From Childhood’s Hour

Chapter 5: At his call / Love him, who for himself will take no heed at all

“I’m taking Julien out for a ride.”

“Is that really wise today?”

“The boy needs exercise.”

“He’s gone completely brown as it is.”

But for a ride they went, Richard Combeferre and his son. Once the house was hidden from sight down the road, Julien seemed to relax a bit, and so did Richard. He did not regret his marriage at all, but Cécile could be trying at times, never fully explaining her reasoning, though her reasoning was always sound if one pressed the argument. This time, he was certain that she meant that it had rained the night before and thus the grass was still wet and was that really the best thing when the boy was still recovering from his long illness? Punctuated by her annoyance that it could still be months before he looked normal.

“What have you been getting up to all day?” Richard asked kindly.

“Nothing,” Julien replied defensively.

“That’s too bad. Bellan says you’ve not spent any time in the gardens.”

“I’ve tried to stay out of his way.”

“So where have you been?”

“In the woods. I’ve gone to the village from time to time,” he admitted.

“So that’s where you’ve been swimming. Good.” Julien did not correct him. “It’s too bad the fishermen barely speak French, otherwise you might find yourself some companions if they’re not all out on the boats.”

“They’re all out on the boats.”

“I’m sorry.” He was. Richard had always thought of his son as serious, had thought Cécile exaggerated when she called him gloomy and unnatural, but gloomy was perhaps the appropriate adjective of late. We should get out more, he thought. Julien used to sit his horse better. “I’ve decided that we’ll hire you a new tutor when we return to Paris. There will be more choice, better chance to find someone you will like. In the mean time, should you like a drawing master or a music teacher? I think those might be permitted.”

Julien did not dare get his hopes up. His father would write to the physician for advice, and the physician would merely shoot down the plan. “A drawing master might be nice.”

“I’ll see to it in the morning.”

They rode in silence for some time before Richard urged his horse on for a brief run down the hill. Julien’s hat flew off as he followed, and he pulled up, looking after it with an actual smile. Richard waited while he retrieved it, but he shook his head as Julien put it back on. “Don’t worry about it. I won’t tell your mother if you won’t.”

Julien grinned and took off at a gallop, thrilled at the permission to ride as fast as he might with the wind whipping through his hair. Cécile might have a mother’s panic, but the boy was going to be all right.

Indeed, once the horses were tired and they began to walk back to their own estate, Julien dared to talk. “Father, what do you know about the people who own the other house on the point?”

“M. Enjolras? Not much, I’m afraid. He owns the big sugar refinery in town, plus some lands inland. Came from Lyon about ten years back. Widower, one boy, never remarried. Your mother and his wife never really got on. He’s a good enough chap, a handshake and kind word if one meets him in the café, but we’ve never really done business.”

“He doesn’t get his sugar from you?”

“I’m not the only man with ships in Marseille. You know that. Why the questions?”

With his mother safely indoors, Julien decided it the best time to admit the truth. “I met the boy a few days ago.”

“Where on earth did you do that?”

“On the beach,” he admitted.

“The beach is theirs. You know that.”

“I know. It was very naughty of me. I’ve apologized for trespassing.”

“Have you apologized to M. Enjolras?”

“I asked Henri to tell his father I was sorry if he ever told his father about me.”

“You’ll write a letter when we get home,” Richard ordered, though hardly sternly. “What is the Enjolras boy like?”

Julien thought for a long while before answering. “He’s very nice. I wish I had met him sooner. We meet on the beach and we talk all afternoon and he’s already taught me how to climb trees.”

“I wish you’d met him sooner. You never climbed a tree before now?”

“Who would have taught me?”

Richard laughed. “Not everything in life is taught. I rather thought tree climbing was an instinct. You don’t have to repress everything, you know. If you take a fancy to something, do it. I will always love you, no matter how much trouble you get yourself into.”

“But Mother won’t.”

“That’s not true. She worries about you, because she a mother. Women worry. I think I’ve let her worry too much because she has me worried. Do what you want. Say what you feel. You’ll only get away with it when you’re young and when you’re old.” It was perhaps contrary to the advice a father should give his son, but Richard rather thought cultivating high spirits could do the boy no harm since he had not come by them naturally.

“I can say what I want right now?”


“M. Enjolras asked Henri what he wanted in a new tutor. Henri’s tutor got sacked. So M. Enjolras asked Henri what he wanted.”

“How very enlightened.”

“I want a natural philosopher who speaks German,” Julien burst out in a flood.

“I will take it into consideration.”


“You may have to accept one or the other. That is how life works; we rarely get everything we want.”

“I understand.”

Richard wished Julien didn’t understand, that it was a phrase of surrender rather than a sign of comprehension, but it had been a difficult year for them all. The baby, then the preparations for Julien’s first communion, the heated conversations about schools, losing one tutor because the boy couldn’t take the pressure of Julien’s intense concentration anymore, then the illness, the fear, Cécile’s unfortunate but necessary flight, and then having to explain to Julien why his mother had left him. And now the awkwardness of his recovery, not only in the physical sense, but of the family as well. Julien was too old and had too penetrating a mind to blindly accept words of love. Cécile would not have her actions questioned by her own son, especially when he was only twelve years old. She would not apologise. Richard had his own business worries and was not particularly keen on playing the womanly role of reconciliation within his own house. Everything would be easier if the doctors had been less strict, less worrying in their insinuations that the illness had been entirely preventable if Julien’s nature had been different. They would have found a new tutor already, Julien would be back to his books, and he would almost certainly be happier. But if the doctors were correct, Richard could never forgive himself if his indulgence led to the death of his son. Little Charles was not a replacement in any sense.

They had approached the last hill before the house would come into view. “Put your hat on. Your mother doesn’t need to know what we’ve been up to.”

Julien smiled as he obeyed. There was at least that benefit - his cropped hair was still so short the wind made no difference in how it lay. His mother would have no evidence of their misbehavior.


Chapter 4: Nor was this fellowship vouchsafed to me / With stinted kindness ~ Fiction ~ Chapter 6: Summer’s lease hath all too short a date ~ Home