The weekend was painful. Hélène was angry, and Julien was silent. He claimed illness due to the journey and thereby avoided meeting Hélène again at meals, which only annoyed her.
“He comes here, claims our hospitality, but refuses to see us!”
“He is ill,” I tried to tell her. “The weather has been warm. He is unaccustomed to it. Likewise, the journey has shaken him about. I do not wonder that he does desire peace and simple foods for his stomach.”
“He is avoiding us.”
“I should think that would please you.”
“It is rude for a guest to avoid his hosts.”
“This house belongs to him. The money with which the servants are paid and the food is bought belongs to him.”
“You have spoken to a lawyer, then?”
“Then perhaps his imprisonment has forfeited his rights.”
“I believe only a conviction for certain crimes can do that.”
“Then we are guests in our own home, now that he is here? Has he come to collect his birthright? You should see a lawyer, Charles.”
“I will speak to him of his intentions when he is well. I do not think a lawyer is necessary. Julien has not come to chase us from our home. He has come because he does not wish to see another failed revolt.”
“Can you be so certain they will fail?”
“By his presence here, yes. He has made friends among the insurgents. I spoke to Lucie of it. He was warned by one who now works in the government that an uprising was likely. She believes they do not agree with the insurgents. Thus he has left the city so he will not have to see the deaths of more men he knew. I am certain it is simply a question of when the government will restore control, not if the government will restore control.”
“You should speak to a lawyer, Charles.”
I did not want to speak to a lawyer. To speak to a lawyer would mean publicising doubts as to Julien’s beliefs, doubts as to how well I knew my own brother. The law was of little consequence to him. It had served him badly, and I was certain that we could reach an agreement that was fair, regardless of what the law prescribed. In any case, the law could not prescribe for this exact case: I knew it would assume that any prisoner had been tried and sentenced. Julien’s case was unique. Nevertheless, for Hélène’s sake, I promised I would see a lawyer sometime during the week.
Luckily, it was not necessary to even make an appointment. Sunday evening, Julien came to me in my study.
“It is long past time that certain questions should have been resolved.”
I set aside the files with which I was working. “Yes, it is. Sit down, please. You needn’t look as if you are a peasant humbly petitioning your lord.”
He did not sit immediately, however. He paced for a bit, making a few gestures as if he were about to speak, but then changed his mind. I waited until he might find the words. Finally, he did sit. “I am not capable of earning my own living at this time. Reading and writing cause me great headaches after an hour so employed. I believe they may disappear, but when, I cannot say.”
After such a display, I had expected a far worse admission. Such a difficulty was to be expected, and though the acknowledgement of it was painful to him, I had anticipated that the subject would arise soon. “An income should be provided. Of course. How much a year would you like?”
“My needs are small.”
He shook his head violently. “Pontmercy got by on a quarter of that.”
“I don’t see how. And that was twenty years ago. You cannot live as a pauper. I won’t allow it.”
“The house. It is convenient. If I may remain there, you shan’t have to pay for a place for me. Unless you had intended to sell it.”
“I had intended to use it when I am in the city, which is why it is still in the family. If it is amenable to you that I continue to use a room of it, and the servants, in that manner, then I see no reason that we may not go on sharing it.”
“Then I hardly need three thousand a year. Five hundred would more than suffice.”
“I will set up a bank account for you. Five hundred is ludicrous. You would have received more than three thousand had the estate been divided between us!”
“I do not like seeking sacrifices from you, Charles.”
“Your rights are not a sacrifice. I take no pleasure in keeping them from you.”
“Do as you think best, then.”
“Will you accept two thousand?”
“Do as you think best.”
“I will begin to make arrangements this week. Was there something else?”
“I do not like to bring it up, but it is not for me.”
“What is it?”
He paused, as if to find the proper words. “Did you pay M. Ture?” he asked slowly.
“How is Sébastien’s position your business?” I snapped back. He did not answer. “Yes,” I acquiesced. “He received an allowance of eight hundred and fifty francs a year.”
“I want Lucie’s wages raised to that amount.”
“What?” The request shocked me. “She is a housemaid!”
“She has not been performing those duties for some time now. She acts as my valet, therefore she should be paid for that work.”
“You have lost me a maid and want me to more than double her wages?”
“Forgive me for the request. I shall do it myself out of the funds you allow me, if I might be permitted to use them in that manner.”
God damn him for acting the humble petitioner. As if I would dictate how he might use his own money! To this day, I do not know if he was playing with me or if he truly meant what he said. After that display, I could refuse him nothing. My pride still required an attemp at bargaining, however.
