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 soon eating a finer dinner than they had had lunch. “Now shall you complain about the necessities of life?” Combeferre joked, his needling far more gentle than Courfeyrac would ever manage.
They were back on the street sooner than Enjolras had expected, making a detour to a café in the rue d’Arras, around the corner from the gates of the Polytechnique. There were no uniforms among the sparse crowd, but the Polytechniciens could not get leave until eight o’clock. Combeferre handed his sealed note to the woman behind the counter. “If Paul Charmeton comes in,” he told her.
“I haven’t seen any of them yet.”
He placed a coin on the counter. “My hopes are not high. But if he comes in.” She nodded her agreement and took the coin for good measure.
“It would be easier with some Polytechniciens.”
“Bahorel’s lot are well on their way to creating a mob, I have no fear.”
“I do not disparage the medical students, either. But the uniforms grant importance to an event.”
“And with a victory this shaky, we could use the importance,” Combeferre finished for him.
They crossed the river and went from café to café, wondering loudly if anyone had heard the election results. It was expected that the Constitutionnel, at least, would post the listings in the windows that evening in an attempt to get around the censor and scoop the Gazette de France and the Moniteur. Bahorel’s sort were content with rumour - they just needed something to shout - and the students were little better. “Down with Villèle!” would continue to suffice until the man were removed. But if a crowd could gather, at least out of curiosity, there would be a proper audience for whatever Bahorel’s sort and the rowdies that followed in their wake might do, and a proper audience would make it more difficult for the police to act out. As admittedly the most respectable-looking of their set, Enjolras had accepted that he and Combeferre would have to draw out the respectable crowd with curiosity so that Bahorel did not draw them out with annoyance and distaste.
An assignment like this could keep Courfeyrac for hours, which is why Courfeyrac was to look to the theatre queues, where the conviviality was constrained behind wooden barriers. Enjolras knew himself not well-suited to the task at hand, but it could be done efficiently, and people did seem to pay him attention. Combeferre followed a different method. He had the sort of voice that could carry under a crowd, so he would listen for any conversation that could turn political, then take it over with a careful nudge to the needed direction. It was not the sort of subtle twist that Courfeyrac could so well perform, but it did work for certain purposes. At least one could honestly say that whatever was brought up by such methods was being discussed in the cafés. Combeferre also did not look as out of place in some stylish cafés as Enjolras felt. Even his serious expressions had a warmth to them, not the blazing fire of Courfeyrac’s fierce and immediate friendship, but a soft glow that hinted at something more welcoming than his words might suggest. Courfeyrac was so often too much for any man to take; Combeferre never was. Were Enjolras performing this work with Courfeyrac, and their eyes met in the light of a street lamp, Courfeyrac would answer with a cheeky grin; tonight, as it happened from time to time, Combeferre’s expression merely lightened, or he gave a soft smile.
They had assembled a few hangers-on and spread curiosity in their wake, at least, as they meandered around to begin the climb along the rue Montmartre to the Constitutionnel’s office. Coming up the rue Martveau towards the rue Saint-Honoré, they heard loud voices, and in the rue Saint-Honoré itself came upon a large crowd of rowdies - possibly some of Bahorel’s men - banging on doors and calling for lights. Bahorel had said a political celebration in Paris required illuminations.
“What sort of liberals are you Parisians if you don’t light up for a liberal victory?” a man in a smock cried.
“So the rumours are true!” Combeferre said loudly, taking up the theme for the benefit of their own followers. “This poor country may recover yet!”
“Hear, hear!” several voices in the crowd agreed.
They began following the illuminators, some of the better café hangers-on laughing when a passer-by was shocked by a gamin’s firecrackers. Some of the victims lit up in good cheer - true sympathisers, they - but storekeepers slammed their shutters as the crowd approached. This group was mostly well-behaved, not having broken anything yet, but one could always predict a demonstration to end in window-breaking. The crowd continued to swell, cafés in the neighbouring streets emptying as the sound reached them, with gentlemen adding to the cries of “Down with Villèle! Down with the ministers! Long live the Opposition!” and the workers shouting, “A light! A light!” Enjolras had never been among a celebratory crowd; all his work had happened since the Government’s ill-gotten victory in 1824. He shared a smile with Combeferre, who must have abandoned any worries about window breaking, for he had given himself over to encouraging shouts of “Long live the Opposition!”
