Wednesday, February 20, 2013

In Which the Author Sheds Some Light on Certain Questions

Okay, here it is, about half of the fourth section of Honor. You know posting these tidbits reminds me of the old days when I would just post the book as I wrote it on the website and then collect it all up and publish it when I was using that one POD publisher. It's kind of fun that way. Yes, I'm considering posting more as I go. Maybe a little more immediate feedback will help get the rest of it on the page? Couldn't hurt...

FYI, this section is in the second to third draft form. Not completely polished, but getting there. Don't be afraid to point out anything if you see something that needs fixing in the next draft. I know it's not perfect yet :-) and of course as always if you haven't been reading already this will be massively spoilery, just saying.

Enjoy...




Honor
Section Four: Oaths And Obligations

I
THE DISSOLUTION OF THE TRIUMVIRATE

AT THIS POINT, one is obligated to remind the reader of certain events in the previous volume of this work, so as to make it clear certain events in the present work, and at what points the incidents which follow herein intersect with those which already been detailed.

It will be recalled that, shortly after the birth of Baron Marius Pontmercy’s son, there occurred an incident so infamous that it thrust unwelcome light into the salons of the haut bourgeoisie of Paris. The doctor who had delivered Georges-René, whose own Christian name provided the concluding half of the infant’s, learned that his estranged father, the Vicomte de Verraux, had been arrested on suspicion of being a notorious sneak thief, a common house burglar! As ridiculous as the assertion might seem, the evidence—and there existed a mountain of it, deep within the empty rooms of the vicomte’s own demesne—was incontrovertible. Only through strenuous intervention by friends among his own class did the vicomte escape prison, but only in order to be remanded to the care of a physician for treatment of extreme mental infirmity. At least, those are the facts as known by the public at large.

The truth of the matter is somewhat more convoluted.

The young doctor, who had altered his surname to Devereaux, returned to Paris in the winter of 1840 after a lengthy and not entirely voluntary exile. The vicomte, rather than welcome his son back to his native city, sent spies to learn his intentions, and to catch him in an indiscretion that might shame him into departing again forthwith; the vicomte had been the reason for the doctor’s banishment in the first place, for in the summer of 1832 the young man had been arrested for rendering medical aid to some rioters. During his imprisonment the doctor had contracted gangrene from an infected injury and had been forced to amputate his own arm. The disgrace of prison was nothing, in the vicomte’s eyes, to the disgrace of having a son thought to have helped anarchists attempt to overthrow the legitimate government—when the vicomte finally nudged what not insubstantial political influence he possessed toward his offspring, the boy had not only lost his limb but also any remaining sense of familial attachment. The father sent the son to live abroad with the understanding that, so long as he remained out of France, financial provision would be made.  The son took the exile, but refused the stipend. 

Devereaux had been absent from France for eight years, living first in England with his uncle, the curé Pierre Abélard. From there the pair of them were sent to Québec City, or rather the uncle was sent to take a post at the seminary school in that old fortified city and the nephew followed suit. An uprising in 1837 and the aftermath in 1838 led to their departure from that city, Devereaux on horseback, fleeing south to the United States with the young girl he would soon make his wife, and the priest by water, transported to Australia for the crime of abeting insurgents during the uprisings which had failed to liberate the former French colonies from their English occupiers. Though Madame Devereaux was herself a native of Lower Canada, she had no family there remaining and no love for the country it had become; likewise, without the calming presence of his scholarly uncle, Devereaux had no reason to remain in Québec. Since the Devereauxs found no reason to remain in the New World; they chose to return to France. And because his father’s money had never been touched, the doctor did not consider it a breach of honor to do so. 

The vicomte, of course, did not see things in quite the same light. He requisitioned his young protégé, the fascinatingly enigmatic Marquis de Montrose, to deliver a false message of reconciliation, in the hopes of embarrassing the son further, but the vicomte could not have sent a worse representative on his behalf, for the marquis already knew Devereaux from years past and held him in great esteem. The marquis turned on the vicomte as a coin spins on its edge and from that moment onward not only betrayed his mentor, but he reversed the polarity of dishonor upon the older man in a calculated revenge that did not manifest itself properly until several months had passed. For the marquis had once been known by another name, a name of the streets fittingly taken from the name of a street: Montparnasse

This thug in the guise of a gentleman, gutter bred of the ills of Paris, had come into a fortune stolen from a creature more wicked than himself, a child seller, and sought by that fortune to pass himself off as one of the élite. Debasing himself as he had never done before by putting himself at the service of a rich aristocrat; Montrose could not hide the stain of Montparnasse, but he could suppress it, and so much the better that he did so, for Montparnasse would not have suborned such subservience. 

It must also be noted that, as Montparnasse, he had languished in prison and had come to make the acquaintance of a man who did not belong there, and understood that that if ever an innocent man had been crushed beneath the wheels of justice, this man—the young doctor Devereaux—was that man. Tragic fate; it was the blade of Montparnasse that took Devereaux’s arm in the same gesture that saved Devereaux’s life. Such bonds are not broken lightly.

The whims and amusements of Montparnasse had not faded entirely from Montrose’s psyche; years afterward, when he understood that money alone could not make him an equal in their eyes, as a private joke to himself the marquis had begun to pilfer trifles from the nobility he sought to befriend,. He kept them to himself, hoarding them, even as he spent every day fearful that he would slip from the tightrope he trod upon, that he would be discovered. Were he to be careless, then all his money and backing would mean nothing. But when Devereaux returned to Paris and Montrose found himself in a position where he owed a debt of honor to the doctor, Montrose did not hesitate to pay it. He carefully removed all that he had plundered from his own domicile and planted it—artfully, worthy of a Renaissance master—within the most unreachable sanctum of the vicomte’s estate, the room untouched since the departure of the vicomte’s only offspring. It was such a triumph, to be able to give the vicomte a taste of unjust justice, that Montrose had hoped to share his fait accompli with his friend the doctor.

