Hear Now the Tale of a Jet Black Sunrise

Chapter 3

They did manage to settle into a pattern. After M. Enjolras left, Henri would join Julien in the library in his own time. For three or four hours, they might talk of utterly impersonal things - history or the sights in London, but never friends or family or even the news though every day, Julien read the conservative local newspaper to which M. Enjolras had a subscription - or they might play chess. Or Henri might take to staring out the window again while Julien played patience with an old tarot deck.

They did not go out. Julien itched to get out of the house, but he dared not leave Henri. Only on Sunday, when M. Enjolras returned from mass, would Julien take a horse out and try to calm all his fears in mad dashes over the winter roads.

The real trouble became evident the day they were fully engrossed in a chess match and M. Enjolras had figured out their trick of hiding from him. He must have left the coach at the bottom of the drive, for there was no sound of hooves and wheels on gravel. When the door to the library opened, Julien expected it was one of the servants come to clear away the dirty cups. Julien had never drunk so much coffee in so short a span, but it was the only additional nourishment he had managed to get Henri to take, so he kept up the example. M. Enjolras did not say anything, but his lack of movement made his presence evident. Henri looked up at the interruption, gave his father a withering look, and stalked out without a word.

“What did you do?” Julien was not nearly so capable as Henri of a devastating glare, but he did not lack authority.

“I don’t enjoy that tone. I’m his father. He’s not one of your orphaned patients.”

“If you want me to ‘fix what is wrong’, as you put it, I need to know what is wrong. Why cannot he stand to be in the same room as you? No wonder he did not leave his bedroom for a month - if he will not go outside, where else could he be safe from your interference?”

“Are you suggesting his illness is my fault?”

“No,” Julien said evenly. “It is mine. Neither of us is foolish enough to believe otherwise. But something you have done has made it worse, or at least set him against you, and I cannot very well restore him to you if he has no wish for a reconciliation. I must know what your role has been.”

“Did you know he never took her to bed?” M. Enjolras asked, looking out the window into the twilit garden rather than at Julien. “Who would have thought it?”

“His honour would not permit him to use her in that way.”

“He came in well after sunrise. Returning at dawn, I would have counted the evening a success. Returning whilst I was breakfasting, I was certain he had ended his evening with that girl. I must have said something along the lines of ‘Keep her as your mistress if you must, but this has really got to stop’. It had got back to me that they were talking marriage with utter seriousness. Marriage! All he answered was, ‘You need worry no longer. She is dead.’ Then he went upstairs, and before I could begin to make sense of anything, one of the girls screamed fit to wake the dead. He had walked calmly upstairs and sliced himself open. Blood everywhere.

“I tried to apologise, of course. He won’t see me. I tried to explain that I know all too well what it is to lose a wife. I even used those words! He wouldn’t answer.”

“Don’t force it. You know what you’ve done.”

“Christmas is going to be miserable.”

“Look at it this way: they barely keep the holiday in England. At least here I get cake.”

“How did you manage to live among such people?”

“The country has its own charms,” Julien answered dryly. “Please, for Henri’s sake, I ask that you leave him as wide a berth as possible. I think that if I can get him outside, without fear of meeting you, the exercise will do something to bring back his appetite.”

M. Enjolras sighed. “Very well.”

“It may be a very long process. He may also improve naturally, in the spring, either from time or from the change of weather. You must have noted yourself that it is easier to dwell on setbacks under cloudy skies and easier to look forward when the days have been sunny. I do not think Goethe could incite a fashion for suicide among the Italians.”

“How I hope you are right. I will do my best.”

“That is all I can ask.”

The week of Christmas, M. Enjolras was able to bring himself to stay out all evening one night and was careful to announce this intention in advance. With a great deal of coaxing, and some pointed complaints about dining alone, Julien managed to get Henri to join him in the dining room. Little food was consumed and only the barest sips of wine, but it was progress of a sort.

“I thought I might go to Les Goudes at Christmas.”

“I thought you gave up your mother’s condescending notions of charity.”

“It may be outdated noblesse, but since someone from the family is here, someone from the family ought to go and do something. Nothing as condescending as blankets and shoes, but some poultry, perhaps, and some sweets for the children. So that the larger needs might be discovered and resolved in time.”

“Père Bornat is dead.”

Julien was shocked. It was the sort of news that Henri would have written him immediately. “When?”

“Not long before - before - ” He shut down. Julien reached across the table to squeeze his hand sympathetically, but Henri permitted only the briefest touch.

“Then I must go. Were my family here when it happened?”

“They had left.”

“They must think we have abandoned them. I must go tomorrow. Please come with me.”

“I can’t.” Julien tried to get more out of him, but he simply kept repeating “I can’t” until he was fed up with the line of conversation and walked out.

Les Goudes was a profoundly depressing place in the winter, with the little low houses shut up tight against the spray blowing in from the rough grey sea. Père Bornat’s house had been taken over by his granddaughter Antoinette and her second husband, a man whom Julien did not know well at all. Ten years earlier, he had brought Henri here and spoken against paltry charity, but what else was to be done in the moment? He listened as best he could to their needs and complaints, finally enlisting the assistance of another of the fishermen to translate when necessary.

Before he left, he asked one of Tonette’s children to take him to Père Bornat’s grave. Julien knelt before the poor marker and crossed himself, out of habit, for display, out of guilt - he didn’t know entirely why his hand unconsciously made the sign he had avoided for years. He felt it sacrilegious in the unbeliever to make such gestures, but he had no other way to signal his respect for the old man and the sadness he felt at hearing of his passing.

