IAs he entered his bedroom, Hervé took a chair and climbed on it to take down the flowered window curtains, then took off the bedcover made of the same fabric. He chose some of his clothes in the wardrobe and some belts. He took off his jacket, trousers and shirt and, wearing only undershirt and underpants, he brought everything into his sitting room. He locked the external door to be safe then, standing in front of the threefold mirror of the dressing table, he started to work...
He folded, draped, fixed checking the result in the mirrors. It could work, but something was missing. His eyes noticed the lace doilies on the armchair, on the dressing table and on the low table and decided to use those also to give a finishing touch to his work and also to make some kind of headdress. He looked at himself on the mirrors and smiled - he could pass for a country spinster dressed in an old-fashioned way...
Happy with his work, he opened the door and went to knock at Roland's room.
"Who's there?" the voice of the boy asked from inside.
Talking in a falsetto voice, Hervé answered, "I am the new governess, Mademoiselle Quicasse..."
"The governess? What do you want?" the belligerent voice of the boy asked.
"To become acquainted with you." Hervé answered trying not to burst in laughter.
"We have time tomorrow for that... moreover I already have a tutor, you don't have to take care of me..."
"Come on, let me in - it is not worthy of a gentleman, talking with me through the door..." Hervé chirped.
"It's open..." Roland said in the tone of who is about losing his temper.
Hervé went in and stopped near the door as it was in semi-darkness, different from the other parts of the room.
"So, then?" the boy belligerently asked.
"I heard that you are a really handsome boy and so I wanted to be sure of it in person... I also heard that you are rather cantankerous..."
"Well, now that you have checked, you can go."
"Oh, you already dismiss me? I hoped to get to seduce you..."
"To seduce me? What the hell are you saying?" Roland said, looking at him in a rather frowning way.
Hervé saw the boy's expression rapidly change as he recognised his tutor - amazement, a flash of amusement, then studied coldness.
"Come on, Monsieur Brout, what is this masquerade? Aren't you afraid of being ridiculous?" he sharply said.
Hervé laughed and took away the laces from his head, "No, I'm not at all afraid to be ridiculous." he self assuredly said.
"Oh, no? And why?"
"Because only one who is not self confident fears ridicule."
"And you are self confident."
"Beyond any doubt. My value cannot be jeopardized by a joke, by a masquerade."
"Your value... how valuable are you?"
"It is up to you to discover that, before judging me."
"I don't intend at all to discover it."
"But you asked me how valuable I am." the young man said in an insinuating tone.
"Your... joke is childish."
"But you fell for it."
"Only because there isn't enough light... and anyway I recognised you."
"Only because I didn't have enough time to disguise and to put on make-up in the best way."
"Do you like to wear women's dress?" the boy asked in a despising tone.
But Hervé could feel that the contempt was just a pose - he could read that in the boy's eyes there was flickering, barely held back, laughter.
"I like making jokes, like any young and healthy people who are intelligent and with a sense of humour. As I know that you too are..."
The boy didn't say anything.
Hervé did a parody of a bow and, again in a falsetto voice and in a melodramatic tone, said, "Ha, I see that you have a stone heart, I abandon you! I will go and shut myself in a monastery and will pray for you. Farewell!" and went out of the boy's room, slipping hurriedly into his own room.
He took off the curtains and put them, nicely folded, in the closet, intending to give them back to the housemaid the day after.
But just when he was slipping inside his own room, Monsieur Laforest, who was just back home, saw a feminine figure furtively enter the room that was governess' and that now housed the new tutor.
"The young man is quite busy - he just arrived and already..." he thought, slightly amused.
He took off his hat and handed it, with is gloves and walking stick, to the valet. He then went upstairs and knocked at the tutor's door.
Hervé, who hadn't seen or heard that the master was back home, wearing just his underwear, thinking it was Roland, went to open the door with a smile. When he recognized the master, he at once assumed an embarrassed expression. The young man's clothes and the smile suddenly changed to embarrassment, only persuaded the man that the tutor was about engaging in an amorous encounter.
