A Serial Novel

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Chapter 7: The Taste of the Fountain

The last thing that Just remembered coherently before his vision was thinking how ironic it was that he had actually fallen so deeply ill. The consolation for being a sickly child is that you learn how to wiggle your way out of all sorts of requirements. No one who had ever seen one of them would question Just’s inability to travel during one of his headaches. It was a measure (and even Just realized this) of just how bad this particular attack was that Just was able to detach himself from the usual self-pity that gripped him and that was almost worse than the headache just long enough to realize that this time he might have deserved it, brought it on himself even. At first, he was desperate to figure out how to modify his plans now that he knew that Celi was onto him. Actually, it was imperative that he speak with Ledoux. Oh, he knew she’d never love him, would always only see him as a boy. But he could, if he could just get her to listen long enough, convince her that they could find common cause in their desire to get revenge on Jacques. He had never been as mad at Celi as when she saw through him without realizing how serious it was this time (she was still just a kid).

Only it didn’t matter, because just two days after the family had left, while Just was still laying his plans while playing at being ill, this attack hit him and he couldn’t worry about revenge anymore. At first it was mild and as long as he lay in bed with the curtains carefully drawn he could still eat and talk with the servants. It’s hard to say how many days passed in this state, but there was plenty of time for Just to imagine hundreds of different versions of his plan, and also to imagine all the fun his family was having without him and to hate them all for leaving him again.

After what must have been at least a week, his sickness intensified. That’s when Just had the moment of lucidity that I just mentioned. And then the attack hit him so badly that he was robbed of both self-pity and detached irony. Reason and emotion gave way to raw, bare suffering, and he could hardly see.

This was the state that he was in when one of the servants poked in to announce that a lady had come in to look in on him, as his parents had asked her to do. Just was about to say that he couldn’t remember them telling him about this (they’d mentioned Abelard, but that was all) when he heard the lady’s voice and realized it was Madame Ledoux.

I don’t need to tell you how happy this made him, but also how nervous that she should see him like this, that he should get his chance so fortuitously, but only while in this state. He thought maybe he should pray, but he didn’t think there was a patron saint for revenge, or for lust, or for any of the things that motivated him.

And then the illness passed.

“You’ve come to see me?” He knew he could not pull off the solicitous gallantry of Jacques, so he aimed for his father’s peremptory casualness.

“Poor boy,” she said, “I had heard that your family had left you here alone and thought someone should look to your health. Even if they are too busy elsewhere.”

“Didn’t my parents send you to look in on me?” Just asked.

Ledoux laughed, and Just realized how absurd that would have been and how silly he was to believe it. They would have thought, “Abelard and the servants, that is enough,” if they had thought to think at all. And anyway, things had always only been polite between the Marquis and the Ledouxs, on account of who Monsieur Ledoux was (had been). “Well, some of us are motivated by Christian compassion to look after those who have been left behind.”

She walked up to his bedside and put her hand on his forehead. Her knuckles felt cold and heavy, like marble. “You’re feverish,” she said. “Hasn’t your blood been let?”

“My father thinks it is illiberal.” (His father talked at length of the empirical school of medicine and said blood letting was for priests and peasants.)

“But I’ll have my physician come look after you. A boy like you needs taking care of,” she said.

Although the presence of her hand and the sting of the word “boy” were both inflaming him, Just struggled to lift himself. “No, no;” he reassured her. “My illness comes and goes.” To prove his point he would have lifted himself out of bed, until he remembered that he was wearing his bedclothes. How could the woman he loved see him like this without it being more meaningful? She was so presumptuous and, Just though briefly, cruel. “No, it’s only that she thinks you’re still a child.”

“Anyway,” he said, “it’s not my illness that kept me here. I couldn’t be with people like that. That would have made me ill.”

“And you didn’t want to meet your brother’s little bride? You’re not excited for a new sister?”

“I have enough sisters of my own.”

“But she must be quite a beauty to win someone as dashing as Jacques. You know, all the ladies around here are crazy for him. And he chose her instead of any of them. Didn’t that interest you? And she’s much closer to your age than his.”

“Not all of us are as weak as my brother. Some of us can see through empty charm.” Just said, and did his best to stare meaningfully at Ledoux.

“Oh, I didn’t realize you had such refined taste.”

This wasn’t how it was supposed to work, Just thought. He had been prepared for her to reject him. He wasn’t going to try to win her over, anyway. He was ready to have to work indirectly. But this gentle, mocking irony was unbearable. (Like many clever children, Just couldn’t bring himself to believe that any adults were as clever as he). It made his head hurt, and he found himself growing confused.

