I did not sleep well, and it was early the next morning that I sent for Lucie, to give her permission and authority to ask anything necessary to care for Julien. I was certain he would be badly burned, and it was no surprise when she appeared at breakfast to make apologies for him.
Hélène joined me as Lucie left. “How is he?”
“I’m sorry for last night. I was afraid to leave him.”
“How is he?” she asked again, more firmly.
“Not well. Did you see him at all yesterday?”
“No. I only know what the servants told me. Is he quite ill?”
“Not ill. The news of the rebellion shocked him. He is rather in some pain now because he spent all day in the sun, but he was better when we came in than when I found him.”
“Was he greatly attached to the rebels?”
“No. They brought back memories, that is all.”
“You sound sad.”
“I didn’t sleep well last night. You mustn’t worry. How are the children?”
“Curious as to the visitor. He will be here for some time longer, will he not?” The resignation in her voice was palpable.
“I am afraid so. Paris is under occupation, and if I were him, I would never want to see another soldier as long as I lived. Another month, perhaps the rest of the summer. I know it is hard on you.”
“At least you pretend to care.”
“Hélène . . .”
She shook her head. “I understand. You will not leave us alone together at length, I trust. Promise me you will not leave the country until he returns to Paris. It would be dreadful to be the only ones here.”
I promised. I had no intention of leaving them alone together, Julien apologising for me right and left, Hélène capable of telling him anything Sébastien had left out.
We chatted about the weather a bit, until she had finished eating. After breakfast was her usual time with the children, so I went to my study to peruse some files I had brought home and needed to return.
I never thought I would have to speak to Lucie so many times in one morning. I had not been there half an hour before she came knocking.
“M. Julien says he has no need of me this afternoon, monsieur, and he wishes that I go into town to order some clothes.”
I was not in the mood to argue. “I will be going to the office in a few minutes. You may ride on the box with Lantes.” It was not for me to question Julien’s infatuation with the girl. She was a housemaid. I supposed she was the most harmless individual he had seen in years, and if that were the case, then I could not blame him for the inappropriate attachment. It was appropriate enough for the time being, as long as his convolescence did not drag on interminably with her always at his side.
She was properly grateful, and when Lantes brought the carriage around, she was neatly perched next to him.
Julien was never far from my mind in those days, and while I performed a modicum of work, my head was not in it. I went into town more for news from Paris than out of any sense of duty to the company. There were no further developments. Life had already returned to normal, the only exception being the continued presence of troops in the streets.
Lucie was with Lantes when he arrived at six to drive me home. There were a few parcels and a hatbox, and I knew to expect more deliveries. I rather feared how Julien was allowing the girl to dress herself, but I had no choice but to hope that she had some sense. She had always seemed capable enough in her duties as long as authority did not interfere too much, so some sense was to be expected.
Julien did not appear at dinner, and Hélène and I had little to discuss. Later that evening, however, I decided I could not allow him to continue avoiding me. I knocked at his door. No one answered, so I opened it myself.
The sun was going down, and Julien sat at the window, half inside and half on the balcony, his elbows resting on his knees, glaring at me as I entered. He was barely dressed, shoeless, his shirt unbuttoned. His skin was bright red and seemed quite painful, as I had feared.
“I did not wish to be disturbed.”
“I didn’t come to disturb you. I came to see how you were. Nasty sunburn.”
“I am capable of feeling foolish without your presence. You need not remind me.”
He looked away, out over the lawn. “I am not ill. You think I am ill in the head. My designs were foolish, but they did start out as designs. I wanted to be with Henri. It was only right at such a time. Since it cannot happen, I wanted to be where I might feel closest to him, where we had spent so much time and made so many plans. I wanted to burn off the gaol. I had forgotten how much pain the sun could cause. I wish there was a way I could forget the past sixteen years. I’m not ashamed of what I did in 1830. I’m ashamed that I did not follow my better judgement in ’32. You want me to be ashamed of it all, but I am not. I refuse to be.”
I decided that flippancy was perhaps the only response. “You’ll look like an Indian once the red fades.”
