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A Regrettable Encounter

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April 1828.

Enjolras’ one-room flat just north of the Luxembourg Gardens was both much too tiny and much too neat for Bahorel’s taste. Everything was always exactly where it should be. In truth, it may only have been that Enjolras did not own many belongings that caused this orderliness, but it still seemed profoundly unnatural. No chaos existed here; Bahorel was the only thing out of place. The one saving grace of this flat was the desk, which was perpetually covered in stacks of papers, books, and crumpled discarded writing, though even this had some sort of organization to it. Still, Bahorel would have certainly chosen to sit there if Enjolras was not doing so already. Instead, Enjolras directed him to the little sofa, standing oddly at the center of the room and adorned with a single perfunctory cushion, before retrieving a handkerchief from where he had left it on the desk.

He had been ill recently; the usual rosiness was gone from his cheeks and there were dark smudges beneath his eyes. Though Combeferre and Courfeyrac were both doing all they could to carry on with their meetings as usual, and their group was still new enough that their roles within it were nebulous at best, it had become increasingly apparent that no one could delegate tasks to precisely the right people like Enjolras could. As soon as he was up and about again, he had taken up his duties as quickly as possible and wasted no time in asking Bahorel to his flat for, Bahorel guessed, any news from their Parisian contacts.

“I suppose you wanted me to check on that little group who meets on Issy plain, in that old quarry. Things seem promising, don’t they?”

“They do, yes- but I’ve asked you here for something else.” Enjolras set down his handkerchief again in order to fish something out of his waistcoat pocket, and then proffered the folded slip of paper he produced to Bahorel.

'15 Rue Pierre Sarrazin’,” Bahorel read. “Yes?”

“I was at the law school today—“

“No wonder you were ill.”

“—And after my first class, another student pulled me aside. I have no recollection of ever speaking with him before, though it’s possible we have lessons together; I do not know. What he whispered to me was troubling. He asked if I had any political affiliations, and said he knew I was as discontent with the current situation as he was. I was evasive—“

Bahorel smirked. He could not imagine Enjolras ever being evasive about his convictions, especially when asked directly.

“—But he said if I was, I would do well to join him and his friends for a ‘soirée’, held after dark every Thursday.”

“At let me guess. He slipped you this paper, with a great show of being secretive about it. And since today is Thursday, you would like me to go have a look around.”

“Yes.” Enjolras’ brow creased. “I would go myself, but it is perhaps more prudent to send someone they aren’t expecting, for the sake of discretion. You know all the little hidden corners and people of Paris. In any case, I have much to catch up on besides investigating this.”

“And you think it’s worth investigating?”

“It may be. If this student is an ally of ours, we may gain yet another contact, as well as further support when the time arises.” He lowered his gaze to the desk. “If not, I would very much like to know how I was singled out. What else does this man know? If our Society has given information to the wrong people, it’s best to rectify the situation swiftly.”

“This may be a trap,” Bahorel warned. “If there has been a leak of information, and the wrong sort know about your political involvement, this law student may be working for the police to catch you out.”

“I’m aware,” said Enjolras. “And this is all the more reason to look about the area. We’ve been fortunate enough, or discreet enough, to not have our members or our meeting locations placed under watch before now. We need to be certain of what is going on, if anything.”

“Agreed.” Bahorel looked down at the slip of paper again thoughtfully. “15 Rue Pierre Sarrazin. I know the street, but not the address. It’s very near the Sorbonne, Enjolras. I hope you know how much you injure me by asking me to venture so near the source of the most deadly miasma in Paris.”

Enjolras smiled faintly. “You show the depth of your devotion to our cause by making such a terrible sacrifice. However, if you attended class more often, perhaps you would be familiar with the address in question.”

Bahorel laughed heartily and rose from his seat. “How dare you insult me so! My friend, there are far more useful ways of gaining information. Just last week, attending that ball with Bossuet revealed that Joly was off at a little café on that very street. It’s one of those places the medical students frequent after their evening rounds. I shudder to think what they get up to in their spare time, but they’re an observant lot; they may have noticed something suspicious. I’ll poke around tonight and report back as soon as I can.”

“I’m very grateful.” Enjolras hesitated, then smiled a bit wider. “And Bahorel, despite your usual comportment, I do know you have the ability to be discrete. It would not be imprudent to exercise that ability now.”

Bahorel grinned at that, and tipped his hat before departing.

