Hear Now the Tale of a Jet Black Sunrise
For the New Year, Julien privately gave Henri his own set of pistols. “Will you consider coming riding with me?”
He did consider it, or at least waited some time before answering, “Not today.”
Julien went riding anyway. He had sent the borrowed horse back to Avignon days after his arrival and had brought a much finer animal from his own stables. Othello had a temperament to match his own, and Julien took pleasure in currying him down himself after a swift run through the countryside rather than merely throwing the reins to one of the stablehands.
He was surprised to see Henri come looking for him there, however, particularly as he had come bearing sugar for the horse. “It is no better for him than it is for you,” Julien told him.
“Yes, Doctor, but it does supply the hay.”
“Is something wrong?”
“No more than usual. I wanted some air, and I saw you returning. I’ve not seen Othello in far too long - should I be remiss with our guest?” Julien hoped there had not been an argument in his absence. There was something rather strange in Henri paying more attention to the horse than to anyone else. “I fear I did not thank you properly for the gift,” Henri finally said in a low voice. “I do thank you. If my father knew . . .”
“He would fear you would turn them on yourself.”
“Exactly. And I haven’t that intent at all. What on earth did you say to the gunsmith? He must be curious as to your purchase of two sets of pistols within a month.”
“There is more than one gunsmith in Marseille. Each thinks I am in the unenviable position have been ill prepared for the duel to which I have been challenged. If your worry is the police, unless they have tracked my every step, they will not think me stockpiling weapons.”
“No, they will fear you murdering a man.”
“Let us hope they shall not be used.”
“Never in Marseille, perhaps. Though ‘never’ would be a delightful prospect.”
“Can you really still believe that?”
“It would be a delightful prospect,” Julien insisted. “It is a complete fantasy, for every step forward will exact a price, but it would be a beautiful thing if it were real. It is a beautiful fantasy as it is.”
“I fear my imagination has left me.” He still seemed to be addressing Othello, stroking the horse’s dark muzzle, rather than Julien.
“Can you no longer see our future?”
“I see a dark and bloody road, and I fear we will not live to see the dawn.”
“But the dawn will come.”
“In the next century? In two? Not in the next score of years.”
“The king will not survive a score of years.”
“Why did we not strike when Louis lay on his deathbed?” he asked, his voice rising with bitterness. “Why did Paris not rise up against the coronation of this would-be tyrant? You were there - why did no one act?”
“It was expected that we would. The police were out in force, the army was on the march - to act would only have been to provoke repression.”
“And the repression would have galvanized the rest of the populace.”
“The repression would have reminded everyone that Paris is ruled by mobs. Could we give Charles such a victory over his foes and thus solidify his rule within days?”
“You may try to justify your actions, but it does not change that Paris is full of cowards.”
“Yes, we are cowards. Forgive us. Because you do not know Paris. Here, you are an object of fun, the police watch and laugh and so does the populace. You are well-known as the son of a rich man, and no one will actually touch you. In Paris, there are hundreds of us, thousands of sympathizers. There are also hundreds of police spies, well paid, and thousands of people willing to take a bribe from them to denounce someone. I am anonymous in that my family is not particularly special or well-known, and anonymity is no protection when the fingers of the government are anonymous, too, silent and everywhere. Only in Paris can any change take hold, thus only in Paris do the political police exert real power over our lives rather than just keeping liberals out of government appointments. Men have been arrested for a card game. And do not blame me personally, if you feel the urge. I had little political acquaintance in Paris when Louis died and certainly none that I would have trusted. One gentleman who enjoys English poetry and street brawls does not a political circle make.”
Henri hung his head. “Forgive me, brother. I do not know what I want, but my intention was not to blame you.”
“I know,” Julien replied gently. “I wish we lived in light, that none of what has happened had to happen, but the dawn will come,” he insisted fervently. “I am certain of it. Perhaps not for us, but for those who come after. Even now I know it to be true.”
“When you say it, I can almost see it. But the image doesn’t quite come anymore.”
Julien was fairly certain that much of Henri’s illness was caused by his father. Not directly, for M. Enjolras would never have knowingly hurt his only son, but by his actions nonetheless. Or perhaps less in his actions than in his expectations. Julien had come to realise that he, unlike many of his peers, was very lucky. While his father made no secret of his expectation that Julien succeed him in managing the family firm, he saw it as a far-off event that would happen only when circumstances required. In the meantime, he could afford to be indulgent. Very few, if any, young men would have been permitted to pick up then set aside a medical career so easily and without recrimination.
M. Enjolras was not so liberal as M. Combeferre, and Henri had always tried to please his father even as he tried to go his own way. He had not pressed hard to go to Paris and had turned down a grudging offer to attend the law faculty at Aix instead. Rather than outright rebel, he had spent the past four years half-heartedly working for his father while whole-heartedly working to revoke the privileged status of men like his father. He had applied himself to the work before him, both that of learning how his father’s business interests ran and that of spreading his political sympathies beyond the capital. The revolution could only be made in Paris, but to bring peace and development rather than strife, it would have to take hold in the provinces. There was no shame in preparing the ground.
