Rumours were spreading quickly in wild contradiction after Sunday’s preliminary results. Prouvaire had set up his watch station across from the Quotidienne, sending a friend of his called Guilbert to make his reports to headquarters. Lesgle and Joly had the Constitutionnel. Bahorel kept his eye on the Journal des Débats, his news sent by a different runner every time, workmen observing their Holy Monday. Combeferre had quickly expanded his chart to take into account the differing numbers that came in from each source: some of the journalists were spreading false information or were engaging in speculation.
It was Bahorel’s plan. Since they had no one inside to leak them the vote totals as they were sent in from the departments, they had agreed to adopt a plan he had derived from the last elections to the Chamber of Deputies. The journalists had access to everything; they also had demanding editors and deadlines, and keeping their editors satisfied required constant updates, making for thirsty work. With luck, anyone hanging around the cafés frequented by the journalists of the major papers would have a list of results before the papers themselves began to draft their editions. Even if their loosely formed little group were not so lucky as to put together a complete list, Bahorel was fairly certain he could bribe a proof out of the head printer of the Journal des Débats. Yet Courfeyrac had been stationed near the Moniteur’s office, with a friend he promised could be trusted, and that in itself gave everyone hope that they might succeed.
The back room of the café Musain was quiet at the moment. Combeferre had a map of France, with the legislative districts marked, spread on a table, his notes on the vote totals thus far crowded into the rest of the space. Enjolras forced himself to stop pacing - Guilbert had brought news of the Côtes-du-Nord to cheer the hearts of the Government rather than the liberal opposition. Combeferre was opening a fresh bottle of wine at an adjacent table.
They had all met at Enjolras’ flat at seven that morning. The cafés that would sustain their vigil would not open until eight, around sunrise, when the day’s first results from the provinces could begin to make their way to the capital by telegraph. Bahorel said that last time, to avoid confusion for the operators and receivers, each department except Corsica had a specific time at which to submit their counts, so that Var was well-separated from Vaucluse. The count would thus last from sunrise to sunset, as carefully ordered as if Bonaparte had arranged it. Even the ultras did not mind modern advances in organisation when the results were in their favour.
More than half the awaited totals had been reported, and a good portion of the remainder were obvious conservative wins, but several reports did not line up, and Courfeyrac had not been heard from in hours. The back room had two windows, but they received little light; as a result, Enjolras could not begin to predict what time it might be, merely that it was not yet dusk. He was staring at rather than out one of the windows, calculating the likelihood that they would get nothing more from the Moniteur, when a touch at his shoulder startled him.
Combeferre was at his side, a glass of wine in hand. “Drink this,” he ordered gently. “I’ll have Louison bring in something to eat.”
“I’m not hungry,” Enjolras replied, more from habit than from active consideration.
“It is nearly two o’clock - we both need to eat.” But this order was followed by a soft smile and another brief touch before Combeferre strode purposefully out of the room.
They had known each other half their lives - longer than anyone in their Paris set - and Combeferre had always forced him to attend to the mundane, even in the midst of flights of very important fancy. Only Combeferre, among their friends, would dare translate concern into direct action. Courfeyrac would charm and cajole him into agreeing to take something; Combeferre insisted upon it as if Enjolras were a patient in need of medicine but with a gentler tone and better humour than he had afforded his patients at Necker in the days when he still studied medicine. Where Courfeyrac could grate or Lesgle annoy or Prouvaire confound, Combeferre was almost an additional aspect of himself, not a silent, knowing helpmeet like a servant yet always there, a constant well of the patience Enjolras himself could not always muster.
Today, that meant bringing Louison in for the briefest of moments. “Oh, my poor gentlemen, why did you not ask sooner?” Two bowls of hot stew, steaming in the November chill, and half a loaf of bread were set on the table crowded with wineglasses. “Shall I take some of these?”
“No, you can go back to your work.” They expected far more visitors through the back door before the day was done.
Perhaps he was hungry, Enjolras thought, as he forced himself to sit and take a few bites. But he was soon interrupted by one of Bahorel’s workmen. “You’re M. Enjolras? The Gascon says two reporting in the Isère, one of them new.”
Combeferre copied down the figures, but Enjolras stopped the man. “The Isère?”
“Yes, sir. I’m not likely to botch that department, am I?”