What should have been a victory instead proved a terrible blow, for the doctor immediately cut himself off from the marquis; from the night the vicomte had heard the sentence against him, the doctor refused to answer the marquis’s letters and turned away both the marquis and his messengers at the door. The marquis did not understand how this might have happened, how his magnificent coup de grace had evaporated like dew on the grass evaporates upon the first touch of the morning sun! Resentment seeped in: how ungrateful the doctor was, not to appreciate the great favor the marquis had bestowed upon him! It was not until several days later that Montrose finally realized the finality of his faux pas: he had taken the doctor’s honor away by presuming to act on his behalf. The doctor’s idea of vengeance against his father was an altogether different animal than Montrose’s understanding of vengeance. Devereaux had merely to be successful, to be happy, to perform his profession with diligence, to share his life with a wife who loved him, to turn his nose up at his father’s money and status and to never so much as cast a glance backwards. 

To Montrose’s horror he discovered that, faced with the same kind of choice, he could not be certain if he would be able to walk away from all he had taken for his own without regret and without the slightest hesitation. His new life was so comfortable to him, that the thing he feared most was loss: loss of the material, loss of security, loss of prestige. The one thing he did not fear was the loss of his life; he feared more losing the enjoyment of living.

With that clear understanding, Montrose did all he could to make amends to Devereaux for the grievous harm he had done to his friend’s honor. But the doctor would accept no apology, no compensation, no penance. Not only did Devereaux not want anything from his father, he wanted even less from his father’s former protégé. To Devereaux, the man who had been his friend was now no more or less than any other spoiled nouveau riche aristo who thought he could buy anyone and anything, for any price.

Six months passed. Only when the vicomte himself initiated contact with his son did the marquis have the opportunity to speak with Devereaux, but that moment was short lived. Montrose put himself entirely at Devereaux’s disposal, and served as his second in the duel between the vicomte and the doctor, a duel of cards to determine who would leave France. The doctor won the draw, but chose to abandon the field, making certain that Montrose understood he was walking away from them both. The chosen point of exile was the Channel Island of Guernsey, in a house Montrose had intended to become the last domicile of the troublesome vicomte. 

Devereaux did not have much to prepare in his departure, for in his mind he had made up to leave no matter what the outcome of the duel. Fortunately, his wife, Mignon Devereaux née Beaulieu, was not far along with their first born, so she traveled safely and delivered without complication in the house of exile. Their second child would likewise be born on the island two years later.

These events, from the time of Devereaux’s arrival in France to the time of his departure to Guernsey, occurred between January and October of 1840. Within this same ten month span, while Devereaux and Montrose were embroiled in this convoluted dance of honor and duty and revenge, the Baron Pontmercy also found himself engaged in a similarly troublesome entanglement, the details of which follow herewith.

~o~

II
CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE

SHORTLY AFTER THE end of the trial of the Vicomte de Verraux, Montrose paid a visit to Pontmercy; without fanfare, he was admitted to the baron’s sitting room. After the initial flush of self congratulation at his master stroke, Montrose had made a complete change in demeanor; he was again sullen and listless and angry, so much closer to the man he had been before he had made his fortune that Marius almost remembered him from that time, the man he had glimpsed at the Gorbeau House the night his future father-in-law had been taken hostage. 

Montrose draped himself over a chair and sulked, and Marius saw no reason to ask him to behave otherwise.

“He will not answer me,” Montrose said out of the blue. Marius nodded; he did not insult his friend’s intelligence by pretending to ignorance. “My letters and messages are returned, unopened; my messengers turned away at the door. How the deuce can I apologize to him if he will not hear it?”

“He is not ready to hear it,” Marius offered.

“Did he tell you so?”

Marius furrowed his brow, and Montrose backed off; that was overstepping as well. Much as he would love for Marius to tell him what Devereaux was thinking, or saying, or doing, he knew that to ask outright was the height of disrespect for Marius’s position. Marius would not act as Montrose’s agent, or spy, and Montrose knew it. And yet Marius had not turned Montrose from his own door. What was his reasoning?
Marius toyed with the inkwell on his desk, idly flipping the lid up and then snapping it shut again. “Montrose,” he said quietly, “what is between you and Devereaux is between you two alone, and should remain so. You, both of you, place me in an uncomfortable position here, wedged between you. I cannot, and will not, choose sides. If he wishes to speak with you he will, but in his own time and in his own manner. And…” He chose his words carefully. “He does not speak to me about it. And I do not ask him. And if he wished to speak to me of it I would have to ask him to refrain…”

“I am sorry for you as well,” said Montrose. “This is a new experience for me, to be sorry for anything. I did what I had to to satisfy my own injury, but I dragged you both into it. It is taking all my influence,what I have, to keep you from further intrigue, but it is drawing you in nonetheless. There’s no ending to it.”

“There is,” said Marius. He looked at Montrose directly. “But it will never happen.”

“What won’t?”

“You could tell the truth.”

Montrose blinked at him. Then he burst out laughing. “You… you want me to admit to what I am, who I am? You want me to, how is it said? ‘Come clean?’”

“And that,” said Marius sadly, “is why I said it will never happen. The one thing that can right everything that was wronged, is impossible.”

“And what made you think I could even consider…” Montrose lurched to his feet and began pacing, as if he were already measuring the length and breadth of his cell. “I mean, my dear Pontmercy, you have no idea what that would mean.”

“It would mean that an innocent man is freed,” said Marius. “And that justice is seen to.”

“Justice! You know justice only from the lawyer’s side of the bar, and even then, you have never seen the inside of a courtroom. You don’t know what it is to be the center of a trial, to see the disdain that you engender in everyone, from the judge to the prosecutor to your own counsel… and the witnesses and the audience! To bear the mockery and laughter and to be seen as less than a man, powerless…” Montrose whirled angrily. “Of all the stupid things to say, Pontmercy. You don’t know… look, this life I’ve built for myself, I meant it twofold, to make up to myself for the miseries of my youth and to make amends to all else for the life that misery forced me to lead. I have the power to avenge those who had no chance before. I have the money and the influence… Justice is for the rich and notable. For the rest of us there is only the law… and she is merciless.”

“And yet you sentence Devereaux’s father to that same horror, the trial to come, the humiliation of prison…”

“Are you saying he didn’t deserve it?”

“I’m saying,” said Marius evenly, “that his justice is not yours to mete out.”

Montrose made balls of his fists and squeezed till his nails dug into his palms. “Some of us cannot wait longer than that. Some of us,” he said with a trace of a sneer, “are not so upright and pious that we can afford to believe in a justice beyond this world.”

