Hear Now the Tale of a Jet Black Sunrise

Chapter 2

“M. Combeferre!” One of the maids had followed him in. “Your boots!”

“I’m sorry. I brought no other shoes.”

“You’ll borrow from M. Henri.” She took away his mud-spattered boots and was replaced by another servant who started to clean up the mud he had tracked in.

“This was not exactly how I intended to make an entrance.”

In better days, Henri would have shown some sign of humour, but as it was, he had already sat down again, looking exhausted. “However you enter, I’m glad you’re here.” But he went back to staring out the window.

Julien took Henri’s pulse, which was slower than he would have liked. His skin was dry, as well. His wrists were no longer bandaged, the cuts healed, but the fresh scars were rather ugly. “You haven’t been eating.”

“I haven’t felt like it.”

The circular decline of grief, Julien reminded himself. If one does not eat, one grows fatigued and does not feel like doing anything, eating included. “Have you been drinking?”

“I haven’t felt like it.” He yawned, then apologized.

“How have you been sleeping?”

Henri shrugged. “It’s all I can do and not even that well anymore. You don’t have to play the doctor.”

“I have diagnosed and treated patients before. You must eat. Starvation is a very nasty way to die.”

“I’ve been eating. I’m not starved,” Henri protested.

“You think I’ve not seen a starving child?”

“It doesn’t matter. Go see my father.”

“He’s at home?”

“He doesn’t spend much time at the refinery or the salt works anymore. Go see him. I’d like to lay down for a while. But I am glad you’re here.”

Julien found a servant to take him to his bedroom, instead, and asked that he be announced to M. Enjolras and that he might wash up in the meantime. When he was ready, he was taken into the library, where the father was keeping an eye on the same landscape as the son one floor above.

“Thank you for coming.”

“I am glad you still feel I can be trusted.”

“I shouldn’t trust you,” M. Enjolras snapped. “This was all your doing. But since you did it, perhaps you can fix it, because I cannot.”

“May I ask what happened?”

“He slit his wrists is what happened, and he hasn’t said a word to me since.”

“What happened to Mlle Duchamp?” Julien explained as calmly as he could.

“She was going home at night after one of their ridiculous little meetings. Henri was at a party, and I’ve never been more pleased that he listened to reason for once. I don’t want to think what might have happened had Henri been with her. She was beaten very badly. And, according to the police, attacked in other ways. She was found before dawn, carried home, and one of her brothers dispatched to find Henri. The results I knew at the time were that he did not return home from that party until daylight was well advanced. I had some words for him; he informed me that he had been at her deathbed. Then he went up to his room and tried to follow her.” His voice broke.

Julien felt hollow and rather hoped Henri had not been told about the other ways in which she had been attacked. “What happened to the others?”

“The others?”

“Marc Gérard, Thierry Lameire, Didier Valland. Henri’s friends.”

“I’ve heard nothing.”

“Then perhaps it was not a political attack.” But the thought rang hollow even in his own ears. Julien had never trusted Valland in particular - there was something unsettling about a man he knew only through Henri’s letters. “How well known is what happened?”

“It was in the Daily.” Julien winced. “I know. But it would have been worse to keep it out.”

“Unfortunately, you are right. Has anyone written him or tried to see him?”

“No one.”

“Did he attend the funeral?”

“He was in bed. I didn’t dare call a doctor. Can you imagine the scandal if it got out?”

“I’m here now. Whoever treated the wounds did a good job, though the scarring might have been less had someone sewn them up. May I ask a few questions about his health?”

“How can you stand there so calm?”

“I am clinging to the details so as not to lose myself. May I ask about his health?”

“I suppose someone must.”

“What has he been eating?”

“Very little. The staff will know precisely what comes back to the kitchen.”

“Has he been drinking?”

“I wish he would. That would be something I could understand. I sent up a bottle of brandy; the servants co-opted it when it was refused.”

“Has he left the house at all?”

“No. That may be my own fault. I haven’t the heart to ask him to do anything. When my wife died . . .” He broke off to try to get a hold of himself. “If it were not for Henri, for the daily needs of my son, I do not know that I would have been much better. But I never thought of suicide.”

“He wasn’t thinking very strongly of suicide, either. No matter how long it took to find him, he was not going to bleed out from those wounds. Have you told him any of this?”

“Through the door when necessary. He won’t listen.”

“May I do what I must for him?”

“It is why I asked you to come. You might at least get a few words out of him, cheer him up.”

“That, I believe, is beyond the capacity of medicine. I cannot cure grief.”

“I didn’t ask you here to be a doctor.”

“I may have left the medical school, but I did not leave behind an entire way of viewing the world. I cannot cure his sadness and I have no wish to try. You know yourself that it will end, or moderate, in its own time. But there are other symptoms on which I may have some effect. I should tell you now that a change of scene may be advised.”

“You can’t take my son.”

“I hope I might restore him to you.”

“What am I saying? You’ve taken him already. Why, after everything, do I still trust you?”

“Because I would give my life to protect Henri. My greatest fear is that he feels the same for me.”

“How I hope you are not right. Do what you can.” “Thank you, monsieur. And thank you for your hospitality.”

“Oh. Yes. You’ll stay as long as you need. The staff will look after you as if you were family, not a guest. Take what you like.”