“The Lyon influence is spreading?” Combeferre suggested. He motioned to the open bottle. “Have a drink, monsieur. A token of thanks for your troubles.”
“Right nice of you. Thank you, monsieur.” He drank off half a glass straight before leaving.
“A change in the Isère!”
“Sit and eat. This hardly puts us over the top,” Combeferre reminded him. But whatever pause had given them a moment for reflexion had ended. Guilbert - a serious, bespectacled young man who was one of Prouvaire’s more presentable companions - brought confirmation of the Isère victory. “We have no numbers, but it seems a definite victory in the Vienne district. That threw us for a moment, but it is definitely the Vienne district of the Isère. Do you want a partial figure for the Aube?”
“Anything you have picked up.”
“One of the candidates in the Troyes district has a major victory - 202 votes and there are only about 300 electors. Unfortunately, we don’t know which candidate.” He took a quick sip of wine.
“Thank you for it, nonetheless.” The kind word from Combeferre sent him off with a smile.
Numbers continued to come in all afternoon, including confirmation that the opposition had taken at least the one seat in the Aube, but there was no sign of Courfeyrac. “Joly,” Enjolras called as the medical student was about to rush back to his post in the rue Montmartre. “There’s been nothing from Courfeyrac since before noon.”
“I’ll take a look.”
Near dark, Lesgle brought the count for the Eure-et-Loir. “And Joly says Courfeyrac says he has it well in hand.”
“Then we shall have to trust Courfeyrac.”
The sun had gone down when a stranger entered. Or at least, it seemed a stranger at first, though when he crossed over into the light of a lamp, Enjolras recognised it was merely that annoying friend of Courfeyrac and Bahorel - Grantaire, wasn’t it? The man had actually combed his hair today, which in itself was almost enough to render him unrecognisable. “Write as fast as you can,” the man told Combeferre, his voice throaty and cracked. “We haven’t got long.” Without a word, Combeferre began copying from the battered notebook Grantaire handed him.
“What is it you have?” Enjolras asked. What had they been doing, saving up an entire day of news and making him worry they had been noticed, possibly even taken in for questioning?
“All the notes of the Moniteur’s reporter took.”
What sort of joke was that? “How did you get it?”
“Borrowed it from his pocket. Are you done yet?” he asked Combeferre.
“Three more pages.”
“You picked the man’s pocket.” Enjolras was uncertain if he disapproved the action - was it worse than buying a proof from the head printer of the Journal des Débats?
“Is it better if I had an urchin do it? I’m new to this.”
“Did you have an urchin do it?”
“If it makes you like me better.”
“Two more pages,” Combeferre told him.
“What is the election result overall?”
Grantaire shrugged. “Hard to say. Ask Courfeyrac. Or Combeferre, when he gets a chance to read what he’s copied.”
“This is a journalist’s notebook?” Combeferre asked, still frantically copying.
“How I wish there were a way to produce an exact copy, immediately. I suspect these are not the only pages useful to us, particularly from someone connected with the Moniteur. Perhaps, someday, an improvement in Niepce’s method could lead to something of the sort. Well, here you are. Its owner does not know it missing?”
“I hope not, and I fly like Mercury to keep it that way. Good evening to you.”
Joly entered moments after Grantaire had let the door slam. “Did their scheme work?”
“If by scheme you mean theft, we only just had the notebook. Did you not pass Grantaire in the rue des Grès? Any arrest will happen when the book reappears in the café in the thief’s hand.”
“I had a feeling you wouldn’t approve.”
“I neither approve nor disapprove until I know our men are safe. It is a very great risk for something we can have through other channels. The extra couple of hours will not have been worth it if Courfeyrac is arrested as accomplice to theft.”
“Do you want my last few numbers, then?”
Combeferre waved them to the sheets. “Let us take them in case we need them,” Enjolras said. He copied in the figures from Joly, unfortunately interrupting Combeferre’s calculations, then the ones that Prouvaire brought. “Where is your friend?”
“Keeping watch. I think all day was too long, at least for me. He is less conspicuous.” When he dressed decently, Prouvaire was conspicuous only in the physical delicacy that made one think him a child though he was Enjolras’ senior in years, but he did have a point. Guilbert was nondescript. “He’ll meet us here in an hour with anything else he can overhear.”
“Why an hour?”
“We’re going out when Bahorel gets his proof, right?”
“We may be able to go sooner,” Combeferre said. “Courfeyrac has given us a remarkable coup. I’d like your opinion on this.”