You’re wrong, Marius thought, but did not say; it’s not that you can’t afford it, it’s that you can’t afford not to…

“There has to be another way,” said Montrose. “I’ll find it. His trial is not for some time. I can… I can fix this…” He forced a grin to his lips. “Tell Devereaux when next you see him that I mean to make this up to him whether he wishes it or not.” He burst from the sitting room and snatched up his hat and coat and cane from the bewildered servant, Toussaint, and had bolted from the house before Marius could reply, which was probably for the best—had Marius had a chance to respond he would have told Montrose that he was not the marquis’s messenger and that he had no intention of passing anything on to Devereaux.

~o~

III
MATRIMONY PROMOTES PROMOTION

ONE MUST NEEDS shift focus away from the unhappy marquis and toward another, happier personage, whose career and fortunes have gone for some time unmentioned. Indeed, this is not an oversight, for there was little to be mentioned with regard to him in the intervening years. However, the ebb and flow of fortune dictates that occasionally unpleasant things wash in with the tide, and thus we come to the furtherance of the story of the other side of the Pontmercy family, the only remaining kin to Marius.

Théodule Ephesias Gillenormand, who like so many of his kind and demeanor found refuge and acceptance in the military where no other employer would stomach him, had risen in the ranks quite handily in his early years. But now, approaching the well worn ruts in the road of middle age, he had discovered that doors that had opened for him a few years before now stood shut and barred. Now a captain, resplendent in his cords and aiguillettes, he found that the one decoration he most desired—the peaked tricorn of the general—could not be awarded him until he acquired another sort of decoration, a wife. Not only that, but his rank in the military would naturally come commiserate with her rank in society. And he could not attract the sort of wife required without some form of financial incentive. This he had, in trust, but he could not put his hands on the money until he married. A troublesome paradox indeed! To that end he bade a sad but necessary farewell to the tavern doxies and the camp followers of his youth and set out into the wild and unforgiving terrain of the Quartier St-Germain, there to seek his matrimonial fortune. 

His greatest asset, discounting the money that was not yet his, was not his good looks—although striking he was, having retained his waspish waist long after his shoulders had broadened, both with the help of rigorous exertions on the parade grounds between bouts of drunken leave—rather, it was the reputation that accompanied his surname. Ten years after his death, the grand bourgeois Luc-Esprit Gillenormand still commanded some respect and admiration in the circles to which his grandnephew now aspired, so this was a great help in getting his stirruped boot into the doors of several wealthy and well-connected families. However, that alone was not enough for them to relinquish control of their marriageable daughters; those of good reputation needed no help from him, and those of bad reputation were out of the question with regard to his ultimate goal. How best to solve this dilemma? Simple. He would have to find a family in the market for what he could offer, that could in turn provide what he required: a daughter of good connections willing to become the wife of a up and coming officer. Since his income depended on his marriage, he also had to find a family for whom that potential income would be tempting to serve as a dowry, and, after exhaustive effort he located exactly the proper family meet for his needs. 

The name D’Avigny was an old one, older than half of Paris, a feat in and of itself: in the days of the revolution when it was de rigueur to drop the particle from the surname, as so many families did, even those who were in no danger of losing their heads over it, the D’Avigny name remained unadulterated. When the monarchy had been restored, this loyalty to the grand order of things was rewarded with great favors: land and houses, horses and traps, opera boxes and invitations to the country: all the perquisite trappings of nobility without the titles with which to back them up. The prosperity did not last much longer than the reign of Louis XVIII; in 1828, the family fell into hard times. The beginning of the end can be traced to the departure of the only son and heir to the D’Avigny estates, who renounced name and title, fortune and legacy, never to return home again. Following this, the D’Avigny patriarch died of a fit of apoplexy, leaving his widow and young daughter to the care of their only remaining relatives, the late husband’s sister and her husband, a petit bourgeois named De Castellac, whose surname particle was as artificial as D’Avigny’s was genuine.

The brother-in-law became the de facto head of the family; although he had no legal standing in the inheritance; he found himself elevated to the position of protector of the family reputation simply by being the only male in the household. Four years later the son died in disgrace, and De Castellac proclaimed that henceforth his name should never be mentioned within the walls of their chateau. After this catastrophe, only the De Castellac’s steadfast labor on behalf of the family prevented their name from disappearing beneath the surface of the rolls of good society. The D’Avigny name teetered on the brink of extinction. The only salvation left for the reputation of what remained, it was understood, lay in the fate of the daughter, whose given name was Evangeline; she had to be kept pure and innocent and obedient until she became of marriageable age, when she could be paired with someone whose family name would compliment her own. The D’Avigny family had money, it was true, but no income; all their fortune had been entrusted to the brother in law and he doled it to Madame and Mademoiselle D’Avigny sparingly. Thus it was not money that would persuade them to accept any man’s suit for Evangeline’s hand, and for that reason many that aspired to acquire the daughter were turned away as being unsuitable in disposition and reputation.

Mlle D’Avigny had been instructed in all manner of homely arts, such as sewing and playing on the harp and sitting prettily in the corner of a drawing room. Now, in the winter of 1840 she was but sixteen years of age, and while thoroughly versed in what little a wife of means was required to know she was equally ignorant of the ways of the world. In short, she possessed the exact qualifications that made her the ideal candidate for the position of the wife of Captain Théodule Gillenormand.

Théodule pursued the matter not to the daughter herself, but as a matter of course to Mme. D’Avigny, and met with De Castellac as a man meets with a potential business partner. Both the mother and uncle of the prospective bride found themselves impressed with both Théodule’s pedigree and his personal history; the mother noted the captain’s well curled mustaches and perfectly hemmed sleeves and deemed him earnest and forthright, and the uncle saw in him a career minded sort of man rising rapidly in the ranks of respectability. Both saw him as the kind of man upon whose arm Evangeline would present a splendid embellishment. Captain Gillenormand and M. De Castellac shook hands while Mme D’Avigny looking on proudly—and also, it must be noted, with a hint of melancholy. Evangeline herself was not in attendance. She had seen Théodule but once, glimpsed from her casement window, as he waited out in the garden for her uncle to show him the papers he would be required to sign upon the completion of the marriage. On his part Théodule had seen only a small portrait of her, in miniature, in a locket that the mother presented to him as both a memento and as a token of the promise.

