall,” Henri complained.

Julien tried to bend down still further. “Does this help at all?”

They did make it into the gardens, at least, where Henri could sit on a bench and rest. Julien brought the gardener to him, and it was rather nice that someone with strong arms could pick him up and carry him, no more painful hobbling at least for the moment. Julien even went with him in the carriage to help him into his own house.

Once the parlourmaid had them settled in the salon, she went tearing through the door. “I am going to be in so much trouble,” Henri winced. Julien knelt on the floor next to the sofa, unwilling to leave until there was some sort of resolution.

François came running in. “What happened?”

“He slipped when coming down from a tree,” Julien answered.

“The fact that you run around barefoot probably didn’t help.”

“I climb better when I can feel the tree,” Henri complained, punctuated by a very loud “Ow!” as François rather expertly examined the injury.

“It’s not broken. Is that your man with the carriage?” he asked Julien.

“Yes. Does he need to go for a doctor?”

“No, you can send him home. I can bandage a sprain easily enough.”

Julien let the maid send the coachman home; he wanted to watch. And since he was going to watch, François let him help.

“I didn’t know you were a doctor, monsieur.”

“I’m not. My father was. Yes, I know it hurts, but the bandage has to be tight so you can’t move and so it doesn’t swell too much.”

“I’d like to go to medical school, I think,” Julien told him.

“Really? Pull this tight, and hold it. Will your father permit that?”

“I don’t know. But being a doctor must be the best thing you can do with science. All this knowledge, and it saves people’s lives.”

“It’s mostly saving people’s ankles.”

“Why aren’t you a doctor?”

“Not all of us can afford it.” François pinned the bandage in place. “There. Your father’s going to have my head when he gets home,” he told Henri.

“It’s not your fault.”

“He can’t very well punish your friend.”

“Julien didn’t push me out of the tree!”

“What were you doing this afternoon?”

“Reading Mr. Locke’s Second Treatise on Government,” Julien replied, ignoring a look from Henri. Henri had not necessarily wanted to admit that.

“You have the strangest ideas of mischief. Go on home,” François ordered kindly. “Henri needs to rest.”

“I do not!”

“Your ankle would prefer you rest.”

Julien bid him goodbye, and Henri sulked for several minutes before asking François, “Did you want to be a doctor?”

“I thought I did. We’ll see how much I can save, then we’ll see if I still want to be a doctor.”

“I’m sorry I asked if you were poor. I didn’t know it was true.”

François busied himself with small, unimportant tasks outside of Henri’s line of sight, but eventually, he started to speak. “My father died during my last term at school. A doctor will never become a rich man unless he marries a rich woman, and my mother was not rich. The fees were paid, so I sat my bac. And then we looked at what was left. My sister’s half, and part of mine, became her dowry, and she promised to look after my mother. So here I am, trying to make my own fortune. You’ll never have to worry about that.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Your father’s a far better employer than the last two houses I was in. Perhaps I should stick to city industrialists from now on.”

“Julien says his tutor dines with the servants.”

“That is traditionally how it is done.”

“But you like it better here.”

“I like that your father respects me as a man of education rather than just a servant. It will be hard to move on. If you’re not going to nap, I’ll bring you a book.”

“I shouldn’t have to study when I’m ill!” But François had already left.

He returned with a thin volume in hand. “Since your studies were interrupted.”

“Rousseau! Julien said he couldn’t find his, that it must be in Paris.”

“You’re not to take it out of the house. But if you’re going to read political philosophy you can’t possibly understand, you should at least do it properly and not rely on Englishmen.”

Henri thanked him excitedly and immediately turned to the first page. “My purpose is to consider if, in political society there can be any legitimate and sure principle of government, taking men as they are and laws as they might be. In this inquiry I shall try always to bring together what right permits with what interest prescribes so that justice and utility are in no way divided. I start without seeking to prove the importance of my subject. I may be asked whether I am a prince or a legislator that I should be writing about politics. I answer no: and indeed that is my reason for doing so. If I were a prince or a legislator I should not waste my time saying what ought to be done; I should do it or keep silent.’” M. Rousseau was already much more to his liking than M. Locke.


Chapter 12: Whatever is done or said returns at last to me, / And whatever I do or say I also return ~ Fiction ~ Chapter 14: It is bound / Ere it has life: yea, all the chains are forged / Long ere its being ~ Home