Hear Now the Tale of a Jet Black Sunrise

Chapter 16

M. Enjolras returned just in time for dinner, but he made no mention of why he was late, and neither Julien nor Henri dared ask. Instead, Julien found himself talking again about his afternoon visit to his mother because he had nothing else to discuss. Some of his warmth toward Vidal must have made an impression, however, because M. Enjolras perked up considerably. Julien had not known M. Enjolras to take an interest in oriental studies, but at least the topic was not awkward. Perhaps it was merely that there was someone new in the neighbourhood.

“Tell me, do your parents still treat their tutors as servants rather than as men of education?”

“Yes, but I rather think that a blessing. No one should have to feel compelled to dine with my mother when she is not entertaining guests.”

“Invite him to dinner.”


“Invite him to dinner. Here. Tomorrow? No, that might be a bit precipitous. Monday? Monday. Dinner on Monday. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

“I would indeed. Thank you, monsieur.”

The idea seemed to put M. Enjolras into a better mood, though even after private discussion much later, conducted practically in whispers in Henri’s bedroom, neither of the young men seemed to know why.

“Your father isn’t an oriental scholar.”

“He’s much too late to try to pull one over on your family by hiring away a tutor. What would he do with him?”

“I don’t know. He’s your father.”

“I don’t mean to suggest there is anything wrong with Vidal, but we have met him once.”

“The police are not so crafty as to infiltrate a revolutionary cell by placing a tutor in the family of one of the members when that member never sees his family. There aren’t enough police in France for that to be a reasonable strategy.”

“I did not say I was worried about that sort of involvement.”

“Then what does worry you?”

“I don’t know. But you do like him.”

“Not all my Paris acquaintance is political. It is not only safer that way, it is better that way. If I listen only to my political friends, I might be convinced that all of France wants the new order that has always eluded us. As long as we say nothing about politics and your father makes no comment, there is no reason to worry about Vidal. It is your father that concerns me. He’s not inviting him for my sake.”

“No, that much was obvious. It’s for himself. He’s been bored with me for years, and I think he fears he’s exhausted your conversational abilities. Which is fine, as far as it goes, but your family’s tutor? He must have some scheme.”

“If my father angered him today, what benefit would come from pinching our tutor?”

“I have no idea. Let me consider the possibilities.”

In the morning, Julien dutifully wrote the invitation with the key line, “if you can get away without having to tell my mother”. “Be sure this goes to the kitchen,” he ordered the servant who was to take the note, “and don’t stay for a response.”

He went riding with Henri in an attempt not to think too much of M. Enjolras’ sudden interest. There were too many points of analysis, and those points could act together in myriad ways. Henri had no explanation that he liked. “Either he is simply so desperate for other conversation that he is resorting to Vidal, or he thinks he can somehow turn Vidal to advantage himself over your father. I want no part in the latter.”

“Neither do I. Did your father used to have people to dinner?”

Henri shook his head. “He generally stayed in town if he were to meet friends. And if that were the case, I stayed to look after my own business. Generally. Lameire has been to dinner here once.”

“With your father?”

“No, but he came home earlier than expected. He appeared to like Lameire just fine; his only objection was that I seemed to only make friends based on politics.”

“Does he know how often you had Emilie in the kitchen?”

“I don’t know. He hasn’t let on if he does.” Henri pulled a face, as if he were trying to hold back his emotions.

“Then he doesn’t know. Well, Vidal may not come at all, or the dinner may go very badly, and then it won’t matter what your father wanted out of it.”

But Vidal did send back a reply that very afternoon. “I shall do my best, but please forgive me if I am not as punctual as I would like.”

Indeed, he was a bit late on Monday night, and not dressed for company, for which he apologized profusely. “Forgive me. I was almost afraid I could not get out at all tonight. I feel rather cloak and dagger, which is ridiculous, but thank you for the invitation.”

Henri was mostly silent - he simply could not keep up with the thread of conversation. M. Enjolras managed to coax a great deal of information out of Vidal, from his birth to his future hopes, as well as his opinions of every poet published in France in the past ten years. He seemed in good humour to Julien, which was a blessing, though it did render his motives thoroughly opaque. For his part, Vidal seemed flattered by the invitation and grateful to have been released from the tyranny of the servant hierarchy for an evening. Julien did not know which system best: his father’s preference that the tutor remain a servant, or M. Enjolras’ need to have the tutor at table every night. An educated man could not long be happy dining with the servants or alone, but it must be so much pressure to have to entertain the master every evening after teaching all day. But the dinner was a success and ended in M. Enjolras issuing a standing invitation to Vidal, which the young man accepted with every sign of genuine pleasure.

Julien rather had the idea that, for at least the summer, they could use Vidal to their advantage. Their company had palled next to the orientalist - perhaps they should take themselves off the scene. Vidal could perhaps fill the gap through the summer, provide the youth and conversation that M. Enjolras would lack once they had gone. Perhaps the conversation with his father had gone well, not badly at all, and M. Enjolras was seeking this sort of replacement on his own. But that would be far too much to hope, Julien told himself, and so he said nothing to Henri.