But as in all business transactions, one sticking point remained: the payment required. Théodule’s money was tied up in an annuity, to be delivered to him only upon his marriage. This stipend, granted him by his only living blood relative, his great-aunt Gillenormand, had been entrusted to the only other Gillenormand descendent, her younger half-sister’s son, the Baron Marius Pontmercy. Baron Pontmercy had studied law, but now owned a small factory in the outskirts of Paris that produced black jet rosary beads; he had been married for eight years to a girl whose father, who had no name in society, nevertheless had amassed for himself a great personal fortune, all of which he had bestowed upon his daughter on the eve of her nuptials.

Théodule had not seen his cousin, as he referred to Marius, for many years; in fact, they had never been formally introduced. Théodule had ignored the invitation to Marius’ wedding with the same assiduousness as he had avoided attending the funeral of his grandfather, the aforementioned Luc-Esprit Gillenormand. When Aunt Gillenormand had forsaken all worldly possessions and retired to a convent, he had not even made the effort to say farewell to her before she disappeared from the eyes of men. For Théodule now to come to Marius with his hat in his hand as if begging for alms was almost more than he could bear, but that was the only way in which he could receive his due inheritance. So, with the resolve a soldier learns the day he first assembles on the parade grounds, Théodule straightened his back, smoothed his sleeves, squared his shoulders, and marched resolutely to his cousin’s house to explain himself, to offer proof of the impending marriage, and to receive by proxy his aunt’s blessings and share of fortune.

o~o


II
NOTHING IS EVER ENTIRELY FORGOTTEN

UPON HIS ARRIVAL at the faubourg St.-Victor, Théodule Gillenormand experienced a flush of nostalgia. He hearkened back nearly a decade to his days as a lieutenant, stationed at the garrison in the Rue de Babylone, when he and his fellow junior officers were as serious in their debauchery as they were in their devotion to duty. He recalled fondly a ruined garden behind a rusted gate, and a flower of a girl who watched him through those bars as he strolled by; many girls watched him in those days, but this one somehow piqued him to the extent that he graciously facilitated her interest by passing along the street outside the gate multiple times a day. It flattered him, in a way, to be so noticed, and so he flattered her in return by allowing himself to be noticed. This went on for a few weeks, and Théodule had begun to think that perhaps he might be persuaded to condescend to actually acknowledge the wench, even possibly to the extent of allowing her to be addressed by him in greeting, but then one day he found her engrossed in a packet of letters, her hands fidgeting with the paper, shuffling them backwards and forwards as if unsure where the writing began and where it ended; he must have passed the gate four or five times before he caught her eye, but before he could so much as begin a curt not of the head to her she bared her teeth like a mongrel and spun away, pressing the packet so tightly to her breast that, had it been a babe, she would have crushed the wind out of it. He did not give her another chance to earn his interest; he found an alternate route through the neighborhood after that day, and never returned. In fact, until now, in seeking out his cousin Marius Pontmercy, he had completely forgotten about the incident. Now reminded, as an amusement he tried to recall where along the street the iron-barred gate stood, but he could not find it, so he shrugged and continued about his business.

It says something about the quality of a man that he dwells upon past conquests unmet while formulating the consummation of a marriage. Women have known for millennia the axiom that a man once assured of victory in delicate matters immediately proceeded to plot another campaign elsewhere, that chase is not the means but rather the end, and once concluded must be rejoined anew, and elsewhere. But in Théodule's case, his mind had wandered not to a future liaison, but an unrequited escapade. Having already won a war, he could do nothing but lament an abandoned campaign. Not that the girl in the garden would have meant anything to him, but now, reminded of it, the mere fact that she had escaped him gnawed at his pride even all these years later.

He rang the bell outside and waited. Standing before the wooden gate of the Pontmercy residence, which had replaced the old wrought iron gate, Théodule did not recognize the house. After an interminable wait, an elderly female servant, flustered and stammering, admitted him, and he put aside the past ideas in order to adopt a personable air with which to meet his relation.

The servant led him through the winding garden path towards a small house; although it had two stories, it was hardly the sort of arrangement Théodule expected from his cousin the successful businessman. A smaller building stood a ways from the main one, what might be a guest cottage, were the house of better quality. Rather it seemed more like a storage shed. If it were so, Théodule thought, it certainly did not contain gardening tools! Surely the Baron Pontmercy could afford to have someone take care of his grounds! 

Théodule left his grand hat and his saber with the servant, who then admitted him into the baron’s study. The room overlooked the garden on the ground floor. The drapes were open wide, and brightly flowered foliage clung to the windowpanes as if trying to force its way inside. The furniture was not as old as the house, but not as new as perhaps befit a baron's station. Théodule wondered what this all meant. Perhaps his cousin was not so well off, or successful as gossip made him out to be? If so, this revelation did not bode well for Théodule's plans. His cousin's obvious disregard for worldly accoutrements made the soldier apprehensive, even to the point of considering the unthinkable, that somehow the baron was really impoverished and might have already spent Théodule's inheritance as well.

Marius greeted him cordially, not coldly, but not warmly either. Théodule had carefully crafted a statement to make to his cousin, all seriousness and professionalism, detailing his impending nuptials and his desire to have his finances in order, and to see to it that all was done properly and in good time. Instead he felt the speech desert him and he blurted out, "Congratulate me. Cousin! I am to be married.” Before Marius could open his mouth, still surprised by such an opening, Théodule felt necessary to add, "I'm quite sure Aunt Gillenormand would approve of the match. It's just what she wanted for me."

"I see," was all the baron replied. Because he did not speak further, Théodule continued to babble about the girl, her family, their situation, his situation, in short, the entire set piece. And every time it seemed Marius might speak, Théodule interrupted him to protest that this was an honest attempt at matrimony, for the furtherance of his career and of course his own personal happiness and naturally had nothing whatsoever to do with the money Marius held for him in trust against the day the marriage papers were to be signed in city hall.

Marius, when at last he could get in a word edgewise, was good enough to congratulate him, and tactful enough not to say what Théodule was trying not to say: "I'm marrying for convenience, both her family's and my own."