 


 

The sun was setting over Paris, turning the warm spring day into a balmy night. The weather had only recently become mild after a hard winter, and the students of the Latin Quarter had immediately jumped at the chance to get out of their flats, as they did every year. They rushed past Bahorel in droves, eager to get to cafés, or to the homes of their mistresses. He himself had been invited to several parties over the course of the last week, and as he was so close to his destination already, with some time to spare before dark, he reasoned he should stop in at one. What was more discreet than doing what one normally did in order to avoid suspicion? It was only logical—prudent, even—to drop in on a party. Instead of heading east, he turned north and walked one street up to the École des Beaux-Arts.

Romanticism thrived in this neighborhood, and Bahorel could not help but wonder if Enjolras—or indeed, Combeferre, who lived next door to him—had been aware of this when he had first moved into his flat. Nevertheless, the location was quite convenient for him now; in half a moment, Bahorel found the place he was looking for and bounded up the stairs to the cramped garret at the top of a dingy little building.

In truth, there was never an actual party going on in this flat; there was simply an open invitation to all who knew about it to stop by whenever they pleased. Bahorel had only visited on a small handful of occasions before and in all honesty, he was not quite sure who rented the flat in the first place, only that he was bound to find someone he knew within it. This time was no different; he entered, passed the skull and flowers on the mantelpiece, made a cursory glance at the plaster portraits in the shape of medallions hung up here and there, and found Jean Prouvaire laying sideways in the poorly-erected hammock in the corner. Beside him, also reclining sideways with his feet dangling over the edge of the cloth, was a curly-haired blond boy who looked as though he was barely old enough to attend school on his own. They both must have arrived early, for there were never enough seats and most of the other attendees were either standing or grouped in circles on the floor. Bahorel weaved his way towards them.

“Oh, I’m not certain I could ever write poetry, whatever you might tell me,” the blond boy was saying. “Images come to me far more easily than words; a picture on a single sheet of paper can say so much more than pages and pages of words can. And besides, there is no greater joy to me than seeing colors bloom across blank canvas.”

“Poetry is not so different!” Prouvaire replied, rising on one elbow to look at his companion. “One is not required to write pages and pages. In fact, it should certainly be said that often the most profound and moving imagery is achieved through fewer words. I’m certain you would write admirably if only you would try. Oh!” Upon seeing Bahorel standing at the side of the hammock, he stopped and lay on his back again. “Bahorel! I didn’t even see you come in.”

“Didn’t you? I will dismiss the idea that my entering a room is unremarkable by congratulating myself on my apparent sneakiness. I hope that skill will prove useful tonight—“ Here Prouvaire’s brow furrowed, and he quickly added: “Though I will tell you about that in a second.” He glanced at Prouvaire’s friend, who seemed equally curious and confused. “What notions have you been putting into this young man’s head?”

“I was only encouraging Célestin to try something new,” Prouvaire huffed. “He paints, you see. He is convinced he cannot write poetry if he tried.”

“You have to rhyme,” said Célestin quietly, and then blushed as though he thought what he had said was deeply foolish.

Looking at the boy, Bahorel could not help but be amusedly reminded of someone else. Deep blue eyes, smooth pink cheeks and delicate features, a halo of light blond hair. “What is your surname?”

Célestin blinked at him. “Nanteuil.”

“I see. Is there anyone by the name of Enjolras in your family? A cousin, perhaps?”

The boy shifted uncomfortably. “No. Jehan asked me the same thing when we first met. Why do you ask?”

“No important reason,” Prouvaire answered, smiling kindly. “You just remind us of a friend of ours, that’s all.”

The thought of Enjolras with a younger relative who had flung himself into the eccentricities of Romanticism as wholeheartedly as Enjolras himself had embraced republicanism was entirely too amusing, but the notion had dissipated almost before Célestin had replied. Their resemblance stopped at their outward appearances; the boy was already revealing himself to be more shy and awkward than austere and reserved. What a pity it was! Bahorel would have loved to see Enjolras’ reaction if the topic had been broached.

“Well, Monsieur Nanteuil, I do not know you, but I would like to give you some excellent advice all the same.” Bahorel leaned against the wall, crossed his arms, and adopted a sage expression. Célestin looked up at him nervously, but Prouvaire narrowed his eyes as though he knew what was coming. “Do not, by any means, become a poet. Should you not heed my advice, the most terrible things will befall you. Your head will be clouded with daydreams of symbolism in verse, and you will be unable to keep from sighing wistfully at all of it, no matter how convoluted it may be. You will intake enormous amounts of hashish, opium, and absinthe—not that I disapprove on that front, mind you. If you are associating with Jehan, you likely have already done so. And, perhaps worst of all, you may undertake to write an overly-descriptive sonnet comparing certain aspects of your mistress to the delicate iris and, after showing it to her despite the vehement attempts your friends took to dissuade you from doing exactly that, receive only a slap to the face and a broken heart for your trouble.”