He didn’t realize that he was soon stammering out his love for her until he had already told her everything, mumbled his way through her encounter in the cabin and through Jacques’s cold words to him on his return.

He hadn’t intended that. He had wanted to be more clever, more subtle, poetry dripping with significance (that was the plan, as futile as he knew it was). He was prepared for all the subtle stratagems of unrequited love. But he wasn’t ready to watch the woman he loved weeping for the man she loved (whom he hated, still hated, couldn’t forgive, not yet.)

“You don’t understand, do you?” she asked him.

“I understand how callous and cruel my brother is.”

“You don’t understand a thing. But if we’re going to be honest (and I’m happy to be able to be honest) then I’ll be blunt. This infatuation must stop, and you know it. Don’t think I’m being cruel, dear boy.”

“I’m almost a man.”

“Well, then, good. Because I need an almost-a-man, but I need an almost-a-man who, like a man, can see clearly and who knows what’s what. Because I don’t need a love-sick boy. I need an ally. Are you strong enough for that?” she asked.

“I’m strong.”

“I don’t doubt that you are.” Ledoux leaned close to him and whispered, so close to him he could feel the air moved by her lips: “I know I can trust you,” and he felt her press a hand against his chest. When she moved it away, he realized that she had given him a letter. He looked down, and saw that it bore Jacques’s name, and was sealed with wax from a seal he didn’t recognize (not Ledoux’s family seal).

“Then tell me what you’ll do.” She said.

“I’ll give this to Jacques.”

“And will you tell anyone?”


“Good, then. Be well.” She put her hand to his forehead one more time and moved it through his hair. It was the maternal gesture of a woman who had lost her son. It was the manipulative gesture of a beautiful woman. Only a feverish boy with an overactive imagination could have imagined it was anything more.

He felt the fever returning then (miracles are short) so he didn’t know what he said to her as he watched her turn and walk away.

He had the presence of mind to throw the letter beneath his bed before the headache returned, so badly that he couldn’t think anything else.


Then it was night. Just woke up and the fever was gone. Only the night was so hot that it almost felt like he was still feverish. But he couldn’t be, because he felt strong. He lifted himself out of bed and he looked at himself. He realized that he was a man now. He felt the width of his shoulders, looked down and saw muscles on his slender chest. It was so hot that night. He took off his night shirt and stepped to the open window. He touched his big hands and said, “this is me.”

That was when he realized that he was not alone in the room. Madame Ledoux was still in the room with him.

“I thought you’d left,” he said.

“I didn’t realize how much time had passed,” she said. “You are strong.” Just realized that Madame Ledoux was looking at his body.

“I am strong,” he said.

Just realized that he was back in bed and that Ledoux was in bed with him. He felt her hands in his hair, and all over his body, the man’s body he didn’t know he had. He wanted to touch her.

Just felt a sequence of sensations that he couldn’t identify, patches of touches, of hardness and softness, of heat and piercing, bright light that, if it weren’t so delicious, would have felt almost identical to one of his headaches.

He hardly knew what to say. And then he felt his body shaking and he realized that he was yelling, “My god! Jesus Christ! My god!”

Then he felt the fever return and his body shrink away.


It was still night when he returned to himself, and his fever was gone. The window was still open, and a cold wind was blowing in. It moved over his body, and he realized that he was naked and that there was a cold cloth across his eyes. He removed it.

That was when he realized that he was not alone in the room. His father was in the room with him.

“I thought you’d left,” he said.

“You didn’t realize how much time had passed,” the Marquis said. He walked over to Just and placed his hand on Just’s forehead. His father’s hands were so cold that Just thought for a second that maybe his fever had returned.

“Look after your brother.” The Marquis said.

“Why should I look after him? He is weak and I am strong. He betrayed you and he betrayed me. He is older, and he should have to look after me.”

“But I always loved him more than I loved you.”

“I know.” And Just realized he was crying.


Then it was day, or rather it was sunrise. It was the precise moment of dawn, something you can’t know if you’ve only lived in cities or valleys. But if you’ve been in the mountains or if you happen to have a window in a high room that looks eastward over a broad, flat expanse (as Just did), you may have seen the precise moment of dawn: Just knew it as a bright light, but gentle unless his headaches were going. This dawn did not come gently. Just opened his eyes, and the morning light overwhelmed him.