Prouvaire joined him, heads bent in the lamplight. Joly poured himself a drink. “Bossuet should be here any moment,” he said to Enjolras, breaking his train of thought, or, rather, his momentary lack of thought. An idle appreciation for Combeferre in the lamplight had not been a distinct thought at all, no more than an emotional warmth, perhaps the sort of thing people meant when they admired a painting or a sculpture. He had never fully understood the conversations of aesthetics between Combeferre, Prouvaire, and Bahorel, but there were many things in life he had never understood. They could talk all they liked about the ideal forms that cast their shadows on the cave wall, so long as they also cared to clarify and deep and integrate the shadows. If the ideal forms existed only in heaven, then they could at least attempt to create decent facsimiles on earth in those things that mattered. What did a perfect image of a human form matter when so many men were deformed with hunger? But Combeferre was more eloquent on this, too, as he was in so many things.
Combeferre and Prouvaire were so quiet one might suspect they thought their friends spies. It was impossible to overhear their conversation. Another of Bahorel’s workmen brought his final counts, including news of an opposition sweep of the Loiret. “ Will you take him a message from me?” Enjolras asked. “Tell him to come back immediately because we do not need the proof.” The man waved off the coin offered and took only a glass of wine for his trouble.
There was still no sign of Courfeyrac. The minutes ticked by, Combeferre and Prouvaire still deep in conference. Enjolras began pacing again; Joly kicked back his chair and put his feet on the table, his muddy boots inches away from the dirty wineglasses and congealed scrapings of their hasty luncheon. Enjolras kept looking from the rear door to Combeferre and back again, seeking any change. They had not been organised three years ago - had not been friends with anyone now a part of their set - and only knew the heartbreak of reading the overwhelming victory of the Right in the newspapers. This agony, this frustration, was something new.
Louison hurried through, though on her way back she asked Joly, “Should I clear some of these?”
“If you would.” He held the door for her as she carried out a whole handful of glasses and an armload of dishes, some of which surely must drop at any moment. Indeed, once the door had closed behind her, a muffled tinkling, like the shattering of a single wineglass, could be heard. Lesgle entered the room backwards, apologising to someone in the café. “Well, what’s the word?”
“What did you break?” Joly asked, his face suddenly animated.
“Fate smiles rather than laughs - just the one on top of those dishes she had. How many people have you had drinking in here?” he asked Enjolras.
“We started with twenty glasses and I think eight bottles.”
“Quite a party.” Lesgle helped himself to a glass. “What’s the word?”
“Courfeyrac has not returned.”
“I meant the results. It’s hard to tell over the course of the day just what the verdict might be.”
“That is still being determined,” Enjolras told him, motioning to where Combeferre and Prouvaire were still debating.
Lesgle let out a low whistle. “That close, eh?”
Combeferre finally looked up at the noise. His eyes met Enjolras’ and a smile flicked across his lips before he addressed the others. “There are multiple possible outcomes. And another round of voting. We keep revising our scenarios.”
“I’d rather we talk it out when everyone is here,” Prouvaire added.
“At least everyone will be confused if those two are. It isn’t quite the result that makes a good basis for a demonstration.”
Guilbert finally arrived with no additional news - the journalist they had been tracking had gone home to his wife. “Newlywed,” Lesgle muttered.
Bahorel arrived with a couple of workers and a shabby clerk in tow. “We’ve got firecrackers! What do you mean, we don’t need the proof?”
“Courfeyrac stole a notebook from the Moniteur’s representative,” Enjolras explained.
“I don’t care if we lost the election - that alone calls for champagne!”
“He has not yet returned from what I hope is not a misadventure.”
Bahorel introduced his companions and opened a new bottle of wine as they all settled in to wait for Courfeyrac’s return. “Should someone look for him?” he finally asked, after his first glass had been emptied.
“Give it another thirty minutes or so,” Combeferre warned. “Courfeyrac, Grantaire, and a journalist in a café should be expected to be late. They will have to cover their tracks and not disappear on him the moment the notebook is returned.”
Courfeyrac did, indeed, arrive before the thirty minutes had passed. Bahorel broke into “See, the Conquering Hero Comes” the moment he appeared. Enjolras felt his chest loosen, as if he had been holding his breath all day. “Where’s Grantaire?” he asked, though he had been far more worried for his friend than for a vague acquaintance.
