Hear Now the Tale of a Jet Black Sunrise

Chapter 10

Julien wandered up and down the streets skirting the port, trying to think what he ought to do. He ought to go to Aix, find Lameire, and hear from him rather than his father what had happened. He ought to go straight to M. Enjolras, admit everything, and obtain his permission for Henri to go to Paris. He ought to go straight to Henri, tell him everything he had learned, and beg him to return with him regardless of what his father might want. He ought to find Valland and get the whole truth at last.

He suddenly heard someone call his name, and turned to see who might willingly know him. Chantal, hand on hip, smiling. Of course, he had not rejected the rendez-vous, merely forgotten it. And indeed, there was comfort of a sort to be found in his arm around a café girl, a firm breast in one hand and her round arse in the other, lips and bodies pressed together. “How did you know my name?” “I asked who the handsomest man in Marseille was,” she replied with a cheeky smile.

“I fear you’ve got me confused with another.”

“I can’t imagine there’d be anyone half so handsome as you.”

They kissed again, but Julien’s heart was really not in it. He looked into her eyes, and stroked her cheek, and wondered what her sweetheart must think. Because she was a café girl, and she didn’t take everyone into the alley for a kiss, he was certain, and how could a café girl who looked like her not have a sweetheart? “I think you’re a decent girl, mademoiselle, and you wouldn’t be out here for just anyone, but I think you’d be better off if you stayed decent. I’m not staying. There’s no smart flat here for you, just me going back to Paris.”

“You’ve got a girl there.” She pouted, rather prettily. “I’m sorry I’m not fair and blonde like she must be.”

He smiled in spite of himself. “I haven’t got a girl anywhere at the moment, and you’re pretty as anything, and you know it, too.” He kissed her again, but quickly, without any real meaning. “Come, let us be friends and forget everything. I’ll come in, and you can bring me a glass of wine and paper and ink. I’ve a letter to write.”

“To your girl?”

“To a friend, to whom I should like to praise you as the epitome of Marseillaise women.”

Indeed, he began his letter to Courfeyrac with the statement, “You will never forgive me for telling you that I have rejected the advances of the loveliest café girl I have ever seen. Her breasts, her hips, the curve of her jaw and the curl of her dark hair are all finer than any I have yet found in Paris. Yes, I do write to make you jealous, for you must admit that our native wind and sun produce a healthier complexion than Parisian gloom, even if the consumptive is in style.” He even let Chantal read it over his shoulder and suggest corrections before continuing.

But I do not write to discuss café girls. I hope Feuilly has told you what has brought me back to France. I need your help. Henri’s friends have all scattered in the face of the police, all but one who had planned to leave town in a few months in any case and does not change his plans. Two of those friends are now or are soon to be attached to the law faculty at Aix. You and I both know that Aix is no place for anyone who can afford otherwise and certainly not for anyone who lives for the activities all our friends share. But for once, I am incapable of going forward.

Henri has rarely been out of Marseille, never out of his father’s company. M. Enjolras is a good man whom I respect, but he is a widower, and none of us have had the heart to deprive him of the company of his only child. Henri did not go to Aix after sitting his bac not because he did poorly but because he could not bring himself to abandon his father against his father’s wishes. And that is only to Aix, a mere 30 kilometers, not even a journey. I want to bring him back to Paris with me, where I know he will fall in with good company and where he will not daily be confronted by the false friends who left him at such an awful time.

But, and here I require your assistance, I do not know what arguments to marshal in support of such a plan, either for father or son. M. Enjolras was in Paris for some period of time, in the winter, prior to the Revolution. His memories of the city are very poor indeed, and one can understand it well enough. But you come from here, or nearly so, as does Prouvaire. How is it that neither of you were consigned to Aix? What arguments can I put forth as to the supremacy of Paris for purposes other than our usual one? The beauty of the café girls is hardly an inducement, as I am sure you will know, and he has not our tastes for theatre or opera.

I was lucky in that I was simply placed on my own in a city I already knew, that had been a home to me for my entire life, and I was under the guardianship of family, with some acquaintance though no great friends until I met you. How does one take that step into the unknown, without family, without friends, and with so much sorrow in one’s heart? He would not be alone, of course, and he would not have to flit about from café to café in search of like-minded company, but how much easier I fear it would be to stay where everything is known, even if so much of what was known is gone. I do not want him to feel as if he has chosen to go into exile or that he must agree to the plan for my sake.

I know you do not know him, but you have an innate understanding of people; you seem to always know just what to do and what to say. What do I do? What do I say? This letter is not private - all of our friends, except perhaps Feuilly, have had the experience of coming a great distance, of leaving behind family, all the things I have never had to bear. I wish to hear from them all, but I wish to hear it soon. Please write as soon as you can.

J. Combeferre

On a separate sheet, he addressed Feuilly:

My dear friend,

I have not forgotten to write, and I think you ought to be rather proud to receive this letter, particularly as I have sent it postage paid. I am in need of some very practical advice, and I do believe you are the only person who can help me. I will come straight to the point, as I know you would prefer it.

