The False Hopes
Jehan sat quietly in the very back of the back room in Musain. He was in a corner, shielded by the dark and by the cornerness of the corner. His arms lay flat on the table, and his cheek was pillowed against his arms. The soft, clouded eyes gazed out from a pale, thin face, and attempted to focus on some thing far out in the room. No one would have noticed him, and neither of the other two occupants did. The green bottle beside his head attracted no attention, nor did his shallow, quiet breathing.
"But surely you can dance."
"Perhaps. Perhaps I have no wish to."
Jehan tried to smile a little, wondering what sort of poem it would make. In his mind, words quivered, pressing forward and insisting he write. The poet, disillusioned, tried to console himself with his comforting, familiar images.
To dance, to dream, the ever-whirl
With toe-tips turning in a wheel
And bare soles patt'ring smoothen'd wood
And footprints breaking dusty seal...
Some such nonsense. Something he knew.
"It's not so undignified, little eagle."
"I'm Arnett. Call me my name, and not some epithet. Be different for me. Don't treat me like everyone else."
"Arnett, then, you are. Just dance with me. It's not dangerous. I swear. You'd like it, if only you tried."
"Well, show me. I haven't danced in years, not since I left my father's house."
"If you've danced before, you'll remember. It's something one can't very well forget. Here, take my hands. This and that. Curl fingers, fit together like wood links, and so on."
Jehan wondered, momentarily, a new wonder: why his eyes were pricking. Of course he knew. Of course he understood tears and that they dripped over sallow cheeks and that they made blurry vision blurrier. But wasn't what he watched not uncommon? Didn't he lie to himself every day, as Grantaire had taught him?
In the daytime, Les Amis teased him gently, and played with him, and asked to see his poetry. Bahorel and Courfeyrac laughed at him without meaning it; Combeferre and Feuilly made a show of interest in what he wrote. This was all because everyone was kind to the poor poet, the poor timid poet. They loved him, they looked upon him as a pet, and they smiled and said, "That's our Jehan Prouvaire."
And sometimes now their eyes were sorrowful, and they told each other, "Poor Jehan. Poor dear Jehan. He wasn't meant to walk down Grantaire's path. Poor little Jehan."
But at night, no one saw him at all, and he hid in his corner and watched the two men who now were before him.
"You startled. What's wrong?"
"Your hands are soft. I didn't expect--"
"You wrong me. My hands could be soft as silk. Your hands are soft, for stone. It was once to be thought you were more aptly named "Peter" than Arnett, but clearly you turn this upon its head. Your hands are soft."
"Terribly welcome, and don't step that way. That's wrong for this dance. You'll put us off."
"You needn't tell me what to do."
"Mmph. Don't look at me with such reproach, and then kiss me. It disarms me and confuses me and I wander anywhere. Just step there."
"Good; step again."
"What was that?"
"A twirl. I twirled you. Have I knocked your wind, as well? You're a bit short of breath."
"I'm fine, though being bent into mad positions."
"Very good, sir. Turnabout, sir. Are you tired? Have you danced enough for one starry night? Claim a sprained ankle to be rid of your partner, or whisper affectedly something about needing a little air."
"You're silly. Dance with me a while longer, now you've taught me again how."
And Jehan told himself he didn't mind. He'd learned Grantaire's talent of lying to oneself. He'd learned it well. But Grantaire lied to him. The cause of the poet's disillusionment was in betrayal.
For hadn't the cynic taught him to believe in Apollo? Hadn't they dreamed of their idol together? It was Grantaire who had given him the picture of their God drinking, and the hope of it. And it was Grantaire who lied more perfectly every day, proclaiming more dreams under the sun and beneath the moon, breaking more trust.
Jehan believed that Grantaire should stay faithful to Apollo, and Grantaire was not.
With stardust sprinkled in their hair
Two mortals 'round Apollo's throne
Danced hand in hand with fingers laced
While Artemis her moonlight shone
Come break of day the one returns
To deep and ag'd philosophy
The other to Dionysus steals
To drink away more lies with me
To dance, to dream, the ever-whirl
A dance for two and not for three
And thus the third on outskirts haunts
And gives his soul, o four, to thee
Jehan was not proud of such a poem. Tomorrow night, the dancers would perhaps give him better inspiration in exchange for his broken heart.
Back to Chapter Two.