The baron took papers out from his writing desk that had for many years awaited this day and this news. Mlle. Gillenormand, Marius's aunt and Théodule's great-aunt, had been quite specific. And despite the fact that she was hardly a worldly woman, having never married nor been seen in society, Mlle. Gillenormand was uncannily shrewd in matters of money and matrimony. It was not enough for Théodule to come to Marius and say he had married, or planned to many, to entitle him to his inheritance; although Marius had no right or duty to approve of the prospective bride, he had, however, been entrusted to function in a lawyerly capacity. To this end, the bride's family would need to be appraised of the conditions of the inheritance, and her father's signature (or that of her legal guardian) would need to be placed on the agreement, and Marius was bound to attest to this signature. Only when this paper was placed before the notary in trust of the inheritance alongside the certificate of marriage would Théodule's money be released to him. This also required that Marius be in attendance at said marriage ceremony, to attest that there was no substitution, no alternative bride, made at the last minute. Clearly Mlle. Gillenormand had anticipated a possible attempt to circumvent her desire that he many properly and decently, for reasons other than the money it would bring to him.

Marius placed himself at his cousin's disposal, to arrange a date when Marius might meet with the bride’s mother and uncle, and explain the nature of the arrangement and with them navigate the labyrinth of legal formalities. Théodule thought this gesture to be quite considerate, although he harbored a suspicion that his earlier concern had been correct, that his cousin's business was not doing quite so well as he pretended. How else could he have so much free time as to be able to place himself at Théodule's beck and call? But he did not say anything, choosing instead to keep the private joke to himself. How marvelous it was to learn that he was the rich one, or soon would be, and his cousin was the poor one! 

When the interview concluded, the servant returned the sigils of his rank and showed him to the gate; he thought her dull and common, a large elderly spinster probably retained from his own factory to play at housemaid, to keep up appearances. But really, Théodule found comfort in knowing that, whatever had brought the baron to his current sorry state of affairs, he certainly must have brought his misfortune upon himself.

o~o

IV
THE BRIDE SHRINKS; THE BRIDEGROOM BLOSSOMS

THE COUSINS PRESENTED themselves chez D’Avigny as a mismatched pair: Marius, in his conservative black coat and trousers and white cravat, looked every bit the lawyer he had once aspired to become; Théodule, in his dress uniform, a splendid plumage in his tall hat and his saber jangling at his side, would not have been out of place among an ostentation of peacocks. 

Marius carried the requisite papers in an oilskin satchel, which his grandfather had once used as a repository for the written account of his many liaisons; after the senior Gillenormand’s death, upon its discovery by a thoroughly scandalized Toussaint, the offending manuscript was nearly destroyed, but Marius issued a stay of execution on the grounds that, as it was known Gillenormand had fathered the occasional bastard of the occasional serving maid now and again, prudence suggested that, should any claims of monetary compensation come to the family after the old man’s death, the detailed declamations should easily be able to refute or confirm any such claims. As yet, no one had come forth in such a case, but one never could be too careful about charlatans and rogues. 

The house reminded Marius of what remained of his grandfather’s home, now occupied by the Marquis de Montrose, an empty shell surrounding aging furnishings of a condition somewhere between antique and outdated. As the pair passed from the entry into the salon Marius glimpsed, through an open doorway, an oddly bright patch of wallpaper, indicative of a place where once a portrait had hung. He made nothing of it other than noting the brightness of the space; he reasoned that the picture had been recently removed.

The D’Avigny household consisted of but three servants: a valet, a maid, and a cook. The valet had brought them into the salon and remained in the background; the other two servants stood by him, as if passing for review. Marius thought it odd for them to do so, until he saw the woman in the room, and then he understood.

Madame D’Avigny was one of those women to whom time had not been kind, and who, rather than embrace age and grow stately with the passing years, had determined not merely to stop the clock, but to turn it back. Her cheeks were rouged, her face powdered, as well as her wig; she appeared a caricature of a grand dame from the Directorate of the previous century. Whereas the late M. Gillenormand had been of the ancien régime—who would rather go without than wear the newfangled trousers and be branded a “sans culottes”, stubbornly clad to his last day in knee breeches and stockings—this woman was the epitome of the Merveilleuses and the Incroyables. 

The other woman dressed in the style of the day, the crinoline skirt that had just come into fashion, but in colors demure and natural; she wore her natural hair in a tight chignon, and though she seemed to be the same middle age as the first woman, she carried her years gracefully. Beside her stood a man who behaved with husbandly protectiveness to her; clearly this was M. de Castellac. All that remained for the picture to be complete was the bride herself. 

“Oh, Captain Gillenormand,” Madame D’Avigny cooed, her voice like spoiled molasses, “it pleases me to see you looking so agreeable.”

The captain nodded chivalrously. Upon his subsequent introduction to her, Marius found himself presented with Madame’s hand to kiss; he forebear the trial and, the observances of etiquette concluded, he addressed himself entirely to the matter at hand, the sooner to conclude it.

The men discussed the financial necessities; the women on occasion interjected with thoughts on the wedding itself, which church would be graced with the event, what reception might ensue. The night before this meeting Marius had, in a fit of madness, considered bringing Cosette with him, to be able to contribute to the feminine side of the conversation, but now he was relieved to have spared her the ignominy. As the afternoon wore on into evening, and De Castellac and Marius spent much of the time trying to agree on what, precisely, each phrase of the documentation meant, and as Théodule merely sat comfortably preening while the mother flattered him and the aunt analyzed him, it became clear to Marius that there was something deeply disturbed about this family. Théodule had spoken of a son who perished; was the mother’s bizarre behavior due to that tragedy? Or, heaven forbid, had she always been gaudy and theatrical? 

At a moment of appropriate interruption, Madame de Castellac excused herself in order to bring the bride down from her room, that she might formally meet her intended. This also bothered Marius; had she not already met his cousin? Apparently she had not. Everything had been arranged without her input. Marius shifted uncomfortably in his chair, feeling very much out of place in this alien environment. He felt he was party to something too personal; he could only imagine the feelings of the poor bride, sold into marriage like a heathen.

“My niece, Evangeline,” Madame De Castellac announced from the foot of the stairs; everyone turned.
Marius gasped.

The girl, for girl she was, might have been sixteen years in age, but she looked younger still, hardly a woman at all. Pale, thin, long necked, and yet possessed of a classical beauty; her dress was gauzy and blushed pink, baring her shoulders, and she wore a crocheted shawl of fine thread, giving the appearance of a wispy cloud across the dawn sky. Her hair was spun gold, piled atop her head like a Grecian goddess, the curls falling every which way. Her eyes were blue like robin’s eggs. Marius felt—no, he knew—that he had seen her somewhere before. He told himself it was impossible, for the girl had been convent educated, locked away from the eyes of the world. Then whence came this impression, and why did it intensify the longer he regarded her?