Instead, he received a summons from his own father, and spent much of the next afternoon in a café in town with him.

“You put a flea in his ear, all right. He was actually grateful to see me so that he could complain about you.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You’ve been playing the physician terribly well, it seems. He’s done everything you have asked, and he hates everything you’ve asked him to do. In some ways, it’s a pity you’ve decided to drop medicine. Be that as it may, he wants me to tell you it’s time to go home. You’ve got him too afraid to do it himself.”

“I shall shift my baggage when I return.”

“You’ll do no such thing. Bargaining position is everything, and you will lose it all if you move. He doesn’t have to know that I’ve passed on his message. And frankly, if he wants a guest to leave, it is poor form not to even hint at it to you himself. He admits that Henri is greatly improved under your care.”

“Greatly improved, perhaps, but not as he was. I don’t know that that’s even possible.”

“It may not be. He’s lost more than just his fiancée.”

“He’s lost what innocence he had left.”

“So have you, I’m afraid.”

Julien shook his head sadly. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not the issue here.”

“But you are the issue. You have asked not merely that Henri have a change of scenery, something that his father could arrange on his own. He has lands near Lyon that would provide a change of scenery. You have asked that you take Henri to Paris. His concerns, therefore, are twofold: Paris, and you.”

“He asked me here to do precisely what I have done,” Julien reminded his father. “And I warned him when I first arrived that it might be necessary that Henri leave.”

“I cannot change his opinion of Paris, though he may grudgingly accept that there is no alternative. Certainly there is no alternative as long as the government continue to treat Marseille as if it were a fishing village rather than the third city in France. And we will overtake Lyon. But for now, they have given us only a single overcrowded royal college, and the university remains at Aix. One has to leave for a time, and if one has to leave, one ought to go to the capital rather than a backwater. With time, I have every confidence I can talk him around to that. But you are the only one who can change his mind about you.”

“But what have I done? Oh, very well, he continues to think Henri would have absolutely no political opinions if I had never turned him into a republican. All I did was take him to Les Goudes when we were children so he could say he had been somewhere other than home and to listen to Père Bornat’s stories. It is not my fault that he has eyes in his head and a sense of right.”

“I shouldn’t have let O’Brien have so long with you.”

“I loved Mr O’Brien, and you know perfectly well you would have kept him on for years more if he hadn’t had to leave. He may have given me a few tools, but Mother showed me the poverty when she took me with her to Les Goudes, and Bonaparte himself displayed to every Frenchman the failure of all that is just. My conscience is not Mr O’Brien’s fault, and Henri’s conscience is not my fault. Our natures are as they are. Were his nature different, he would not have seen what I saw and wanted to help me alleviate at least some of the suffering and injustice in the world. He certainly would not have held to it for all these years.”

“A man’s nature can change. He grows older, he has more experience, he discovers setbacks he could never have imagined.”

“But his core, his very soul, is constant, otherwise he is not the same man.”

“You are not the same man you were a year ago.”

“I rather hope I’m in better shape than I was a year ago.”

“You know what I mean.”

“We misjudged what the weakness would be, that is all. Mother only had Charles because she thought I was going to die. We thought the weakness was in the body. It turned out to be a flaw in the soul,” Julien explained bitterly.

“There is nothing wrong with your soul,” his father insisted. “It is your spirit that worries me.”

“I have done everything you have asked. If I was not cheerful enough for the English, it is because it is very difficult to live up to them.”

“Did you enjoy your time in England? You wrote us that you arrived safely, then never again. I shouldn’t have to rely on Carter for news of my own son.”

“I didn’t want to enjoy it. I was there to work. I was there because I had done a terrible thing. But London is brilliant. The newspapers alone! Absolute freedom to publish and sell anything. Censorship only of bawdy material and what is on the stage. No sign of police watching your every move. The food was mostly awful, they only import the worst wines in the world, and they condescend to foreigners in an utterly shocking manner. If events had been different, I would still be there. But what I loved in England was not, I think, why you sent me there, and it would not interest you in the least that one of my greatest pleasures was listening to the parliamentary debates.”

“I’m grateful to hear any enthusiasm at all from you - I was rather afraid it had all burnt out.”

“I was afraid of that, too, until I saw London.”

“And Miss Laura Carter?”

Julien flushed. He had not thought about Miss Laura in months, and the question was really more in his mother’s line than in his father’s. “She was very kind to me, and rather pretty, but even if I had inclinations in that direction, which I do not, her father would never permit her to marry a Frenchman.” He rather feared he was not showing very well that he had no inclinations in that direction, but it was true. There was a vast gulf between sharing Lord Byron and a few dances at a ball and making the lifetime commitment of marriage. “But what can I do for M. Enjolras?” he asked, trying to return to the much more important subject at hand before he embarrassed himself further over Miss Laura. “Express enthusiasm for Paris?”

“His fear is that despite your proficiency in other topics, your only real enthusiasm is for your absolutely ridiculous political activities. A wider set of companions, perhaps, might set his mind at ease.”

