Hélène professed to be glad to see me, though I believed the delight of the children far more. I told her as little as possible about Julien, not so much in anger as in the desire to protect her. I supposed she would have to see him soon enough, but for the time being, I felt it best to keep some of the horrors as far from her as possible. I spoke only of his physical weakness and desire to be alone. She agreed that he knew better than we could just when he might be ready to seek society. I did not tell her about his quiet but deliberate return to the activity that had put him in prison to begin with. As it was, I do not think she would have wanted to understand just what had put him there at all.
“He is welcome here, Charles,” she told me one evening at dinner, about a week after I had returned. “Do not think that just because he has been in prison” - she said the word with such distaste - “that I would refuse to receive him. He is your brother, after all.”
“He knows. He also understands our lives better than we can understand his, and he is not ready or willing to become a part of that. At least, not at the moment. How would one introduce him to our dinner guests? ‘Yes, this is Charles’ brother who tried to overthrow the government and was properly jailed for his treason until this latest bit of lunacy broke out.’ I am certain that would be a pleasant scene.”
“Charles, don’t be like this. There is something far more the matter than you are willing to tell me. I should think you would know better than to believe your wife a fool.”
“I don’t believe you a fool. I simply do not think it possible to explain the family arguments that have been resurrected by his return.”
“Your family is your own business, Charles, as they no longer exist, but I have never been unwilling to be more than a ‘good show’, so to speak, to preserve your reputation. Privacy has its place, but after certain events, there is very little I do not already know.” Damn her for bringing up Sébastien.
“There is nothing to say. We argued. He will come when he is ready, which could be three days or three months. It would be wise to have a bedroom for him, I suppose, so that we may be prepared for his eventual appearance. If nothing else, the summer heat will drive him out of Paris and a lack of funds will bring him here.”
“What is being done about his lack of funds, as you put it? What is to be done with us? He was still alive at your father’s death, which means he is owed a piece of the estate, is he not? Unless his status as a convict has eliminated his right, but what would this government of rabble-rousers say if he chose to take us to court?”
“He would never consider it. That would be to make a fuss, and Julien does not make a fuss.”
“And yet he built a barricade and shot at the king’s soldiers. I think he went to prison because he made a fuss.”
“This is different.”
“How?” Her eyes had hardened. That look would not be pacified easily.
“For the moment, he is ill. His health is not good, owing to the conditions of the prison. The staff in Paris is looking after him. One of the maids has taken a liking to him, and he will be well-cared-for in his convalescence. When he has regained his health enough to travel, and when his pride determines that he may seek me out again, he will come here. Arrangements for his future will then be made according to his liking. At the worst, he will take up residence in the house in Paris and it will cost us only a few francs more a year in order to feed and clothe him in addition to the servants. Knowing Julien, however, he will find something to occupy himself that will also pay him something of a salary, and we will not be in the position of maintaining him as if he were a permanent invalid or a pathetic widow.”
“I should hope the rabble-rousers could find some employment for an educated man who agrees with their nonsense.”
“Perhaps they could,” I answered noncommittally, not happy with the turn towards the accurate the conversation had taken.
“And if they do not? How did he expect to spend his life had these circumstances not come about? Does he wish to take part in the business? Will he expect to be maintained as a gentleman? We must have some idea of what is to become of him and of us.”
“For god’s sake, don’t be melodramatic about it! What will happen is what will happen. Do you really think he could possibly want any of this?” I started laughing. “He went to prison because he wanted to bring this world, our world, to a crashing halt.”
“Charles, you are hysterical,” Hélène replied coldly.
“What of you? You pretend that Frankenstein’s monster is worthy of being a guest in your home.”
“Yes, Victor Frankenstein resurrected a man -”
“I know the story, Charles. Why do you apply it to your brother? What is so dangerous about him that you refuse to tell me?” She looked just as she had when she confronted me after Sébastien’s departure.
“He looks like Frankenstein’s bloody monster. What do you want me to say?”
“The whole truth, Charles. I may be a woman, but I am not an imbecile. Someone has to keep this family together, since you prefer not to accept the task.”
“Don’t start with that bullshit.”
“Must you be vulgar?”
“Fine. I am the head of this house.”