Théodule stood up as the aunt led the girl to him; he bowed at the waist, and she meekly curtsied. Madame D’Avigny clapped her hands with giddy delight and bade the girl sit beside the gallant officer, gushing about how handsome they looked together, and what pretty grandchildren they would make for her!

The young mademoiselle sat with hunched shoulders, her hands demurely in her lap. Théodule looked old enough to be her father; in point of fact, he was. 

A miasma of disgust filled Marius’s nostrils; he begged to be excused for the moment and the valet directed him to the water closet. 

When he had finished, he had half a mind to turn in the opposite direction of the salon and run screaming from the house. Marius could not but imagine, in place of the hapless Evangeline, his own daughters, still children both, being pressed into such an arrangement, sold into bondage. Though one day he would lose them to husbands, to families of their own, he resolved not to arrange for them their future happiness; he would protect them and advise them and pray they followed their heads as well as their hearts, but he would not force a match upon them.

He rallied his courage so that he might complete his appointed task, telling himself that it was none of his affair, and that if questioned no doubt the girl would either answer as the mother wished, approving of the choice made for her, or if she were in fact even minimally informed of her part in the matter, she might after all choose her family’s happiness over her own. Marriage with Théodule would scrub the shame of their sundered family from the roll of society. He could imagine her a dutiful daughter, to wish her family name to be restored. But he also told himself that such was wishful thinking, for the truth was that Evangeline was a pawn in a chess game where all the pieces were of one color and all but one of the squares were occupied. She had only one move to make; she could not even choose not to make it.

On his return to the salon he passed again the opened door, and remembered the vacant space on the wall. Curiosity got the better of him; he pressed the door open wide enough for him to slip through. Out of sight of the door, leaning along the wall, was a torn canvas, cut as if with a sword or a pair of shears; the face was obliterated but for one eye, a blue eye, intense, intelligent, looking not askance, but directly at the observer. How powerful the original painting must have been, on the basis of that singular look?
Marius shivered. This must have been the son, who died in a state of disgrace, Théodule had said. From the eye alone Marius was convinced that the young man’s loss was the true tragedy of the family.
Below the portrait was a small silver plate engraved with a name. Marius peered closer to read it:
Sébastien D’Avigny.

A chill overtook him then, as if someone, somewhere, trod up on his future grave...

“Monsieur!”

Marius dropped the frame clumsily, bobbling it while trying to prevent it from making a clatter. The valet stood in the doorway.

“I, that is...”

“The salon is further down,” the valet said evenly. His eyes were on the frame.

“Yes, I seem to have gotten lost...”

“Indeed, monsieur.” He held the door open. “After you, monsieur.”

Marius straightened up and fiddled with his cravat. Stupid! 

When he rejoined the family in the salon, Théodule had become the center of the universe; the D’Avignys and the De Castellacs orbited him, captured by the gravitational force of the captain’s magnificent ego. The bride, a smaller moon trapped in close proximity to him, smiled without revealing her teeth, a crease forming at the junction of her eyebrows.

Marius took comfort by reminding himself that this was not the longest and most uncomfortable vigil of his life. Once he had stood, silently and unmoving, upon a chair for hours, in his own poor attic flat, with his eye upon a crack between the walls, in order to spy on his treacherous neighbors—for they had ambushed the father of the woman he loved in order to extort money from him.

o~o

V
TWO VIEWS THROUGH A SINGLE WINDOW

THAT EVENING, MARIUS pored over the documents that M. de Castellac had presented to him, those regarding the fortunes and legal statuses of the parties concerned. Because of the convoluted nature of inheritance along the female lines of a family, much had been put into annuities or trusts until various other concerned parties wed or reached their majority. Mlle. D’Avigny was such a case. As the only surviving child of the late M. D’Avigny she stood to inherit what was left of a massive fortune, but all that had not been tied up and untouchable had been spent, and poorly, on inconsequential matters and frivolous lawsuits. Twice M. de Castellac had retained attorneys and sued for slander over the matter of the family being labeled Republican, and twice he had won the judgment, but wound up owing more in legal fees than he garnered in compensation from the guilty parties. So much for the supposed fortune of the D’Avigny family; they were so far in debt they looked to Théodule Gillenormand to come bail them out! 

And suddenly he knew what it was: that small, niggling detail that had bothered him through the day suddenly unfolded and all but smothered him where he sat. “Sébastien D’Avigny,” he murmured aloud.
His cousin, who had taken a perch on one of Marius’s armchairs with an overfilled glass of sherry, started at the sudden declaration. “What? Oh, yes, the brother. The one who started all this mess.”

Marius paid no heed; he was overcome with a flood of remembrances of his own, of connections to a world nearly ten years dormant in him. 

“But you know,” said Théodule to his glass, “the brother… I knew him, if only briefly.”

“What?” Marius sat up, blinking. He had been thinking the same words, in reference to himself, only that same moment. “You… you knew him?”

“In a manner of speaking.” Théodule drained his glass quickly. “You did not see his portrait, did you? Yes, the face was all too familiar to me.”

“The portrait was ruined.”

“Yes, I know; I did it myself. For when I recognized the face I told de Castellac so; so ashamed was he that the portrait had not been burned years ago that he allowed me to deface it for him.” He mimicked a flick or two of an imaginary saber. “My bride-to-be had kept it all these years like a shrine. But when we are married she shall have a new deity to worship, and I warrant she shall kneel at that god’s altar at every opportunity....” He winked; Marius tried not to be ill at the thought.

“What was I... oh yes, the brother. It was nearly ten years ago, but I remember it as if it happened yesterday. Oddly enough,” he added, praying his glass refilled and, when that prayer remained unanswered, went to the sideboard to avail himself of the decanter, “it was the very night you took ill, or whatever it was that happened to you. Aunty Gillenormand was uncharacteristically unspecific about that. Shall I tell you all about it? You might appreciate the irony of it, for the family wishes to obliterate the shame he brought on them, and I am not only to be the end result of that wish, I am also its commencement. The alpha and omega, as it were.”

Marius started to piece together Théodule’s twisted turns of phrase, but almost in the same moment rejected it; he did not want to follow that thought out to the end of its thread. But Théodule did not see his discomfort, and he leaned against the sideboard, toasting himself.