"Sorry to disturb you while you... have visitors, but..."
"Visitors? No, there is nobody here with me, I was just going to bed..."
"Right, to bed... I am a man of the world, I understand you, at your age the blood runs faster..." the man said with a knowing smile.
"Monsieur, I can assure you, there is nobody with me. You can come in and check in person, if you don't believe me..."
The amused expression of the man changed into a cross expression but he didn't insist, "I don't need to. I just wanted to ask you if you already met my son."
"And? No problem?"
"As you warned me, I can't say he accepted me, not yet, at least."
"I see. But do you think to be able to carry on your duty?"
"I am certain, Monsieur. Even though I can't predict how much time it will take..."
"I hope you are not wrong. We will see if I am investing my money in a good way, having hired you." the man said and with a good-bye gesture, he went downstairs again.
The young man's denial that he had a guest in his room upset him - he would have appreciated a frank confession, worthy of a man and between men.
He called the valet and asked him, "Has any stranger entered here after the new tutor came?"
"Are you certain?"
"Absolutely certain, Monsieur."
So, then it would be one of the maidservants, the man thought. He therefore summoned all the villa personnel and saw that none was missing... The man, confused, asked himself, "Can I have been mistaken?"
The staff, summoned so late, was looking at him, in a row and in silence, asking themselves what their master had to say to them. The man became aware of that silent wait.
Monsieur Laforest cleared his throat and said, "Good, I just wanted to inform you that for the moment we don't have a governess, but that I will hire a new one as soon as possible. Meanwhile the valet will assume her duties. You can go, now. Thank you." he concluded and went again upstairs to his rooms.
The servants looked at each other puzzled and Sophie murmured to the others, "And he gathered all of us just to tell that? We already knew it..."
The housemaid whispered, "He is just becoming old..." and went away, careless of the black glance of the valet.
But Roland's father was not yet satisfied; the thought that his son's new tutor dared to introduced a girl into his room, evidently a stranger, as all the girls of the staff were there on the ground floor, at this point bothered him quite a lot.
He called the butler and ordered him to carefully lock all the doors to the outside of the villa, until further notice. He then went once more upstairs at a resolute pace, and stopped in front of the door of the young tutor. He was about to knock but stopped, asking himself if it would be right... Was it possible that he was mistaken? If he asked the young man to let him check the rooms and there was no stranger, what a figure would he cut? Moreover this would be to start off on the wrong foot...
He decided to leave it and went away.
Meanwhile Hervé had finished taking off all the curtains and laces and started to try to give the two rooms a little less feminine and frivolous aspect, and went to bed, to read a good book before sleeping.
Roland in his room was rethinking the masquerade of his new tutor with a mix of amusement and of annoyance. What was the name he invented when he said he was the new governess? Mademoiselle... Quicasse! The Miss Who Annoys! The boy couldn't help but giggle - the tutor had really chosen an appropriate name.
He hadn't yet had time to study the guy that well... but he had to admit that he was possibly a little better than having a governess at his elbow, another embittered spinster, nosy and conceited...
Anyway, if the guy was under the illusion that he would make his life easy, he was terribly wrong. Well, if he remained there, they could even establish some kind of truce... an armed truce, of course... Anyway he seemed to be a funny chap, or at least not as boring as the governesses he had had... What a crazy idea he had to disguise as a woman! Yes, at first he bought it...
The following morning Roland went downstairs to eat breakfast with his father.
"How come your tutor is not here with us? Is he still sleeping?" the father asked him.
"No, I saw him coming downstairs. He is having breakfast with the personnel, as the governess used to do." the boy answered.
"No, no, he should eat at our table, with us, with you... a tutor is an employee, not a servant, is a man of culture... is a man..."
"A man! That guy is just five years my senior!" the boy interrupted him, surly.
