Hear Now the Tale of a Jet Black Sunrise
After stopping by the cemetery and laying a few ragged flowers on the recent grave, Julien walked back to the Enjolras estate. The wind was cold, but the walk gave him something active to do while his mind was racing. He had never considered it before, but perhaps the working classes did live out their lives in fear of the authorities. Both Feuilly and M. Duchamp discounted the objectivity of the police, Feuilly going so far as to insinuate that they may have committed murder themselves. Henri’s paranoia must have come from the Duchamps. Of course Julien would be careful in his investigations, but there was a vast gulf between a blacksmith’s daughter and the son of one of the local magnates, regardless of who was responsible for the original crime. But he chastised himself for even having such a thought - Feuilly would do it were he not in Paris. I am learning, Julien thought.
When he finally returned, Henri was waiting in the hall. “How are they?” he asked quickly, failing utterly to betray no emotion. Julien had a distinct feeling he had been pacing. So much the better - pacing was exercise for the body when the mind was agitated, and agitation of any sort was sorely needed after what had seemed weeks of stasis.
“They are well. The younger boys are in school now, I think. Bernard was the only one there.”
“Thomas began an apprenticeship with the carpenter Journés this summer,” Henri told him. “They are well?”
“Yes. They are very well,” he repeated. “They were grieved to hear you had been too ill to attend the funeral,” Julien added as gently as he could.
“You did not tell them why, did you?”
“I told M. Duchamp, and he was not surprised. I fear he knows you better than your own father.”
With a twisted smile, Henri told him, “I fear that, too.”
“You’ve this, also, in common with him: a suspicion of the police. What are you not telling me? He warned me not to make inquiries myself. Something has happened that no one will admit.”
“Nothing else has happened,” Henri insisted. “Isn’t this enough?”
“But you both latch onto the police. Feuilly, from reading your father’s letter to me, latched onto the police. It is to be expected with him - he has been arrested on political grounds before - but what has happened here? I thought you were still objects of fun rather than threats to the monarchy.”
“You’re one to talk,” Henri tossed back with a glare that would have been more effective had his assailant been someone other than Julien. The first time he had received such a look, Julien was taken aback, but he had soon learned that the force of the glare was generally in inverse proportion to the duration of the emotion that prompted it. And Henri had no control over his looks - intensity was merely an aspect of his native character. “You accused Valland of being a spy.”
“Was he or wasn’t he? Have you your own suspicions?”
“My suspicions do not matter. I cannot condemn a man who may be innocent.”
“M. Duchamp does not disapprove of an eye for an eye, and I think I agree.”
Henri shook his head. “Valland, or any of the others, may be innocent. Did we not vow we would not start another Terror? If we cannot trust each other, then society is doomed whether it be under a monarchy or a republic. If you find evidence . . .” he trailed off.
“You do not forbid me to look into the matter?”
“I should have done it myself weeks ago, despite whatever danger may exist. You must. You may do it better, having the necessary objectivity I have not been able to muster.”
Julien managed to pull him into the dining room for a second breakfast and was gratified to see that whatever pacing had been done had favourably affected the appetite. Over cold chicken and potatoes with garlic and vinegar, Julien recounted the entire visit in as much detail as he could remember, though without anything M. Duchamp had related about his daughter’s death. He merely stated that he had received the necessary information from M. Duchamp. Henri mostly listened with his attention on his plate as he ate, but when Julien came to the letter from Gérard, he looked up in surprise.
“It surprises you?”
“Do not think that I ever thought him a spy,” Henri insisted. “Merely that I was certain he was the greatest coward of the three. It must have been a very hard letter for him to write.”
“It was brief.”
Henri pushed his plate away, empty but for the bones, though it had not been a large plate to begin with. “That makes it no easier.”
“The sun is coming out,” Julien suddenly noticed.
Henri turned toward the window. “Mistral coming.”
“Really?” He followed Henri out into the garden, servants chasing after them with overcoats.