“I remember the date exactly, the date of my first real command. It was the fifth of June, 1832. The protests in the city had become dangerously out of control and even the National Guard had been called out, but though they had the numbers, let’s be honest, the National Guard has little experience with actual conflict. So segments of the regular army were called out to assist, including my regiment, and we were sent to a small barricade off the Rue St.-Merry in the faubourg St.-Denis. One small but rather boisterous group of drunkards and rabble, most of them students from the law school—your former school, it pains me to point out—had holed up in a small café and was making a bit of a stand in it. It was our duty to give them the martyrdom they so dearly wished for, and we did.”

“You…” Marius’s tongue swelled in his mouth; he could not speak further.

Théodule bowed in a mockery of courtly fashion and continued, “It was amazing. By the time I arrived we heard stories that, were the fellows on the right side, might be deemed heroic: some old man shot down trying to retrieve a flag; some mental deficient standing on the top of the debris with a powder keg and a torch, threatening to blow up the barricade; sundry and such as that. But by the time we got there to reinforce, the barricade was all but broken already and most of them already injured or captured. It should have been a simple task to get them to surrender but their leader simply would not allow them the honorable way out; he insisted they barricade themselves in that small café upstairs and force us to come and kill them. Believe me when I tell you that we paid for every inch we took getting up to that loft. I lost several dear men in the enterprise… but strength and le bon Dieu were on our side, and when we breached the attic, there stood the last of them, the leader, and damn me if it wasn’t Sébastien D’Avigny.”

That was not the name that came to Marius’s lips, but he had enough sense not to say what he meant to say aloud. He held it back, as if by speaking it he would tarnish it somehow. At the silence, Théodule nodded and said, “Indeed, when I realized that, looking at the portrait in the D’Avigny house, I was thunderstruck! And such a resemblance there is between the brother and the sister, for I don’t mind telling you that that man was far too girlishly appointed. Blonde like a harlot he was, and blue eyed—we wondered afterwards if perhaps he had not been a Germanic foundling on the Belgian plains, taken in by the D’Avignys after the fall of Napoléon?” He laughed at his own little comment. “And he pressed forward and flung himself up, baring his breast as if he were Marianne, and said, ‘Kill me!’ So I motioned for my remaining men to form a firing squad then and there. I offered him a blindfold but he scoffed at it. Then one of the men from National Guard asked him if he was indeed the man that had assassinated the artillery captain—which had happened before my regiment’s arrival—and he indicated that he was indeed the captain’s killer. So I pressed him against the wall and made to give the command… and then what do you think happened?”

Marius was too stunned to speak, or even try to guess. Théodule—his own cousin!—had been at the Corinth, had strode through the sundered barricade, had counted the corpses there and had made a few of his own… and then…

“Since you’re so enrapt of the tale,” said Théodule cheerfully, “I shall hold you in suspense no longer. At that moment a voice cried out, in the most comically operatic manner, ‘Long live the Republic!’ and from behind us staggered a drunken sot with a bottle in his fist and vomit across his blouse. Lord, the man was hideous! And truth to tell you, dear cousin, if we’d discovered him afterwards still passed out we’d have let him go, thinking him to have slept through the entire thing unawares! It was a wonder with all the buckshot flying he hadn’t caught any shrapnel through the window. But such is the luck of drunkards and idiots and, I must stress, the man was clearly both. For by speaking that vile declamation, he condemned himself to the same fate as the other. We put them together against the wall, and because we had so few rifles and so few who could shoot them, I took up one myself and joined the line, and that was the end of it.”

“The end,” Marius repeated, his head in his hands. 

“Well,” said Théodule, oblivious, “not entirely the end. It was the damnedest thing, really. The two men shook hands as if old friends, neither of them caring for the rifles pointed at them. The drunkard pitched over at once, the moment he was hit, but the other, D’Avigny, he just stood there, pinned against the wall as if the bullets had been arrows, quite like his saintly namesake, and then he sloooooowly slid down the wall…” He moved his flattened hand in a downward arc for emphasis. “And that, dear cousin, was the end. Every last one killed. We took no prisoners that night; naturally there were rumors of an escape or two, but I’ve never believed them.” He took a sip of his sherry and followed it with a deep inhalation. “Well! And what do you think of that, hm? What irony it is, eh, cousin?”

Only now did Théodule see Marius’s demeanor. “Oh! I quite forgot, you are not a military man, and have no experience with firearms or fighting, and that some subjects are not for casual conversation. I am a soldier and have a soldier’s manners; forgive me.”

Marius stared at him. “Forgive you?” 

The color drained from Théodule’s face, under his flashy mustaches. He had always thought of Marius as weak, having been coddled for so long; this confirmed it. “I see I’ve overstayed my welcome. I’ll show myself out…” He set down his glass and had a flash of brilliance, the one idea that might pull himself out of his faux pas. “But you do see that it is true, I shall bring honor back to their family, don’t you? Such a small price to pay, is it not, my inheritance against their rehabilitation? I am doing society a great service, and getting a suitable wife in the bargain. And I sent two traitors to our nation to Perdition, and may the unworthy brother’s torment there increase sevenfold when I have married his sister. That is the way of the world, and how justice is done. Sleep on it, cousin Marius, and you will see that I am right.”
The door closed behind him, shut louder perhaps than it should have been, considering the late hour and the fact that the sound rattled every window in the house. Marius could not stop the tears from touching the papers below him, though he tried to move them out of the way before they were irreparably damaged. 

He wanted to scream, to cry his rage to the sky; he wanted to rend himself open and turn his insides out. But his wife and children were asleep upstairs and he would not for the life of them have them see him in such a state, so he flung open the doors that fronted the garden and bolted out into the night, stumbling over the gravel until he pitched himself headfirst in the flower beds at the base of the wall where, almost on the very same night described by his cousin, Marius had once scratched his address in the plaster.

o~o


VI
HOW R AND S BECOME O AND P

IT SO HAPPENED that, at that very moment when Marius fell to the ground weeping, there was a specter in attendance, which one might consider a kind of guardian angel were it not for the fact that he was not, beyond perhaps his good looks in any sense of the word angelic. Hardly had the dirt of the flower beds begun to stain his shirt front than Marius found himself grappled under his arms and lifted to his feet; there was no light to aid him but in his grief he could not summon the strength needed to push the unknown intruder aside. Instead he let the man guide him to a seat on the stone bench behind them, the very bench upon which Marius had once confided his heart beneath a stone.