Julien knew full well how much his life was envied, and he was sorry he had won Henri no greater freedom. But Henri had not pushed, either. Had he pushed, his wishes might have been granted, but that would leave his father completely alone. There was no harm in M. Enjolras, and it was hard to wish him such a life even as Henri was chafing under the expectations he had laid out for himself as a good and obedient son. It was these expectations that Julien feared, the belief Henri had in his father’s expectations for him and his desire to keep his father from further heartbreak.
Before seeing the second gunsmith, Julien had stopped at the Enjolras family’s tailor and ordered a black coat for himself and a full suit of mourning for Henri. He had initially been surprised that Henri was not dressed in mourning, though his soul certainly mourned Emilie as if she were wife rather than intended, but he quickly realised that it was not the sort of thing M. Enjolras would offer or that Henri would request. It was an accident of the law, not lack of intent, that had postponed the marriage, and that marriage was the one thing for which Henri had been prepared to insist. What did a few youthful years in Paris matter when a lifetime was at stake? He could have Paris once he had his wife. Indeed, the allure of Paris was stronger once Emilie had been brought into the family, for only in Paris would the strength of her mind be of any use to their great cause. They had talked it out in letters, begun to hint at hopes and vague plans, and after what had happened, Julien was certain Henri needed his six months of mourning, properly conducted, whether it be socially prescribed or no. Mourning was for the living and not the dead, after all, the dead having no need of it. It was not merely the end of one life that was commemorated but the loss of all that life had touched. Henri had lost not only a wife but an entire future at one stroke. As for himself, Julien dared not go to the Duchamps in a coat of green or blue, which were all he had unthinkingly brought to Marseille. It would be wrong to approach a mourning family in such a manner, and he had no wish to appear to hold their daughter’s memory so lightly, even if he had not been thinking of their needs when he had packed his bag.
The garments were delivered after the new year, luckily at a time when M. Enjolras was out. When the parcels arrived, Julien had them sent to Henri’s room. “Come with me. We shall be able to garb ourselves more suitably.” Both young men were hardly what Courfeyrac would consider well-dressed, but they were not so far out of the fashion as to make believe they were priests. The household did not at all resemble a condition of mourning.
Henri gave him a skeptical look, but he did follow Julien up the stairs. Julien tore into the smaller parcel first to free his coat, which he changed into immediately. Henri opened his parcel slowly and stared at the contents therein.
“I do not need your help to dress myself,” he told Julien, though without sarcasm or rancor.
“That is not at all what I meant. I seek only that you might have all the tools, that you can make a fair choice.”
“My father . . .” he trailed off.
“The choice is yours, not his and not mine.” He left his friend still staring at the gift.
The surprise was that Henri came down for dinner, rather defiantly, as if daring his father to say something about the black suit. M. Enjolras certainly looked disapproving, but he said nothing. Only later, when he managed to corral Julien alone, did he have anything to say.
“What is the meaning of this?”
“I merely ordered the garments. It was his own choice to put them on.”
“Do you have any idea how this looks?”
“It may not be socially prescribed for a fiancée, but if he wants the six months expected for a wife, then why not give him them?”
“Because she was not his wife.”
“But he mourns her as if she were. Why not permit him to go as far as he must? You made the comparison yourself,” Julien reminded him.
“In the heat of the moment, at the time of her death, it was one thing. But it has been nearly two months. Do you suggest I should wait another four?”
“Yes,” he replied firmly. “Even another year, if that is what it takes. I have told you, I cannot cure his grief, and I do not seek the impossible. If his outer appearance more closely match his inner feeling, then perhaps he will find an equilibrium. Perhaps he will appear in public if he be seen visibly in mourning. Perhaps he will continue to keep to the house and gardens. I don’t know. But I am certain there is no harm, and perhaps a great deal of good, in a black suit.”
“This was all your idea. You put the notion in his head.”
“I doubt that. Society puts the notion in all our heads,” Julien tried to remind him as reasonably as possible. “It is bad enough that I have not made a visit to the Duchamps myself in all this time, but society does not permit me to present myself in a coat of green to a mourning family. The colour of our souls is of more import than the colour of our habits, but when society expects a black coat, to do otherwise is a mockery I will not perform. If you understand that much, then you can understand why Henri would want to make the same gesture. It is up to him whether he take the six months.”
M. Enjolras shook his head, as if he were about to argue further, but instead sighed and waved Julien away. Julien thought he looked very old in that moment - indeed, he had passed his sixtieth year, but ordinarily, one would not have thought it, he being so vigorous and his hair still not wholly grey nor thinning more than at the crown, as it had somehow stayed ever since Julien had met him. But tonight, he looked very old, his sorrows heavy on him, and Julien regretted the impulse that had again set father against son. But Henri had put on the suit, and he had come down for dinner. He had wanted to make that display, despite his father’s preferences, and his own desires had at last won out.
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