“Better a kafir than a convict.”
I sat down on the bed. “You don’t have to be afraid of me. I’m as harmless as Lucie.”
“I’m not afraid of you. Or of your wife. You have a lovely wife. But I know what she thinks of me because it is what I would think of me. It is one thing to say I went to prison for treason. But the appearance is very different. I know very well that the beatings I endured make me look very dangerous. I would not want me in my house. Lucie has been well trained, and in spite of my appearance, I have a good voice and a kind word for her, and those attributes are enough for her to consider me a gentleman. My crimes are outside of her experience. She does not understand high concepts such as treason. Your wife is a very different matter. How can a man who looks as I do present himself in her drawing room?”
A part of me wanted to laugh at his vanity. I never would have considered Julien vain. But then, he had no need of it. He had been handsome, erudite, respected, and because he was all those things, he had never seemed to think of them. Now that he was considered none of those things, it irked him exceedingly. He had had such trouble confessing that his eyes continued to bother him. He fussed over his appearance. He bemoaned the idiocy of schoolboys who refused to listen to reason. Vanity. A part of me wanted to laugh, and yet it seemed so petty, so far beneath him. Of course he is human, but vanity is not a trait of the intellectual. Byron was vain, Molière was vain, but Bossuet and Montesquieu were not. Their thoughts were on a higher plane, and that is how I had always thought of my brother. Something more than other men, not flawed as badly as the rest of us.
“You bow low and speak softly and discuss poetry and novels and art. We are an educated household.”
“She is well read?”
“Quite. She could teach you a great deal about the literature of the past decade. We have little enough to discuss as it is, I think I should have died had the courtship been as boring as the marriage.”
Julien shook his head. “Do you re-enact our parents’ marriage?”
“We entertain my friends as well as hers. She is of an altogether sweeter temper than Mother could ever claim. The experience is not painful. It could be a great deal worse for both of us, especially if we had married other people.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“She is pretty and graceful, but she lacks wit and does not shine among strangers. Paris society is impossible. We tried. Another man might find the discrepancy between her appearance and her personality rather trying, but I don’t need a glittering wife. At least we have something to discuss. There is theatre and opera, and there is literature, and we honeymooned in Italy, though Mother’s death cut it short. We discussed art. I did some painting. And Sébastien stayed in Paris, so you needn’t think I treated her badly from the beginning.”
“I’m sure she finds it a grand marriage.”
“I don’t mistreat her. I never have done.”
He looked out at the darkening lawn. “But you don’t love her.”
“Life isn’t a fairy tale.”
“No, it is not. Do you ever wonder what might have happened had you made one decision differently?”
“I almost turned away. The day of Lamarque’s funeral, I almost left when I realised they were building a barricade. Who knows what might have happened? I was known to enough backstreet printers that it would not have been difficult to find me. Perhaps I would have been tried for treason anyway. We would still be here, in this ridiculous dance of blame and supposition. You would have told everyone I was dead, in order to be spared the shame of a relation in prison. I was caught in the crossfire, I suppose.”
“I’m not ashamed.”
“I don’t.” He turned to look at me. “Why should I be ashamed that you had strength I’ve never had? I loved you for it even when I didn’t agree with the reason you were using it. Prison is a failure you cannot even deny, but death for ideals that seem impossible? That’s martyrdom. The martyrs’ families did not shrink away in shame, and neither did we. Grief and guilt, but not shame. Father spoke of you to everyone who would listen in these later years, and we never hid what we thought was your death in some euphamism. I was fifteen and still thought I was going to be an artist. A real artist, like Constable or Delacroix, not some government-supported toady like this detestable Gérôme. You were hardly the only one in the family with an idealistic streak. I thought it was a wonderful thing you did. Stupid, but wonderful, just like the Martyrs.”
“And then you grew up.”
“And then I grew up,” I repeated sadly. “It was easier then, wasn’t it? Before lovers and wives and children and the company. Martyrdom for this?”
