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Perpetual Anticipation


Chapter 5

The winter sun had barely crossed the horizon when Olivie finally gave up her attempt at sleep. She dressed quickly in the early morning cold and sat brushing her hair for several minutes, trying to delay at least until there was light enough to see without a candle. But she felt uneasy, so she made her way downstairs, not even bothering to put her hair up properly.

Her patient was sleeping fitfully. The burn on his face had begun to blister, and it would have to be lanced. She laid a hand on his, which was warm with fever.

Denis found her seated at the young man’s bedside, his cheek shining from a new application of grease, Olivie dabbing at his forehead. She looked up at her father’s footsteps. “I’ve felt worse fevers, but he is certainly not with us. If it does not break by evening, then I think I will bleed him. The burn has blistered, and I’ve already lanced it, but I’m certain it will fill again by tomorrow morning, if not by evening.”

“Go get dressed.”

“Why do you use that tone with me?” Olivie asked, confused. “I’ve done nothing wrong. And I am dressed.”

“Finish dressing. You are not fit to appear before guests in this state.”

She dropped the cloth into the bowl with a splash. “I don’t know what you think would happen. He’s only a Jew.” She stalked back to her room where she sat scowling at her dressing table. “It isn’t as if I did anything wrong,” she muttered. “I’m not even flirting with him, much less throwing myself at him. He’s delirious with fever, and it isn’t as if I have anything uncovered even if he could see.” She brushed her hair violently. “He’s a disreputable Jew, for heaven’s sake!” She slammed down the brush. “Is it really such a terrible thing that I appeared with my hair down?”

But when she went down to breakfast, she made an attempt at looking contrite. “How is he?”

“No better, but no worse, either. I hope he will not be with us for too much longer. An extended fever is never a good sign.”

“Of course not. Would you feel better if he were in hospital?”

“He will have far better care from us. I must go on my rounds, but if there is any significant change in his condition, come fetch me. I have already made up the list and the approximate times I shall be with each patient, though that does assume M. Messier does not talk my ear off.”

“We’ll be just fine, papa. I’ve dealt with it all before.”

“Well, no more business at the table. What have you been doing when not helping me?”

“Nothing,” Olivie answered, a little ashamed.

“No books? No chores, even?”

“A little mending. I’ve already read everything in the house.”

“I haven’t heard the piano in a while.”

“That would be because I haven’t been playing it. I never liked the piano. How many pathetic songs was I supposed to learn? I sing like a crow anyway.”

“We should get a proper master in here. There is more to music than pathetic love songs.”

“It wasn’t just the songs, papa. I don’t like the piano. At all. I never liked it.”

“To each her own, I suppose. Your mother was always very definite as to her dislikes, too. We should get some more books in here. I’ll start falling behind the times if I don’t keep up, eh?”

“You’ll always keep up.”

“We should get some more German books. I’ll have to write to Switzerland.”

“No more philosophy, please. I can’t take German philosophy. The world doesn’t work they way they’d like it to. At least Fourier’s ideas describe an ideal to be achieved rather than purporting to explain the world as it is. Maybe Germans are different, but I can’t read any more.”

“I should never have let you read Fourier.”

“Better Fourier than novels.”

“We’ll browse the bookshop the next time we’re in town.” Denis finished his coffee. “I’ll be home for luncheon.”

The moment he left, Olivie hurried back to her patient. She felt an overwhelming desire to talk to him, even though she was not certain he could even hear her. Yet she had no idea what to say, so she said nothing at all through the morning, though she never left his side.

Denis examined him and confirmed her opinion that nothing in his condition had changed. She was quiet through luncheon, and Denis, having exhausted conversation at breakfast did not disturb her. She was relieved when he left to finish his rounds.

JosuÚ seemed quieter in the afternoon. He tossed about less and seemed to actually sleep. As the sun was setting, throwing long orange streaks through the window, the fever broke. His eyes flew open, then quickly squinted against the light. Olivie had turned to freshen the water with which she had been bathing his face, and when she caught him looking at her, she smiled. “You’re awake.”

“I am,” he replied stiffly.

“Let me take a look at that cheek.” She moved to the other side of the bed. The blisters had begun to rise again, but she was not certain that she should lance them again quite yet. “You will live, even if the pain is unbearable now. I’ll give you some laudanum if you like.”

“What time is it?”

“After four in the afternoon, I should think.”

He started to push himself to a sitting position. “I’ve got to go. I thank you, most profusely, but I need to go.”

“You are in no condition to go anywhere, monsieur. You are staying at least through the night so we can keep that fever from returning.”

“I have trespassed on you long enough. Where are my clothes?”

“Still drying.”

