A Serial Novel

A literary experiment in judicial philosophy and historical fiction, inter alia.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Decisions

When Heloise was called to speak alone with her aunt, she knew she was in for it. She should have known earlier that morning, when Genevieve had looked at her dreamily, but with a glint of something else in her eyes, and started to speak, then stopped. Genevieve and her mother held secrets, of course, from Heloise.

It turned out that she had met a man the previous week, and that now everything was arranged. As Heloise should already have suspected, after they had met that gaggle of men. That was when Genevieve had told her (solemnly) how handsome and manly Monsieur de Orleans, in particular, had seemed to her. But he looked so young: his thoughtful smile, and thin frame. It was only his eyes, which seemed to be smoldering but were actually dying that made him seem at all old. In truth, Heloise found him to be beautiful, but of course she couldn’t say that to Genevieve, who moved too quickly over his eyes, down from his smile to his shoulders and his big, smooth hands, to notice his secret age. Heloise hadn’t the courage to ruin their game. And so she protested that he was a frail young thing, and laughingly refused to believe he was almost twice her age. But then Genevieve got quiet and hadn’t talked to her the rest of that day, or even at night, right before bed, when she was normally at her silliest and most carefree.

“A good match, an excellent man with a pedigreed family, who has agreed to take you from Paris back to the country. You needn’t object like that: I’ve seen how much you missed life in the provinces. And I thank you for indulging my Gen, but you and I both know that you’re much less silly than she. You won’t miss its empty excitement. Nor need you worry about your education. Out of respect for the piety of my sister, Father Fulbert has agreed to accompany you until you know all that a lady your age already should have learned.”

Heloise knew what a sacrifice this must be. Father Fulbert had left behind many good opportunities in order to look after her family, could no doubt have stayed on at the Sorbonne or already risen high in the ranks of an important abbey had he not been so devoted to Madame and Mademoiselle Beaujeu. Behind his reticence, Heloise knew how happy he had been when duty and inclination crossed paths, and those paths led him back to Paris, to his circle of friends and colleagues, and back to the orbit of his mentor, the Cardinal Fleury, now tutor to the young King.

Heloise had also learned enough in Paris to know that she was marrying into a very minor branch of the House of Orleans, but still it was kind of her aunt to arrange even that.

That was all Heloise knew of her husband to be: an exchange of smiles, a few words, and some bits of court intrigue. They would be married, she was told, in two months. This, she was assured, would be ample time to fill in these gaps.

After the announcement, Genevieve smiled and hugged the sobbing Heloise. “But won’t you miss me at all?” she said. And then, things were back like old between the two of them, and Genevieve said that Heloise musn’t abandon her entirely once she got her husband. She made Heloise promise to let her come along for a bit at least when she moved back to the provinces. And Heloise knew what a sacrifice this was and smiled gratefully.

Heloise went to sleep that night thinking what a ridiculous entourage they’d be: the bride and her cousin, the priest and his niece. The four of them expecting what for a welcome?

****

Just for his part, was not ready to welcome her, because he hadn’t been invited to participate in the plans for her arrival.

He and Celimene, had as always, been instructed not to bother the rest of the family in its deliberations. And, as always, they had obeyed the letter of the paternal law, if not its spirit. The servants adored Celi; she and Just knew they’d never tell their parents, much less Jacques, Louise or Madeline any of the mischief the babies were up to. So they waited at the threshold of the servants’ entrance for hours. And Celi made fun of Just for his dirty, scrubby knees and his rustic smell and said what a gentleman he’d someday be.

Jacques’s arrival had been delayed by a few days by inclement weather, and so they hadn’t seen him in months. When he finally walked into the room, Just couldn’t help envying him his easy, officer’s walk and his fashionable coif. And he looked more strong than ever to him, even though Celi kept on whispering how thin he looked.

They were watching a mirror on the wall opposite them. They saw Jacques walk across its surface first, and then their mother.

They heard Jacques say, “I’ll admit that she was charming,” but that was all that Just and Celi could make out, because then there were more footsteps, and Mama whispered something desperate, and Just thought she saw her grab Jacques’s arm, but the mirror was in the wrong place to be sure. And then Louise and Madeline walked in with their father, and there was a flurry of hugs and kisses. And Louise and Madeline made sure to tell Jacques how well he looked, but Papa just laughed. “Then why this cut-rate wedding?” he asked.

Just felt Jacques’s anger, felt it inside him. This was something he could always do, feel Jacques’s emotions for him, feel it more cleanly and purely than Jacques could on his own. But then he felt Celi’s hands unclenching his, and he understood why Jacques kept quiet.

*****

Look at the Marquis de Orleans, the noble democrat! He is no despotic paterfamilias. He may be cut from the mold of the best of the Roman senators, but he looks further back to Greece. He will not exercise his prerogative to rule within the private sphere as an absolute king. He treats his children as his councilors (those who are old enough, at least). He listens to their words, he hears their objections. He responds without raising his voice. If, in the end, his decisions are final, it is because he is wise, and his decisions speak for themselves. If his reasons win out, it is because he is a master of debate and of speech.

In this case, it is decided that Heloise Beaujeu is too good a bargain to pass up on. To be sure, Jacques has his doubts. Certainly, the sentimental Marquise weeps that she wants what is best for their son. But, in the end, they agree with the Marquis and with Louise and Madeline (his noble, faithful councilors!) that his happiness must be sacrificed for familial duty. And who is to say, he reminds Jacques, that happiness will not follow from doing one's duty? The Marquis could make Jacques marry whomever he pleases, certainly. But that is not the sort of man that the Marquis is. Jacques chooses to agree.

*****

When the family left, Just and Celi waited a few minutes more, before running as fast as they could through the dingy halls to the back of the chateau, out to the gardens where the two of them were to have been at play and where the joyous family soon would greet them.

Before they left, Celi hugged Just and told him to keep his heart quiet. Just didn’t tell Celi how easy that was to do. For the first time in his life, he felt the mastery of his emotions that his father so easily had. And now he knew his father’s secret. He learned it when he heard Jacques say to Papa: “Of course I am happy to marry Heloise. Thank you, Papa. Thank you.”

The secret was contempt.

1 Comments:

Blogger Art said...

I know: bad correspondant, worse blogger. (That's why you're the older one, I guess.)

It's weird; I didn't even know Celimene was a character, but as soon as I read about her I was like "Of course, that's what Just was doing when he was thirteen besides being in love. Running up and down, listening at doors with Celimene." Watch out--I thought--because if there's any one person in this story I will love too much to write about, it will be her.
Weird, innint? When was it people started assuming guys don't have natural paternal feelings? Not natural wanting to settle down with one woman feelings, but natural wanting to settle down and have children feelings. I was about to tell you an awful story on the subject concerning me and a woman I don't think I mentioned because we weren't really dating. But (even in Internet Confessional mode) I think I'll wait for you to ask.

On another subject, why so down on Just's father? Oh, I'm sure I'll be making fun of him too in my chapters, but I just kind of wondered why are we so down on him? He strikes me as the type who's so fucking sincere he ends up doing everything he hates and who no one will forgive because it doesn't occur to him to forgive himself. Not fun to be around maybe, but at the moment, I'm more frustrated with Just--contempt for Jacques? who knows what Jacques does or what he wants, but I think he might be a great guy and probably not worth contempt. I try to remember that Just is very young and we--we bastards--will never let him get old.

3:36 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home