“Then I would appreciate if you acted as if you were truly proud of that position and responsibility. We have children, Charles. Is there a reason you think it valid to call your brother Frankenstein’s monster?” When she is angry, her jaw tightens as if it were a band of steel. It was so tight, I was certain it would break if she opened her mouth again.
“He wouldn’t hurt a fly, Hélène.” I tried to calm down. “I know he has killed men, in cold blood, but it’s not the same. He’s the same as I remember from when I was a child, and I was always perfectly safe with him. There’s no reason to worry.”
“Then why the comparison?” She did not seem at all pacified.
“Because he looks like Frankenstein’s monster. The way the monster was stitched together from pieces of many other men, so that he appeared battered and scarred. That wasn’t a face that was about to be readily accepted. And that monster was a genius of the first order, compassionate until frightened, and unable to understand his own strength. That is my brother. Only Julien isn’t physically strong. It’s more a moral strength, an intellectual strength, I don’t know. You know it when you meet him that there is more there than just an ordinary man recovering from a long illness. He’s a genius who has been pushed outside of society for so long that I am not certain he understands it. In that sense, he shares a great deal with the monster. But he is not at all violent.”
It seemed to pacify her for the moment. “He is welcome here if he chooses to come. I simply hope his timing is not such that it causes us embarrassment. The Dutilleuls are coming to stay in three weeks. It would be truly unfortunate if he were to arrive while they are here.”
“I believe, in his present state, he will not be seen in the vicinity until at least July.”
“It is to be hoped you know him as well as you claim.”
“You need not snipe at my every assertion, Hélène.”
“I did not intend to ‘snipe’, as you put it. We have reached some resolution, have we not? That your brother is welcome in our home, though we hope he does not arrive while we have guests.”
“Then it is settled, and you would do best not to chastise me for your own feelings on the subject. You have grown quite snappish of late.”
I would have responded, but her tone and her look forced me into silence. It is better not to fight. She is always right, no matter what I say.
You were here when the news of the rebellion broke out. Surely you noticed I had a rather virulent reaction to the news. I hope what I have already written better explains my feelings than whatever forgotten excuses I gave at the time.
Not a quarter of an hour after your carriage pulled away, I thought I heard horses on the road. I called to Hélène, believing that your wife had forgotten something. But she told me it was not your carriage, and only then did I look out the window.
It stopped in front of the house. A girl was helped down first, but her bonnet hid her face, and then as the coachman helped the second passenger down, I understood. Julien had not written; he had simply come. He had hired a carriage in town, perhaps in the desire that I help him as little as possible. But he had come.
I went to Hélène’s drawing room. She looked up at me, expectantly, and I could barely choke out, “It is Julien.” She blanched at the news but slowly stood and brushed her skirt.
“I will order some cool drinks brought and meet him in the conservatory. He must be tired from the journey. The children should be kept away for the moment, I think.”
“Where are they now?”
“Upstairs. I will send a note to the nurse that the visitor is a business acquaintance who does not take kindly to children. That should forestall immediate questions. ‘Business’ should be enough to dampen their curiosity.”
I returned to the hall to meet him. He looked far more worn than I had expected, and Lucie clung protectively to his arm. A couple of satchels sat on the floor next to them. Both were dusty from the journey, though neither seemed to notice.
“I did not expect you.”
“Please forgive me. Have you heard the news?”
He nodded. “Our departure was made in haste; there was no time to write. I hope we do not put you out at all.”
“Not at all. Of course you are welcome here, at any time you may wish. I simply thought that you would not come so soon after the way in which we parted.”
“You thought I was on a barricade again.”
“I did not know what to think. A room is prepared for you. I did not anticipate Lucie; we have just had guests, so the linens in her room will have to be changed. If you are determined to keep her as your personal servant, it is no concern of mine. She will have a room to herself and be generally treated as if she were your valet, if that satisfies both of you.” He nodded in acquiescence. I motioned for a servant to take care of Lucie and the baggage. “There is no other baggage?”
“The streets were blocked, and we walked to the station,” he replied slowly. “When - when peace is restored, I suppose I will send for the rest. What we have with us will suffice.”
“Hélène would like to meet you. She is waiting in the conservatory.”
“A new addition onto the back. More accurately, I believe she is waiting on the terrace outside.”
“I would like to make myself rather more presentable, if at all possible. What have you done with Lucie?”
“She should be waiting in your room, brushing out your clothes. Shall I show you myself?”
