Hear Now the Tale of a Jet Black Sunrise
It was a ten day blow, though M. Enjolras insisted on calling it nine - “it is always an odd number of days.” Henri argued that there was no place for such superstition, that there was as much evidence that it comes in threes as that it comes only as an odd number, and while “nine” may satisfy both conditions, that makes it no more accurate. He called on Julien for support, as a scientist, though Julien preferred to stay out of it. But it was not a real argument, merely dinner conversation of a sort that had not happened for too long in that house.
The sun was brilliant, but the wind made it impossible to spend much time outside. M. Enjolras went into town only three times, and on horseback, the wind making the carriage too worrying to manoeuvre. The young men stayed at home, often huddled against the cold as the wind had a tendency to blow down the chimneys and douse the fires or fill the rooms with smoke. Even though the great windows all faced south and were covered in shutters for safety, they still shook from time to time. The only benefit to the wind was that it seemed to make Henri as anxious to go out as Julien felt, and Julien had great hopes that once it calmed, Henri might agree to go riding. Whether it merely be the passage of time or the change in the weather, any cause for agitation had to be harnessed to the best possible purposes. Henri tried to go out into the garden daily, but even he could handle the icy wind for only a few minutes.
They passed the time with books and chess and occasionally managed to include M. Enjolras in conversation. It was not at all a return to the normal life of the house - the conversation was often sombre, abbreviated, awkward - but there was a lack of rancor at last. Henri’s agitation seemed to leave him neither the time nor the inclination to hate his father, which permitted Julien to relax his vigilance over every conversation. Yet on the whole, it was easier for him to talk about poetry with M. Enjolras while Henri paced and looked annoyed. M. Enjolras enjoyed pretending that he understood enough English to follow Julien’s line of thought on Wordsworth, and Julien did not mind having to translate some of the more beautiful passages on occasion. He had not had the chance to make the sort of literary acquaintance in London as he had in Paris, so it had been far too long since he had a sympathetic audience. There were only two conversational stops with Henri - poetry and science. M. Enjolras had not the scientific temperament, but he enjoyed the poetic, even if his grasp of English, learned so much later in life, was not as good as he wished.
The sun stayed for a whole day when the wind died down. Henri finally agreed to go for a ride with Julien, though after a run, he managed to turn it to business.
“I need you to find Gérard.”
“Tomorrow. I must have an evening, and I need some excuse to give your father. Will you not come with me?”
“I think it best I not. He cannot speak freely to me of what has happened.”
“But I am of all things your emissary. I have never known him well; my very presence will merely be an extension of you.”
“I need your opinion.”
“And I cannot form an opinion in your presence?”
“He let her go off alone. I do not trust myself.”
“What excuse shall I give your father?”
“What do you do in the evening in Paris other than study?”
“I have friends in Paris who go out with me. You are my only friend in Marseille.” Julien sighed. “The opera? Is there an opera up? I can perhaps make a plausible claim, but heaven forbid he want to join me.”
“He hates the opera.”
“Does Gérard still stop with his parents?”
“He can’t otherwise. He thinks he will have enough saved by spring to manage a full three years. He wouldn’t if he had to pay rent.” Marc Gérard had been a scholarship boy at the collège royal, which was how he and Henri had met. He now worked as a clerk in order to earn enough money to pursue a law degree at Aix and lived at home, above his father’s grocery.
“Does he still work for Serre?”
“He’s with Lucien Granier now.”
“Brilliant,” Julien complained. “Their office is immediately opposite my father’s. Why did he leave Serre?”
“The Graniers offered more money. And he no longer had to go out to the mills.”
“Fair enough. But I will be painfully obvious waiting for him to leave work.”
“You cannot turn your father’s office to your benefit?”
“What did he have you doing in London?”
“Thank you. Also, watching how English brokers interact with the stock exchange and each other.” Julien sighed. “I suppose I could look into matters in Marseille. I do not know whether my father will appreciate the effort or not. Then I can way-lay Gérard the moment he leaves work, and my excuse to your father then that I met an acquaintance and had a drink, which is unlikely to be far from the truth.”