The real wind had not yet picked up, but the direction of what breeze there had been was more firmly from the north and more wholly frigid. Henri lifted his face to the sun, his eyes closed, his hair whipping about his face. “How could all of December pass without a blow? This will be a twelve-day wind. You’ll see. It’s been bottled up too long to be otherwise.”
The wind was icy, but the clouds were fast disappearing and the Mediterranean sun returning properly for the first time since Julien had arrived. This was the southern sky he knew so well, the southern sun. It was said that depression preceded a mistral, but Julien felt his mood lift just at the sight of the sun. Thrusting his hands into his pockets, he found a small parcel.
“Forgive me, I forgot.” He passed to Henri, wrapped in his handkerchief, a slice of Mme Duchamp’s almond cake.
He opened it and stared almost reverently at the contents. “She probably thinks me starving if she is not feeding me. She thinks the world starving if she is not feeding them.” His voice broke, but his eyes were dry for once. “Thank you.”
“They would like to hear from you. You have been wanting to hear from them.”
Henri shook his head, but he was eating the cake. “The connection has been severed.”
“It was never an appropriate connection, therefore it cannot be severed merely by death.”
“Forgive me. It is one act, is all I mean.”
“The greatest act. The last act. The act of which I am the beginning and the end. It must be the end.”
“M. Duchamp asked me to tell you that he does not blame you. He was very careful to insist on that. ’Tell him I do not blame him.’ It was not the first party. It would not have been the last. The same actions performed by the same people how many times without incident? He does not wish you dead, and he greatly fears that anyone who had been with her would have been killed as well. The deaths of her comrades would not satisfy any of us, only our enemies.”
“It is all very well for him to tell you such a thing, but I doubt he believes it.”
“It was the only time all morning I saw him near tears. Could you truly doubt his honesty?”
Henri scattered the remaining crumbs into the wind, which was coming in longer, stronger gusts. “He is not the one I doubt. Nor is it you,” he added quickly, seeming to realise he had made an inadvertent attack. He faced into the coming storm, the Mediterranean sun brightening everything it touched, particularly him. “A twelve-day blow, at the very least. One could perhaps see Corsica from your house.” Indeed, the air had completely cleared, everything standing out in the sun in sharp relief.
“Shall we go and see?”
“The servants would hate you for making them open. And I cannot imagine being stuck in your house during a twelve-day blow.”
“My ancestors do not come to life during a mistral.”
“I do not trust your ill-painted Castelnau forbears. The mistral drives man to madness - might it not wake the provençal dead?”
“It was the style of the time,” Julien protested. “We are quite lucky to have portraits from more than two hundred years ago.”
“That makes them no less frightening.”
Julien had no words to describe his relief. The conversation had suddenly taken a turn to the normal. Indeed, he had to admit that the one sixteenth century painting his family owned had come down through the Castelnau line but he believed it unlikely to be of any of them. Certainly it was of a provençal gentleman, a very pale and slightly scary provençal gentleman who might cause nightmares in small children if encountered on a cloudy night, but Marseille saw few cloudy nights where the moon did strange things to pale sixteenth century gentlemen. And there had been many times when one could acquire a portrait of a provençal gentleman and claim it an ancestor. Molière knew the phenomenon of the upstart well enough.
“I do need to stop at the house before returning to Paris. I may be able to identify the Egyptian gentleman.”
“So he is no longer a noseless king?”
“The headdress style was worn by important members of the court, if the current scholarship is correct. He could be a king or a minister, but I am hopeful I can at last get the hieroglyphs translated so we might learn his name, at the very least.”
The wind pushed them into retreat in the shadow of the house, the great stone façade shielding them from the brunt of the northern attack, but they stayed outdoors, despite the cold and the wind, to take in the sun Julien had not realised he so desperately needed. In the sun, he did not have to force the conversation onto utterly innocuous topics such as Egyptian hieroglyphs - it came naturally. The mistral was said to be preceded by depression and drive men to madness, but Hahnemann may have had a point after all. If a disease is caused or exacerbated by a particular stimulus, and a melancholy is exacerbated by a particular stimulus, then perhaps a dose of the same stimulus will cure the melancholy just as cinchona will cure malaria. It was a stretch to compare grief and malaria, perhaps, but if the traditions about the mistral had any truth to them, as some of the old tales did, then perhaps Hahnemann was not such a quack after all. Or, more likely, Julien thought, every quack hit upon some partial truth that permitted him a success. It was a theory of which he should be mindful as the case developed, not a method of treatment. A doctor could never control the wind or sun in any case.