“A servant will suffice. I believe you wish to warn your wife about me.”
He held up his hand to stop me. “I do not take offense. She cannot want a gallows bird in her home. Therefore, she will want all possible warning so she might prepare that hypocrisy known as ‘polite behaviour’. Go and make your warnings. I would be naive not to expect them.”
The maid who had taken charge of Lucie had just returned, so I confided Julien to her care, freeing myself to find Hélène. “He wishes to wash up a bit from the journey. I do not think he will be too long.”
“Why is he here if they are so active?”
“You have been reading the newspaper.”
“You forget that what occurs inside can often be heard through the windows. I heard your conversation with M. Dutilleul at breakfast yesterday.”
“I do not know why he is here.”
“How is he?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Do you really think you can taunt me with a description of Frankenstein’s monster and then expect me to pretend that nothing is wrong?”
“He looks quite worn, but his colour is rather better. Perhaps he is a bit less skeletal. They did nearly starve him to death. He has a scar down the side of his face, here” - I traced it along her cheek - “and his left hand is rather disfigured. It was crushed and not properly set. His hair is rather grey, chiefly at the temples. He limps a bit, and the angle of that leg seems a bit off. Other than his injuries, he has the general air of a gentleman coming off a long illness. The journey, and perhaps the events prior to the journey, seems to have tired him. He has never seen a railroad before, and he has not been in a carriage at length in nearly twenty years. You need not treat him as if he were an imbecile or a beggar. His hearing is fine, but I do not know if his eyes have adjusted better to the light. They bothered him often when I left, but perhaps they required more time to adjust. This shade should be adequate, but he may squint a great deal. I do not know how self-conscious he will be. His teeth are chipped, therefore he whistles when he talks. It may still offend him; I do not know. If he is silent, you must not take offense.”
“Thank you for your honesty.” She looked back toward the window, as if trying to catch her reflection. “I do hope I look presentable.”
“The only women he has seen have been the staff in Paris. If the dress is good enough for the Dutilleuls, it is good enough for my brother.”
“How much longer, do you think?”
“I believe he wished to shave and change his clothes. Not too much more, I should think.”
She turned to look out across the lawns. “I have always done my best. You know that, I hope. But there are times I feel marriage to another man would have been easier.”
“This is a burden I never anticipated. He was dead. You must believe me. He was dead. I did not hide him from you for an instant.”
“And after your indiscretions, what am I to think? Why are we not allowed to be proud of making it through a difficult situation? I have done more than will ever be asked of most wives, and I must hide it in shame, while you may trumpet your business successes to the heavens. Do other women have to hold their heads high and show no fear when meeting their brothers-in-law?”
“If it were not necessary -”
“But it is. And I shall hold my head high and show no fear. You must not think me cruel if I wish he would spend very little time here. The rest of the summer would be intolerable.”
“You have not even met him yet.”
She turned back to me, in a gesture I could only read as accusing. “And yet I know my mind and heart.”
A footman came at that moment to announce that Julien wished to know if we were ready for him. I immediately felt guilty for the entire conversation, and Hélène only looked down, intent on smoothing her dress.
He was brought out to us a moment later. A part of me wanted to laugh as I introduced him to Hélène: both faces were a perfect emotional reflection of fear carefully pasted over with determination. She did not offer her hand, but she did curtsy to him. He bowed politely and did not sit until she had settled herself. I noticed her eyes kept flicking upwards to look at his scar. We would have to endure looks of that sort for the rest of his life.
“I hope your journey was pleasant. Or as pleasant as can be on one of those contraptions.”
“Thank you, madame. It was at least faster than the stagecoach.”
“But no less dusty. They are slightly better in that respect in winter, since the windows are closed.”
“I am sure they are far better transportation in winter than in summer.” He turned away to look across the lawn to the woods that lead down to the sea.
“The house must seem greatly changed. To live here all year, adjustments had to be made.”
“My mother did not have much of an eye for decorating.”
“I thought a view down to the sea would be lovely, but I was told it would be impossible.“
“The trees block the storms,” I explained. “Without the trees, all this glass would shake itself apart.”
“I’ve never seen Marseilles in winter,” Julien said hollowly. “Charles can explain to you.”
“I know,” Hélène told him, surprisingly gently. “I know all about your family.”
He turned back to her. “I am sorry for what Charles has put you through.”