Célestin gulped. “That- that last part was quite specific,” he stammered, just as Prouvaire grumbled: “It wasn’t a sonnet.”

“Better to remain a painter. If that is where your passions lie, you should follow them without a second thought.”

“That was quite a relief,” Prouvaire said, unusually dry. “I nearly thought you were going to discourage him from passion and feeling—from Romanticism itself.”

Never!” Bahorel put a hand over his heart in a show of sincerity but, upon feeling his lapel was a bit rumpled, used the gesture as an opportunity to smooth out his coat. “I would never discourage such a grand movement against long-established, long-accepted, and long-since worn out ways of thinking. We have pledged to change such things, have we not, Jehan?”

“We have,” said Prouvaire, tilting his head. “We work for this ideal each day. Is that why you are here?” He had caught on to his friend’s meaning so quickly that Bahorel could not help but be impressed.

“It is. We were speaking about Enjolras a moment ago—“ Prouvaire sat up in the hammock at this. “—And I would like to revisit the subject. He’s sent me on a small errand to look into a certain something.” Bahorel procured the note Enjolras had received from inside his waistcoat and handed it to Prouvaire, who unfolded it, tilting it away from Célestin far enough that the boy could not read it, but in so subtle a manner it could have been unintentional.

“What is it?”

“A private, perhaps even secret, soirée we will invite ourselves to,” said Bahorel, knowing Prouvaire would continue to understand and Célestin would not.

“Tonight?”

“Apparently so.”

Prouvaire made to slide out of the hammock at once. “I’m so sorry, Célestin. I meant to stay here with you, but this party is, euh, urgent. Yes, quite urgent. We really must be going, mustn’t we, Bahorel?”

“Yes, indeed,” Bahorel said, trying and failing not to laugh. “An urgent party. The invitation was for after dark, which it soon will be.” He took Prouvaire’s arm and pulled him to his feet. “Farewell, Célestin! Do remember what I told you—though you may disregard the thing about the opium, et cetera.”

“I- All right,” said Célestin, still confused and now a bit put out.

Prouvaire attempted to say goodbye as well, but Bahorel swiftly steered him from the room.

 


 

“You might have been a bit more polite to poor Célestin,” Prouvaire said, straightening his old and slightly frayed purple frock coat as they walked down the street and toward the medical school. “He’s still very young, you know; he only began his studies at l’École des Beaux-Arts last term and he has quite a nervous disposition, especially around people he doesn’t know. I’ll be very displeased if you’ve scared him off.”

“He sounds like you,” said Bahorel, patting Prouvaire on the back. “I didn’t scare you off, did I?”

“Well, no,” said Prouvaire slowly, as though he sometimes regretted this. “But he doesn’t understand your humor like I do.”

“Alas.”

“Indeed.” Prouvaire shook his head good-naturedly. “Now, we can speak privately. Tell me about this so-called party.”

“Enjolras, bless his heart, was in class the other day and was pulled aside by another law student who gave him this address, saying to come after dark on any Thursday if he was discontented with the current political situation.”

“And this ‘party’—it is another republican group?”

“That’s the thing—we don’t know. It could be anything: a group like ours, a trick, a trap. That’s why we need to look into this, to see what our next course of action will be, depending on our circumstances.”

“Not a real secret society for even a year, and already we have found ourselves in the midst of intrigue,” said Prouvaire, smiling. “Though I don’t- Why is the address so odd to me?”

“I’m not certain; it sounded strange to me as well. But we will no doubt find a medical student who will know what’s going on in that street. They have a café there, you see.”

They walked on, and in another few minutes came upon the medical school, turned up one street, then another, and stood at the start of the little Rue Pierre Sarrazin. It was narrow and dark, and most likely would have been so even in the day, with tiny flats above small shops, all of which were closed save one. Light filtered out of the dusty windows of a tiny café. There was no sign displaying the name of this establishment, but instead a board above the door depicting an etching of assorted bones, including a skull, and various surgical implements. Prouvaire took a liking to it immediately.

“Oh, a lovely place!” he said. “Though I do wish they would display only the bones on the sign. The medical equipment makes it seem so, I don’t know. Clinical and scientific.”

Bahorel laughed. “And that is exactly the type of person we are certain to find inside. Come on, Jehan.”