That was when he realized that he was not alone in the room. Or rather he was, but he wouldn’t be for much longer. A strange, bright creature was riding in on the light beams. As it got closer, Just realized that it was a woman. At first he thought it must be Madame Ledoux again, but then Just realized she was gigantic. Like Ledoux, she had the soft, full body of a young mother, but her eyes were small and round, and her mouth was thin (his father, enamored of the classics, would have noticed that her eyes were flashing).

This gigantic woman rode in on the beams of dawn’s light, and Just thought she was so sexy that he was shocked when he realized that she was an angel of the Lord. He figured she must be, because she wasn’t dressed like a modern Frenchwomen, but in idealizing white robes.

“I am an angel of the Lord,” she said.

“Why are you here?” Just asked.

“I bring glad tidings of things to come! I bring news of the regime to come! I am France, her seed scattered across the Earth. Look on me and see that I am beautiful. Blessed art though, Just. Blessed indeed. Many are called, but few are chosen. Behold my beauty.”

And then Just felt her lift his body in her arms. She was strong and carried him easily out the window. They stepped out his window, and the angel carried him on the air. She grew taller, and with large steps she walked over the houses in the village that surrounded the Marquis’s estate. And Just saw the peasants waking up. For the first time in his life, he realized how beautiful they were beneath their dirt and grime. They didn’t see him; they were looking over from where he’d come, at his family’s chateau. For the first time in his life, he saw how balefully they looked at it.

She led him across the valley to Ledoux’s estate. Soon (joy of joys) they were in Ledoux’s chambers. She was already mostly dressed and was combing her hair. She was looking in a mirror, but her eyes weren’t looking back at her. Just noticed her in a way that he hadn’t last night or even before (when he had just been a lovelorn boy). He saw the wrinkles of her eyes, the first hints of grey in her hair. You might think that this was a sign of his waning crush on Ledoux, but actually it made him love her much more.

This was a short visit. Soon, they were walking to Paris. The angel took whole bends of the road in a single stride, and they overtook merchants whose eyes were still sleepy and then soldiers whose long, even steps left the grass trampled on either side. They passed parties of gentlemen who were riding in the crisp morning air and who didn’t notice the peasants standing deferentially on the roadside. She would occasionally say something, some praise to the Lord, to his wisdom or to her own beauty (the beauty of France). But mostly they walked in silence. They passed many inns, and outside of one inn, when they had almost reached Paris, Just saw his family. The angel stopped several paces in front of them and it was almost as though he were regarding a painting.

This is the tableau he saw from on high. To one side, his mother and sisters were weeping, and, right in front of him, Jacques was holding their father in his arms. His family was clustered around Jacques. On the other side of Jacques, another cluster: a man of God, dressed severely and holding a young girl (three or four maybe) by the hand. He, bent over, gesturing at her: She, staring at the family, her eyes hidden by gnarled curls of thick, brown hair. She was starting to point, but the priest was gently grabbing her hand. Standing close to the girl, two young women, one dark haired and one blond. The blond, who had a look of terror, was starting to say something to the dark haired women, but she had turned away from her companions. She stood at the peripheries of this tableau. She wasn’t looking at anyone else but, nonetheless, her eyes suffused the scene with a strange calm. “Here’s someone who already knows loss,” Just thought.

The dark haired woman turned her head, and the tableau fell apart. For a moment, Just though she was looking right at him, but this was just an effect of her movement, and soon she walked over to join Jacques. Just couldn’t see what happened then or ask the angel what was happening, because she was already moving, leaving the scene far behind.

They were almost immediately in Paris. They were not in the parts of the city that Just knew. The angel slowed her pace, and she moved them slowly over the face of this great metropolis so that Just saw: carpenters and blacksmithers, grocers and printers, casinos and brothels and taverns, the whole face of the city in minute detail. They stopped and ate potato cakes from a street vendor. They followed one young man, who was probably close to Just’s age for what seemed like hours. He had a hard loaf of his bread in his pocket, and he’d occasionally take a bite from it. He darted in and out of this seedy world, before making his way to the river. There, they left him and followed a pair of ladies walking through Paris’s most elegant shops before they announced themselves at the gates of a handsome townhouse, which Just thought he could almost recognize.

When it was getting dark, Just thought to ask what they were doing. At this point, the angel had returned them through her aimless wander through the darker alleys of Paris. She stopped outside a tavern and sat Just down. She told Just to walk inside.

It was so full of dirty men and the occasional whore that it took Just a moment to notice the incongruity, as obvious as it was. Right in the middle of the room, two gentlemen shouting at one another while the dredges of Paris looked on and laughed. It took his eyes a moment to adjust enough to realize that they were Jacques and Monsieur Ledoux.

