“Ah - I had been wondering where I’d left it,” said Combeferre brightly, pulling a bundle of beige and navy from a heap in his armoire. Enjolras saw it only out of the corner of his eye, but paid little mind.
Then he set his focus upon the book in his hands – Mémoires sur la guerre de 1809, among those of Combeferre’s which he could “take what he liked” — its worn, bent corners and its messy penmanship inscription in the inside cover.
Unfamiliar penmanship, at that, addressed to an unfamiliar nickname.
“You have found something?” returned Enjolras finally, supposing that perhaps he had, too.
When he turned around, Combeferre was staring at him with widened eyes. His spectacles slipped down his nose; by the time pressed them up again with his thumb and forefinger Enjolras suspected his vision had been altered for several stupefied moments.
“No.” A pause. Enjolras looked at the bundle critically. “Well, yes, but it is of no consequence, and was not really lost. Of course I kept it.”
With one hand Enjolras set the book beside his small chosen pile, and with the other he supported himself from sitting on the floor to kneeing. As tall as he was he could see the floor around Combeferre, then - or, could not in fact, because it was covered in old smocks and trousers and waistcoats. “A coat, is it?”
As amusing as it was, despite all instinct, to see Combeferre flustered upon the most basic of questions, it was less so to feel insatiably curious: about the friend, and about the finding.
“Rather - ,” began Combeferre, as he pulled garments from the bottom of his wardrobe with increased pace, tossing them about his little corner with vigor, “rather a particular one. Alas! I needn’t bother to try it to suppose that it no longer fits, of course. I should like to be rid of it in such case, but the - the fashion has changed, as so many things must, over the years.”
And yet Combeferre, who seemed to have but few new garments each year, had changes of fashion strewn about his rug as though he had never rid himself of anything.
Perhaps to him ‘progress’ was better realized if one clung to what had come before.
“Your uniform?” said Enjolras, setting another book gently atop the military volume and then both in his pile, intrigue getting the better of him.
Combeferre smiled, sheepish, and gave a nod of his head. “I oughtn’t keep anything from you, Enjolras” – and he rifled through fabric before pulling the bundle up again, and this time unrolling it from itself.
“Nearly fashionable,” he said, holding the navy coat by the shoulders. That, Enjolras had no idea, but he could note that when Combeferre shook it, gold buttons shimmered.
Whatever his feelings upon the institution, Enjolras was struck by the image of Combeferre – a little younger, with a less distinguished countenance - dressed in such a uniform, and moreover what he must have looked like upon the day he quit the Polytechnic, if he had removed it sadly or with a flourish, or…
He looked away from his friend, feeling suddenly as though there were less air in the room to breathe.
“With all that it represents I would feel no qualms over burning it. Surely some of our friends wouldn’t loathe to provide assistance - what do you say? Shall we choose a Wednesday, and dispatch invitations?”
Combeferre smile for once did not make Enjolras feel any happier, for there was something else he could not take his mind from.
And no longer was it the mystery of the book note.
“I,” managed Enjolras. “Perhaps, Combeferre, you might keep it.”
“Why! That I did not expect. But you are right - I must not run from this, and although it may not be useful again it - it does have a sentiment. Pray I do not find any other sentimental coats or I shall not be making any more room in this apartment at all.”
Enjolras was not a man to pray, but even had he been he could not have promised to do so in such a case as this.
And if the disarray persuaded Combeferre to spend more time at Enjolras’s own flat once more, so be it – for such company Enjolras would never again mind the mess.