Henri thanked him solemnly, then took off at a gallop. Julien watched for a moment before spurring Othello to follow. They met again at the stables, and Julien was pleased to note that Henri was out of breath but did not seem tired or withdrawn. The colour in his face was very good, his hair utterly disheveled from the wind, and as he curried down his horse, there was the trace of a smile on his face. But the line of his coat was somewhat dragged down from the weight of the pistols in his pockets.
“Are they permitted sugar, Doctor?”
Julien laughed. “One lump each, no more.”
The clouds had come back by the next morning. Julien insisted, when M. Enjolras had the carriage drop him off first, that he would find his own way back to the estate. “I do not know how long my business will keep me,” he found himself saying several times before M. Enjolras finally agreed.
But instead of going directly into the office, he turned and went to the café at the corner. They had acquired a buxom counter girl in the years since he was last in, he noted. Much of the morning passed by reading the newspapers - liberal newspapers for the first time since he had been in Marseille - and allowing the counter girl, who called herself Chantal, to flirt with him. But as noon approached, he knew he had to make an appearance before he was spotted by any employee who might know him. What was the plan to be? A thorough examination of the books? A query about the state of the business?
He decided to start by asking for any news he might send on to his father that would actually be appreciated, perhaps the consequences of the late wind. With a tip of his hat to the lovely Chantal, and the intention of telling Courfeyrac that Paris was not the only city with beautiful café girls, he went to take his business in hand.
Julien had no love for the family firm, but he had no hate for it, either - it was as it was. It had been built for the Levant trade in the seventeenth century, then slowly expanded into the colonial trade, but even after the bankruptcy of so many firms during the Revolution and the blockades in the wars, it was hardly the oldest firm in Marseille. It was, however, large and growing: they had only ocean-going ships, none of these small coasters to Cette, and a small office in Bordeaux that had been acquired a couple years earlier when his father succeeded in buying out a rival firm. They employed only clerks and sailors, all at decent pay, so far as he could tell, and the largest factors in the business appeared to be the wind and the government. Since no one could control the former (and steam for ocean-going cargo vessels was ridiculous to contemplate even in future, so much space taken up for fuel with so little benefit), much time and energy were taken up with the latter. Colonial policy, trade policy, defense of the state, alliances - he knew very well that his father was, by necessity, an opportunist rather than an adherent of any political faction, but while the nuances were fascinating, the subordination of ideal to selfish necessity troubled him. But the business was what it was, and there was no reason it should not coexist peacefully with a republican government, and there were certain benefits in trade that could not be denied. The needed political change would still permit the firm to last another two hundred years, perhaps more. It was tragic to see his father toadying up to whatever way the political winds blew when a stand for right would not even mean his personal destruction.
But it was what it was, and Julien knew he had not earned the right to say differently to a man who had ably steered through revolution, war, and restoration. He was also uncertain if he had the right to poke his nose into the business at all without being asked.
The clerk who greeted him was new, or perhaps both had forgotten each other. “Is M. Savin in?”
“Who is it?” Savin called from the inner office.
“If I might have a word, monsieur,” Julien called back.
Savin came as far as the door, then nearly threw himself at Julien’s feet. “M. Combeferre! I did not know you were coming. Your father never said - was I supposed to know? Is this an inspection?”
“Not at all. I have been familiarising myself with the business, as I’m sure my father has told you, and since I was in town, I thought I would stop in and see if there were anything of importance.”
“Come in, come in. Farron, take his hat. He’s the owner’s son, you idiot,” Savin muttered to the clerk.
Closeted in the private office, Julien forced himself to ask pointed but simple questions about the weather, the trade, the employees. He found the whole business awful and feared he sounded absolutely ignorant, but of course Savin, the manager in M. Combeferre’s absence, was willing to do whatever was necessary to please his employer’s son. And Julien could ingratiate himself well enough when he cared to, chore that it was. He was not been raised by Cécile for nothing.