Before he could say anything to Jacques, he realized that the angel had him in her arms again. They had left Paris and were walking southwestward, following the sun that had first announced the angel’s arrival.

It was night when they reached Bordeaux. This time, the angel didn’t bother taking him to the homes of the wealthy ship-owners (Just remembered them from when his family had gone to visit his uncle’s family there). Nor did she take him through the squalor of the men who filled those ship’s hulls. She simply marched into the water.

The monotony of the blueness filled his eyes and he fell asleep.

He didn’t wake up until the next morning and he realized, except for the warmth of the angel and of his body (his fever had returned) that he ought to be freezing. They passed over small, primitive towns. He recognized the walls of Montreal from his family’s picture book of the Americas. But soon those vanished as they continued down its big river, passing furriers and Indians rowing along its banks, then silence. They passed over rivers and lakes, and the air grew warmer. Soon it was quite hot. It was near noon when they reached what Just knew was New Orleans (He thought often about New Orleans; his father’s younger brother had died there, and Jacques had often speculated he might be happier seeking his fortune there. Just had lately been imagining Monsieur Ledoux there, wondering whether word of his wife’s pregnancy had ever reached him there) He would have liked to see New Orleans (much more than he enjoyed seeing the forbidden parts of Paris), but the angel hardly stopped.

Instead she made her way back up the Mississippi River, whose wide banks Just could hardly believe. They left it where it seemed almost more a swamp than a river and the angel began following a small tributary instead. That tributary led them through bogs and hills, over forest and across long, barren plains. In a red desert, it almost disappeared. When it was hardly more than a trickle it began to climb a mountain, and Just realized that they were almost to its source.

When they arrived there (it was almost evening again --- the sun had disappeared behind mountains further to the west, although it was still light), Just was surprised to find a number of people.

They were dressed in robes not that different from those of the angels.

“They have come for the Fountain of Youth.” The angel told him.

Indeed, Just saw that they stood in a line to drink from a tiny rivulet of pure water, streaming from a rock, the origin of the tiniest trace of the mighty waters they’d seen that day. Two angels stood by the headwaters and each person would whisper something into one of their ears. Sometimes, she would nod, and take his hand. She would draw his face to the water and he would take a long draught. The other angel would lead him away, down a path that went to the right, and then bent behind a fork in the road. Sometimes, she would shake her head, and the angel would point them to a path that went to the left. Just could see that this path went as close to straight as it reasonably could down the mountain’s steep slope before it disappeared into the horizon. People were walking slowly down its long itinerary.

The Angel led Just to the front of the line. She whispered to the other angels. They nodded and Just’s angel lead Just to the headwaters.

"Drink.” She told him.

“But I don’t want to be young.” He said. “Why would anyone want to be young?” he said.

The angel’s eyes flashed. She took his head in her hands and forced it beneath the water. At first, all Just could feel was its heat, entering his nose and his lips. Then, he realized how sweet it was, sweeter even then the pure sugar he and Celi had managed to lift from the pantry once or twice. He drank until he thought his lungs would burst.

The angel led him around the corner. There were a group of children sitting in a large semi-circle hollowed into the side of the hill. They were laughing and playing a game and hardly seemed to notice when an angel came and carried one of them away.

“But I don’t understand,” Just said. “In legends, the Fountain gives you youth, but it doesn’t make you a child again. Who would want that?”

“Shh!” the angel said. “It’s not for children to understand.”


When Just came to again, he could feel the last traces of the fever making their way out of his body, the headache just the memory of a headache now. He started to run his small, weak hands over his pathetic, puny chest when he realized that he was not alone in the room.

The family physician and the family priest were both standing by Just’s bed. They were speaking with one another, so they didn’t notice at first that Just had come to. Once they did, the physician insisted on examining him thoroughly one more time and the priest insisted on giving him confession. In the family of the Marquis de Orleans, the physician came first. So it was only after he had been administered various poultices to speed his healing that he was asked to confess his sins. This gave Just time to fabricate some sins to replace the many he’d actually committed since his last confession. It was only after confession that he learned that the priest had been summoned when the physician had thought Just was going to die.

“But we knew you were saved when, in the middle of the last rites you called out the name of our Savior and of our heavenly Father. The miracle of your healing followed after this.”

The physician had ordered constant watch, so Just was not allowed to be alone for several days. When he was finally strong enough to get up from bed he asked for a few moments to himself.

He bent down on his floor to retrieve the letter Ledoux had left him.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Chapter 6: "What Do You Like?"