“Seven-fifty, and not a penny more.”
He nodded in acquience. “I am tired of seeing her in uniform. If she could be paid the difference of what she should have earned for this last month, so that she might be able to purchase more suitable clothing, I would greatly appreciate the gesture.”
“I’ll do it tomorrow. Is there anything else?”
“I hope I shall not be more than a week here, but I do not wish to return to streets patrolled by the national guard. Please apologise to your wife on my behalf. I would not want me here, either. I will do my best to stay out of her sight.”
“You can’t keep feigning illness. It annoys her more than your presence, I think. Keep whatever hours you like, but do join us for dinner.”
“Very well.” He started to go, but something stopped him. “I do not gossip. You know that. But I have news that may interest you. If you wish to hear it, then I will relate it. If not, then I will simply forget that I even possess the information.”
“What is it?”
“It is about Sébastien Ture.”
My blood ran cold, but I ordered him to sit down and tell me what he had heard. I do not entertain gossip either, but news of Sébastien is not gossip.
“About two weeks after you left, just before I stopped attending meetings, Marc Liennel went to the station where the trains come from the north. I forget the name. He went to meet his sister and her husband. M. Ture had not been seen by any of his friends since the argument, of which they know nothing. M. Liennel, in waiting for his sister’s train, saw M. Ture. Do you wish that I continue?”
“They spoke a bit, at M. Liennel’s insistence, until M. Ture’s train was called. M. Ture was headed to Lille, where he had taken the position of tutor to the two sons of an iron merchant. Perhaps of greatest interest to you, however, is that M. Liennel said he barely recognised him, that M. Ture was surprisingly well-dressed and had his hair cut short, according to the proper fashion. Had he not seen his face as he passed, he would never have taken such a proper gentleman for M. Ture.”
“Sébastien went to Lille as a private tutor.”
“So it appears.”
“How did he look?”
“I have told all I know, unless you are eager to hear the speculation of his friends.”
“I want all of it.”
Julien sighed. Facts are not gossip, but unfounded beliefs can be defined in no other way. “M. Liennel believes he has had trouble finding a position of that nature, that he came from one originally but turned radical and felt he had to put his radicalism aside in order to continue to support himself. He said he seemed greatly changed, but perhaps the barricades had sobered him. M. Radet believes that he felt the government provided no positions for which M. Ture felt himself suited and claimed it was a tragedy that if he wanted to teach, his financial situation did not allow him to wait for the planned educational reform. It was far too late for the barricades to have had any influence on him. M. Gamy preferred a more sensationalist reading of the entire incident and claimed that since no one knew anything of M. Ture’s personal life, an engagement had ended badly and he preferred to escape Paris to the first decent position he could find. Then he dared anyone to contradict him on the basis of fact. M. Liennel said it could be true, that he was quite sober indeed and seemed both anxious to leave and full of regret at the necessity of departure. M. Ferrand said simply that M. Ture had gone over to the bourgeois and had always had leanings in that direction. But I think, once the idle talk ceased, that M. Gamy’s version provided interest but was rejected in favour of M. Liennel’s reading, since M. Liennel had provided facts.”
I believe I slumped in my chair because he asked me if I were all right. “Go ahead, say it,” I replied. It must have seemed a non sequitur to him because he simply looked at me in confusion. “The affair is dead. You win. You know what is best for me. Whatever the hell you were going to say.”
“I had intended to say nothing more than I have already said.”
“He cut his hair. That’s a deliberate cut at me.”
“Or simply a manner of looking fit for a position rather better than translating encyclopaedia articles.”
“It was a cut at me. He left Paris so he wouldn’t run into me again. He told me he had always wanted to teach, but no one entrusts their children to a fag.”
“Then should you not be pleased that he follows his dreams?”
“He only left because you told him I had a crush on Henri Enjolras.”
“I believe you overestimate my influence.”
“He punched me in the jaw over it and told me to go to hell. I think you influenced him a great deal.”
“And he had distanced himself from you prior to my appearance.”
“You gave it the final blow.”
“It was necessary. You see no more of him now than you did six months ago. You know no more of his whereabouts than you did six months ago. This is what should have happened but did not.”
“Just go. I’ll go to the bank tomorrow, and Lucie can have the extra month’s salary when I return.”
“Thank you. I am sorry to have caused such pain.”
“Goodnight, Julien,” I said firmly. He took his leave of me at last.