The police and army had longer memories, however, and they were accustomed to celebrations. The first gunshots, fired into the air, were enough to scatter the mostly sober crowd before they could get as far as the Tuileries. Enjolras was annoyed at the crowd’s cowardice, turning back upon itself and filtering away down side streets before anyone had taken a look at the size of the military force or their taste for a real confrontation, but he could not stand against the pressure of the crowd. He and Combeferre were pushed together and forced to retrace their steps at a faster pace than would have been prudent in such a crush.
Café owners had blocked their doors, not wanting to harbour the “rabble” shouting for lights, now repelled by the army. The crowd tried to dissipate down side streets that themselves were crowded with onlookers. Tiny passages were closed to them. Broken glass could be heard as the rowdies now took their revenge on those who would neither light up their windows in solidarity nor open up their doors for protection. A street lamp went out, hit by a stone. They were pushed into the rue Saint-Denis, spilling left and right, to mingle with another crowd blocked in by closed doors, the side streets too narrow to permit everyone to escape. Enjolras and Combeferre were pushed to the left, away from the river, but they kept close to the buildings in the hope that a side street would open up, permitting them to escape the crush and circle around through a quieter neighbourhood. Turning down a narrow side street, no longer entirely certain where they were, they managed to pause no more than a moment under a still-lit street lamp to catch their breath. A sudden shout of “Enjolras!” froze them both in place.
From the shadows of a shuttered café, a man in a cap appeared, a vague outline in the darkness. “I thought that was you.” He nodded to Combeferre, touching the peak of his cap. “Can’t remember your name, sorry, monsieur. Coppers on your tail?” He spoke softly and quickly after the initial hail. Men tried to push past them down the street, more refugees from the crowd, but they, too, were stopped by the man in the cap. “Hey, lads, this way’s no good. Spits you back out into the jaws of death. Go right, you’re back in the rue Saint-Denis; go left, you’ll find corpses when you get to the rue Hurleur. Army shot three already.”
“Don’t listen to the spy!” someone shouted.
The man finally moved into the light. He was younger than Enjolras had expected, perhaps his own age, with curly hair and an almost girlish face under his cap. “He’s not a spy,” Enjolras told the refugees firmly. “I know him.” He had seen the young man before in Bahorel’s company, though he did not know his name. One had to trust Bahorel’s friends.
“You’re better off in the crowd if they’re going to shoot again,” the young man said.
One voice cursed, but they all turned back to the fray. The young man held Enjolras and Combeferre back from joining them.
“Three dead?” Combeferre asked.
“Two dead,” the workman told him. “One might pull through. A nearby house opened up for him.”
“How much have you seen?” Enjolras wondered aloud.
“Heard the shots, saw the soldiers, got the hell out of there. Been blocked in here for what feels like ages. I live just the other side of all this” - he jerked his thumb at the wall behind him - “but hell if I know when I can get home without getting my skull cracked. They’ll move on through the rue Saint-Denis eventually, then I can get out. One can argue over the propriety of illuminations in general, but this is a hair trigger if I’ve ever seen one. And I remember the bloody Cossacks camped on the Champ de Mars! You two had better get off the street as quickly as you can. You in particular,” he said to Enjolras. “No offense to your friend, but if arrests are in the offing, he might slip through, while you stand out a mile.”
“We’re trying to get out,” Combeferre began to explain. “The rue Saint-Honoré -” Gunshots in the rue Saint-Denis cut him off. All three men pressed themselves against the wall, into the shadows from which the workman had appeared. Shouts grew louder, and men pressed into their narrow street, panting and stomping in an unstoppable flood, some circling to the right back into the jaws from which they had just escaped, others flowing towards the dead men somewhere to the left. Horses could now be heard: the cavalry had arrived and was charging the crowd. A scream - had someone been trampled? Enjolras put his hand out to hold Combeferre back. The loss of a man was tragic, but to give help now would be to die oneself or be arrested. Combeferre was more necessary than a man in the street, and while Enjolras loved him for his compassion, he feared this was the worst time to express it. Combeferre had not made any move out of their hiding place, but Enjolras worried nonetheless.
