From Childhood’s Hour
Chapter 15: Fate, Time, Occasion, Chance and Change / To these / All things are subject but eternal Love
“Sir, do you need help to pack the specimens?” Julien asked. His mother had announced the previous evening at dinner that they would leave in two weeks.
“No, no, I can do it myself.”
“They will need much care for the sea voyage, will they not?”
Parker’s eyes narrowed. “What would you know about that?”
“It is simple. You took this position in order to botanise around the Mediterranean. I was grateful that you did because I could help you. Now you are done. And you have been paid. So why would you return to Paris with us? I do not hold it against you,” he added. “I have been left for much worse reasons before.”
“It is nothing to do with you,” Parker tried to explain nervously, “or with your parents.”
“Oh, I know,” Julien told him brightly. “We have each had what we want, so why should there be sorrow or easy lies to smooth the parting?”
“You are a very odd child.”
“I know. Do you need help? I would be glad to help. Should I not learn how to pack the specimens for a sea voyage, in case I should ever be so lucky as to go botanising in foreign lands?”
Parker permitted him to assist in the packing. Julien rather thought it was because it was easier than to send him away, but he did enjoy seeing the last of the fruits of their labours, and he did not at all mind Parker’s impending departure. He had had something of what he wanted, but the whole experience was not quite as he had wished. He was not certain what he had wished for, but Parker was not it.
Henri was more surprised to hear about Parker’s departure than Julien was. “You don’t mind that he’s just leaving you?”
Julien shrugged. “I’ve been left before. And I only really liked him for a couple of things, which I’ve had, so why should I be upset that he’s going? He’s not leaving because he doesn’t like me, the way others have done.”
They were sitting in the garden, eating late summer figs. Henri’s ankle had healed, just as François had said it would, but there was still to be no more tree climbing or swimming that summer, and summer was rapidly rushing on towards autumn. Locke and Rousseau had been thoroughly examined and now Paine and Machiavelli were on the syllabus. “We must know the worst of how men think,” Julien had explained of his excitement when Henri had found the Machiavelli. François hovered only when it seemed possible that M. Enjolras might return - their evenings were far more circumscribed than their afternoons.
The weather continued hot, but the sunlight had developed the yellow tinge of autumn. The church bells had been rung across the department, announcing the grape harvest. Once the grapes were in, the olives would come in, and then the autumn would truly arrive. The Combeferres were to leave just as the first of the grapes would be pressed. “Are you sad that you’ll miss the harvest again?” Henri asked.
Julien just shrugged. “We usually miss it. We haven’t got vineyards of our own, and a few remaining olive trees don’t really make for a proper harvest.”
“I wish you could stay.”
“So do I. But I’ll see if I can send you anything from Paris.”
“More books?” Henri asked excitedly, his sorrow gone for the moment.
The last adventure of the summer was sneaking away to bid goodbye to Mr Parker. Julien thought it was only appropriate, under the circumstances, to see his tutor off, and Henri begged to go along just for the adventure of it. Parker was rather sneaking off - he had calculated the journey back to Paris as half of the one-month notice his contract dictated that he give, but Richard did not agree, particularly as Julien’s habits made it so that at least some studying could be done whilst traveling. It was two weeks notice that Parker had given, which was not in the contract. With the sudden strain in relations, Parker was determined to make it even less than those two weeks, as he had found he could take ship for Gibraltar rather sooner. He had booked his passage anyway, packed his things, and intended to leave without taking his final week’s pay and without formally bidding goodbye to the Combeferres. Julien thought he ought to go along, as if it would somehow make Parker’s annoyance over the whole matter less rebellious if Julien were there in his father’s place; it would at least justify the use of the carriage and driver. It was a rather daring thing to do, after all, since he would have to return alone - the driver hardly a chaperone of any sort. Henri did not tell M. François what they were determined to do, in case François’ lenience suddenly dissipate when provoked with a real adventure. He merely hoped that he would not somehow run into his father. Julien did not even worry about that, though it was always possible that Richard be out on the docks - he had been to the docks before, and while it was definitely a stretch that he have taken the carriage alone, he was only going to be out of Parker’s company for the few minutes between the unloading of Parker’s baggage and his own departure.
They passed through the octroi barrier without question. Parker had to retrieve his passport from the hôtel de ville, a stop which afforded the boys their first proper look at the huge edifice of government. Henri had never spent any time at the docks, the refinery being higher on the hill above the port, and so he had seen the building only at a distance, just another of the red tiled roofs of the city. Julien had never accompanied his father when he had business there, and now that he had a chance to see the building up close, he was fascinated by the intricate carvings above the huge windows overlooking the port. Waiting with the driver, who would not permit Parker’s baggage to be unloaded by any of the stevedores or robeirols, the unofficial men of all work, begging for the job until Parker returned, Julien tried to interest Henri in the architecture, while Henri was staring in awe at the port itself.
