In 1834, when Joly found himself being released from prison for the second time in as many years, his older brother was there to receive him. This, Joly reflected, might actually be a worse punishment than prison.
“When you were arrested in ’32 we hardly knew what to think,” Alexandre said (he had, at least, granted Joly a couple days’ reprieve before launching into his lecture, one Joly strongly suspected their mother had scripted). “But now that you seem to be making a habit of it—”
“It has always been a habit,” Joly snapped. If two arrests didn’t mean it was time to give up the pretense of being a good royalist, he didn’t know what did. “I am a republican, Alexandre, and have been for more than ten years now.”
“Mother and father wished me to impress upon you how foolishly you have behaved,” he said.
Joly bit his tongue and sunk into one of Alexandre’s overstuffed chairs to just wait the lecture out.
“Who is this ‘we’? The royal we?” Joly couldn’t help but ask.
“No,” he said, indignant at being cut off. “Me, mother and father— and Isabelle, too.” This was his wife. The invocation of the rich and lovely Isabelle made Joly realize exactly where this conversation was headed. “We think you should begin to consider marriage.”
“You supposed the fresher I am from prison, the more appealing I will be to genteel young ladies?” Joly said. Alexandre glared. Joly felt faintly irritated that, even now, being glared at by his big brother could make him feel cowed.
“You’re nearly thirty—”
“You’re nearly thirty and it’s high time— we think it might settle you. It does settle a man. To be married. You don’t feel the need to run around chasing after— poets and revolutionaries and what-have-you. Find a nice girl, take a nice house, start practicing medicine like you always wanted to.”
Joly fidgeted with his cane. The last time he and Alexandre had shared any kind of real conversation, that had indeed been all he wanted. But he had also been about seventeen. His perspectives had shifted somewhat since. Besides which— a thought occurred to him.
“You may not know—” he began.
“Yes, I’m aware of your mistress.”
This brought Joly up short, but only for a moment. “Well— well, suppose I married her?”
Alexandre laughed, short and sharp. “Really, Anatole, don’t be childish. Laying aside the fact that your inheritance will hardly be enough to allow you to marry a girl with no dowry and keep wearing waistcoats that look like that— it is simply not possible for men like us to do such a thing.”
“God forbid I sully the honor of the great Joly family by marrying a seamstress,” he muttered dryly.
“No,” Alexandre said at once. “For your own honor. For your own career. In other wealthy men such a thing can be laughed off, brushed aside—but you and I and our brothers must live above reproach. In matters of marriage, at the very least.”
Joly felt his cheeks grow hot, though on his dark complexion, blushes rarely showed. This part, he knew with complete certainty, their mother— the most beautiful girl in Egypt, their father always said— had not scripted.
“—and yes,” Alexandre added after a slight pause. “It would be horribly awkward to have a seamstress as my sister-in-law. We could hardly expect our friends to invite her anywhere.”
“So— what, then?” Joly asked. “Am I to walk in the street and seize hold of the next young woman I see?”
“Obviously not,” Alexandre said. “Isabelle and I are going to a party next week, you will come. Isabelle thinks that some of her friends have sisters and nieces you will like very much.”
“I believe I have met Isabelle thrice, so I am sure she is an excellent judge of my tastes.”
“You have grown waspish,” Alexandre noted. “You should spend less time with that lawyer.”
The coat Joly loaned to Lesgle was somehow both too large and too small: too long at the wrists and too tight across the shoulders. The shirt beneath was his own, which meant that it was rather threadbare for polite company, and bore a few suspicious powder burns near the cuffs.
In 1832, he and Joly had been arrested in the wave of panic in the wake of Lamarque’s death— which was just his luck, he figured. So they had seen no action then, had not joined the rest on the barricade at Saint-Merry, had played no part in the escape from thence. This time around, Lesgle had avoided arrest, though he had not avoided taking a bayonet butt to the face, and was sporting a rather garish black eye. This did little to improve his overall appearance. But he was at least passable, good enough to accompany Joly to the party without drawing too much comment.