When they finally went inside, as much in search of coffee with which to warm themselves as to get out of the growing wind, they found the shutters had been put up and the place very dark and eerily quiet. A shriek announced the coming of the real wind, the true mistral, at a pitch Julien had never heard. He had seen the winds of June, of course, that were technically the mistral, but they did not bring ice down from the mountains so much as bring the cold sea waters up from the deep. Two and three day affairs at the most, nothing to the storms of winter, not entirely deserving of the name “mistral”. This was an entirely different wind, though it had the same origins.
M. Enjolras arrived home early to find the young men in the library, playing chess by lamplight. “We’re in for quite a blow.”
“Twelve days, I should think,” Henri answered, his attention on the game and the sharpness out of his voice.
M. Enjolras seemed rather taken aback by the sudden change that had been worked. “I would not be surprised if it lasted fifteen. We’ve a month’s holiday to make up for.”
Julien lost the chess match, his attention taken up in watching father and son. Instead of retreating, M. Enjolras settled in to read the paper, in the same room, and Henri made no complaint nor did he leave until the match had finished. Only then did he retreat to his room, but without even bothering to look at his father.
“What has happened?”
“The weather has changed. That is all I know.”
“The mistral brings depression and madness.”
“Perhaps to others, but I see none here. You’ve gone a good month without a blow. Indeed, it is a dry wind, and my trip down the Rhône valley was exceedingly wet, so it must be more than a month. Which would put the last instance at November.”
“That is true.”
“The mind is still opaque to all the greatest science. But there are certain effects of weather on the mind as well as on the body. This is easily observed. From the scientific perspective, sunshine generally brings happiness. But the sun accompanies the mistral, which brings madness. Is there a correlation in rates of suicide to the effects of the mistral? I wonder. It might be a method of testing whether it is truth or superstition that the mistral causes madness. But then, if he were taken ill under the mistral, might not the wind itself affect a cure? I had thought the return of sunshine might be enough, but we went into the garden - he went into the garden and I followed - where he positively reveled in the wind as much as the sun. The illness is grief, but perhaps it has been exacerbated by the weather, and weather that appeals to him, in whatever form it comes, may be the best cure. Or, weather that approximates the weather of the onset of his melancholy may, like a drug that causes similar effects, force out the disease. Was the mistral blowing that day?”
“Let me think. I never considered it. It’s merely a fact of life in winter, you know. No. No, it was raining. But we did have a short blow, three days or so, just after I sent off the letter. I remember hoping it would not delay the mail too long.”
“Fog on the Channel did far more than any wind here, I am sure. I was five days at Dover, and I cannot imagine how long the mail might have sat at Calais. So perhaps there is something to it, that depression precedes the mistral. Henri goes about everything that interests him with a certain intensity, but suicide certainly seemed outside of what might be expected. However, if one combines the shock with the effect of the weather, the depression that precedes the mistral, perhaps we have the source of the illness. And if like cures like, then it required the onset of the next blow, which was oddly delayed. He was agitated all morning, I suspect, and while I attributed it to the anticipation of my visit to the Duchamps, perhaps it owed as much again to the coming change in the weather.”
“If I said such a thing, I would think it nonsense. Why does it scientific when you say it?”
“Science is entirely about making sense out of nonsense. You would not believe half the new discoveries were they stated so baldly. Please forgive me; I am merely thinking aloud. But how I hope we may have turned the corner. We spoke this afternoon in ways we have not spoken in all the time I have been here. I think we may be cautiously optimistic, but as I have said before, only when there is enough data to form a pattern can we truly begin to identify the progression of the illness.”
“Cautiously optimistic. How I hope you are right.”
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