The Port of Marseille was always fascinating to watch - the sheer number of ships headed throughout the Mediterranean and on to Africa, China, and sometimes the Indies; the boxes and barrels and bales that were loaded and unloaded, the wagons waiting to take the huge variety of goods on into the city proper and from there send them throughout France; the way the sails dropped into place once the ships had passed the mole, as if they were birds spreading their wings to fly off to distant lands - but Henri had always known this view from above, and his father never permitted him to stare at it long. From the hôtel de ville, one was in the middle of all the bustle of the port. The stevedores and robeirols of all colours hurrying back and forth, weighed down by trunks and boxes and bales or merely standing about with their pipes in their mouths, the creak of the ships rolling slowly in the deep water, the shouts in Provençal and French and languages Henri had never heard before all formed a giant, noisy, beautiful, overwhelming scene under the brilliant blue Mediterranean sky. He had no idea what to watch - even the prostitutes lingering in the shade of the hôtel de ville, calling out to customers under the watchful eye of an older man, were fascinating, far more fascinating than some carved stone curlicues. Even Julien gave up on the architecture sooner rather than later to watch the activity of the bustling port.
He pointed out several of the ships to Henri. “That’s an American - see the flag with the stars and stripes? And that’s a Spaniard, yellow and red. And that one, with the really high masts, bigger than all the rest? That one’s ours.”
“French, you mean?”
“No, ours. My father owns her. She’s called the Rainbow, and she goes to China. See the chests they’re unloading? All those are full of tea.”
Parker returned before Henri could ask any further questions, and with his return, he gave permission to have his baggage unloaded. “I’m bound for the Arrow,” he told the driver, who immediately beckoned to a couple of robeirols with baskets on their backs.
Julien offered his hand in a manner that seemed far more mature than he ought to be. “Goodbye, sir. I hope your return home is pleasant.”
“Goodbye, sir!” Henri bid him in English, following Julien’s lead. “Safe journey!”
Parker shook Julien’s hand, though giving him an odd look. “You do not mind my going?”
“Not at all. I am happy that you can now afford to return home and do as you like.”
“Not quite do as I like.”
“But at home. It must be better for you, to be sure,” Julien insisted. “We will hire someone new in Paris. I enjoyed the botany very much. Now I must concentrate on other subjects.”
“Not to the exclusion of botany, I hope. I’d like to see your name in a publication of the Académie des Sciences one day.”
“That would give me great joy! Thank you, sir. Goodbye, sir.”
Parker bid him goodbye one last time and followed the robeirols with his baggage to join the queue boarding the Arrow.
“What was he saying to you?” Henri asked once Parker was safely out of earshot.
“He asked if I really didn’t mind that he was leaving me, and I told him it was fine and that I had enjoyed the botany but need to work on other things. And he said that he hopes I don’t give it up entirely because he’d like to see me publish something for the Academy of Sciences. That would be the most amazing thing, that I might make a discovery that could please M. Cuvier so much that it would be published by the Academy.” He added, in a far more mature tone than was perhaps called for, “Well, that’s over. I am so tired of having to watch my accent. I speak perfectly fine, and he knows it, but he thinks there’s a problem that I learned from an Irishman, and I can’t help that I don’t hear his cadences in my head. The Irish speak much more beautifully than the English, if Mr Parker is a good example of the latter.”
“You really don’t mind that he’s leaving?”
“I’ve been bored of him for a month. Now I have four whole days free before we leave. I think I’m falling behind on Greek again. He didn’t concentrate as hard on Greek as he did on Latin. I should find Thucydides and we can do translations.”
Henri pulled a face. “Do I have to?”
“It’s Thucydides! He’s quite as good as Machiavelli. No one is as good as Paine, though.”
“M. Paine spent a great deal of time angry at M. Burke.”
“I think Mr Burke had much in common with Mr Parker. Quick, to your right,” he added in a whisper, pointing out an Asian sailor walking past.
Henri had never seen anyone who was not European, and he stared a bit at the man’s slanting eyes and long plait, though the sailor was dressed no differently to all the other sailors that hurried past them. “I thought Chinamen were supposed to be yellow.” Like the rest, this sailor was tanned a deep brown from the sun.
“I’ve only seen a couple, but they’ve never been yellow, really. Maybe too much sun means we never see the real colour.”
The driver came up to them. “Shall we return home, monsieur?”
“Do we have to?” Henri asked.
Julien thought for a moment. It was his driver, after all. He was the master now, even though the driver was the adult. “You may do what you like for the time being,” he finally said. “We wish to walk around a bit. We will meet you here when the church bells toll the hour.” And then, before he could change his mind, since it was extremely naughty to go wandering around the docks, he took Henri’s hand and they disappeared into the crowd.
They were hardly the only boys underfoot, but they were certainly the best dressed. Ragged urchins ran in and out of the crowd, picking pockets or making mischief, selling matches and occasionally themselves. Prostitutes in gaily coloured dresses stood at the fringes, calling out their wares. Small fishing boats pulled up to the North Bank, where men unloaded the glistening catch. The Fort Saint-Nicolas rose up, tall and white, above everything. If one looked up, the city climbed the hills behind the port, thousands of buildings bleached white in the sun, their red tiles fading to various shades of orange.