“How are they?” Henri asked. He had been waiting in Julien’s bedroom for him to return. It seemed to Julien that he had finally been broken of the habit of hiding in his room, but he still wanted nothing to do with his father. Julien thought he remembered that M. Enjolras had lands somewhere toward Lyon and wondered if perhaps he might be persuaded to take a couple of weeks to look into those affairs personally.

“As well as can be expected. I need to go back tomorrow after I pick up some medical supplies in town. There are some cases that could use proper treatment.”

“How can you do it after what happened?”

Julien looked away. “It’s changing bandages, not performing surgery.” He had never quite managed to put his own breakdown into words, and he still felt guilty that it had been Feuilly, with some assistance from Courfeyrac, rather than Henri who had helped him pull himself back together. He simply had not had the energy to climb into the diligence, even when Courfeyrac was willing to pay so that no one would have to tell his father.

They sat in silence for a while, though somehow lacking the awkwardness of all the silence in the past two weeks. “It wasn’t the surgery,” Julien finally admitted. “It was the autopsy. The assigning of blame. Only they didn’t assign blame; they determined I was not in the least the cause of his death. But a child was dead, and I had done it. I failed to save him. And what of the others who might come under my knife? What if I failed them, too? How many victims, how many lives stolen, not by incompetence but by our failings as a profession? How many lives ended in greater pain than if we had done nothing? And we pretend that we can save men’s lives, cure disease, prevent suffering. How could I walk back in there when I extended suffering rather than life, took rather than gave? My guilt is all the greater because it is not acknowledged.” It had not been the first patient he had lost, nor had it been the first autopsy conducted on a case with which he had been intimately involved. But something in this autopsy, in the expression on the dead boy’s face, the expression he had put there, had meant more than every success, than every other failure. The life that was so obviously gone, with the body not at peace but in an unnatural suspense. Julien feared that something within him had died with the boy.

Henri moved as if he were going to touch Julien’s shoulder but hesitated, seeming to think better of it. Instead, very softly, he finally began to speak of what had been gnawing at the entire household. “I said I would try to leave before one, that I would come to see her before I went home. I couldn’t get out until after three, I don’t know where the time went, and I had to take the carriage home because it was so very late. She would never have waited up so long; I never wanted her to. It was raining by then. Raining. She had been lying in the rain. They sent Bernard to find me, some back way, I don’t know how he was waiting at the gate when we ought to have passed him on the road, he said he hadn’t been waiting long. We went back, it was hard as anything to get back into the city at that time of night if you weren’t a wagon full of cabbage. She gave her last breath the moment I reached the house, they said. She was gone before I could be at her bedside.” Tears were streaming down his face, but he pushed on. “The priest was there, giving her last rites, and the police came and took her away and had so many questions that I can’t remember, and our driver just left at some point, and how could I possibly look at her parents because look at what I had done. If I had only been there - if I couldn’t protect her, I could have at least shared her fate. But I don’t want to follow her.”

Julien held Henri as he began sobbing and mingled their tears. His greatest concern had been trying to keep Henri together, to prevent any second attempt that might succeed on the lessons of how the first attempt had failed. There was relief in not having to worry about a suicide, in no longer struggling with the idea that he had never really known his best friend at all. All the sympathy in the world from his father would never erase the embarrassment at having been caught in a suicide attempt that wasn’t even desired. The awful details of Emilie’s death could be processed later by the scientific part of his mind; tonight, he was more concerned with the living than the dead.

“What sort of husband would I have been if I don’t want to follow her? That isn’t love.”

“Isn’t it?” Julien tried to keep the tears out of his own voice. “I would give my life for you. But if I failed, does it mean you were any less my brother if I do not seek to share your grave immediately? How could I grieve for you if I were dead? How could I honour you if I were dead? How could I make the world worthy of your memory if I were not in it? You never let me teach you the poetry of the soul. Byron may be fascinating, Walter Scott’s mimics are destroying letters across Europe, and they may be emblematic of the age, but they should not be the sole arbiters of our emotions.”

“My own father said he might have done violence to himself if not for me. How can I possibly look at him when he and I both know I ought to be dead? When all of Marseille knows I ought to be dead. Since they came for her, they must want me as well. How could they not?” Since when was Henri as paranoid about the police as Feuilly? Julien wondered. Had someone said something? Was one of his friends actually a spy? Valland, in particular? “I don’t even know what might have happened to the others. I don’t want to follow her, but it’s the only thing left to do.”

“No one else is dead,” Julien told him as calmly as he could. “Your father has been monitoring the papers. Her attack was reported, but no one else is dead. Is this why you did not attend her funeral?” he dared ask.

“I was in bed,” Henri admitted, the tears slowing but the shame evident. “What have I permitted our enemies to do to us?”

“You have permitted nothing. Even Bonaparte would walk away to marshal his strength.”

“That is not a comparison I would prefer.”

“Wellington, then?”

“One day, you will turn into an Englishman.”

Julien was so relieved he wanted to break down into tears again. The tone was all wrong, but the sentiment was what he had longed to hear.

Henri moved to embrace him, but he suddenly pulled back. “What’s this?” He had felt the hard, heavy metal of the pistol in Julien’s pocket.

“The paranoia is contagious.” He put his pistols on the table and explained Feuilly’s fears. “He has good reason to think along those lines, and I didn’t want to listen, but when your father told me what happened, I started to think that Feuilly might have had a point. That it doesn’t matter if he is wrong, but beware not considering he may be right.”

“I don’t know if your friend has sense or I’ve lost mine, but I’m glad to see you taking precautions. I don’t want to think how I could do without you, brother.”


Chapter 2 ~ Fiction ~ Chapter 4 ~ Home