Sébastien had gone back into service, this time as a tutor. Again he tread the line between servant and visitor. I had put him through that for years, and he complained bitterly from time to time of the treatment he received backstairs. But now he returned to it. Was it safe? Did he feel that hiding backstairs was the best means of hiding from me? Or was it the best means of hiding from something else, something I had hidden him from before? Lille. Why Lille? Was Lille the best he could do? Was Lille the result of the first offer he received? Two weeks is very quick. I do not think he had ever been to Lille before in his life. Lille is as far as a person can go from Marseilles if he wishes to remain in France. Far from the beauty and health of Marseilles, Lille is an industrial hell. He would barely be able to breathe, I was certain of that. I was not going to be the one in hell; he volunteered himself for that journey.
The world does not revolve around me, but Sébastien’s actions, after we have a fight, absolutely are a result of that fight. After all he had said when we spoke in his flat, he cut his hair and took a job as a tutor in Lille. I was angry, yes, but I was also grateful that Julien had been able to tell me. It was better to know.
I was in no mood to listen to a grateful maidservant, so on my return from town, I gave Julien some money, from which he could pay Lucie and still have his own funds at hand. The office has never needed me. Sometimes they want me, but they never truly need me. Stockholm had requested my presence in the spring. I did not go. The problem was solved, and the account remained with us, without my interference. Even with revolts in Paris and sympathisers in Marseilles, trade plods on. Rumours said that the reinforcements from the provinces had arrived in Paris, but I left before the evening editions of the papers were released. I learned the good news the next morning at breakfast.
I had thought I would breakfast alone, but Julien appeared before I was quite through. I did not know what to say. It was good news. He had escaped the city because he did not agree with the radicals, either. And yet I knew it would pain him. I could not calmly wish him a good morning and pretend events had not been resolved. He sat down across the table, and all I could do was pass him the newspaper.
He looked at me before he looked at it. I think he knew even before he read the article. It was then that I understood what Hélène had meant when she said he took news as if one had told him the weather in China. Julien had grown so accustomed to hiding his reactions to bad news that it caused little visible change in him. He set the newspaper aside and turned his attention to his egg. It was only then that his emotion was evident. I had not seen his hands shake in months, and the clatter of silver on china vexed him so much that he gave up on the egg entirely and contented himself with a bit of bread, ignoring his coffee.
I did not know what to say, so I said nothing, and neither did he. He left quickly, and I ordered that the paper be burned. I had no desire to see it again.
Instead of confronting what I knew even then could become a situation at home, I went to the office. Of course, no one could speak of anything but the victory of the national guard and the relief that the radical elements had been stopped relatively quickly. It seems a German had written a book calling for massive reforms of society, claiming that the working peoples of Europe were brethren and demanding that they rise up together in a grand revolution. It struck fear into me the moment I heard of it. Sense triumphed for now, but no one could predict what future imbecilities might arise due to one thin German volume. If Julien knew of its existence, he had already read it. I only hoped that it was liked by the radicals who had perpetrated this latest nonsense, for then it would have no bearing on his future thought and actions. Workers may not read, but they do not need to when they have students to do it for them. Everyone had an opinon as to the consequences of the revolt, but even the next evening edition had no more news from Paris. Trials of the participants would commence immediately, but that was expected. No one knew how long the city might be occupied or what punishments to expect for the rebels.
I returned late, since I had been anxious to get the news. Evening editions go to the streets at six; I returned after seven. Twilight lasts until nine at the height of summer, so we usually eat as the sun goes down. I was told that dinner would be ready a bit early, in perhaps half an hour, so I went upstairs to see if Julien was all right. He was not in his room, nor in the library, so I had a servant fetch Lucie.
“He’s gone down to the beach, monsieur. Been out all day, nearly.”
“Then will you go and fetch him, so that he may have ample time to prepare for dinner?”
She went, but a quarter of an hour later, she reappeared. “I’m sorry, monsieur. I think maybe you better come. He don’t come when I call.”
“What do you mean?”
Julien’s behaviour obviously pained her. “He’s just sitting there on the beach, bare as the day he was born, and he don’t answer when I call his name.”
My first thought was that the news had unhinged him, but I told myself she was exaggerating. “Show me where he is.”
The lawns and gardens are extensive, and the woods are not simply a row of trees, so the walk to the beach allowed ample time for Julien to come to himself. But as we left the woods, there he was, in the same position Lucie must have seen when she came the first time. I called his name, but he did not answer. His back heaved with each breath, which relieved me greatly. He was so still otherwise that I might have feared he had died were it not that he still took breath.