“Still drying?”

“You did not think we would let you put that filth back on. Your coat needed a thorough scrubbing and it will most certainly not be dry until morning.”

He forced himself the rest of the way up. “You can’t keep me here.”

“No, I can’t. You need to eat. I’ll be back. There’s a chamberpot in the corner. Do you need help standing?”

“I can manage that myself.” His eyes flashed, but his tone was too soft to seem angry. Still, she hung about the doorway to see that he could manage.

When she returned, he was sitting quietly on the bed. “How are your teeth? There were not any loose, otherwise we would have pulled them. Is there any pain in your jaw, or just soreness from where it was bruised?”

“It’s fine. You needn’t fuss over me anymore, mademoiselle.”

“Nonsense. I didn’t think you would be doing much with that cheek, so you’ll have to content yourself with porridge.” She set the tray next to him. “Do you want me to leave?”

“You can stay. I can’t thank you and your father enough for all you have done.”

“We could not do anything less. What is your name, monsieur?”

“Didn’t I tell you? JosuÚ HalÚvy.”

“M. HalÚvy. You had only told me your first name. Do you even remember last night?”

“Not much of it, but more than enough, I fear.”

“Why did they do this to you?”

“You would not like to hear it.”

“Indeed, monsieur, you are mistaken. I want very much to know what possesses a man to commit a crime of this nature.”

“They did it because of you.”

“Because of me?”

“Because the upstart Jew dared to look at you when you passed in the street.”

“That is absolute nonsense.”

“I think for them it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had no intention of bringing this on myself. And I never looked at you in the way they implied. I am to be married in three weeks. But Jews are lecherous as well as greedy, I suppose. I don’t know how their minds work. But I do hear what they shout at me.”

“You’re to be married?” Olivie suddenly felt hollow.

“If she will still have me.”

“I wish you the best of luck.”

“Thank you, Mlle Enjolras.”

“Do you mind talking? Does it hurt terribly much?”

He shrugged. “I can talk if you like.”

“Where are you from, M. HalÚvy? Your accent is not of Toulon.”

“Switzerland, originally.”

“My mother was Swiss! She was one of the great beauties of Geneva.”

“I believe that, seeing you. My parents were from a small town in the canton of Aargau. I was born in Neuchatel.”

“How did you end up here?”

“I could ask the same of you.”

“I was born here. But my parents married in Geneva. My father went there during the Revolution. It turned much too radical for his safety, so he left. They came back after order had been restored.”

“Have you ever wondered why Jews are money lenders and tailors? Any other trade requires something more to carry when you are banished from a place.”

“So you are a tailor?”

“I suppose I don’t look like a moneylender.”

“Your name is not Rothschild. You look too kind to be a moneylender.”

“I suppose that is a compliment.”

“It is meant to be. Tell me of your fiancÚe.”

“What is it you would like to know?”

“Her name?”

“Sara.”

“What is she like?”

“I don’t know her very well. She seems nice enough. Perhaps a little willful.”

“How do you not know her very well?”

“The matchmaker arranged it. I’ve met her twice outside of synagogue.”

“How perfectly terrible.”

“What is terrible about it?”

“I always thought the poorer classes had more choice.”

“My parents are dead. I’m a tailor who doesn’t even have his own shop. I don’t look like the best husband a girl could have. So I don’t think I am getting the perfect wife. It is better this way. Everything will not already have been said before the wedding.”

“You have to marry her and she has to marry you?”

“I believe she will be allowed to refuse me now. Especially if M. Bendit no longer keeps me on. There would be a breach of contract on my part.“

“There is no reason for him to sack you. Your eyes and hands are just fine.”

“I’m merely no longer fit to be seen by clients.”

“We cannot know how bad the scarring will be until that cheek heals. It is a brand, so it should heal far better than if you had been caught in a fire. There do not seem to be any gross distortions.”

“How can you speak so knowledgably?”

“My father is a doctor. I’ve spent years by his side. Did you really think I give alms to the deserving poor?”

“That is what I had thought.”

“You were greatly mistaken, monsieur.”

“I am glad I was mistaken.”

Denis’ return interrupted their conversation. “Well, monsieur, you seem to be doing better.”

“I was just keeping M. HalÚvy company, papa. His fever broke around sunset. He has relieved himself, had a bowl of porridge and some tea, and has refused an additional dose of laudanum.”

“You have been far too kind, monsieur, and I would like to return home. I have no wish to disturb you further.”

“We’ll see after I’ve examined you. You can leave now, Olivie.”

She clenched her hands, trying to refrain from shouting. “Very well,” she said coldly. She stalked out of the room, pretending she had not just been slapped.

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