A piece of cloth was pressed into his hand; the lace startled Marius. It seemed as if it rightly belonged to a lady. "Go on." said a gruff but not unfriendly voice; "It's most unmanly of you, bawling like a calf. What's happened, then?"

Marius could not answer. He could barely shake his head. He crumbled up the handkerchief he'd been handed; from any other man it would be a gross insult. But Marius knew better where the Marquis de Montrose was concerned. "It's a private matter," he finally managed to stammer. "Why are you here?"

"Such harsh words! Ma foi." Montrose took a seat beside him and drew his knees up; even in the dimmest light, which came from the window of Marius's study across the courtyard, the buckles on his shoes glinted. "The truth is, I find your garden peaceful. It reminds me of things, and of people who deserve remembering... I apologize for the intrusion on your privacy, but not upon your garden."

Montrose's admission was surprisingly truthful, considering his nature. He would not tell Marius outright that the garden reminded him of Éponine, and the night she turned a pack of would-be robbers away at the old iron gate. That name, that girl, was still a tender spot in what Montrose possessed for a heart. The only reason he had never revenged himself on Marius for "stealing" her from him was that Montrose knew for a certainty that, rather, she had stolen herself from him and had given herself willingly to Marius, in all respects but the one that would have been unforgivable. Had Montrose thought for an instant that Marius had at any time harbored so much as the slightest yearning for Éponine, Montrose would have written Marius’s epitaph with steel and signed it in blood.

Marius, on his own part, would never have connected the garden to Éponine, and that singular encounter when he had persuaded her to show him where Cosette resided. Beyond that, the garden only held Cosette for him. But the way Montrose spoke of remembrances and people who dwelled in the past, long left behind, stabbed at Marius more deeply than his own thoughts.

The first true friend Marius had ever had was a fellow student: Paul de Courfeyrac, who had dropped the "de" in a show of solidarity to the Republican cause and who had never enjoyed the use of his Christian name. To Marius Courfeyrac was always Courfeyrac, and to Courfeyrac, Marius was always Marius—never Pontmercy, and certainly not Baron, a Napoléonic title. And when Courfeyrac had met his end on the barricade, Marius found himself bereft of that kind of friendship.

In time he developed other relationships, new ties. His grandfather, the well-esteemed Luc-Esprit Gillenormand, who had frightened Marius as a child, had become as a beloved father in his waning years. And Cosette, his wife, held the other half of his heart—the better half, he often told her, and the stronger willed; without her steadfast belief in him, he would never have been able to overcome the horrible forces he had encountered in Montreuil-sur-Mer and he would never have become a successful jet manufacturer in Paris.
But neither of these familial bonds could approach the brotherhood, the camaraderie, of knowing that there was one man to whom he could show his unmasked face, to whom he could reveal weakness and doubt and the innermost demons of his soul without fear of disclosure or having his secrets turned against him. Such alliances form but once or twice in a lifetime. Courfeyrac had been such a man. Now Devereaux was another, and Montrose a third, but the enmity between them put such a constraint on Marius's regard, influencing his own feelings for each of them. He could no longer bring himself to enjoy complete candor with either, because deep down it nagged at him that one might use him against the other. 

Together they had formed a powerful triumvirate, strong and unified, sharing equal weight between them, but as with a three-legged stool, when one leg is compromised, any weight will break the whole.

All that being said, before Marius had entered the garden that night, this was how he would have said things stood between them. But none of it mattered in the light of what he had come to learn. In the garden, in the darkness, with his heart breaking for his lost comrades and the travesty that unfolded before his eyes, Marius could not help but confide everything to Montrose. He began with two names, and then two more names:
Sébastien D'Avigny. Richard Caillôt.

Known to posterity by their noms de guerre: Enjolras, and Grantaire.

Marius told Montrose everything, from his days in the ABC to his gradual disassociation with them once he had begun to court Cosette in earnest, from his dashed hope to marry her to his suicidal pledge to die with his friends upon the barricades rather than live without her. Montrose had heard some of it before, in some basic detail; once Marius had told him how Éponine had saved Marius from a bullet by taking it herself, but now Montrose heard the whole of it, every detail that had come back to Marius in the long months of his convalescence after nearly succeeding in dying at the barricades. 

Somewhere during his discourse Marius ceased to speak in the first person and began to speak in the third, repeating as he could every single word his cousin had cut him with. And Marius let slip his own private belief that Théodule, a braggart by nature, would not long keep the secret from his bride; only when it was too late would she learn that her husband was her beloved brother's executioner.

Montrose listened to all Marius had to say, declining to interrupt for any reason, not even to make a sound of agreement. He did not even so much as nod his head. Montrose kept still, like a statue in the garden of Marius's despair, hearing all but betraying nothing. Only when Marius could no longer speak, when his words gave way once more to sobbing, did Montrose react. He slipped from his fine calfskin boot a very thin, very sharp stiletto; although he was now a Marquis, the street that had whelped him had not left him too far behind, and he would have counted himself a fool if he went about the city unarmed. He balanced the point of the dagger upon the forefinger of his left hand and held it: the blade did not waver or totter in the slightest.

"My dear baron," said Montrose with the kind of evenness a man uses when trying to keep his civility in check against overwhelming rage, "I have learned a harsh lesson in my dealings with Devereaux, so rest assured I will not repeat my error. I would not act without your leave."

Marius stared at him as if Montrose were speaking German. "I... I don’t..."

Suddenly Montrose moved: his finger flicked upward, the blade, propelled, rose; he snatched it from midair by the hilt and hurled it; it arced and struck the very tree he had scaled to breach the garden wall. The knife stuck firmly into the bark and shuddered from the force of his throw. 

"Allow me to be the instrument of your vengeance, Pontmercy.” His voice dropped to a whisper softer than the wind that stirred the wounded tree. "You have but to ask, and I will kill him."

1 comment:

  1. I love it. I definitely adore your Montparnasse/Montrose because he is such a complex character and his ambivalent situation between his old and his new live shows perfectly that not every criminal is able to become a saint.
    And I really hope that he comes up with something creative for Théophule (what an outstanding written loathsome character).
    Michelle

    ReplyDelete