Part III

"Jehan! Why did you not tell me of the ease with which one might become a rhymester? What a medium! A blessing on all poets! A toast!" And R. raised his glass with a wobbly bow to Prouvaire, who modestly drank.

"But wait there, Capital R." Said Bahorel after he'd toasted heartily, "I've a bone to pick with you. I thought you said you were through with grissettes, eh? Yet you dragged poor Helen back for more in that last, and with another baggage in your lap! Now what's that, then?" To which the others all laughed and agreed.

Grantaire frowned for a moment, then laughed himself. "Fine then! I promise, for my next act, no grisettes at all. As a matter of fact, should mam'zelle come within a foot of my intended topic, she'd likely turn to stone. Alors..." And he waved away the paper that Feiully offered up, preferring to elocute wildly off the top of his head.

"On our fearless Leader," Began R, an announcement that was met with much enthusiasm by the assembled.

Enjolras, who, hiterto had been paying only surface attention to the fracas, suddenly looked up at him from his maps with something contemptious in his eye. "Ah, yes." He muttered to himself, "One should have expected as much, that drunken lout." And he sat back to listen. Grantaire cleared his throat and began again.

"On our Fearless Leader:

"A free-verse tribute,
By our Fearless drunkard.

More Applause from the company was met by a shrewd nod from Enjolras ("At least he got that part right."), hysterical table-pounding from Bahorel, ("Hear Hear!") and a nasty glare from Grantaire, who did not bother to repeat himself again, but merely continued when order was restored.

"Blond Enjolras, marble angel,
Whose face would cause a riot in a convent,
Whose voice will cause an emeuté in the streets,
How did this pure and pristine ivory pillar,
Come to recruit just such a one as me?

"I, who have so often sneered
At Marat from behind a cloak of absinthe, at dead Danton
Laughed, as at Dead Napoleon; so by what force
Do I still listen on?

Well-- Look at his eye! Pale blue-- mind-- not that sweet- blue-of-the-sky,
But the ice-blue glint of steel hiding in the bachelor's buttons,
Which are another of his badges--
For our Saint would never dally with such baggage..."

"Hear Hear!" Cried Bahorel heartily, once more.

"Silence Bahorel!" Chided Courfeyrac, "Are you on the outs with your mistress that you've interrupted Grantaire's tribute once more? Peace!"

Bahorel looked abashed at this, and the other Amis joined in with light-hearted ribbing.

To Grantaire, Courfeyrac said, "Continue Capital R., you're doing marvellously. Isn't he, Enjolras?"

The laughing, nodding heads swiveled and parted like a curtain to reveal the adressed statue, who nodded shortly, his face bearing no expression whatever but a slightly curled lip. His elbows rested on the arms of his chair, his hands steepled before him, and he waved one absently.

"It's your flag, wine-cask, let's see you fly it." He remarked in just as absent a tone.

Thusly encouraged, Grantaire went on:

"And he'll go not near the tavern! Nay!
Our lord is temperate; he scorns my darling wine;
The drinker of the wine, and the wine's cask--
To Enjolras! A Toast! Ah: I drain my flask!"

And he did so, with great abandon, as did many others, with laughs and winks. Enjolras, predictably, did not drink.

" Shall I, despised, be lit, though I should damp the match?
Do I dare to sip, and sit, and see,
If one more word or one more emptied cup
Shall move this cask to stand and die with thee?

"I cannot say! O Firebrand, O Fury,
O Son of France in all her righteous Glory-
What is it makes this son of Be'lal follow you?
I wish I knew...

And he broke off, his expression suddenly troubled. He shook his head, frowning, and muttered slowly,

"By God, I wish I knew."

Several interesting things occurred during and after the last two verses. These centered around the sudden introduction of a remarkable tone in R's speech, of which he himself was not aware. In fact, of those present, only three took any note of it at all.

The first was Marius Pontmercy, who had been paying little enough attention to the spectacle, his thoughts on fairer things. It was this sudden tone that caught his attention. Being that it echoed the very tone of his thoughts, he fancied that, perhaps, he had spoken them aloud by mistake. But he quickly discerned that a poetry reading was in the offing and dismissed that notion, returning to his reverie without giving the matter another thought.

The second was Enjolras himself, who suddenly pulled his boots from the chair they rested opon and sat instantly upright. His eye fixed on Grantaire's curious expression towards the end of the next-to-the-last verse, he eased himself back halfway, shaking his head in self-chiding disbelief. No, he must have made a mistake... but then he caught Grantaire's eye and held it for an instant, and there had been no mistake. It was this momentary connection that made Grantaire suddenly aware of himself, and made him cast down his eyes on the last line in a terrible, embarrassed confusion. Enjolras, for his part, leaned back the rest of the way, put his boots back on their rest, and said nothing.

The third, ostensibly, was Jean Prouvaire. He watched Grantaire carefully and, alone of all les Amis, he saw the moment flash; revelation and rejection. On hearing those last, gentle words, he was moved to a deep and profound sympathy for the poor, slighted drunkard. He pitied R. now as he would a desperate woman. Being now a comerade both in the sense of the Amis and as a fellow poet, the latter having just accidentally exposed his soul in the form of a couplet before the uncomprehending (and too-well comprehending) former, he covered for him quickly.

"Bravo!" Shouted Jehan, just as the last line was spoken, "Bravaura! Splendid!" He applauded loudly, and the other Amis joined in whole-heartedly, pounding the table and stomping their boots with unabashed enthusiasm. They had missed entire the nakedness of R. and the reaction of Enjolras. The latter was however obscure to even the most careful observer; he clapped quietly with the others, but his eyes did not smile.

Grantaire, for his part, avoided looking at Enjolras completely. If he was unaware of the kindness payed him by Jean Prouvaire, he was horridly and embarrassingly conscious of just how exposed he had been. Nevertheless, or perhaps fueled by this embarrassment, he soaked up the applause, bowing exaggeratedly in his fondness for spectacle.

"Stunning! And accurate too!" Bahorel rached over and slapped Enjolras on the back good naturedly. "That's you down to the teeth, eh Enjolras? Why, he's got you pegged!" Enjolras made no comment but a nod to this, and returned to his maps and a book of Rosseau. R. had been trying so hard not to notice that this was all he saw, and it caused him to sigh inwardly. But on the jocular surface there appeared not a crack.

"Come, another!" Cried Feuilly, who was enjoying this immensely, "Par dieu Jehan, he'll give you a run for your money yet!"

Grantaire shook his head. "No, no more pretty posey from me today. Jehan, the wine in your bottle is sweet, but exhausting-- you may have it back. I'll stick to my habitual poison, merci." And downed he his bottle of absinthe in a gulp and a sea of laughter.

That was the end of Monsieur Grantaire's rhyme.