He managed, in the late afternoon, to have himself set up near the window to peruse the accounts. He kept more of an eye on the Lucien Granier offices across the street than on the ledgers, and when he noted movement, gave his thanks and escaped into the cold, quickly darkening street. Now he was actively hiding, like a hunter stalking prey, and he felt utterly ridiculous until Gérard came out, looking as mousy as ever. Julien quickly managed to fall into step with him. “Marc Gérard?”
Gérard practically jumped out of his skin. “Christ. Scare a man to death. You’re in town? Has something happened to Enjolras? Oh god, it has. We shouldn’t be seen together.” Gérard had always been of a nervous temperament, but this seemed excessive even for him.
“He’s fine. I promise you, he’s fine. And I don’t think the police have been waiting hours in this cold, watching me go over ledgers. I was at the office all day. Can I buy you a drink?” Gérard acquiesced, and Julien found himself once again with the lovely bosom of Chantal presented for his approval. “Henri is fine,” Julien insisted. “Why did you not write him yourself? It was very brave of you to write to the Duchamps. They appreciated it very much.”
Gérard seemed to prefer to look at his glass rather than at Julien. “I don’t want anything more to do with cops. Ever. She’s dead, they came to the shop, I’m lucky to still have a job. I breathe one way they don’t like, and I’m ruined.”
“They did investigate?”
“It wasn’t an investigation. It was a threat. I knew I should have insisted harder on walking her home, even just followed her. It’s my fault.”
“It was not just you and she that night. What of Valland? Lameire?”
“Valland never liked her. I can’t blame him - poor girl should have been born a man. I thought for ages she was just parroting Enjolras, but no, she and him, it was almost like the two of you. One brain, two bodies, and not because he put everything in there. Valland didn’t want to think about it too hard. And it was so far out of Lameire’s way.”
“It’s out of your way, too.”
“It’s not exactly across town like it is for him. I should have kept an eye on her. And I didn’t. And she’s dead. Of course he sends you. How could he look me in the eye?”
“It’s your fault, it’s her father’s fault, it’s Henri’s fault, it’s M. Enjolras’ fault, it’s my fault - somehow, we all want to blame ourselves, but whoever actually beat her to death is still walking the streets. That’s whose fault it is. That’s who could have prevented it,” Julien insisted. “What did the police say?”
“It was awful. They came before the shop was closed for the night. They wanted to interview me in plain sight. I don’t know if they wanted me to confess to doing it, which of course I didn’t, I rather liked her, but I wasn’t jealous of Enjolras, I don’t even know how he could like her enough to marry her, or if they just wanted to very publicly tell me they knew who I spent my time with and that it was a very bad idea. I always knew it was a bad idea. I’m not like you and Enjolras; I get no protection from my surname. But you’re right, both of you. If it all comes to pass, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. But I can’t do it anymore. I didn’t sign up to be a martyr.”
“Nor did any of us. I know it’s hard, but I need to know what happened. When did the police come? What did they ask? They only spoke to Henri once, right after it happened, never again.”
“Figures. I knew it was a threat.” He took a swallow of his drink and choked on it. Through coughs, he managed to spit out the little he knew. “We parted later than intended. I tried to walk her home, but she insisted she would be fine. I offered her money for a fiacre, even, and she laughed at me, saying she had money. I let her go. I was going to be late home as it was, and I got a thorough tongue lashing for waking my parents when I came in. How is it my fault the door squeaks? Less than six months and I’m out of here, and it won’t come soon enough.”
“Congratulations. I should have said earlier. Henri told me you’ve finally got enough.”
“Thank you. I didn’t hear from anyone for two days, then I saw it in the paper. No one told me. Well, I suppose they had enough on their minds. But Enjolras didn’t tell me. You’d think he’d have been the first outside the family to know, and that he would have said something. And that night, the police turned up at the shop. They would not go upstairs. I had to go down to them. In the shop, all lit up for everyone passing by to see. My father wanted to throw me out after that; I’m only still there because my mother begged. Christ, I’m going to catch it for coming home late.”
“What did the police ask you?” Julien asked firmly, trying to keep the poor boy on topic.