They entered, and the café’s preferred clientele became even more readily apparent. The interior was cramped, and rather worn with age. The walls were lined, from floor to ceiling, with shelves displaying scientific specimens in jars, boxes, and glass cases. Where there were not shelves, framed charts and diagrams were hung instead, including a lithograph of the entire human muscular system, as well as one depicting the components of the eye in minute detail. Most of these ‘decorations’ were covered with a fine layer of dust. With all of these oddities, it was unsurprising that the students of l’École de Medecin favored this café, and the patrons present now reflected such. Every little round table inside was crowded all around with young men pouring over sketches of various bits of human anatomy, rifling through notes, talking and laughing at this or that anecdote of their most recent dissection. It was an odd sight, but Bahorel immediately liked the eccentric cacophony much more than any scene the law school could produce, even if he preferred not to look at preserved organs while having a drink.

“Oh,” said Prouvaire suddenly from beside him, seemingly unfazed by their surroundings. “Look, there’s Combeferre.”

Bahorel did look, and saw the reason he had not immediately noticed their friend. Combeferre was sitting at the smallest table, nestled in the back corner of the room with only one other student, yet another medical student, Bahorel supposed, with wavy brown hair and a neatly trimmed moustache. His frock coat was cut quite well, if not quite fashionably. He might have been a dandy if it was not such a dull color, but this was no surprise; the medical school rarely produced dandies. The two men were bent quite close together, talking over a sheet of paper Combeferre was holding between them.

On first glance, it seemed as though these two had been shunted aside by the larger groups who had taken the better tables, but as Combeferre looked up at Prouvaire’s wave, with an expression that could only be described as one of mild horror as he spotted them, Bahorel thought that perhaps they had chosen that location so as not to be disturbed. Had the situation been different, he would have left well enough alone and not approached them, but this was not one of those moments, and Prouvaire had already started to make his way towards their table besides. Perhaps, Bahorel thought, Combeferre was merely embarrassed to be caught out drinking when he could clearly not handle his alcohol. He became tipsy after only one serving of wine; there were presently three empty glasses in front of him.

“Hallo, good evening,” Bahorel said when he and Prouvaire reached the secluded back table. “Fancy catching you here in such a place, Combeferre. Might we join you?”

Combeferre did not reply, and merely continued to stare hard at his two friends, as if silently willing them to leave. His companion, who was only slightly less inebriated, looked uncomfortably from them to Combeferre and back again. “You know each other? Well, of course you many join us. The more the merrier after all—" and Combeferre looked even unhappier at that.

“Many thanks,” said Bahorel, snatching two chairs from a neighboring table. “I don’t think we’ve met before, though I admit I don’t tend to hang about this area. I’m Bahorel, and this fellow here—“ He nudged Prouvaire with his elbow; Jehan, as he always did when meeting new people, smiled shyly and did not speak. “—Is Jean Prouvaire.” He paused and then added, mostly to excuse Prouvaire shifting his gaze to look dreamily around the room: “A poet.”

The other man, slightly more at ease even as Combeferre sat stiff and mute at his side, replied, “Marceau Guérin. Combeferre and I are in the same year at the medical school.”

“Ah, then you must know our other friend, Joly, as well.”

“Oh, yes! Quite a nice fellow. Euh—“ He glanced down at his folded hands on the tabletop, a smile lifting the tips of his moustache. “The other day he lectured me thoroughly on Hans Christian Ørsted’s experiments involving the relationship between electricity and magnetism. Combeferre seemed very interested as well,” he added kindly, clearly attempting to get some sort of reaction out of Combeferre. “It didn’t sound terribly difficult. Perhaps we could recreate that one experiment together, Combeferre. You know,” he added. “The one with the magnetic needles.” Combeferre, for no discernible reason, went red and took a large gulp of wine in lieu of an actual reply.

“Oh, wait a moment!” Prouvaire interjected, breaking off from staring at a preserved spleen on a nearby shelf and blushing at his own interruption, even as he pressed on. “Marceau Guérin! I think Joly may have mentioned you to us before.” At this, Combeferre’s eyes widened, and he leaned back slightly, just out of Marceau’s peripheral vision, and shook his head frantically. Prouvaire set his chin in his hand, trying to remember what Joly had said, and did not notice. “Hmm. Oh yes, he was talking about asking you to share a cadaver with him and Combeferre, since Combeferre was dragging his feet about it, or something of the sort.” He frowned, thinking. “Joly seemed quite proud of himself for some reason.”

Marceau coughed, awkward, while Combeferre clearly fought not to cover his face with his hands. Bahorel, who categorically disapproved of uncomfortable silences, kicked Prouvaire under the table.

“Ah!” Prouvaire, now as red as Combeferre and clearly aware he had said something wrong, grasped at a better topic. “Euh, what- what was it you were discussing before we came by?” he asked, indicating the piece of paper still lying on the table between the two medical students.