Like most adolescents, Heloise thought of herself more or less like a mirror, if not in so many words. She took care to present herself exactly as she imagined people saw her—or as she imagined she’d like them to—and she took it for granted that—since people love looking in mirrors—no had any pleasure greater than looking at her.

Before the mirror of her self cracked, Heloise never noticed this. Now she noticed little but. She loved the way Jacques and his family looked at her when she spoke her mind. She loved the way she could pierce herself in their eyes.

“Which country do you find is the home of your soul?” Madeline asked her. They were picnicking by one of the leisurely rivers on their stop-by-day-as-well-as-by-night way. “To me, it’s the Orient. There’s something vital and full-blooded there that alone can satisfy the blood in me.”

“That’s like Madeline,” said Louise, “Everything pounding like the last three chords of a symphony and the longer and more clotted with history the better. The Americas for me, and everything new and clean—men and spirit animals in the silence of the wood.”

Greece,” said the Marquis, Jacques’s father, who loved to talk and argue with his children, his daughters especially, who was nothing that fatherless Heloise expected from a father and everything she found most delightful. “But there, I’m old fashioned.”

“And you Heloise?” asked the Marquise.

Still Heloise found something affected in the question. As if she had been waiting all her life for a family to ask her about her soul-home—which everyone had, of course, or at least they did. She replied, “Perhaps with a better education, or at least one more liberal, I would be better able to dispose of my soul so lightly. But I have not been so fortunate to find any home for long, much less one for my soul.”

She wondered at her daring and her rudeness, but the family simply laughed. They loved it when she spoke out like this. Madeline said, “And that’s to teach me to ask questions my —future—sister does not wish to answer.”

Madeline looked at her like there was never a girl so fun to play with, so nice to show off. Louise looked at her kindly, rosily—the Marquis approving, glancing at his wife for her nod. Celi just stared and stared. (She was saving Heloise up in her eyes for Just, who she missed—who at the moment was grinding his teeth with self-pity at how itchy and sticky and feverish he was in his skin.)

Heloise watched Jacques, who mostly stayed quiet. She would have thought this was his nature, if Madeline had not thrown a roll at him and said, “Why so dull now always? Who should I call on to ask for my brother’s tongue back?” (What Heloise did not notice was Louise say, Shh, and Madeline, her lips straight, whisper, And how does how you treat him help? And the Marquis say, Shh.)

What she did notice was that when spoke out, Jacques looked her up and down, with something of his father’s judging glace, but at a further distance—ah, so that’s who you are, you surprise me.

Heloise watched them all watch her and loved each turn of the reflection, and thought she could deal with all of them and altogether liked the thought. Now all she had to worry about was sex.

She had tried to broach Genevieve on the subject but was surprised to find her elusive. The truth was Genevieve preferred romance a little more vague, a little more composed of breath, a little higher, somewhere between the air and the lips.

“What is your favorite dessert, Mlle Beaujeu?” asked Celimene—another picnic. “Mine’s Venus nipples.”


“And if the girl likes Venus nipples is she to be scolded?” said her father. “Mine favorite's lady's fingers—more discrete with age, you see.”

”Mille feuilles.”

Heloise admitted that she liked beignets very much.

”And you, Jacques?” asked the Marquis.

“I don’t know.”

But the Marquis didn’t take that for an answer. He kept on picking at him until Jacquest finally said, “Pain de beurre. I’d like that best, if it’s so important to pick a favorite food.”

“I’d forgotten you’re too old now to speak to us,” said the Marquis.

“And I’m surprised you’re not too old to be constantly looking for society with your children—although, I forget, you love nothing so much as your family, after all you’ve given up everything for it. I can’t stand it, Louise,” said Jacques, “Why must he spend all his time with us. I never asked him to. I never made him.”

The old man is lonely, thought Heloise, and she thought again how she preferred him to Jacques. Except that Jacques was so sad. You could never be bored or useless with someone that sad around.

The next person Heloise would have looked to for advice about sex would have been Cure Fulbert, her spiritual father—she would have put it delicately—but the cure spoke to her first.

The next two things that happen in this story seem very much like dreams. Just would always swear that his was not, and Heloise would have given anything to believe that hers was. Heloise first, then.

It was dark, an inn after everyone snuffed their lamps out and turned to snuffing themselves, heavy-breathed in sleep—that’s important to know because Heloise had trouble hearing in the dark—and the cure shook Heloise and told he needed to speak with her. Heloise started, stumbled obediently out of bed, feeling half as if—looking at the soft, still sleeping Genevieve—she were leaving her own body there.