“I have left M. Richard of the Moniteur in his inimitable care. Christ, Richard drinks like a journalist! Let Grantaire try to keep up, since he doesn’t want to come out with us. So, did I get us good news or bad news?”
“Good news that you haven’t been arrested,” Joly told him.
“Mixed news otherwise, and I’m afraid it tilts bad.” Combeferre was solemn.
“So all this, and Charles’ gamble pays off?” Lesgle asked. One of Bahorel’s companions cursed.
“I brought firecrackers in case of that,” Bahorel announced.
“What are the results?” Enjolras asked.
“We only have about half the results. I can make assumptions on several of the rest. Let us say we have three-quarters of the results, with that final quarter able to undo us entirely. If we assume that all deputies who were not re-elected were aligned with the ministry, and that seems a safe assumption, then taking today with yesterday, the government has lost 137 of their loyalists. But only sixteen departments have carried a majority of what I presume to be opposition deputies. Paris is safely ours, as are our neighbours in the Seine-et-Oise and Seine-et-Marne. We have flipped the Loiret and the Manche from a ministerial majority to an opposition majority, but they still have at least one ministerial deputy. Twenty departments have maintained a ministerial majority. In several places we managed to gain a deputy: we’ve got one in Loire now, which is excellent news. But I’m still missing counts from 38 departments, and while I am certain Corsica and all the Pyrénées departments will go wholly for the government, everything else is a mixed bag. We only know two of the four deputies for the Isère. If we can get a deputy in the Isère, what else might we do in those 38? But right now, we cannot count on a firm majority. We may eke out close to 50 per cent if we take a few scattered deputies in otherwise government-controlled districts. But that can be entirely undone if the departmental votes all return ministerial candidates, as I think eminently plausible.”
“Bloody hell,” Bahorel cursed loudly.
“It gets more complicated even before we consider the departmental voting in the next round,” Prouvaire continued. “Charles has made himself disliked and not all the men who would call themselves conservatives may align themselves with him consistently. We may be able to pull some into opposition with us, or at least into a second oppositional group, and if that is the case, we may be able to keep the ministerial party from a real majority. If the departmental votes uphold the ministerial candidates, we will need any disaffected conservatives we can convince to vote with us. We have already identified a handful who are known to be of such opinions.”
“And while we consider those who are probable opposition deputies, let me admit that I recognise the new name in Bouches-du-Rhône,” Combeferre added. “I suspect he will follow the general liberal interest, but no friend of my father is as far left as we would like. He may not be alone in that orientation.”
“The whole thing is a mixed bag, then,” Lesgle confirmed.
“I’m afraid it is.”
Bahorel raised his glass. “To the coalition, then, if that’s how we can kick Charles in the teeth!” He threw his free arm around Courfeyrac’s shoulders. “And to Courfeyrac’s brass balls! How in the hell did you manage that?”
Courfeyrac accepted a glass from Lesgle but he took only a polite sip before setting it aside. “Grantaire is the felon. I simply kept the man’s mind on other subjects.”
As he went on with his story, Enjolras slipped off to Combeferre’s side. “Not an ideal result.”
“Not for the day’s work or for the election. What do you plan for tonight?”
“Since they have the army out, we must call this a victory. Indeed, they have lost at least 137 loyal men, and we have made inroads into some surprising districts, so there is something worth celebrating.”
“If we celebrate, will we destroy the possibility for a left-right coalition?”
“Do we want a left-right coalition?”
“I think we must. It will help the opposition, which we may almost call the centre if the Bouches-du-Rhône is representative of the new men. My father’s friends are not as liberal as I might wish, but we must have some men of business with us rather than with the king. They will accept a parliamentary government more readily if they are in it, rather than if they are cast aside along with this oppressive and obstinate monarchy. The people need work as well as bread.”
Enjolras considered his choices. A celebration might seem too hasty; a protest would suggest to anyone wavering in his support for the king that the left could never be satisfied without all-out revolution. All-out revolution was necessary, but it scared too many of the people who needed it most. The liberal supporters could not stay inside when the army was itching for a fight - the rowdies would provide one, and that would be to no one’s credit. And it might cause a greater conservative victory in the departmental round of elections to be held next week. “We celebrate,” he said firmly, decision taken.