“First, they asked if I knew her, but it was obvious they knew that. Then they asked if I knew Enjolras. Again, ridiculous question. Then they tried to make out that I had been jealous of Enjolras. I didn’t admit to anything, and they didn’t like that at all. They also didn’t like that my father was willing to testify as to what time I had arrived home that night. If they wanted to lock me up, they could have, I’m sure, but they didn’t. They kept poking at trying to make me admit to something, but I wouldn’t say yes to anything. Then they said something like ’Don’t leave town - we know where to find you, and your little friends.’ That’s when they left and my father wanted to kick me out.”
“So their theory of the crime was that you were in love with Emilie, jealous that she was to marry Henri, and murdered her to prevent such a tragedy from coming to pass.”
“Have you seen any of the others? Do you know if they tried this theory on Lameire or Valland?”
“I don’t see anyone,” Gérard insisted quickly. “I keep my nose to the ground. The only café I ever go to is this one, where we never met. I’m getting out of here in June, even if Enjolras isn’t coming with me.”
“Coming with you?”
“We’d only just finalised the plan. I can’t enroll until November, but I have got to get out of my father’s house, and June seems as good a month as any. Enjolras and Mlle Duchamp were going to come with me, in the hope that running off together would force his father to agree to the marriage.”
“I don’t think M. Enjolras was going to be swayed by the idea his son was being ravished and had to marry to protect his reputation.”
“No, that wasn’t the point. There’s something about an inheritance that he’ll come into then, and he was going to use the combination of factors. I didn’t want to know too much, so I never asked for particulars.”
“It is very good of you to have wanted to help.”
“I know I’m not as good for anything as you are, but it was nice to be asked.”
“You’re plenty good enough in your own way. You’ve been very brave these past years, especially these past weeks, and I know that has not entirely been in your nature. Forgive me, that sounded kinder in my head.”
“No, it’s fine. I know well enough I’m not like you. I didn’t write to Enjolras because I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t actually send that letter to the Duchamps. My sister found it and sent it for me. It was an awful letter.”
“It was a true letter.”
“You really don’t blame me for what happened?”
“I blame myself,” Julien stated solemnly. “I started Henri on this path, and none of you would have been on it if not for him. What do you think happened? The police wanted, perhaps, to blame you. But you’ve got a good mind. You know Marseille far better than I do. What do you think happened?”
“The police know all about us. They weren’t investigating anything. I don’t know if they were looking to make me the scapegoat for their disgusting crime or if they just didn’t care to actually investigate. I couldn’t tell. I was too scared to tell anything in the moment. But I think it was because of what we were doing. You knew her. She could have beaten me in a fight single-handed. It had to have been at least two men, and well marked up they’d be at the end of it. It has to have been because of us. Either her own sort of people angry that she was refusing marriage in order to wait for Enjolras, or anyone angry at what we were doing. But either way, it’s because of us. I can’t see it any other way.”
“I can’t, either,” Julien replied sympathetically. “And I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to find and punish whoever did this, but I have to try.”
“If they were trying to punish all of us, you’ll end up dead, too.”
“That’s what M. Duchamp said. But I have to try. And I do need your help.”
“No. I’m keeping my nose to the ground.”
“I ask two things of you only,” Julien coaxed. “The first, that you write to Henri. Ill-phrased, brief, it doesn’t matter. No one has written him or visited him since it happened. The second, that you tell me where Lameire and Valland are living now.”
“They might have changed lodgings if the police came.”
“That may be so, but I need somewhere to start.” He pulled a small notebook and stub of pencil from his pocket and laid them in the centre of the table. “Please. Could you live with yourself otherwise?”
Gérard stared at the notebook for some time, but he finally pulled it toward him and scribbled down the addresses in a shaky, spidery hand. “They didn’t come from me.”
“Of course not. I wish we were meeting again under better terms.”
“I am sorry. Tell him I’m sorry.”
“Tell him yourself,” Julien insisted kindly. He left some money on the table to pay for the drinks, and for the lovely Chantal, but he walked out without seeing her or even saying goodbye to Gérard.
Chapter 7 ~ Fiction ~ ~ Home