Their accidental companions continued to push down the street, oblivious to the dangers at the other end. What warning of any meaning could reach them? Even if some ended up before the infantry in the rue Hurleur, they could not stay in front of the cavalry in the rue Saint-Denis. Enjolras knew he would prefer the sharp rapidity of a bullet to the drawn-out agony of a horse’s hooves. But it was time for neither of those ends yet. Combeferre had taken his hand in the darkness, and Enjolras could swear he felt the irregularity of two heartbeats flying with the terror and excitement of the night.
“If this is how they take a victory celebration,” Combeferre murmured, “let us see how they take a real protest.”
“They give us no choice but to be out in force tomorrow,” Enjolras agreed.
The horses had moved on; the crowd had passed. A sudden silence, broken only by the faint tinkle of a distant street lamp fracturing and a hint of what might have been a scream, had descended. Paris quiet, and the night hardly advanced. The young man warned them, “Look to yourselves first. You can’t come out tomorrow if you’re taken tonight. Need to get over the river?”
“We don’t need a guide,” Enjolras replied automatically.
“Suit yourselves,” the man said equably. “Good night to you, messieurs.” He left them, turning left in the rue Saint-Denis, following the cavalry’s wake.
Combeferre let out a deep breath. “Do you think he tells the truth about the shootings?”
“I would not have believed a cavalry charge over illuminations had we not nearly been caught in it.”
“Perhaps we did not need the Polytechniciens after all.”
“They will certainly not be permitted out tomorrow to give their response to this madness.”
“Charmeton will be annoyed to miss it, but the shootings, if true, should bring out real mobs.”
“The army did us a great favour there,” Enjolras agreed.
“Pity they could not have merely wounded everyone.”
“We need the deaths,” he argued, though he took no pleasure in it. “One to testify to the events, two to become martyrs. Tomorrow we protest; in a few days, we mourn publicly at the funerals. It is to be hoped that they were artisans. The people will come out in greater crowds for their own.”
“For political purposes, if we must consider casualties, I should prefer shopkeepers. Men who work hard but will have the sympathies of the bourgeois. Workers will be made into window-breakers, but the petits-bourgeois are harder to demonise. They have windows to be broken, after all. We do not want the Chamber to turn more towards the Government in its sympathies than we have tonight tried to celebrate.”
The rue Saint-Denis was quiet, a street that was never quiet. They dared continue no conversation of any sort when so exposed. To walk through these streets now seemed a terror - they were doing precisely what the Government would want, going home quietly, yet the gunshots and the tale of the dead men told a scary story, indeed. Combeferre was no easier, Enjolras thought. They were running risks without obvious rewards, and every strange footstep sent him into the darkness between the lamps, flat against the wall. They walked far to the east, crossing at the Ile Saint-Louis rather than risk being noticed by patrols that might follow the cavalry, yet they still hid from two companies of soldiers marching into the district of disorder. The Ile Saint-Louis was as quiet as ever, but was the Left Bank tense as well? Enjolras wondered.
Deep in the heart of the Latin Quarter, houses were brightly lit in their upper reaches - here, the illuminations were frequent and had not been repressed - but the streets were sparsely populated. Patrols must be out, Enjolras thought, but they have no notion of their confederates across the river. The café above which Joly and Lesgle lodged was brightly lit, its shutters open, patrons silhouetted in the windows. Enjolras thought to go in and alert the crowd as to the predations of the frightened government, but Combeferre held him back, just a hand on his shoulder.
“Not now,” he said softly. “Let them stay safe for one night. A massacre of students is not in our interest.”
The logic was unassailable. “Safe,” Enjolras repeated. “For tonight,” he agreed, “but I think safety has come to an end for all of us.”
“They have chosen their time.” It was too dark to read Combeferre’s expression, though his eyes glinted with the reflected light of the café. “Now we must choose ours rather than permit it to be forced upon us.”