“I would have been quite the important person in Meaux, you know,” Lesgle said as they edged their way through what seemed to be a forest of voluminous ball gowns. “I likely would have hosted parties just like this every day.”
“Every day?” Joly said. “Perhaps it’s best you lost it all, to spare yourself a life of impossible extravagance.”
“That’s very true. I am so glad I may rely on you to reveal the purpose in all things.” He shook the too-long coat sleeves away from his hands. At least the length covered his fraying cuffs. “And in fact, on that note, do you think you might reveal your purpose in forcing me to come here with you?”
Joly looked startled. “You don’t think I’d do something like pick a wife without consulting you?”
“Oh.” Lesgle glanced around. It was somewhat alarming to imagine that one of the anonymous, lace-bedecked young ladies drifting around them might imminently become Madame Joly. “I didn’t realize you intended to make your decision tonight.”
“Well, I hoped to narrow it down at least,” he said. “Apparently my sister-in-law has a fairly extensive list. I thought you could dance with half of them and I could dance with the other half and you could tell me if any of yours seem— interesting.”
“I’m flattered by your trust in my judgment, but wife-picking by proxy…”
“No, no! I’d speak to them also, obviously! I—ugh.” He scrubbed his hands over his face. “I have no wish to go through with this at all, you know that. I don’t want to marry, I don’t know what I’ll do about Musichetta—”
“Don’t you?” Lesgle said, unable to hide his surprise. “You won’t leave her, surely?”
“It just feels…” Joly looked uncomfortable. “I don’t know. Unfair. To whomever I marry. If I’m just… it seems like I ought to try, at least. I will continue to support her as long as she likes, obviously, and continue to see her as long as she’ll let me,” he added quickly. “But it will have to be… less. At least at first. I don’t want to think about it.” He shook his head. “It depresses me.”
He shook his head, then rallied his spirits. “Besides, you know, politically speaking—I think it makes good sense.”
Lesgle laughed. “Does it? Are these Enjolras’s latest orders? Everyone: marry!”
“Well, no, but I was thinking… it’s different now, isn’t it.” He glanced around, as if afraid of being overheard. This seemed both inevitable and unlikely: the ballroom was quiet entirely full, with the result that no one was paying them any attention. “These new laws since April… things are only getting more difficult. Causes like ours are being pushed further and further underground. Perhaps a respectable veneer behind which to hide our activities in the future would not be entirely amiss.”
“Well, tomorrow we will have some wine and you may begin polishing your veneer,” Lesgle said cheerfully, clapping Joly on the shoulder. “For now, let us embrace the opportunity to dance with rich, pretty women. Look, that one seems nice.”
“Don’t point, for goodness’ sake!”
Perhaps his brother was right, Joly thought— a chilling notion. Perhaps he was less easy-going than he had once been, less willing to quietly do what his family asked to avoid making trouble. A few years before, perhaps he would indeed have done as Bossuet suggested, danced politely with a few pretty girls just to make Alexandre and Isabelle happy… but now he found he could not bring himself to do it. He lurked instead at the fringes of the ballroom, trying to keep out of his brother’s sight.
“Deadly boring, isn’t it?” said an officer, who clearly undertaking a similar mission to disappear as completely as possible, though he was achieving it with a languid, elegant air, whereas Joly was fairly certain he himself just looked shifty.
“And who dragged you here?” Joly asked.
“My aunt,” the officer said. “I’m newly posted to Paris, she’s immensely thrilled. She wants to show me off.”
“I’d rather be shown off than married off,” Joly muttered.
“Married?” The officer shifted, their shoulders accidentally brushed together. Or perhaps not accidentally. Joly glanced over— the officer met his gaze steadily. “Won’t that be a shame. Tedious, marriage will be, or at least I’ve always imagined— nearly as tedious as this party.”
This called to mind another thing he’d likely have to give up, if he wanted to be anything approaching a respectable husband.
The officer was still looking at him.