Combeferre did not answer right away. He frowned down at the paper and appeared to grapple between remaining annoyed with Prouvaire and discussing a topic that clearly interested him. Either the topic was too fascinating to ignore, or the alcohol had softened his resolve, because he soon sighed and pushed the paper towards his friends, turning it around so they could see the drawing on it. Bahorel leaned over to get a closer look. It was a diagram of the entire human body, every bit labeled in Combeferre’s cramped, quick handwriting, with the skin and muscles cut away to reveal the internal organs.

Situs inversus vicerum.” Combeferre pointed to what Bahorel supposed was the drawing’s belly, his speech slightly slurred. “From our last dissection. This person lived their entire life likely without knowing they had this condition. It is except- exceptionally rare. Even our professor—“

“—Who is positively ancient,” Marceau added with a smile.

“Well, yes. He is very, very ancient. Even he had not encountered this before.” Combeferre tapped the drawing with his forefinger. “Our aforementioned cadaver appeared a completely ordinary man externally, but once we began the dissection, it was obvious something was unusual.”

“Is that so?” Bahorel squinted at the diagram; from his estimation, there was nothing obvious about which to be excited.

“Well, yes!” Combeferre tapped the drawing again and swayed a bit in his seat. “You see, every internal organ in the thro- thoracic and abdominal cavities are present as they should be, but their positions have been reversed. The stomach on the right, the liver on the left, the heart on the right, and so on, when it should be the opposite!”

“And this fellow died of this, did he?” Bahorel eyed the drawing again, and then glanced at Prouvaire, who was looking at the diagram, wide-eyed.

Combeferre shook his head. “No, not at all. As I said, he probably did not realize he had the condition. Apparently one can lead a perfectly healthy life even with their organs reversed. It really makes one wonder,” he added, frowning at the drawing, gaze a little unfocused. “What is the purpose, then, of the positions of our organs? Why, or how, are we built this way, if a transport- transpos- transposition of the viscera does not matter in terms of their functionality?” He wrinkled his nose, frustrated. “I- I cannot say transposition right now.” He tried to take up his wineglass but nearly knocked it over. Marceau steadied it and cast Combeferre a glance that was a touch too warm. Bahorel considered that perhaps it had been a mistake to join their table.

“How poetic,” said Prouvaire dreamily, still gazing at the anatomical drawing. The medical students looked at him, confused, but Bahorel could guess what was coming. “What lovely metaphors one could create from such a thing: outwardly unremarkable and inwardly reversed.”

“I would rather not style poetry from a medical condition,” said Combeferre, stony-faced again. “No matter how innocuous. I feel compelled to ask, by the way: why are you both here? You two do not ordin- ordinarily frequent medical school cafés.”

Prouvaire was too busy staring down at the table, chastened, to reply. Bahorel said, “We were hoping to simply get some directions or information, but now that we’ve found you here, perhaps you would like to accompany us on this little mission.” Bahorel raised his eyebrows meaningfully. Combeferre frowned again.

What directions did you need?” Marceau asked, a little too politely.

Bahorel showed both medical students the slip of paper with the address. “There is something odd about it, but I can’t place it.”

“No wonder,” said Marceau, handing the paper back to him. “The address doesn’t exist.”

“Doesn’t it?

“No,” said Combeferre, shaking his head and tipping in his chair as a result. “This says 15 Rue Pierre Sarrazin, but the street ends at number twelve. Who told you to go here?”

“Our—“ He paused. Marceau did not seem to be a threat—Combeferre would likely not associate with him if he was—but Bahorel continued obliquely: “Hmm. Your dearest friend.

Combeferre’s expression softened just slightly. “Oh?”

“He wants someone to have a look at the address, per a stranger’s suggestion.” Bahorel stopped at simply that; appearing to invite Combeferre to a so-called party and thereby abandon Marceau would cause more trouble than it was likely worth. “You may come or stay, it’s up to you.”

For a moment, Combeferre seemed to struggle with indecision, but then made to stand up suddenly. He didn’t quite make it out of his chair. “This sounds important; I’ll come.”

“If you think you are in fit condition,” said Bahorel, grinning. “Jehan and I can manage, really, if you are unable.”

Combeferre cast him a sharp look and tried to stand again. He made it this time—barely—and wobbled on his feet. Bahorel saw Marceau stretch out a hand to steady him but withdraw it almost immediately, as though he thought better of it. Missing this completely, Combeferre turned to him and said haltingly, while Bahorel made a show of looking elsewhere even though Prouvaire was glancing back and forth between the medical students, “I’ll see you tomorrow at lectures? Would you like to keep the sketch?” He clumsily offered the anatomical drawing to Marceau, who smiled at pushed it back at him.