His clothes were folded neatly in a pile between the roots of the tree just to the right of the path. I was not certain how long he had been sitting in the sun, but his back was very red indeed. I bent down next to him and laid a hand on his shoulder. He responded briefly to my touch: he did at least look at me before returning to his steady, impenetrable gaze over the water.
“Lucie, I want you to take a message back for me. Please tell my wife that Julien is rather ill. He may be in to dinner, but he may not be. I will stay with him. She may dine alone if she likes. Impress upon her that we may return in twenty minutes or in two hours. It is impossible to know at this point. And tell the cook that she should do whatever she thinks best with the rest of the dinner. If it will not keep, then someone else should eat it.”
When she left, I sat down next to Julien and attempted to follow his gaze. There was nothing but the southern horizon. Did he think he could see across the Mediterranean to Algeria? The silence was overpowering. We made no noise over the waves as the tide came in; the only sounds of life were the gulls who are never absent from the beach. He had been swimming earlier: his shoulder was sticky with salt mixed with sweat, and his hair was still damp. He was quite well burned, though once the red disappeared, his complexion would finally look normal again. He sat with his arms resting on his knees, just staring out over the water.
I waited what felt an interminable time for him to break the silence, but he did not say a word. I made a comment about the weather but received no reply. I feared he would sit there all night if I did not try something, so I laid my hand on his shoulder again. I could feel his shoulders tense, but he did not look at me. “It has grown quite late. Did you have a nice swim?”
“What is the point of it all?” he whispered slowly.
“The point of what?”
“Why am I here?”
I asked about swimming, and he replied with the mystery of the universe. “I don’t know,” I replied.
“Neither do I. I thought - I thought M. Ture was sent for a purpose. Is it not an improbable coincidence that he became friends with M. Radet? Is it not even more improbable that we should meet him in the street? Improbable coincidences must have meaning. But they did not listen to me. I could not reason with them. So that is not why I am here.”
“You think you were reserved for some great mission?”
“I do not know. Why should I have been saved only to become a Cassandra?”
“What does it matter? Are all of us put on earth to fulfill some element of a grand design? Do I succeed or fail in my element?”
“It is not the same. You were born and you live. I should have died. By all logic, I should have died. Why am I cursed to live, while he lies under the grass of a filthy corner of Père Lachaise?”
“You think he could have done better, in your place? If they will not listen to you, they will listen to no one.”
“He was ten times the man I was.”
“No, he wasn’t. I admired you so much.”
“You never knew him. He could have been interred in the Panthéon had he lived.”
“You wish he could have been.”
“We worked so hard. I made him what I could never be.”
He had dropped his hand, his fingers grasping at the sand. “I made him great. And then I killed him. And I live and am hailed as a miracle, while the greater of the two lies forgotten.“
“You made him,” I repeated, a little confused.
“I was the elder. I found the path first. He followed me. The younger boys always follow the elder. How could I have been so foolish as to bring him along with me? He passed me so quickly. I was so proud of him, so proud to be his brother. We didn’t think. We never thought. Emilie. Then Henri. And all the rest, too. I’ve killed so many men. Why do I deserve to live and they do not? What is left for me if no one listens?”
“None of us were here when it happened. I barely know the gossip.”
“You were too young. I killed her. I was the one who took Henri into the parts of the city his father never wanted him to see. I opened his eyes. We thought we could change the world. That’s the only reason they met. If I had not lit a grander fire in him, they would never have fallen in love. She would never have joined us. Don’t you see? I am the reason she was silenced. Her murder was a warning to me. And yet we went on,” he accused himself.
“Does the rest of the world revolve around you as well?”
“Don’t be flippant,” he snapped. It was a good sign. I had brought him out enough to full acknowledge my presence.
“I’m not entirely ignorant of what happened. She was raped and beaten and died of her wounds. That was the rumour. Disgusting as these things are, they have happened for reasons other than vengeance.”
“She was on her way home from a political meeting.”
“At night. Maybe she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“The police believed there had to have been more than one of them. You never met her. She was as tall as a man. What happened would not have been possible unless there were at least two assailants. Do you really think that gangs of men go about raping young women? I spoke to the police myself. Henri was ill when I arrived.”
He was speaking normally again. He still did not look at me, but at least he no longer sounded like the Delphic Oracle. “Disgraceful,” I muttered.