Oh. Well, Joly thought.
Surely at one point in his life, Lesgle had been taught how to speak to genteel women. It seemed like the kind of thing his father would have told him, somewhere along the line. But if the lesson had ever been given, it had apparently long ago been lost. The young ladies found him funny; their mothers, less so, and so Lesgle decided it was time to beat a tactical retreat. He slipped out of a door and found himself in a narrow corridor. It seemed a bit too rude to go wandering around the house, so he decided that it would do well enough for a hiding place.
But apparently someone else had the same idea.
As he moved down the little hallway (for it seemed inevitable that if he stayed near the door, someone would open it and strike him— that was simply how things worked) he tripped over— something, a cloud of lace which let out a squeal and suddenly resolved itself into a girl, a young, pretty girl in an extravagantly lacy dress.
“I beg your pardon,” she cried, bobbing into a curtsey.
“And I beg yours,” he replied. “I am the one intruding on you.”
She shrugged, which made her huge sleeves wobble. She kept her eyes demurely lowered, but every few seconds they would flick briefly upwards, taking him in.
“Well— I don’t know the proper etiquette for an encounter in a corridor, but—” He sketched a bow. “I’m—”
“Yes, I know who you are,” she broke in abruptly.
“Do you?” Lesgle said, surprised.
“Yes, my sister pointed you out to me.”
“Oh,” Lesgle said. They must have danced earlier in the evening; perhaps the sister had been warning her away from having her toes stepped on. “Well, I’m afraid I don’t know your name.”
“Lucile Bouchard, monsieur.”
“And may I enquire what brings you here?”
“To the party?” she asked. “Or to this corridor.”
“The corridor,” he said with a laugh. “I think I can venture a few guesses as to why you are at this party.”
“Yes, I imagine you could,” she said with a wry smile. “I went to school in a convent, and when I was there I always imagined how very glamorous going to parties would be, wearing beautiful dresses, dancing with handsome men. I did not realize that in fact, it was all a cover for the very tedious duty of finding a husband.”
“It seems rather hard, doesn’t it— not only to be forced to marry, but to pretend you are enjoying doing so.” He was, not for the first time that night, grateful to be free from it all.
Mademoiselle Bouchard laughed. “Shall we sit, monsieur?”
She sunk back down to the floor, half-disappearing into her own voluminous skirt. Lesgle followed suit. They sat in silence for a few moments, Mademoiselle Bouchard worrying at a loose string on her glove, Lesgle watching her. Every few moments, she glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. It seemed possible she thought he did not notice this, but he couldn’t quite tell.
(It was at this point he stopped bothering to try and ignore the fact that Mademoiselle Bouchard was very pretty indeed, alarming quantities of lace set aside.)
“Well, then,” she said at last. “What brings you here?”
“Oh, I realized I’ve quite forgotten how to behave in polite society. I’m fairly certain I knew once, but as with so many things I learned as child, the knowledge is now lost.”
“Well, you can’t have done anything very atrocious, because then everyone in there would have something to talk about.” Then, before he could respond, she asked, “What happened to your eye?”
“Oh, er…” He’d nearly forgotten the bruise. He brought his fingers self-consciously to his face. “I was, um. In a riot.”
She lifted her brows. “Were you really? Over what?”
He scrubbed his hands over his head. “I haven’t been to a party in a very long time, but I do remember that politics are not generally considered polite conversation.”
“Nothing interesting is considered polite conversation,” she said darkly. “I promise I will not be offended, though I confess I may not understand. At least attempting to understand will give me something to think about.”
He took in her expression carefully. She did seem to mean it. He laughed. “Very well. The short version is simple enough — there was action taken in support of the rebelling silk workers in Lyon. It went very badly and ended very quickly. Several of my friends were arrested, though it was decided they were not leaders, thank God, and they were released. It was quite lucky— and that is something I never have cause to say— that I only came away with this. In 1830—” He broke off abruptly. “I’m very sorry. I really shouldn’t talk about these things. It’s not appropriate, and it’s not wise.” He grinned. “You might be a police informant, after all. I cannot imagine why else you would want to sit here talking with me.”