“No, no; I know you’ll want to study it more. But yes, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Still rather red, Combeferre shoved the drawing into his satchel, flung the bag over his shoulder and walked quickly out of the café.

“Well,” said Bahorel, highly amused and standing as well. “Monsieur Guérin, it was a pleasure to meet you. And not to worry; we will have our dear Combeferre back in one piece tomorrow. For your lectures.”

“Hmm,” said Marceau, eyeing the pair of them and not bothering to hide his annoyance now that Combeferre was absent. “Well, have a good night, I suppose.”

“And you,” Bahorel replied, as Prouvaire gave an awkward half-bow while looking extremely apologetic.

Combeferre was waiting for them a short distance down the street, away from the smudged windows of the café. When he spotted the other two exit the establishment, he turned sharply, nearly losing his balance but determinedly leading the way. Prouvaire and Bahorel quickened their pace to catch up to him.

“You are not normally drunk, Combeferre,” Bahorel said archly as Combeferre weaved his way down the street beside him. “Special occasion?”

“We have all just finished a rather grueling exam,” said Combeferre, somewhat evasively, though bumping into Prouvaire’s shoulder. “And our dissections are finished for the term, now that warm weather is upon us.”

“Finished with dissections! I would drink too, after all of that.”

“I had quite an interesting spate of dissections, thank you very much. Situs inversus vicerum, fused kidneys—“

“New friends,” Bahorel added. Combeferre pointedly ignored this comment.

In half a moment, they had reached the end of the little street. It was yet darker here, as the buildings pressed slightly closer to the sides and in front of them. Another narrow street cut across the Rue Pierre Sarrazin perpendicularly, and they were forced to halt where the two crossed. There were no shops or cafés here; only darkened apartments on every floor, though it was unclear whether anyone currently lived in them. Ivy grew here and there. Nothing appeared to be kept up in any way.

“You see,” said Combeferre, pointing. “Number twelve: the end of the street. There is nothing else here besides the Rue Haute-Feuille, and I’ve never heard or seen anything or anyone suspicious or even of interest here. What specif- spe-cif-ically are we looking for?”

“We don’t know. Some student at the law school pulled Enjolras aside, handed him the address, and made opaque hints of some political this-or-that happening here. For one, I certainly hope it’s not some kind of police trap this early on, though if it involves a group of potential allies, I’m not sure I would like to be involved with them anyway. Accosting someone in broad daylight in the halls of the law school. It’s foolish in more ways I can count!” Bahorel squinted through the darkness at one particular patch of ivy. Something odd seemed to be carved along the wall beneath it, almost out of view.

He stepped forward to clear away the foliage. From behind, his faux pas still fresh in his mind, Prouvaire said quietly, “He seemed very nice, Combeferre,” and Combeferre, aware he had been too harsh, replied, “Thank you, Jehan.”

The ivy gone, Bahorel put up a hand to feel the roughly carved figures on the stone wall, but it was too dark to make them out. “Do either of you have a lucifer?”

“Yes, here.” Combeferre stepped forward to hand Bahorel a box of matches from his satchel, but stumbled and almost fell.

“Good Lord, Combeferre,” said Bahorel, lighting a match and holding it up to the carving. “Perhaps you should just go home.”

“I’m perfectly fine,” said Combeferre indignantly, waving off Prouvaire as he tried to help steady him. “I merely tripped over something.”

“Yes, I’m sure—“

“He did, Bahorel,” gasped Prouvaire. “Look—have a look at this!”

“Half a moment.” The carving on the building was now clearly illuminated and visible to them all. “You see, '15'. And is that an arrow, pointing downwards?”

“It appears to be,” Combeferre said, adjusting his spectacles and struggling to focus on the roughly hewn writing.

Meanwhile, Prouvaire had crouched, examining whatever had caused Combeferre to lose his balance. Bahorel looked down as well, holding out the match. The light fell upon what was, at first glance, an overly large paving stone, but upon further inspection, one could see dips in the sides of it, as though someone had hewn handholds with which to lift it.

“Well, here’s a remarkable turn of events!” Bahorel shook out the match and gripped the sides of the stone, raising it and pushing it to the side. Its removal revealed a hole in the ground, and a rickety wooden ladder extending down into the darkness. The barest hint of voices drifted up to them on the dank air.

“Downwards we must go, then!” cried Prouvaire, inordinately excited about the apparent adventure upon which they had stumbled. Without hesitation, he lowered himself onto the ladder and began his descent. “Perhaps this is a little unknown section of the catacombs!”