How does one find a man who does not want to be found? A man who has left his lodgings and does not admit to his place of employment. A man who very possibly might be a police informant. I do not know where to turn, but I am loath to let the matter drop. It is the matter we spoke of when I passed through Paris a few months ago. It proved not an accident at all, and I fear you may have been right. My friend and I are taking precautions, but I would like to get to the bottom of the matter if at all possible. To do that, I think I must speak with all my friend’s acquaintance, and thus I should try to find this man. Please tell me what I should do. In this, as in so many things, I rely on your counsel.

In friendship,

J. Combeferre

“Have you got any sealing wax?” he asked Chantal when she came by again.

“Come to the counter.” She sealed the letters herself with the remains of a stick she found in a box under the counter, melted in one of the wall sconces. “I won’t see you again, will I?”

“It’s best not. You’re a decent girl, I’m sure, and I hope my business will not keep me in town much longer.”

“There’s prettier boys in town, anyway,” she said defiantly, bitterly.

Julien smiled. “I know that to be true. A good day to you, mademoiselle.”

He posted the letters, paying the postage for both, and hoped that he might receive a reply to either or both within a couple of weeks. Upon returning to the house, he closeted himself with Henri and broke what news he had.

“Lameire has gone to Aix, and Valland is gone. Gérard has no idea how to find him.”

“That’s because Gérard prefers to know as little as possible, and it is better that way. Aix.” Henri nodded slowly. “Yes, I understand.”

“Do you?”

“The police came, he admitted everything to his father, and his father agreed to try the law experiment again. What else could it be? Have you looked for Valland at work?”

“Gérard does not know where he works, and I must admit, I know nothing about the man. You told me very little in your letters, and I never had the opportunity to meet him.”

“He is bookkeeping assistant for Southern Soap.” It was strange that what had felt a mystery was solved by such a bald statement.

“I shall look for him there tomorrow. I cannot help wishing you had a better class of friends.”

“Coming from you, I hope you do not mean what my father would mean.”

“I fear you have lowered yourself by going directly into business and spending your time with clerks,” Julien at last admitted. “And I do not entirely mean it in the sense of class, more in the sense of calibre. Not everyone has the opportunity to use all their talents, I know that as well as anyone, but I do wish you had a better circle of acquaintance.”

“I can find the flaws in the little I know of your friends, as well.”

“I do not doubt that you can.”

“If I listen to you, your greatest friend in Paris is a fan maker.” Was Henri mocking him?

“And I must not disparage a bookkeeping assistant at a soap factory. But where is he?” Julien insisted. “Feuilly spent a week of evenings at my side when I needed him. No, the police were not involved then, but I do not think a police investigation could keep him away if I needed his help or even just his friendship.”

“You never thought anything ill of Emilie.”

“No, I never did. I think little ill of Gérard as it is. He was always timid. I also rather think he has stayed away as much to keep the police away from you as for his own peace. It is the sort of thing he would do without telling anyone.”

“Yes, it is the sort of thing he would do,” Henri admitted, though he quickly returned to the attack. “But you think ill of Valland.”

“I do not know Valland. He is an outsider.”

“You knew none of your current friends five years ago.”

“That is fair,” Julien replied, his even tone rather forced. “But I also think you could tell me more of my friends than I could tell you of Didier Valland. You wrote very little about him.”

“What was there to write?”

“I don’t know. You are the one who knows him.”

“What is it you wish you knew?” Henri asked rather coldly.

What did Julien wish he knew? Anything he could ask would tell him almost nothing about the man’s character. “Is he a native?”

“No. His father was promoted within the postal service to director in Marseille. A very pious man, it seems. Didier was supposed to go to the theological faculty at Aix, but he refused. He speaks no further about his family, and I need no further information. He is one of us, even if he was educated at the communal collège in Grasse. There is no reason for you not to trust him.”

“I don’t mean to argue.”

“Then don’t.”

“I’m sorry.”

Perhaps he had been in the wrong to trust so much to Gérard, Julien thought. He was the sort to want to know as little as possible to preserve the safety of his friends, because if he were caught, he would not hold out long under interrogation. It was something of a relief that the police cared more to insinuate jealousy rather than investigate the actual circumstances that had led to Emilie’s death - a true investigation could end in all of the survivors arrested for various political acts, and Gérard’s confessions would be a significant part of the prosecutor’s case. Yet Julien could not hold it against the boy - he was as he was, and they all knew it quite well. It was no mystery when Gérard was frightened because it was his daily expression. That he had acted at all, and for years, had been immensely brave.

One did not think that of Valland. Southern Soap. It was unexpected, though Julien was uncertain why. The position was little different to what Gérard had done for Serre and now did for Lucien Granier, only with a bit more arithmetic. Perhaps it was merely that he could not imagine the police using an assistant bookkeeper at Southern Soap as a spy. And not because of the bad puns Courfeyrac would make on him being too clean to be an informant, either. Southern Soap. The office was connected to the workshop, which meant he would have to spend the day in the industrial sector of the city. Even if Henri were annoyed, Julien felt he had no choice: the investigation had to be made. He could not rest if he left such obvious stones unturned.


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