“Is that ship on fire?” Henri pointed to a small ship heading out towards the mole.
“It’s a steamer! See, the smoke comes out that black pipe. It doesn’t need the wind to move - it burns charcoal to boil water and the steam turns a wheel that pushes the ship forward.”
“Really?” Henri asked skeptically.
“I promise. It’s probably Italian, heading back to Genoa. That’s where all the steamers come from. They can’t go too far because they have to carry so much charcoal.”
“How do you even know this?”
“I listen to my father. You probably know all about sugar.”
Henri knew nothing about sugar, but then, he rarely listened to his father in the moments Jean-Pierre did discuss his business at the dinner table. Sugar seemed very boring in comparison to everything else. Still, he was not about to admit his ignorance on that subject to Julien.
The docks were easily the most fascinating place Julien had taken him, far more interesting than the fishing village. Julien waved to one of the fishermen he recognised, but apart from that one man, the hundreds of people Henri could see were complete strangers. For many of them, this would be their only trip to Marseille, scores of strangers who would remain strangers, a concept Henri was just beginning to comprehend.
Julien grabbed him by the hand and pulled him towards a dirty match seller. “What?”
Pretending to be bent over the match seller’s wares, Julien murmured, “One of my father’s managers is out. I don’t want to get caught.”
“How naughty are we being?”
“Very.” Julien looked around surreptitiously. “If we get caught, it’s all my fault. You couldn’t go home alone, after all. Well, actually, you could - you can follow the sea all the way home. But if we get caught, it’s all my fault,” Julien insisted, sounding not in the least worried about getting caught. He even managed to find a sou in his pocket to casually give to the poor match seller who had been an unintended help to them. The bells of St Laurent began to toll the hour, however, and the boys had to navigate their way back to the hôtel de ville, where they found a boy holding the carriage and no sign of the driver.
“Where is he?” Julien asked the boy, first in Marseille-accented French, then again in Provençal before the boy pointed to the low café from which the driver was now hurrying. Nothing more was said about the brief holiday, and they returned home in enough time that no one need know where they had been.
For Henri, it was hard to keep the secret even from François, whom he thought might be interested in what they had done. But it was not worth the risk of his father discovering how terribly they had misbehaved. They had been lucky not to be seen by M. Combeferre’s manager.
For Julien, his four days of freedom were ended far more quickly than he would have preferred, and while he was anxious to return to Paris in order to return to his studies properly, it was awful to have to say goodbye to Henri. “I promise I’ll send something.”
“Just keep writing,” Henri insisted. It was no easier on him, particularly with the thought that as much as Julien hated Paris, Paris could still turn Julien against everything. He carefully avoided noticing that Julien’s eyes seemed very wet when they embraced for the last time, and there were no promises for the following summer.
It was also hard when, the next morning, knowing Julien was gone, François asked Henri if he would like to go for a walk rather than commence lessons immediately. They walked down the beach in silence, Henri uncertain just why the offer had been made, François looking out to sea rather than at his pupil. When they came to the rocky point immediately behind the Combeferre property, and François begged him to take a seat on the rocks, Henri knew it was not going to be a good conversation.
“I hate to bring it up now, when you have only lately lost your friend. But I must ask.”
Henri interrupted, muttering, “You’re leaving.”
“That is up to you.”
He looked up in surprise at François, who was still looking out to sea rather than at him. “Up to me?”
“I had a letter from my sister yesterday. She thinks, and her husband agrees, that in two or three years, they could spare a few hundred francs. It is enough that, with my savings, I could enroll in the medical school this year.”
“Then why is it up to me?”
“I must tell your father tonight, to give proper notice, if I am to go to Montpellier at the beginning of November.”
“But if I said I didn’t want you to go, you wouldn’t go?”
“That is correct.”
“Did you say this to your other pupils?” Henri asked warily.
François turned to him with a wry smile. “No. You are special.”
“I’ve never worked in a house like this, and I cannot imagine ever finding its like again. Your father’s respect, your friend Julien, you - it will be hard to leave. I like you very much, particularly your notions of mischief.”
“I try to be good!” Henri protested. But François ruffled his hair, and it was nice to be pulled into a hug.
“For you, mischief and enlightenment are the same thing. How could I ever be pleased with another boy after this?”
“But you really wouldn’t go if I said I wanted you to stay?”
“I really wouldn’t go.”
Henri did not even have to stop to think. It was a very kind offer, but he could never live with himself if he asked for even one more year. “You have to go learn to be a doctor. You can’t put that off just because you feel sorry for me that Julien had to leave again.”
“It isn’t that I feel sorry for you. I will miss you.”
“If I had had a younger brother, I’d have wanted him to be just like you.”
“I’ll miss you, too,” Henri admitted. He had never thought about François moving on, or even really thought about François as anything other than an arm of his father, until the past couple of months when, as Julien had said, he had started to see the man and not the servant. He was going to miss the man very much.
Chapter 14: It is bound / Ere it has life: yea, all the chains are forged / Long ere its being ~ Fiction ~ Chapter 16: With an eye made quiet by the power / Of harmony . . . We see into the life of things ~ Home