“After you,” said Combeferre to Bahorel, eyeing the ladder skeptically.

Once they had all climbed down, with nearly a tumble on Combeferre’s part, they turned to look at their surroundings. Now that they were underground, it did not seem quite as dark and foreboding as it had appeared, and it was evident that this was not a portion of the catacombs as Prouvaire had hoped. They were in a small chamber and, some distance away from the ladder, a short passageway leading to another, larger room lay ahead. Scant light flickered from inside of it, and it was here that the voices emanated, echoing off the stone walls.

A moment of tense hesitation passed, after which Prouvaire forged ahead with Bahorel following closely. Combeferre, after an incredulous look at the pair of them, brought up the rear. At the end of the passageway, they halted in the shadows, and peered inside the room.

The chamber, spacious without being large and lit with candles on tables here and there, was occupied by a dozen or so young men lounging in chairs, drinking wine and chatting. It struck Bahorel as being a scene from one of their more casual meetings in the little backroom of the Café Musain, save for being oddly underground, as well as the rather large, badly painted portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte hanging on the wall.

“What is this?”

Bahorel’s hissed whisper was just a touch too loud, and several of the men in the room stood suddenly, looking around at the three intruders in the doorway.

“Who are you?” one man exclaimed just as Bahorel, deciding that discretion was rather overrated—and no longer an option anyhow—repeated louder: “What the hell is this?”

Napotato Bonaparte

“Answer me first. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, we take great pains to avoid being discovered. Someone must have told you we were here. Who was it?”

“One of you told our friend to come here. Said if he was dissatisfied with the current political situation that it would be of interest to him.”

“Tall blond fellow? At the law school?” Another man had stood and made his way towards them. The first word that came to Bahorel’s mind upon seeing him was ‘nondescript’. Black hair styled rather too short and straight to be fashionable, drab clothing; just another law student. Had he actually made it a point to attend class—the very thought made his blood curdle—Bahorel still would likely not have remembered him.

“Yes,” Bahorel replied, deliberately not stating Enjolras’ name. He glanced over at Prouvaire and Combeferre; the former was gazing around the room with an air of supreme disappointment while the latter had folded his arms, brow creased. “Now, you answer my question. What is all of this? What are you?”

“A group of like-minded individuals,” replied the man, holding out a hand to each of them, which they all shook begrudgingly. “We meet here in private to converse about our shared interest. I am called Bouchard, by the way. Jean-Théodore. I didn’t lie to your friend; we are all here because we are dissatisfied with this monarchy and wish France restored to her former glory. Sadly, there is not much we can do but hope.”

Bahorel eyed him. “Bouchard, your name suits you.”

“I beg your pardon?”

How, may I ask,” Combeferre said, cutting in sharply. “How did you stumble upon the conclusion that our friend would make a decent addition to- to whatever this is?”

“I overheard something a few weeks ago,” said Bouchard, shrugging. Bahorel and Combeferre stared at him hard, but he continued as though he did not notice. “Your friend was in the corner of the empty lecture hall before class, whispering with another law student—what was his name? De Courfey-something?”

“Not ‘de’,” snapped Combeferre.

“Well, anyway. I couldn’t hear what they were saying exactly. The other student made some little comment about Charles X, and your friend seemed to agree. They both looked quite serious. I thought—“

Bahorel burst out laughing. The idea of either Enjolras or Courfeyrac being an imperialist! It was too much to bear.

“You thought utter nonsense!” Combeferre, though not his usual articulate self due to the lingering effects of the wine, had been pushed into a slightly more sober state out of pure, unadulterated irritation. “Do us the favor of never attempting to persuade our friends, or anyone else, for that matter, to take part in your folly. Come on,” he added to his friends, turning on his heel and whisking back up the passage.

Managing to get ahold of himself slightly, Bahorel bowed, still chortling. "I would advise you to heed my colleague’s advice; he's quite a good shot.” The group of men looked at him in horror. “If you will excuse me—“

“Wait a moment,” Prouvaire interjected, clearly trying to salvage something out of this misadventure. “You meet underground, very secretively. Are you certain you aren’t- aren’t perhaps an offshoot of the Freemasons or anything like that?

“Euh,” said Bouchard. “No.”

“Do you perform séances or other rituals to reawaken the dead?” asked Bahorel smilingly, deciding to play along.

“No!”

“Well! Well, the number fifteen clearly holds some sort of secret meaning for you,” continued Prouvaire, yet more desperately. “Is it part of a cypher or secret signal?”