“I have a wider set of companions in Paris. If Henri had any interest, I know the opera goers, several amateur art critics, more than a few would-be poets, a couple of linguists, more natural philosophers than I can easily count - and even a couple of opium eaters for variety, if you really want to know. I can introduce him to a very wide acquaintance if he wishes it. But he hates poetry and science, and I do not think he would take kindly to my artistic acquaintance. I can certainly introduce him to people who might be able to introduce him to other people, in the ways in which a city as broad as Paris works, but I do not intend to make promises I cannot keep. You know, he is rather old for it, but I find myself curious - what if Henri were consigned to your care?”

“You must be joking.”

“I don’t mean signed over to Uncle Félix, who throws the worst parties I have ever attended. I mean if you were to chaperone. M. Enjolras likes you. He trusts you even when he does not trust me. And you’ve said yourself that you think he is ruining Henri.”

“There is a difference between complaining and handing over one’s son. What was your plan, assuming M. Enjolras agreed?”

“To depart for Paris as soon as possible. That would give us a number of months before classes begin in November. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to arrive in a foreign city, find lodgings, learn one’s way around, register for classes, and find a friendly café all in the space of a week. I would never inflict such a disaster on anyone. And the higher order of socialisation will have ended for the summer, so we should not be annoyed by invitations from Mother’s friends.”

“Such a schedule would also provide a chance for Henri to return home, should he feel he must, without any sort of financial loss of inscription fees he paid and did not use.”

“Well, naturally.” Julien suddenly realized what his father had been trying to say. “To go earlier is to provide, for little to no cost, a chance to reverse course. A way for M. Enjolras to justify to himself a positive answer without committing to three years. I tried to close the door on him to secure my own aims, but as long as he thinks there is an escape, he will agree, and my aims are flexible.”

“To a point. He could always cut off the flow of funds.”

“He wouldn’t do it. And even if he did, Henri would hardly be the only student in Paris without a steady income. He’d be better off than most - he’s had some practical experience of the world and how to earn one’s living. So I must apologise to M. Enjolras, eat all the dust under his feet, and humbly ask him to consider the possibility of a stay of a couple months duration, at the end of which, I will remain in Paris.”

“If you manage to do that, I will see what I can do to moderate his opinion of the city.”

“Thank you, Father.”

“And you will do me one additional favour. You will spend what time you can spare with your brother.”

“I do not wish to interrupt his studies.”

“If you are successful, the interruption will not be for long.”

“I will do what I can.”

Julien waited until after dinner to make another attempt on M. Enjolras, hopefully a better one since he could perhaps parlay Vidal’s very presence into a way to make the next couple of months rather less painful.

“Monsieur, I would like to apologise.”

“For what?” he asked suspiciously.

“I was absolutely in the wrong. Henri’s education is your affair, not mine. You asked me here to see to his health. Please forgive me.”

“His health is much better.”

“His spirits, however, are not as you would hope. I am saddened by the change in him, as I know you are. I still think a change of scenery may do him some good. A couple of months, perhaps, especially if those couple of months are among new acquaintances, people of his own class. Is it impertinent to suggest that you have a fondness for M. Vidal?”

“I think I rather like the boy.”

“I do, as well. I wish he were not employed by my family, because that sort of connection makes it very difficult, indeed, that we be friends. However, Vidal and I have some common acquaintance in Paris.”

“Paris again,” M. Enjolras complained. “ Always Paris.”

“A couple of months. Perhaps you would prefer, instead, that we look into your lands in the Isère. A change of scenery and useful work may help, though I would rather try to put him in touch with other people. His friends have deserted him, really, and if you are bored with me, I fear he may be, too. I know there are good men in Paris with whom he might be able to relate. Certainly men of better birth, or at least a more suitable sort of upbringing, than his friends here have been. Trustworthy men. Men I have known for years. A couple of months. Three at the outside. I beg you to consider it. Vidal may even keep you company over the summer.”

“I don’t need to rely on other people’s servants.”

“Of course. I merely meant that you enjoyed Vidal’s company last night, and he appears to have enjoyed yours.”

“You are convinced this will help.”

“I can think of nothing else that will restore his spirits. Indeed, is it not likely that with absence, he will miss you, he will miss Marseille, and he will return eager to take up again those activities from which he has left off these many months?” Julien lied, hoping his voice did not sound so strained as he feared it must. It was not the sort of lie one told to the patient’s family or to the police - it was too personal, and too important, too much a false accounting of Henri’s nature to sit comfortably in his mouth. “I do not mean those of which you disapprove, but you must see that he is in no fit state to socialize, to begin to consider courting again, possibly even to return to active work. This is the mood you seek to revive, is it not? That he take an interest in the necessities of life again. I think it more likely to happen in a place with the activity of Paris rather than the solitude and quiet of the Isère or the limited scope of Aix. He has had his solitude, and he is much the better for it, but now he must have activity. And I believe such activity would be best in a place that has no memories for him. I am sure you must understand.”

“I will think on it,” M. Enjolras told him firmly, perhaps not keen on the veiled reminder of his own loss. “You may go.”


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