She shrugged, suddenly newly interested in casually inspecting some of the lace on her skirt. “Perhaps I am beginning to find you interesting.”
“A sad comment on the intellectual spirit of this party as a whole.”
“Do you mock me, monsieur?”
“No more than I mock myself, mademoiselle.”
“Hm.” She said. She pursed her lips; it was plain she was considering something, but he couldn’t tell what. “I believe I am ready to return. Will you escort me, monsieur?”
“Yes, of course.”
A small pause. She prompted, “Now is when you ask me to dance.”
“Oh,” Lesgle said, taken aback somewhat. “Well, why— yes. Yes, I’d like that very much.”
He scrambled to his feet, then offered a hand to help Mademoiselle Bouchard up as well. She rose in a rustle of silk and petticoat. She was quite tall; an uncharitable individual would point out that she was, in fact, just a touch taller than Lesgle himself. Their eyes could meet quite conveniently. And they did meet. Lesgle thought, it’s a shame I’m too poor to keep a mistress. And then he thought, it’s a shame you can’t ask good society girls to be your mistress. Then he thought, I really don’t belong here.
“Shall we?” he said. She tugged her hand out of his (perhaps with some reluctance, he thought?) and instead took his more politely offered arm. They made their way back down the little corridor and back into ballroom.
“I’ve been impolite,” Lesgle said suddenly. “I believe it is now your turn to speak of something, anything— which I will do my best to understand.”
She looked faintly suspicious. “Anything? Really?”
He nodded solemnly. “Absolutely anything.”
She lifted a brow. “The theories of Evariste Galois?”
This was not the answer he was expecting. “You are politically minded, mademoiselle?”
Before Mademoiselle Bouchard could explain further, they were hailed by a rather harried-looking Joly.
“Bossuet!” he cried. “There you are.”
“Bossuet?” Mademoiselle Bouchard asked.
“It’s a… rather elaborate nickname,” he said. “I’m terribly sorry, I ran into Mademoiselle Bouchard here…”
“Yes, how do you do,” Joly said, glancing distractedly at her. “I need your help, Bossuet, my sister-in-law keeps asking me questions and I haven’t had a chance to dance with anyone.”
“Really? What have you been doing all this time?” Lesgle asked.
“I, uh, got distracted…” He glanced at Mademoiselle Bouchard, who was looking mightily intrigued by this conversation. “I’ll explain later. Oh, damn, here she comes…”
And indeed, over swept Isabelle Joly.
“Ah, Anatole!” she cried. “I see you have met Mademoiselle Bouchard, how very splendid.”
“Er, yes,” Joly said. “And I, uh, I was just about to ask her to dance. If you please, Mademoiselle?”
Mademoiselle Bouchard cast an amused glance at Lesgle, who grinned and shrugged. She dipped into a curtsey and accepted Joly’s offered hand.
“It would be an honor, monsieur.”
Lesgle distinctly saw Joly mouth ‘thank you’ to Mademoiselle Bouchard has he led her away. Fortunately Isabelle, to judge by her placid smile as she watched them move into the set of dancers, did not. Lesgle watched as well, and hoped faintly that Joly would not have the chance to learn Mademoiselle Bouchard’s opinions on Galois before he did.
My dearest Cosette,
You may chide as much as you wish, I simply cannot call you Euphrasie. It is very pretty indeed, as you say, but I have known you as Cosette since our convent days, and I cannot train myself out of the habit now.
I write to you with strange and I hope exciting news. It seems very likely I am to be married, to a young man called Monsieur Joly. I think we will do very well together, for upon our brief acquaintance, I like him very much. You may divine from this that it is a match made not in heaven or in our souls, but by our parents… but for all that, as I say, I think it may not be a very bad thing.
I write also to inquire if there is any hope at all of your father permitting you to come to Paris for the wedding. You may assure him that, if he does not wish to make the journey himself, our home is open to you.