Closeted together, the cure began by catechizing Heloise.

“How do you like this family your aunt has found for you?” he asked.
”I like them well enough.”

“And how do you like your king?”

“I am a loyal subject—what do you mean?”
”And how do you like God?”

“He is God—how should…” Heloise did not think that she was understanding the cure correctly.

“What do you say to this? This Marquis is nothing more than a dilettante who does not have the guts to be a true intellectual, an atheist too cowardly to take the name, and a coward who hides his traitorous thoughts from himself behind the skirts of his family. How do you like that?”

Heloise blinked, not understanding the attack. (And if, later, she came to accept that this was a kind of truth, she might wish to have said, “And what reason is that not to like him?”)

She said, instead, “I would not like to think that at all.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” said the cure, “but you might in any case. If it were true—Don’t look at me like that, girl! I wouldn’t like it either. Here, read this.”

He handed her a letter, but became impatient with her puzzling out the hand and a moment later snatched it back.

“It’s a warrant,” she said, disturbed.

“From the king—or at least the one who guides his steps,” The cure looked at her expectantly, another school-hour pattern that she must puzzle out. He said, “One of them is a murderer. And we, poor girl, must sniff him out.”

“I don’t understand you,” she said. The cure took her by the arm. It felt like glass, her own arm, his far away on its surface. She wondered she did not break. “I can’t hear what you’re saying.”
”Which one? Dear God, girl, I thought it only just to ask.”

“I don’t understand,” speak up! she wanted to say, “How can I know? What kind of justice is that?” They none of them seemed like murderers to her.

The cure spread his hands and a table of desserts appeared under them. Heloise blinked again. There were gateaux and ices—sharp chocolate smell, melting edges—and mille feuilles (Madeline) and beignet (herself) and pain de beurre (Jacques) and Venus nipples (Celi) and lady’s fingers (their father). “Which one?” the cure asked.

They don’t seem like murderers—they look like pastry. (It was too ridiculous, and she like a parrot repeating I don’t understand, I don’t understand.) Heloise thought she heard laughter; she heard the family questioning her and laughing. “Which one’s your favorite? What do you like?”

She shook her head.

She was awake the next morning before its cold light leaked through, before breakfast, long before the Marquise’s screams woke everyone else. “He is dead. My husband is dead.”
He was dead. His eyes were open and dead, his leaking mouth crusted with spit.

The girls cried. Jacques screamed, “You’ve lost me forever now. You stupid old man. What are you thinking?”

Heloise bent over the Marquis and plucked the lady’s fingers out of his fingers.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Chapter 5: The Religion of the Father (Eyes and Ears)

A week passed between Heloise’s engagement and Jacques’s return to Paris. He came back with his family, of course, her family-to-be (with most of his family anyway, the younger son had been too ill to accompany them). Heloise’s aunt arranged for the two families to have a little tête-à-tête.

Before I tell you what I’m going to tell you next, I should let you know something: The Marquis de Orleans was the spitting image of Jacques. That’s how Heloise saw it anyway. I suppose I should say, “Jacques was the spitting image of his father,” since fathers don’t resemble sons. Sons resemble fathers. Naturally, there were the years that separated them. But years and age are malleable things, easily susceptible to manipulation in the mind of a young girl.

When Heloise saw Jacques enter her aunt’s salon at his family’s head, she realized that Genevieve had been so, so right (too right really) and she so, so wrong (laughably, pathetically wrong): Jacques looked stooped and worn by years, more so than she’d remembered. But then he stood up straight, and she saw his eyes and she heard him say with a gentle, confident voice: “So let us see you then, my dear,” and she realized her mistake (a mistake any nervous young woman could make).

I forgot to mention what you’ve probably already gathered: Heloise had never had a father.
The Marquis was not big on ceremony. He glossed right over Heloise’s lack of decorum. No curtsy, no formal welcome or introduction. Just a strange, strange look to give him, a look that reminded him of why he wanted Jacques married in the first place.

It was the look he used to give his grandfather.

I forgot to mention that although the Marquis hated his father, he had loved his grandfather, a gentle old man who had managed to get himself declared unfit to rule so that he could pass the mantle of authority on to his son (he’d long since passed him the responsibilities) and devote himself to the study of his beloved classics.

Jacques only remembered his great-grandfather during the old man’s years of delirium, in the haunts of his earliest childhood (he was too young, he reminded himself, to remember his father’s filial devotion. What Jacques remembered was how this devotion came at the expense of his young family.) His grandfather (the Marquis’s father), he’d never met at all. Justice had never known either, since the patriarch had died when Jacques was just four, and Madeline a baby.

