A Serial Novel

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

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Chapter Nine: Heloise and Jacques

When one of the innkeeper’s servants knocked on Jacques’ door and told him that Father Fulbert wanted a word with the Marquis, Jacques almost told him that his father was dead, before he realized what those words meant.
It was the first time anyone had called him by his new title, and Jacques felt a strange feeling. It wasn’t power, as you might expect. It was freedom, a freedom so light it felt almost like vertigo. Jacques wondered what it would be like not to feel the weight of fate.

But some decisions have a weight of their own. “God, I would like to fuck that baby.” “The girl’s aunt said you were making inquiries. Do you think I don’t want your happiness?” “The signs are all propitious, Jacques.” “Of course, Papa, I am happy to marry Heloise.” “I can’t have been the one who wanted this.”

Where was this decided? When? What moment in the circuit between Jacques and Heloise, Abelard, Madame Gorriot and the dead Marquis had led to the final misunderstanding? But there it was, three doors down: a nascently beautiful (fuckable) young woman who was just intriguing enough that Jacques didn’t wholly regret the mistake.

It was this decision that Father Fulbert had come to discuss. He wanted to make sure that “His Grace” did not lose track of his new charge in the confusion of this changing of the guard.

“I have received a letter from Madame Gorriot, a devout woman who is sadly a little too suspicious by nature. She fears that, the rush of the funeral and your consecration will be such that you might be inclined to forget the sanctity of your intentions.”

“You can assure Madame Gorriot that her fear is misplaced.”

“Believe me, Your Grace, I have, but she remains suspicious. If I may be so bold, it seems to me that some assurances on your part might help matters.”

“I’ll not pay a dowry, like some woman, if that’s what she’s looking for.”

“Your Grace misunderstands both Madame Gorriot and me. Madame Gorriot is an honest woman, reconciled to her humble circumstances. And, as for me, my concerns have to do with a higher order. Everyone knows your generosity and the generosity of your family. I have no doubt that Heloise will be well taken care of in your household. There are, however, those who put too much credence in other rumors about your family, particularly about the former Marquis. They fear that perhaps in this confusion, your family might remember the marriage but forget the requisite rites and sacraments.”

“I’m surprised,” said Jacques, “at your willingness to cast such strong accusations against the dead. And anyway, you surely know that I am not my father.”

“My order will not soon forget the generous offer of yourself to our services. Forgive my bluntness. I am merely trying to represent your interests, as well as those of Heloise, to those who do not know you as well as I.”

“I’m still not clear how you propose doing that. Apart from my assurances and our formal engagement, both of which are matters of public record, what more is there to do?”

“It is, as I have indicated, a matter of the rites and sacraments. As a priest, authorized by God and the Holy Father to perform such sacraments, I am perhaps in a position to help you provide such assurances.”

“I’m beginning to understand you.”

“It is simply a matter of performing the sacraments now, and letting the celebrations wait for such a time as when celebrations will be more fitting.”

With all the verities, certainties and rhythms of ordinary life that had been cast aside in that country inn where a branch of the house of Orleans had been obliged to decamp, you’d think that the modest stone building must have some fantastic physical properties.But this isn’t true at all. Look at the room where Jacques received the cure. Clean, white plaster walls and heavy wood furniture, too simple to ever be out of sync with the times. It was late afternoon, the last day the family would stay there before making their way home for the funeral. The sun shone right through the rooms one window, and cast long, substantial shadows.

Outside the window, the landscape was shifting. The ragged clouds in the sky made quick shadows that moved with the wind. But it wasn’t just that. Jacques was sure that if he looked just around the corner from the vista that the window offered him, he'd see: trees uprooting themselves to find warmer resting spots, rivers leaving their accustomed banks because the rocks that made up those banks and rolled far away. Jacques had read somewhere that, if a stone could perceive itself as it rolled down a mountain, it would think that it was free, and not merely subject to the immutable laws by which God made the universe. If there were true freedom somewhere, it was just around the window’s corner.So Jacques wasn’t sure why he felt the vertigo even more strongly when he told the cure to get everything ready for the next morning, at first light. They didn’t have many daylight hours to spare if they wanted to make it home before nightfall.


From everything the authors have written, you probably are anticipating disaster from the start. But you’re wrong. Things went beautifully for a while. This all happened at the height of French classicism, so there were no wags ready to quip that “the wedding baked meats did coldly furnish forth the funeral tables.” And Heloise enjoyed the happiest six months she’d ever had. Cynical reader. Maybe you’ve forgotten Jacques’ happier, more angelic nature. Just because the authors haven’t been writing about it doesn’t mean it wasn’t still there. And it returned. The Jacques Heloise came to know is the one that the authors have taken for granted but haven’t had the guts to write about (it’s so hard to be genuine): the solicitous gentleman, the ardent lover.

What about Madame Ledoux? We’ll keep her in the wings for now.