I am certain I began to colour. She actually smiled. “You know what he has put me through?”
“I have met M. Ture. Charles has hurt both of you terribly.”
“I mend. All husbands keep secrets from their wives. I am simply glad that what I discovered was a quiet problem quickly remedied, rather than our complete destruction. It would have been much more terrible to learn that the house would have to be sold to pay great debts or something of that nature.” She rang for a servant to bring us something to drink. “Would you like something to eat, monsieur? Marlon, bring something light for M. Julien. He has had a long journey. You must not protest hospitality, monsieur. For how long will you be with us?”
Julien looked distinctly uncomfortable with the question. “I do not know. I had not intended to come now, but I could not stay in Paris. A short time, I think.”
“You may stay as long as you like. We’ve plenty of space. I daresay you shan’t even notice if we have other guests.”
“I am interrupting?”
“Not at all,” I told him. “Hélène often entertains, but our last set left just before you arrived. We will not have overnight guests again for a month or more.”
He nodded. “I did not intend to put you out. I will leave if you wish.”
Hélène forced a smile. “I insist that you stay, monsieur.”
I used Marlon’s return with drinks and a plate of fruit and brie to leave unnoticed. I asked one of the maids to bring Lucie to see me, certain I would receive more forthright answers as to just what had brought Julien here.
She was dressed in uniform, but wore no cap. “I am not angry, Lucie. You do not need to be afraid. I simply wish to know what happened in Paris.”
“Another revolution, monsieur, like in February.”
“Why does Julien not take part in it?”
“I don’t know that I should say, monsieur. He talks - but I don’t think he means for me to tell anyone.”
“It is all right, Lucie. He will not be angry.”
“He stopped going to see them. He said they were bickering among themselves. That most of them wanted to do something. The government moved to slow, they said, and the others, they said government always moves slow, how can anyone expect a miracle in four months? And so he stopped going. He said they don’t listen to sense. He said he’s too old for them to listen to on important matters.”
“He stopped going to those political meetings.”
“About two weeks ago, monsieur. He still saw one of them in the house. M. Radet. He came the morning we left. Said that the government was going to say something that wouldn’t be much liked. He didn’t know how bad the reaction would be. He spoke to M. Julien alone, but when he left, he told me to lock up tight, whatever we did in February, just in case.”
“So you left the city.”
“I think M. Julien thought about it a long time. He called me much later and said that he never wanted to hear gunshots again as long as he lived. So we started to pack. We left after luncheon, but already the carriage couldn’t get through.” She started trembling.
“What is it?”
“I’d never been so scared in my life, monsieur!” She burst into tears.
“Sit down,” I told her, as gently as I could. “What happened?”
“We had to walk. He wouldn’t go back. We took the satchels we had for on the train and we walked. And there weren’t no way around, we had to go through a barricade, and they all had guns pointed at us! I held onto him real tight. He said they wouldn’t shoot a woman. He was scared as I was, I think. We was both shaking so bad after we was safe on the train.”
“They let you through?”
“They all like him because of that newspaper. M. Julien said to tell them he was ill and needed to leave the city. So they let us climb over what they’d started, before the barricade got up too high. But they was pointing guns at us for the longest time, trying to decide who we was and if we was lying!”
“I would have been terrified, too.” Indeed, I hated to admit it, but it seemed Julien had been safest in her company. A sick man and a girl half his age were certainly no police spies. A sick man accompanied by another man would have aroused questions as to his actual health or illness. “You must be very relieved to be here.”
She lowered her eyes. “I’ve never seen the ocean before. He talked about it a lot on the train.”
“You rode with him, then?”
“He wanted me to. I’m sorry, monsieur, you’re going to be angry, I know. We took what there was in the house that wouldn’t be needed for groceries this week. He was so upset, monsieur. Staying in the city would have made him ill, I’m sure of it!”
“I am not angry. I was the one who neglected to leave funds for his use.”
“We had to use my savings to get the coach from Marseilles, monsieur,” she confessed softly. “I didn’t realise when I got the second class tickets they took all else we had.”
“Ten francs, monsieur.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“You were cheated. Two passengers, no baggage, and ten francs. I had not realised there was so little left in the house.”
“Prices went up after the one in February. We couldn’t take so much.”
“Your savings only comprised ten francs?”