So Jacques didn’t recognize what he saw in Heloise’s eyes, when Heloise met his father. But the Marquis did, and his heart leapt.

You wouldn’t have known it, though, if you’d been in the room then, and seen him, rather then listening to me tell you about their meeting. It was not for this that the Marquis had come.

After Heloise had been introduced to the women who would be her new sisters and her new mother, the Marquis requested that they absent themselves for a while and Heloise found herself alone with this strange old man with the young eyes and with this strange, prematurely old young man. As it happens, one was seated on either side of her. It was as if Heloise were glued to the tain of a mirror, as though she were the mirror really. They both looked at her. But they were actually looking at one another. Or at themselves. I’ve forgotten which.

“The Marquise and I are so happy that you’ve agreed to marry our son,” the Marquis told her (Jacques). It should have sounded stiff (it sounds so stiff when I write it), but Heloise heard only the gentleness of the Marquis, his sincerity.

“We owe our future happiness to them,” Jacques replied (to Heloise).

“And we owe ours to you two. Children are the joy of their parents. Their joy is our joy. And, when they are of age (as you two are), it is their joyous lot to have children of their own. This is their joy. And in it, the joy of the child becomes the joy of the parent. The most wise of the ancients once said that it is through children that we seek immortality.”

“My father is anxious to have an heir.”


(Is this the same Marquis that I described before, this sentimental old man? How does he resemble the tyrant we met two weeks ago? I insist, they are one and the same. Before, I asked you to look at him. And you saw the truth. Now, I’m asking you to listen. And this is what you’ll hear. It’s true.)


“My father is anxious to have an heir.”

“But I don’t understand. He already has an heir. He has you.” This is what Heloise (the mirror) said. But mirrors can’t speak. Listen, then. Listen carefully. You can hear a mirror: when mirrors crack or when mirrors break.

Jacques squinted at his fiancé. The Marquis stared, but for just a second. He stared, and then looked away. To be precise, he looked up. He looked up at the heavens (at the ceiling) and laughed.

Was this his tender, understanding laugh or his cynical, ironic laugh? I’ll leave that to your imagination (do you imagine yourself in the place of Jacques or of his bride-to-be?)

“Oh, I have an heir, to be sure. And I have a back-up, who is at home. He’s taken ill. My dear Justice often takes ill. So did Jacques, when he was a child. It’s only fair, I suppose, to warn you that your children will no doubt often take ill. Children are a blessing. And the more you have, the more blessed you are. When they take ill, you think your world will fall apart. But they usually get better. Then, when they are older, they invent new reasons for you to worry. And you wish for their sicknesses to return, if only because you know where they are then, and where things stand. Don’t look frightened, dear. I’m not telling you this to frighten you. Why would I want to frighten such a tender little thing? You see, Jacques, this is what I mean when I tell you France must be more careful about educating her women. Here, I try to instruct this girl, to give her an honest sense of what to expect, and she falls apart. Don’t worry, my dear. Illnesses pass. The child returns to health. The child leaves, but the child returns. I can tell you that my greatest joy is knowing I’ve lived long enough to see the full circle. I’ve done my part to be a good father. Take comfort to know that you will have a fine husband. And I will take comfort in the reward of old age: watching the lives of our faithful children. Yes, I want a grandson. Just as Jacques wants a son. Isn’t that right?”


I’m sorry. I’ve been trying to write with tenderness about the Marquis, as a sort of apology, but I don’t know how much more I can take. This last bit he said strikes me as cruel, terribly cruel, and I can’t stomach it. I can’t swallow it, even if Jacques smiles, and says “That’s right.” (Just because he says it doesn’t mean he swallows it. He knows something his father doesn’t know. “How can a man have a son but no heir?” He also knows his father loves him. He’s been told it his whole life.

Maybe it would have been better if the Marquis had never had children. Then who would have been his heirs? Maybe he shouldn’t have ever needed heirs. Maybe he should never have been a Marquis. It’s too much responsibility. He would have liked to study Greek more with his grandfather and the stick less with his father. He was always honest about this with Jacques and with Just. He told them the truth. He was honest. He was sincere. Jacques wasn’t the first to wish for an older brother. Jacques was lucky that he didn’t have to wish for an older brother to protect him, to cushion him from the ferocity of their father. When he was younger, he told them, he loved his education so much that he thought more than once about running away to a monastery, to devote his life to God. When Jacques was a young man, he had gotten in an enormous fight with his father (he had gotten in many enormous fights, but this one was special). He had said that he wished his father had devoted his life to God and that he hadn’t stuck around to make Jacques’s life into a hell.