Julien thanked him again. He did take the opportunity to ask a servant to draw a full bath for him. It had been a long, cold, dirty, dreary trip with no joy at the end. As the water cooled around him, Julien broke down into hard, wracking sobs. He had to admit to himself that with the month that had passed, it was to be hoped that M. Enjolras’ letter was premature, or had arrived too late, that of course something would have resolved during his panicked flight across France. But he was the only one who came. There were men here in Marseille who had known Emilie, who were considered Henri’s friends, and not one had sent his sympathies or been reported dead in the daily newspaper. Feuilly would denounce them as police spies, Julien felt certain, but he rather thought them merely cowards. That when there came a time for action, the thought of a casualty of war sent them scattering. They played at what he and Henri and Emilie had taken so seriously. What she had died in service of, regardless of the exact motive for her death. And in the end, who could be blamed other than himself? He had started them all on this path. It had been no accident, which made it his crime.

He was asked to join M. Enjolras for dinner. Henri did not come down, and his absence was a constant weight on the solitary diners. M. Enjolras was patently lonely and desperate for any conversation whatsoever, while Julien was not entirely able to keep up his end. They rather quickly descended into a question and answer session about England, designed more to produce sound than to produce sense. Julien was almost grateful to be called to the kitchen to examine what Henri had left behind when offered dinner. It was a dismal plate, cold yet still quite filled, as if he had pushed his food around but eaten nothing.

“This is the most he’s eaten since it happened, monsieur. I thought we might try two slices of beef tonight, and one’s gone, at least.”

“Has he been surviving on bread?”

“Some vegetables. I don’t give him whole pieces of poultry anymore - he manages to pull it all apart so it looks as if he’s eaten more than he has.”

“What about wine?”

“I thought he was at least taking that, until I caught Jacques finishing off the dregs. I don’t bother sending it up anymore. He drinks water.”

“What about in the morning? Coffee?”

The cook shook her head. “Not even a little weak tea.”

“I’d like you to put together a custard. If he will not eat much, it should at least be more nourishing than bread.”

“I’ve tried that, monsieur. He wouldn’t even touch it.”

“Then I shall also assume that you have spent these weeks trying to tempt his palate, his favourite foods, sweets, anything?”

“He eats more if it’s plain, but not at all if it looks prepared for an invalid.”

“This is very helpful to me. Thank you.”

“Is there any good news?” M. Enjolras asked when Julien returned to the table.

“Perhaps. It is too soon to tell. I would like to see a clear pattern emerge before I make any determinations. One observation tells us only what has happened in the moment - it has no predictive power.”

“I see.”

“I think it for the best if you resume normal activities, or at least the appearance of normal activities. Look after your business. At least leave the house. He may open up more if he has a sense of privacy outside his bedroom.”

“Perhaps you are right.”

“I have some business in town I should like to take care of as soon as possible.”

“Go whenever you like.”

“Thank you, monsieur.”

Julien retired early but could not sleep. He walked into town rather than accept the use of the carriage in the hopes that the exercise would help him to think. After leaving his papers at the hôtel de ville and cashing his father’s draft, he bought a couple of pocket pistols on Feuilly’s advice. He was not going to stay out of the public view, but he could at least be cautious. He also stopped in a bookshop and purchased a copy of the final volume of Thiers’ History of the Revolution. But he could not bring himself to see the Duchamps, and there was something strange about Marseille in winter, so grey and the wind so different to the summer breezes he knew so well.

Henri was awake when he returned, sitting in the window as it appeared was his constant occupation. “Come join me in the library,” Julien offered.

“I don’t know.”

He waved his acquisition. “I’ve got Thiers.”

“Then you can give it here. I’ll not take a bribe. Certainly not one so clumsily offered.”

“Your father has promised to spend all day in town.”

“Do what you will. I’m fine.”

But he did come down to the library before Julien had finished reading the second chapter. Julien rang for coffee. “I got Thiers back in September,” Henri admitted.

“And you didn’t send me a copy?” Julien asked in mock offense, his tone a little forced.

“And give up my one chance to get ahead of you?” The usual excitement was missing in his voice, but at least the words were familiar.

“So what did you think?”

Not even the entry of a servant with a tray of coffee and rolls put a stop to the flood of what, under other circumstances, would have been a long letter sent to London. Even when Henri’s voice began to grow hoarse, Julien managed to push more coffee, well-tempered with milk, on him, though he still did not eat. But he trailed off, coughing, after a while, and Julien did not push further. Even if Henri returned to bed, a breach had been made, and Julien was pleased if it was all he could manage for the day.

But Henri did not return to bed. He did return to the window to stare at the garden, but it was the library window, and he made no complaint about Julien’s presence. Julien addressed several comments to him as he continued to read Thiers, and Henri even responded to a few in the course of the afternoon. He retreated only when they heard the carriage in the drive, signaling that M. Enjolras had returned home.

An entire week passed in similar fashion. Julien did not tell M. Enjolras that Henri was making the necessary efforts, and M. Enjolras did not press for information. Julien did finally get Henri to show a flash of personality by annoying him with a volume of poetry read aloud. He had never taken to verse in any tongue and finally forcibly removed the volume from Julien’s hands. “Shakespeare, not Byron. That’s the deal.”

“You’re a heathen. It’s Wordsworth.”

“I didn’t know I owned Wordsworth.”

“I accidentally left it here a few years ago. Your father borrowed it of me before he decided he hated me.”

“He doesn’t hate you.”

“He has good reason.”

“You’re not the one who has disappointed him.”

Was that a key to anything? Julien wondered. “He adores you too much do anything other than blame me. And he is right - it is my fault.”

“Nothing is your fault.”

“I set us on this path.”

“I won’t hear you blame yourself for my failings.”

“Then I won’t hear you blame yourself for what no one could have foreseen. I love you too much for that.”


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