“From this month, yes! I send my pay home every month. I keep ten in case I need something before I’m paid again.”
“You are a prudent girl, in that case.” I gave her the ten francs, though I felt sure she had lied. She deserved them for keeping Julien out of the nonsense in Paris, however. “You may go.”
“Thank you, monsieur.”
I returned to the terrace. Both Hélène and Julien were silent, looking out at the sea. “Is anything the matter?”
Julien stood immediately. “Nothing at all. Forgive me, I am rather tired from the journey.”
“Of course. Dinner will be served at eight.”
He bowed to Hélène and took his leave. “Something is the matter.”
“How long must he stay?” she implored.
I resumed my chair next to hers. “At least a week. Anything less would be extremely rude on our part. Even if this rebellion is put down today, it would be impossible to encourage him to return to Paris tomorrow. Has he been less than civil?”
“Not at all. He has been a gentleman in every respect. But I do not like him. As it is, we have exhausted our store of conversation, and dinner will be a painful affair indeed. We have nothing in common. You and he have nothing in common except memories in which I do not figure. He is terribly gloomy. I know better than to attempt to discuss anything such as music or theatre. When you have associates or clients to dinner, without their wives, you always talk business. How does one entertain a convict?”
“He will keep to himself. We will most likely see him only at meals. I will make it clear to him that he need not feel obligated to play the role of the guest. If he does not desire company, he should not feel forced into it. He wanted out of Paris and could only come here. I was not thinking when I left and did not provide him with his own funds. He could only afford to come here. There is no reason for you not to like him.”
“He is quite frightful to look at. Yes, I know that sounds childish. Why do I feel no pity for him?”
“Because you did not know him when he was strong and handsome. I think he would like you better than me simply for that. Pity is not an honourable emotion. Pity apologises but does nothing to remedy the injury. I do not think he has changed his mind on that score. You will do your best, will you not?”
“I always do my best, Charles. Why was he so interested in the grounds and the sanatorium? He did not know it was the sanatorium, but he was very curious about it.”
“The past. The sanatorium, before it was bought by those Swiss doctors, was the home of his only childhood friend. Henri Enjolras was killed in their rebellion, and he left no heirs. Not even a will. The family used to own our beach, but we bought it when the state was to dispose of the property. Someone around here knew the Swiss were looking to build a sanatorium along the coast, and here was a big old house no one knew what to do with. How did he take the news?”
“I really do not know. He seemed to take it as he might have responded to a message about the weather in China.”
“Perhaps he did not know what to think.”
“What did he do, Charles? Why is he here rather than in the ground?”
“I don’t know. It would have been kinder had he died. Not to us. To him. He has told me little in terms of details, but the visible scars were not earned on the barricade. He was wounded there, expected to die in the prison hospital, and so we were prematurely notified of his death. The legal knowledge I do have supposes that there are various requirements for them to have executed him at that point. Not least of which would have been a public trial, since all other prisoners from that rebellion were tried publicly. Somehow, they could not even beat him to death when they tried. Were he not my brother, I do believe I would think him somehow more than human. He should have died. But some bureaucratic error kept him from the guillotine, and some blessing or punishment has brought him to us. I know he would have preferred death, but it has always eluded him. They never sentenced him formally. I do not think anyone knows what he did. His sentence was not a choice based firmly in the nature of his crimes compared to those committed by others. One of the leaders talked himself free. Had Julien not been wounded, I believe he could have done the same.”
“Abominable. What sort of judge was that?”
“I don’t know. I was fifteen. I took an interest only because I knew Julien had died in that mess. I don’t even remember the man’s name. He came from a different group and led a different barricade. All of Julien’s associates were killed.”
She looked away. “Dinner will be painful. I do not know that I have the strength to force conversation yet again today.”
“I left because I did not foresee another opportunity to speak with his servant. I shall not abandon you to his presence again.”
“Do not make false promises, Charles. You neglected your work while the Dutilleuls were here. You will leave us alone to go to the office this week. The situation will simply have to resolve itself. I need to see to the children.” I was dismissed.
Julien did appear for dinner, but I cannot recall what we discussed. Nothing of importance. He responded only to comments made directly to him, and conversation quickly dissolved into silence. I was not angry, and neither was he; there was simply nothing to say. Hélène excused herself early, and I let Julien follow. None of us seemed capable of bearing the awkwardness for another moment.
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