“Well, then, I’d never have even have had you.”

“I never asked to be born.”

“What then, of your sisters and your brother?” At this point, the Marquis gestured at Just, the mute three-year old who would stare for hours at these two strange men, his ears absorbing their quarrels, while his sisters got to play with their mother. “How dare you wish for his death, in front of him. But worse! Better to die then never to have been born.” (The Marquis was educated in the tragedies, had read Sophocles, and knew this wasn’t true).

This shut Jacques up. Jacques never bothered wishing for his father to leave. From then on, he wished to leave himself.


This meant he never got the chance to ask his father, “And what about you? Have you ever wished for this? Are you telling me the truth?” The Marquis thought about it often (after he’d lost Jacques for good, he could think about little else). He could never decide how he would have answered.

But this wasn’t because the Marquis didn’t know the truth. The truth was, he’d have become a scholar if he could have. As much as he pretended it was his (real, genuine, but ambivalent) devotion to family that had made him decide against it, he knew this wasn’t true.
There are two routes available to the aristocrat who’d like to be a scholar: 1) The faithful route: he can devote his life to God and to the ancien regime. This is a different path to service than the one of glory, but it is legitimate. 2) The faithless route: he can become one of those benighted philosophes who preach against God and king. The philosopher is free to pursue the path of glory (he can keep his title), but he will always nonetheless be illegitimate. The Marquis knew he was too weak to give up legitimacy. The faithless route was closed to him. Then why not take the faithful route?

The truth is that the Marquis hated God.


“Yes,” said Jacques. “I’d like to have my son. That’s what I want.”

He was still looking at Heloise as he started saying this. There was something uncanny in his eyes. It left his eyes and entered hers. This took just a moment. Then he turned away from her and looked at his father. Before he’d even finished talking he had locked eyes with his father. Heloise followed Jacques’s eyes. Then, his father turned his gaze towards Heloise, and something else uncanny entered her eyes from him.

I realize this sounds fantastic, and I apologize for leaving aside the realism that has marked our style up to now. I’ll return to it soon, I promise. But it was in this exchange of looks that something terrible really happened to Heloise, so there’s really no other way I can describe it.
When Jacques and the old Marquis confronted each other through the medium of this frightened young girl she became, as I said a mirror. When their eyes locked in this mirror, it unlocked something inside her. It was as though she stepped through the mirror that she was and became something else, something strange. The mirror that she was: she, this simple, frightened young girl, the medium of men’s self-regard. Something strange: I don’t know, maybe she became a man.

At any rate, after this little exchange, when the three of them went out to be reunited with the women, Heloise heard herself say, “I never really belonged with them anyway.”


While Celimene sat listening to her mother and her sisters chat with Madame Gorriot and with Genevieve, she got more and more angry at Just for abandoning her to this. When she heard that Just wouldn’t be coming, she ran up to his quarters and threw the covers off his body.

“Get up! Get up! You can’t do this to me. I’ll die of boredom if you don’t come.”

Her eyes were filled with tears, and she was sobbing. But he looked at her with cold eyes and spoke calmly.

“What choice do I have,” Just said. “I’ve got my headaches.”

“You’re lying,” she said. “You’re lying and I know it. What do you think will happen? You little baby! Do you think they’ll call round to Mme. Ledoux, ‘Oh, please! Oh, please! Please help our poor family. Our dear, little baby Just has taken ill. We think we weaned him to soon. He needs a new wet-nurse. Have you gotten any ideas? You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Be careful to keep your mouth clean and watch out for what else she packs in that milk!”

Just leapt out of bed and chased her out of the room, and down the hall as far as he dared go before someone else see him out of bed. So Celimene had proven her point. But then she hadn’t known how to say goodbye to him and the trip had been miserable when it should have been so much fun.

Her sisters and her mother were so taken with the charming Gorriots who were so gracious and so ingratiating. But Celimene saw right through it. She couldn’t help but see how closely the furniture was packed into the room, how close it all was to going out of fashion, how carefully and thoroughly everything had been washed and re-washed for years and years now, when it should have just been thrown out. She couldn’t help but notice that both women wore clothing which you might call “timeless,” not up-to-date, but never exactly out-of-date either. She couldn’t help that she had discriminating eyes.

Celimene was happy to be in Paris, but she would have liked to have met Heloise and her family in her family’s roomier quarters, closer to the river. There, she and Just could have laid a careful trap for that little bitch Genevieve. It could have been so much fun.