Several days later, his stilted letters of condolence having been sent out by first class post, Gouttenoire managed a day’s leave. He told General de Jaeghre that he merely wanted to make a visit to his parents to reassure them that the violence had done him no harm, but he took a fiacre to the Rue Blanche instead, in search of Angèle Mancion.
The house looked the same as at his previous visit, but as he began to climb the stairs to the first floor suite, the concierge stopped him. “Ah, it’s you again. She thought you’d be back. They’ve gone. She left this for you.” She had a letter in her hand, carefully addressed to M., not Lieutenant, Gouttenoire.
His heart seemed to drop to the pit of his stomach. “When did they go?”
“Two days ago? No, three. Thereabouts. She said to give this to you when you came.”
“Did she seem distressed in any way?”
“Not really. Resigned. Mme Mancion was glad to go, that’s for sure. Never did take to Paris. Mademoiselle, she’ll be wasted in the provinces now. They took time for mourning clothes, but then off they went. A mother shouldn’t outlive a son like that.”
“No, she should not. Did they leave an address?”
“No, lieutenant. Maybe she did for you.”
He took the letter with him up the hill of Montmartre in order to stand where they had last stood and read it in what peace he could manage.
Dear M. Gouttenoire,
Forgive me if I have a dislike of ranks and uniforms. You might dislike them, too, were you in my place. I mean nothing against your honour as a gentleman.
My mother has decided it is time for us to leave this place. I am sorry to go - I did hope to meet again, but I feared my mother would not let me stay. I cannot stay on my own for I am not fit for anything but a student or a very bad wife. I have not learned enough to be able to teach, but I have learned enough to know that I am too young and ignorant for the real world yet am smarter than my mother in all things except practical matters of running a household. What is there for me in Paris, or in any city, for that matter, when I have not the ability to live without assistance and no prospect of nor desire for marriage? Had Julien lived and married Mlle Laurier, I might have been able to stay in his care, as a younger sister, until I might be ready for marriage. My brother would be here to watch over my interests. But that is no longer possible.
I am sad, but not from purely selfish interests. I will return to Paris one day if I wish it badly enough. I will miss my brother and Julien. But I am most sorry that their sacrifice has meant nothing. The mention of the night of 5 June is met with derision by the very people who would have gained most by a revolution. What does a man of Julien’s position gain from a revolution? He lacked the ambition for public office, so he stood to gain nothing. It was a selfless sacrifice, and he will be derided for the next few months, then forgotten by all but those who knew him. There is so much work to be done.
I do not know if I can make you understand what they did or why they did it, but this is my last chance to try. You have seen the depression of the poor quarters. There will always be poor people, I acknowledge that, but when the rich are so much better off than they were in medieval days, but the poor still live in the same manner, progress is at fault for the misery of the working classes. Men want work, but there is none for them. Those who have work are often unable to feed their families. Factory owners have already proved they will not raise wages or hire more workers to expand production, preferring to turn to machines as much as possible. The task for survival must fall on the government, and this government was put in place not by the will of the people but by the will of the industrialists. A constitutional monarchy will always be a monarchy first, and this bourgeois king is just that - a bourgeois and a king. He will defend his own class and ignore the masses who require an understanding by their government of what it means to be poor and what the desires of the poor are. They are ignorant of many things, but they know they want to work and they need food and water, and if education were taken seriously, and wages so that children did not have to work, then the next generation would not be so ignorant.
But you will not listen to me. Why should you? I am merely a girl, taught by her brother and his friend to believe in the things they believed, to see the world through their eyes. You were taught by learned men to see the world in the manner they did, to believe in the things you now believe. You have some regard for me - I saw it in your eyes - but I am not foolish enough to believe that one meeting and one letter can change your mind about the world and how it should be run.
You look so much like Julien that it is a dangerous fancy in me to hope that you may, one day, take his place as a leader of men. Perhaps your Pylades has better angels that may turn your head. But that is mere fancy. Perhaps you will merely become a general. Do not think you will disappoint me in any path you take, for I will not know what you do.
It is best that this be adieu. I should not have written at all.
Gouttenoire read the letter through twice, then folded it carefully and put it in his pocket. He looked out over the city, the creeping darkness she had shown him the week before when they first were here. What life is there for her that she will accept? he wondered. At best she will marry a provincial doctor or shopkeeper and forget her youthful ideals in the press to keep food on the table and the children quiet. She’ll never have a servant, never see another opera, never read another novel. If she has another silk dress, it will be for her wedding. She’ll never be appreciated as the fine, delicate creature she is, never acknowledged for her forthright expression of her mind. Never loved in the way she should be loved. In the way I could love her were she not afraid of rank and uniforms. She might never marry at all. What then? Wasting away, always the property of that oxen mother - that would be worse.
He forced himself to leave these thoughts. There was no future by her own wish. The hill was steep to descend, and he concentrated on every step. When he reached the road back into Paris, he stumbled past a beggar, afraid to pause and have to meet the woman’s eyes. He needed to get back to the barracks.
Chapter 10 ~ Fiction ~ Epilogue ~ Home