Moving off to give Bahorel his orders, he felt a sudden coolness. Combeferre had laid a hand gently at the small of his back, but only now that the friendly pressure had been taken away did Enjolras realise how much he appreciated the gesture.
“Tonight,” he announced to the gathered crowd, “we celebrate. Spread the word. We have increased our total in the Chamber, and you may start rumours about a coalition with the disaffected right.” Combeferre cleared his throat. “Be careful on that last point - the Government are of course talking to the same men. We want Charles worried but not desperate. If he is desperate, he will buy out anyone we might count on for a coalition and we will be no better off. Rumour only, and no names. But this is a victory - if Charles does not recognise it as one, the next time he tries to better his position, we will come away with a firm majority.”
“You heard the man,” Bahorel told his followers. “We want plenty of noise, but don’t break private property. The Paris worthies all voted for liberal candidates.”
Bahorel’s band moved out, to scatter and spread the word to their own groups. Guilbert slipped out with them. “He’s reporting to Blanqui,” Prouvaire explained in response to Enjolras’ querying look.
“You brought in a spy for Blanqui?” Joly asked.
“It is not a competition,” Enjolras told him firmly. “Blanqui looks to us for guidance?”
“For information, I assume. We put together the election watch. I think his plan was to buy a proof or else to declare the election fraudulent no matter its outcome.”
“No matter its outcome,” Combeferre repeated. “Sometimes I think the man works against himself.”
“Let us hope that will not be the case tonight,” Enjolras said. “I admire the man’s dedication to the ideal. Everyone be sure to eat something - it will be a long night.”
“I’m off to catch the theatre crowds if I can,” Courfeyrac said, rising from his chair. “Anyone else for Madame Gymnase? A pity to think the streets shall be more stimulating than The Perverted Peasant. Bad plays should not have titles torn from entertaining books they do not resemble.”
“Shall I tweak the classicists?” Prouvaire asked.
“If you think it best,” Enjolras permitted, though he was grateful someone had stopped what may have become a dissertation on the differences between the play currently at the Gymnase and the book with which it shared a title.
“I’ll walk with you as far as my place,” Prouvaire told Courfeyrac. “I need to pick up a better hat if I’m to go near the Théâtre français.”
“Tricorn or Bolivar?” Courfeyrac asked as the door closed behind them.
“I want the two of you to make a pass through the Latin Quarter,” Enjolras told Joly and Lesgle. Things always went better for Lesgle if he were with Joly, as if his guardian angel, keeping the reverses of fate away, were a pale medical student. “Collect a crowd, and march past every government building you like.”
“Will do. Luxembourg then Tuileries, or be sure to hit the Tuileries first?” Joly asked.
“Whatever it takes for a crowd at the Tuileries, but do not permit yourselves to be trapped.”
“We’ll do our best.”
Enjolras and Combeferre were again alone. The notes and the map had to be secured and the unopened bottle of wine returned to the counter. “Will the Polytechniciens be out?”
“They’re probably under lock and key. Would you give anyone leave today?”
“I’d hope the wardens were foolish enough to keep them in tomorrow, as that is when the results will appear in the papers.”
“And let them have free reign so long as the news remains with the censor? I shall leave a note for my friend, but I will not be surprised if they are kept out of mischief.” The collected all the papers and secured them in Combeferre’s travel desk. “Will you take the map? And sell that last bottle of wine back at the counter.”
“I’ll meet you at your flat,” Enjolras agreed. The map, though possibly suspicious, was nothing compared to the contents of that desk, especially as no one habitually carried a travel desk around Paris. But Combeferre knew his routes, and he did not live far from the café Musain, so he knew all the less traveled streets and how to be careful. The police and army would be tense, not knowing what to expect on such a day, but Combeferre would keep himself safe.
Indeed, he moved swiftly and safely, for when Enjolras arrived at his flat, Combeferre told him, “I ordered dinner on the way up.”
“You need to eat as well, my dear.” He dropped to his stomach to retrieve the lock box from under his bed. The papers he needed to retain, that might be most damning, he kept there under a layer of banknotes. His pistols had their own box under the bed.
“Have we the time?”
“I asked this morning that it not be elaborate.”
In just enough time to lock away the notes and pretend to have been doing something else, the concierge knocked at the door. “Dinner for two, you said?”
She had brought a bottle of wine, two slices of mutton pie, and a dish of pickled asparagus. The wine was sent back, but they were