“Which is disgraceful? Her death or his reaction to it?” Julien had been in London at the time, with a business friend of father’s, learning the English methods of finance. It is not easy to cross the Channel in winter, so it had been agreed that he would spend Christmas in England. Except he came tearing through Paris, begging for more money with which to obtain horses in order to reach Marseilles as quickly as possible. He would not have come home if I had been ill, but when Henri Enjolras tried to kill himself, Julien came running. Henri might have been dead and buried by the time he arrived, but he ran all the same.
“Both,” I replied. “He never spoke to me again.”
“But you still loved him.”
“You said yourself it was nothing but lust.”
“Your emotions did not change with regard to him.”
I thought a moment. I had been jealous. But I had been jealous the summer before as well. “True.”
“I never stopped loving him. Our lives had been entwined for so long that it was impossible even to contemplate it. He was not so worthy of the Panthéon then. It was only after that he became truly great. I wonder if he would have had more success than I have had.”
“People listen to you as much as they ever did to him, Julien. You’re the most learned person I’ve ever known.”
“You need not flatter me, Charles. I know well enough that I am nothing.”
I put my hand on his shoulder. “There has never been a Combeferre who is simply ‘nothing’. If they didn’t listen to you, it is because they refused to listen to anyone.”
He looked down. “You still wear your shoes?”
“I came to call you to dinner.”
“I am not hungry. Take off your shoes if you intend to stay.”
I did as he asked. I was hungry, but I refused to leave him alone in the deepening twilight. “Did you have a nice swim?”
“I haven’t the strength for it yet. The doctors have kept up the Enjolras house well. I was surprised.”
“Only very rich consumptives go there to die, I believe. They would not stay if the house were not maintained.” The air was cooling, but the sand was still warm between my toes. I had made love to Sébastien many times on this beach. It almost seemed wrong to watch darkness fall in the presence of my brother when I had grown accustomed to summer evenings with my lover. “Has it been too warm for you?”
“It is how it is. I know it will grow worse.”
“Did you come out here to think about him, or just to think?”
“We met on this beach. You were two years old at the time. I never told you, did I?”
“Told me what?”
“How I met Henri. To you it must have seemed as if he had always been here.”
“It is impossible to think of you at home without him. I was jealous of him for years.”
“I’m not, entirely. You were always busy with him in the summer. I was jealous. You weren’t in love with him, were you?”
“Don’t be absurd. You are the only one who has had those feelings.”
“Me and that girl.”
“Her name was Emilie Duchamp. She was in love with him. You simply lusted after him. And I did not ignore you in the summer. I made time as work allowed.”
“So, to your knowledge, there was no fucking on this beach.”
“Leave if you are going to continue to be crude.”
I was pleased. It was still my romantic rendez-vous point. “I’m sorry. You met him on this beach.”
“It was the summer I was recovering from the scarlet fever. I was bored nearly to tears because I disliked the doctor’s recommendations. No more studies, simply massive amounts of fresh air and whatever activities would help me regain my strength. So no more tutors, my books were locked away, and I was turned out of the house from noon until dinner. Imagine if you were not allowed a sheet of paper, or perhaps worse, had all the paper you could ever want, but not a single drop of ink or stub of charcoal. So I would come down here and swim and play Robinson Crusoe, since I had nothing else I was allowed to do. Henri caught me one day, since it was his property, and that was it. Our parents were not happy, but Father was far more accepting of the situation than M. Enjolras, and M. Enjolras took several days to decide that I appeared to be a good influence on his wayward son. It was years before he changed his mind in that regard.” Julien leaned back and smiled. “We caused no real trouble until it was possible to blame me for Henri’s love affair with a blacksmith’s daughter. It was entirely my fault that they met in the first place, though I never encouraged him to fall in love. We were so young. If someone had told us the future, we never would have believed it. There were things in the world that we did not know existed.” A cool breeze came up from the sea, and he shivered.
“Put your clothes on. You’ve been out here long enough. I would not be surprised if your back blistered by morning.”
“The last time I saw the sea, it was grey and angry. I have not been here since I took Henri back to Paris. Twenty years.”
I brought his clothes to him. The tide had come in significantly and would soon begin to lap at our feet. “Come in, please.”
He sighed, but at least he half dressed himself. Enough so that he could return to the house without appearing as Adam after the fall.
Hélène had already dined, and Mme Staquet, our cook, was not pleased that we had come so late. I listened to her rant about ruined dinner, no respect for her work, and numerous other evils to which I paid little attention before asking that something be found. Julien went to bed without eating, but I refused.
On my way to bed, I saw a glimmer of light under Hélène’s door. I almost knocked, but I decided it was hardly the time to disturb her. Instead, I went to my own room and read until I was tired enough to sleep.
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