“You would like some of them, if you bothered to pay any attention to them. It is a conservative revolution. Most of them want steps to reform, not a bloody conflagration. You must acknowledge that things are not as they should be. Even had I died, I would have been no martyr.”
“Nothing is as it should be. English influence has brought laws against dressing inappropriate to one’s gender.”
“You never engaged in that nonsense, I hope.”
“Of course not. Can you really imagine me in petticoats? There was some consternation in my set. Really, we harm no one by a bit of play-acting in our own homes.”
Julien shook his head. “I once knew women who would be in serious difficulties if that is indeed the law today.”
I could not help my curiosity. “Were they -”
“Female versions of you?” he finished.
“It was not my business. They were politically minded, intelligent women who preferred male dress. Perhaps they were. Perhaps they were simply stifled by society as it is.”
“I am stifled by society as it is.”
“And what of your wife? Do you know if she has political opinions? Or does she not dare express opinions at all, much less in politics?”
“You needn’t be so harsh. She expressed her opinions of Sébastien and myself with utmost candor.”
“How can you still be so fixated on him?”
“It was a defining event in my marriage, indeed in my life, and if you had ever lowered yourself to such human emotions as love, you might understand! But no, you wallow in your vanity, assuming you know better than everyone else, when you have barely lived!”
“Don’t you dare speak of what you do not know!”
“You said yourself you never fell in love!”
“That does not mean I have not lived! What is it in Sébastien Ture that drives your emotions? Was it truly only his face?”
“For god’s sake, I could have found another if that was the case! The resemblance was vague at best, and you only think of it because you think of him constantly!”
“You cared enough for Henri to ask your doll to grow his hair. It was the hair that brought him to mind in the first place.”
“Brought him to mind? He’s never left your mind for a moment! I think you were the one in love with Henri Enjolras!”
He was suddenly quiet. “You cannot possibly comprehend the way in which we loved each other. It was a far higher emotion than if we had wished to share our bodies in disgusting acts. We were brothers.” He stared at his arm, at the faint line below his left wrist, the one scar that had been a part of him for as long as I could remember. “Brothers.“
For some reason I was shaking. “He wasn’t a doll. If that were all it had been, I could have found another. Do you really think I couldn’t advertise for someone that specific? There are more of us than you would like to think, Julien, and most of us need to make a living somehow. I liked the hair. It was a fantasy. Why is that so damning? I love him. We shared so much. I can’t follow him now, and that is your fault. Do you think I don’t wish I could love my wife the way I love him? Sometimes I wish I had never loved him at all. It would be so much easier. It would have been so much easier if I had been at the Beaux-Arts and we had never met. You could never understand.”
“Yes, I can,” he replied softly. “Had I never met Henri, he would still be alive. Had I never met René Courfeyrac, he would still be alive. Feuilly would have lost himself in a different group. The same for Bahorel. Marius Pontmercy lives in spite of me. Little Prouvaire’s execution was entirely my fault. Joly, Lesgle, even Grantaire. If I had not been foolish, they would all be well settled in their bourgeois lives. But I was a fool, and my hands are red with their blood. I would spend the rest of my life in gaol if it could restore the ill I have done. I would give my life it could make any difference. But there is no return for the dead.”
The long rays of the sun bathed the balcony in a reddish light. Inside the chamber, dusk had fallen. I could no longer see his face in the shadows. Though I wanted to touch him, to comfort him physically, I knew I could not without causing him pain. I could only remain where I was. I could only offer words. “You’ve suffered enough. It’s time to start again.”
“If only it were that simple. What am I fit for? One cannot live as Socrates did.”
“You have money. In time, you will discover some means of employment. You needn’t worry about supporting yourself, at least. And I am sure you still have friends in Paris. M. Radet, for one.”
“There is nearly a generation between us.”
“Does it stop you from enjoying his company? Lucie told me he is the only one you still see.”
“We get on well. He is practical for a dreamer.”
“As we all are when push comes to shove.” I grabbed his hand in the darkness. “You’ll come through just fine. I swear it.”
I could barely see his face, but I swore he gave me a tightlipped smile. “So will you.”
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