“No,” said Bouchard again, looking from Prouvaire to Bahorel as though he thought them quite mad. “It commemorates Napoleon Bonaparte’s birthday: the fifteenth of August.”

There was an awkward silence, punctuated only by Combeferre’s failed attempts to ascend the ladder in the other chamber.

“It should commemorate instead his defeat at Waterloo,” Prouvaire sighed. He gave Bahorel a hopeless look and turned to leave.

Bahorel looked around at the dozen or so annoyed and angry faces in front of him, and beamed. “Farewell, gentlemen. May we never rub elbows again.” He too turned and went back the way he had come.

Back up the passage, he found Prouvaire attempting to help Combeferre up the ladder; they had managed to get him up two rungs and were working on the third when Bahorel reached them.

“I’ve nearly got it,” said Combeferre, still irritated and with much less of a handle on his tipsiness than a few minutes ago.

“Oh, come on then.” Bahorel scooped up Combeferre and flung him over his shoulder. Surprisingly, Combeferre acquiesced to this treatment with only one complaint that he was going to be ill, and did not struggle as they climbed back up the ladder and walked out into the Latin Quarter again.

It was late now, though the streets were far from empty, and the students running about here and there were much less sober than they had been when Bahorel had first set out earlier in the evening. Chatter, laughter, and singing surrounded them, and they were not the only ones supporting a drunken friend home. They reached Enjolras’ building in due time, passing the very unpleasantly surprised landlady as they walked up the stairs to knock on Enjolras’ door.

“A present for you,” said Bahorel to Enjolras when the door was opened. He stepped into the flat and dropped Combeferre onto the sofa.

“You are not going to like what we have to relay,” Prouvaire grumbled, following them inside and flopping into the armchair near the stove. “A deep disappointment all around.”

“Unfortunate,” said Enjolras, who did not appear at all surprised that Bahorel had picked up two of their friends while on his mission. “But do tell me.”

 


 

“A secret society dedicated to restoring an empire,” Enjolras repeated slowly, as though he could not fathom that such a thing could possibly exist.

“More of a fan club, really,” replied Bahorel, leaning back in Enjolras’ desk chair. “It is beyond me why they feel the need to meet in secret, though one will observe: these are not logical people. I don’t believe they are actually working to achieve anything at all, unless you count pleasing Napoleon’s spirit.”

“No,” said Prouvaire grumpily. “They don’t do séances.”

Enjolras had no reply for either of these statements, and merely massaged his forehead wearily. He looked as though he could have done with a good sleep.

“If one were to look at this with optimism,” Bahorel added, “we at least have not been placed under police watch. We have no spies amongst our ranks, and I’m certain we will be able to find much better allies in Paris than the likes of them.”

“I merely did not realize such people existed. And they thought I was a Buonapartiste. At least they are not actively working against our own goals.”

“I should hope we will not fall into the trap of another empire,” said Bahorel, as he stood and let Enjolras show him and Prouvaire to the door. “Especially if even the most ardent fans of such idiocy do nothing but meet underground—literally underground—to have a drink and chat about bygone days when they were nothing more than children. Paris certainly attracts all sorts; there are undoubtedly others as foolhardy as they lurking about.”

“May we never meet them,” said Combeferre from the sofa, rolling over and pressing his face into the cushion.

 


 

“So,” said Prouvaire, as they walked down the dark street. They had abandoned Combeferre at Enjolras’ flat to sleep off the wine, but had not discussed where they were headed. The aimless stroll through the city was so very familiar, and rather comforting, to Bahorel.

“So.”

“I simply feel as though—“ Prouvaire sighed mournfully. “I simply feel as though I was robbed. Robbed of a grand adventure.”

“Finding a den of lunatics is not enough of an adventure for you?”

“No, indeed! We were underground. If one is to venture underground, one expects something else. Ghosts or vampires or other such undead things, not- not that.”

“We might go somewhere else.” Bahorel paused, and then added, “You know, Jehan, I must confess something shameful to you. I have never, in all of my years in Paris, ever explored the catacombs to their fullest potential. Oh yes, I have had this or that friend who is keen to proclaim his love for dark Gothic novels but balks at the suggestion of reenacting them. And things like this are never quite as much fun if one does them alone.” He glanced sidelong at Prouvaire, eyebrows raised. His friend was gazing back at him, smiling widely.

“That is quite a shameful confession,” Prouvaire admitted. “And I, my dear Bahorel, must tell you that I am not one of the friends you have just described. I do not balk at the thought of the catacombs. I am, we should note, a friend who knows a shortcut.”

“I was hoping you’d say something like that. Our night has merely begun then!” Bahorel grinned. “Lead the way.”