I am ever your affectionate
“The fact of the matter is…” Joly stopped, rubbed his nose with his cane, lowered his cane, took a breath, tried again. “The fact of the matter is, it’s not entirely in my hands.”
“Ah, yes,” Musichetta said. She was perched on the edge of her bed, but Joly was certain no woman had ever sat on a bed and looked less inviting. “The burdens of the wealthy.”
“No,” Joly said at once. “No. The burdens of the marginally wealthy whose inheritance will ultimately be divided between four brothers and whose parents expect them to maintain appearances. If I were as rich as— as Enjolras, I would marry whoever I liked— I would marry you, and no one could stop me.”
“Surely you don’t think I’m criticizing you?” Musichetta said. “I understand, I genuinely do.”
“I think it would actually be easier if you were very angry and refused to speak to me,” Joly said with a sigh.
“I’m afraid I cannot oblige you on that front. Come here.” She held out her hands and he collapsed into her, burying his face against her shoulder. “Genteel young men must marry, and they rarely marry seamstresses. I did not take up with you thinking it would be otherwise.”
“I wanted it to be otherwise,” Joly said. “I know you don’t believe me, I know perhaps you never have, but— I love you, Musichetta. I will not leave you, if you will still have me. I don’t know what else to do.”
“I suppose there is nothing else you can do,” she replied.
“And as for the rest?” he asked hesitantly.
“Oh, well.” She sighed heavily and began to loosen Joly’s cravat. “You have a key… if you wish to come by, how could I stop you?”
When Joly had gone, she went in search of Lesgle.
“I want to see her.”
“Right,” he said. “Well, I understand that. Though I’m not sure how it can be arranged. In fact, I don’t even know her name.”
“He hasn’t spoken to you about it?” Musichetta asked, surprised.
“Well, every time I mention it, he just groans like he’s about to die and drops his head into his hands, so I stopped inquiring.”
“He is being a bit melodramatic,” Musichetta admitted. “Though I suppose, in his defense, he wasn’t given a great deal of choice in the matter. It seems this morning, his brother just said and 'what did you think of Mademoiselle Bouchard' and he said she’d seemed quite sweet and that was that.”
Lesgle blinked. “—Mademoiselle Bouchard, you say?”
“Yes. Apparently she’s connected to the Montmorencys, very wealthy indeed.”
“She is,” Lesgle said, hoping Musichetta could not tell that he was scrambling to collect his thoughts. “I met her. I— I didn’t think— well, anyway. As it happens, I can be of more use than I thought. Mademoiselle Bouchard goes to church at Petit-Picpus, and will be there today. Apparently she went to school there. She— well, of course, she was saying it for Joly’s benefit, but as I was standing with him, I overheard. And as I doubt very much he intends to go… we did meet, she and I, it wouldn’t be wholly improper. We can pass you off as my sister.”
Musichetta looked skeptically at Lesgle. They were both short and fair complexioned, and there any physical similarities stopped. She sighed. “Oh, well, it will do well enough.”
Lesgle pointed her out as they were taking communion: a tall, slender, dark-haired young woman in a very fashionable dress. She noticed them looking, and though her expression remained impassive, once the service was over, she immediately managed to locate them amongst the crowd filing out.
“Mademoiselle Bouchard,” Lesgle said, sketching a bow. “May I present my sister— Myriam.” (Musichetta pinched him.)
“Why, yes of course!” Mademoiselle Bouchard cried a little too loudly, as another woman who looked quite similar to her caught up to them. “Jeanne, you remember meeting Mademoiselle Myriam last night, do you not?”
“Oh, er… yes, of course,” Jeanne said, doing very little to disguise the fact that she plainly had no recollection at all of any such encounter. “Naturally. Such a pleasure to meet you again, mademoiselle.”
“And you,” Musichetta murmured.
“Such a lovely day,” Mademoielle Bouchard mused. “Really, it is a shame to waste it. Why, won’t you join us for a walk? Jeanne, your husband will not miss us for another hour at least, I’m sure of it. Suppose we all walk together.”