What about Just? Robbed of his father, in his grief, and confused by the return of his sympathies for Jacques (caused, no doubt, by his newfound understanding – if not agreement – that one could abandon the obvious charms of Ledoux for the mysterious allure of Heloise), he went back to being a thirteen year old boy. Only he couldn’t understand why, when Heloise had first been introduced to him (not ten minutes after he’d been told of the death of his father) that she discreetly, but unmistakably puckered her lips, first at her cousin, and then at him. Then the two of them had smiled strange, incongruous smiles (they were more used to the idea of death than Just was, and anyway Heloise was giddy at having just gotten hitched). This enigmatic gesture would keep his absurd hopes alive for a number of years.

I assure you. That’s how things were.


But I want to pass over the details of this uxorious bliss and merely speculate that perhaps this is why Heloise waited for four years after the disappearance of Jacques before she started taking lovers. The enigmatic circumstances of his disappearance made it impossible for her to get married again, even if that were what she wanted, which I very much doubt.

What happened was this:

One morning, Jacques kissed his lovely wife goodbye. He was going to the capital to see to some matters of business that had been left unresolved with his father’s death. She didn’t want him to go. It was the first time they’d been apart since they’d been married, and she still couldn’t believe her happiness, so she had a strange foreboding that it would vanish. Also, the cure, who had been sticking to a more traditional form of education, had hinted that there were things to be done in his absence.

This latter fear proved unfounded. There was no time for that. It was the barely one day after Jacques had left when Abelard came back to report that Jacques had vanished during the night. Everyone put great stock in the fact that he seemed genuinely shocked. You probably think Jacques had flown the coop again. That idea obviously crossed everyone’s mind (even Heloise’s who’d learned a good deal about the family in the meantime and who didn’t really think she deserved happiness anyway). But I’m inclined not to believe that he did, for the same reason as the family. We all know how much Jacques liked to talk, and this time no one, not even Abelard, had heard a peep. Or, if anyone had, they weren’t talking.

Besides, it wasn’t two days after that when the riders came with a warrant for Jacques’ arrest. Since the order was signed by the King himself, many people assumed that Jacques had secretly been taken into custody, as sometimes happened. But if that’s true, why did the King summon Just and Heloise to Versailles – by the way, I should mention, that on that long carriage-ride, Just and Heloise were alone for the first time, and you can imagine the torture that that caused on Just, being there in that stuffy box, hot from shame and desire and the fear of not knowing if he would be held responsible for his brother’s misdeeds – why (as I was saying), did the King summon them to his presence to insist personally that no such thing had happened. “Your brother was simply wanted to resolve some questions for some of my advisors. No, dear boy, I hate to inform you that your brother is surely dead, no doubt killed for one of his many youthful indiscretions.” At which point the King himself had Just consecrated as the newest Marquis de Orleans.

Nevertheless, in a rare break of solidarity between the Church and State, the Church refused to consider Heloise a widow without more substantial evidence. “I cannot bear to see her hope killed so easily,” Father Fulbert told his mentor.

So, for whatever reasons, Heloise waited a number of years before she began taking lovers. And even then, she was very circumspect in her affairs. She only chose men whom she knew could keep secrets. Her first lovers were drawn from the circles of local tradesmen and the more important servants, but eventually Heloise grew weary of the charms of even the most genteel among them and longed for an intellectual peer. During the last four years, she’d more than made up for her neglected education, availing herself of all the resources compiled by generations of educated gentlemen. Aside from a few rumors (perhaps not all those gentlemen were quite as discreet as Heloise had believed) and scattered references in her letters to Genevieve (who was caught in a quietly unhappy marriage and lived vicariously through the details that Heloise supplied her with) we know little about these affairs.

Still, one might wonder:

During these years did she ever have sex with Just? I doubt it, because Just was hardly ever around. After being made a marquis, Just issued only two orders before leaving to continue his education elsewhere, first in Prussia and then in Holland.

The First Order: Naming Abelard as his steward, giving unprecedented power to a servant of such humble beginnings. “Treat his wishes as though they were my own.” (“You have to help me Abelard, I can’t bear to be around her, around either of them.”) These years marked the height of prosperity for the house of Orleans, whose men had never been particularly competent landowners or businessmen.

The Second Order (at Heloise’s private, confidential request): That Father Fulbert be declared persona non gratis, not only in the house of the Marquis of Orleans, but indeed in all the domains under his control.

Well, then what about Abelard?

I won’t deny that the opportunity was there. Circumstances forced them together more often than not. Although Abelard ran the estates and affairs of the house of Orleans, it was Heloise who became its public face at all official ceremonies and social gatherings. The old Marquise had gone into a decline that couldn’t be checked. As for Louise and Madeline, soon after Jacques disappeared each finally consented to the suitor that she had been leading on for years. This left Heloise and Celi, who were seen together at everything. They let it be known how fond they were of each other, but everyone also knew that Celimene hated Heloise and blamed her for losing first her father, then Jacques, and finally, most unforgivably, Just. But I can’t say if there was anything beyond this professional association of Heloise and Abelard, especially since Abelard, like Heloise, is the soul of discretion.