“Agreed,” Enjolras said with fervour. Just to what he had agreed took him by surprise, however, as Combeferre had chosen this moment to lean in and press his lips to Enjolras’. Yet even as Enjolras was surprised, he was not sorry. He embraced Combeferre for having, in this as in other things, anticipated a need he had not understood, had not conceived though he might have identified that something was lacking. The pressures of the night, the fears to which he dared not give voice, the comfort of Combeferre’s very presence, the warmth of his touch even in extremis: of course they should require, should culminate in, a physical intimacy too long denied. Enjolras had not thought of it before, but he needed it very much right now. When Combeferre pulled away to get his breath, Enjolras caught him back again. He was not ready for this part of the night to end, not this comfort after so many dangers.
But end it would, with Combeferre’s arm around his waist and hand on his cheek. “Thank you.”
“I should thank you,” Enjolras said, though he knew he could not find the necessary words if pressed for anything more.
“What time tomorrow?”
It took Enjolras a moment to realise Combeferre was bidding him goodnight. Tomorrow. They would need to call a meeting, make plans, organise with other groups. They would have to make a show of force, and they would need as much time as possible to spread the word among the lectures and the workshops. “Let us say noon at the café Musain.”
Combeferre did not thank him again, or bid him good night, or voice any new emotion connected to their relationship. He merely flashed a smile, grasped Enjolras’ shoulder, and walked off into the dark streets. Enjolras was satisfied. He had never needed more than a touch to understand Combeferre’s mind. And tonight, the evening’s reverses had been softened since they had shared the greatest touch of all.
Author’s note: The history is slightly condensed for purposes of plot. The 1827 election took place in two sections, separated by a week, each round spaced over two days. The results thus came in over a longer period than is implied in this fic - I have not distinguished between counts that were published on 19 November and counts published on 20 November as the results of the round of district voting that took place on 17-18 November. Celebrations of an opposition victory did take place the evening of 19 November, and they were brutally repressed, leading to a repeat of demonstrations and violent repression the following evening in protest. The unrest in Paris, driven largely by the army and police being prepared to put down raucous celebrations, to the point of firing into crowds, was probably not helpful to the second round of elections, at the departmental level, that took place one week after the first round. (This being the way the Law of the Double Vote was put into practice.) Auguste Blanqui was seriously wounded in the demonstrations; several people were killed. Figures for the riots range from the Journal des Débats calling it a mob of 200 to the Constitutionnel describing 20 to 30 poor young men. The wounded were not merely labourers, however, and everyone had a political interest in describing something different from the truth.
Since there were no political parties at the time, it is hard to put exact figures to the number of opposition or number of ministerial deputies elected, but it is generally accepted that the new Chamber was split nearly equally between ministry and opposition. The idea of a left-right coalition is legitimate: many of the new liberals were far less radical than liberals previously elected, and disaffected right-wingers were courted to block acceptance of ministerial legislation when at all possible. Several men by the time of the first round of voting had already wavered in their support of the government and thus the idea of a left-right blocking coalition might be attractive to an opposition that fears it will not manage a true majority.
Yes, the Gymnase, also known as the Théâtre de Madame, did have on its schedule for 19 November a play called Le Paysan perverti. It was probably based on the novel by Restif de la Bretonne, but there is no way the play could be anywhere near as pornographic as the novel must have been. I cannot imagine several of our student friends passing up a play with such a title, and you already know my opinion of Courfeyrac’s reading material.
Artz, Frederick B. France Under the Bourbon Restoration, 1814-1830. New York: Russell & Russell, 1963.
Beck, Thomas D. French Legislators, 1800-1834. A Study in Quantitative History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.
Constitutionnel, 19 novembre 1827.
Constitutionnel, 20 novembre 1827.
Galignani’s New Paris Guide. Paris: A. and W. Galignani, May 1827.
Journal des Débats, 19 novembre 1827.
Journal des Débats, 20 novembre 1827.
Kent, Sherman. The Election of 1827 in France. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975.
Pierre, Eugène. Traité de Droit politique, electoral et parlementaire. Paris: Libraries-Imprimeries Réunies, 1893.
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