“—yes, of course, how nice,” Jeanne, who could hardly politely refuse now, said with a strained smile. Mademoiselle Bouchard smiled serenely and stepped forward at once to link her arm with Musichetta’s. Lesgle offered his to Jeanne, and the four set off. Mademoiselle Bouchard set a brisk pace, and before long, she and Musichetta were several yards ahead of the other two.
“Right, then,” Mademoiselle Bouchard said. “It is so very nice to meet you.”
“—I’m not his sister,” Myriam said. “I suppose I ought to say that first.”
“I did wonder, you don’t look much alike at all. May I ask who you are, then, Mademoiselle Myriam?”
“Well, first, do please call me Musichetta— no one calls me Myriam. And, well— I believe you are engaged to marry my lover.”
“—ah,” Mademoiselle Bouchard said.
“I want nothing from you, hold nothing against you,” Musichetta said quickly. “I only wanted to meet you.”
“I understand, of course,” Mademoiselle Bouchard said. Musichetta imagined that many young women would accompany this statement with an expression of pity, but Mademoiselle Bouchard did not.
Musichetta laughed. “To be perfectly honest, now that I’m actually here, I have no idea. I suppose I wonder… what you think of it all.”
“Well.” She looked thoughtful. “I would never go so far as to say— but it seems to me we could be happy together.. I hardly know him, of course. But he’s very charming and he— well, he actually listens when you talk. And seems interested. And has done interesting things himself, believes things, not like some of the awful boys my parents threw at me before, they didn’t care about anything but—oh, I don’t know, hair pomade. I confess,” she said, lowering her voice, “It is rather surprising to meet such a young man who is so entirely bald. But— well, it’s really not wholly unhandsome.”
Musichetta stared. Mademoiselle Bouchard blushed faintly—the first sign of embarrassment she’d given, and said quickly, “I’m sorry, that was unkind. This cannot be easy for you.”
“…who do you think we’re talking about?” Musichetta asked.
Mademoiselle Bouchard gave her a funny look, but evidently decided to play along. “Monsieur Joly, of course.”
“And who is Monsieur Joly?”
She glanced over her shoulder at Lesgle and Jeanne, the latter of whom seemed to be patiently enduring a rather animated lecture from the former. She looked back to Musichetta, who still could only stare.
Finally, she managed to say, “I believe there has been an error.”
“Did he ever actually say to you that he’s called Joly?”
“Well— no, actually. But Jeanne pointed him out to me, our parents particularly wished me to meet him.”
“And, ah, out of curiosity… who was he standing with when she pointed him out?”
“I don’t— oh, yes, I do. He was with a, a tall darkish fellow. Black hair, dark skin. I danced with him, too, later.”
Musichetta stopped walking and seized both of Mademoiselle Bouchard’s hands in hers. “My dear— that was Joly. The darkish fellow— that is my lover. And your fiancé.”
It was Mademoiselle Bouchard’s turn to stare. She started to turn, but then realized that would be rather conspicuous, and stopped, instead seizing hold of Musichetta’s arm and whispering urgently, “Then who is that?”
“That is Lesgle. His best friend.”
She glanced back over her shoulder, more casually this time. “I thought he was the one I— well, it’s no matter. One young man is as good as another in my parents’ eyes.”
Musichetta snorted. “Not in this case, I’m afraid. He has no money and no family.”
“--Monsieur Joly is perfectly nice, of course,” Mademoiselle Bouchard said quickly. “But we did not— that is to say, if I’d realized who he was, I wouldn’t have— oh, damn.”
After they made their farewells, Lucile glanced back behind her at Musichetta and Lesgle, retreating in the opposite direction. Musichetta was whispering something— she saw Lesgle start and glance sharply back towards her. Their eyes met. Feeling quite stupid indeed, she shrugged. Lesgle stared for a long moment, then, to her complete surprise, started to laugh.