"Roland, don't refer to your new tutor saying 'that guy'! He has a name, he is Monsieur Hervé Brout."
"All right. But why should this Monsieur Hervé Brout eat at our table? He isn't part of our family, this Monsieur!"
"Well, our guests aren't part of the family, but for that we do not send them to have their meals in the kitchen, do we?" the father retorted, somewhat annoyed, "Anyway I so decided and so it shall be done, starting from today at lunch, even if I'm not at home."
"Even if? You are almost never here for lunch... and often neither for supper..." the boy complained.
"A good reason to have Monsieur Brout at our table... he will keep you company."
"I would like to be the one who chooses my company."
"When you are of age, you will choose them. For the moment it's up to me to decide." his father cut short. He then added, "Now you will go to the kitchen and tell Monsieur Hervé Brout that from now on he will eat here with you... with us. Hurry up!"
The boy stood up with a dark face and went to the kitchen. As he entered all the staff in a chorus greeted him, "Good morning, Monsieur Roland!"
Only one voice, loud and clear, was out of the chorus, "Oh, hi Roland, did you sleep well?"
"I came just to tell you, Monsieur Hervé Brout, that by the order of my father from today at lunch you are required to have your meals with us in the dining room."
"All right. But you didn't answer my question..."
"Which question?" the boy asked, frowning.
"Did you change your underclothes, this morning?"
"You didn't ask me that! You asked if I did sleep well!" Roland surly answered back.
"Ah, so then your hearing is fine? Why then did you pretend not to have heard?" the young man asked him with an angelic expression.
Roland blushed slightly but kept silent.
"I'm still waiting for your answer..." Hervé quietly insisted.
"I answer only when I feel like it!" the boy answered, annoyed, and left the kitchen.
"Then try to get the feeling of giving an answer soon, or else you will pass for deaf or dumb!" Hervé said to him aloud, in a merry tone.
"Monsieur Hervé, you are not going to have an easy life with the young master..." Sophie said.
"And neither him with me... you will see that I will make him surrender... it is just a matter of handling him in the right way and of being patient enough." Hervé answered with a wide smile.
Finally the two rooms where Hervé lived assumed a look more in accordance with his personality. With Roland the "armed truce" seemed to work, even though Hervé was going on calling him just Roland and the boy calling him Monsieur Hervé Brout. But differently than with the governesses, Hervé was also helping the boy in his studies and Roland couldn't help to be struck by the culture of his young tutor and by his skill in explaining different matters to him.
Moreover, they gained the habit of going, at least once a day, to do a tour riding their bikes in the wide park that lay at the back of the villa, as a break in Roland's studies. The boy had a brand-new bicycle, Hervé used an old one he found in the garages and that, according to the valet, was used by nobody.
They pedalled along the paths in the park, until they reached the higher part of it, separated from the wood that covered that part of the hill by the tall wall covered with tiles and with oval windows with a black and gold grating every five meters. Up there, at the centre of a clearing, there was a big alder surrounded by a ring of stone benches. From there one could enjoy the panorama of the old town that sloped down towards the river.
"I've heard that my mother loved to come here..." one day Roland said.
"You can't remember her, can you?" Hervé asked him in a low voice.
"No... I know her only thanks to the pictures... and what at times the staff says about her... I would have liked having known her. She was really beautiful, do you know?" the boy said in a tone of sad nostalgia in his voice.
"I... I have a very vague memory of my mother..." Hervé said in a soft tone, looking at his shoes' tip and inconsistently thinking he had to shine them.
"You too don't have your mother any more?" the boy asked in a tone slightly veined with sympathy.
"And neither my father... they all died in an accident when I was ten years old. Also my little sister with them; she was just seven years old. And yet, I remember my father very well... I was very close to him... yes, very, very close..."
"I still have my father, and yet..." the boy murmured and shook his head. "And yet..." he resumed saying, but his voice faltered and became silent.
Hervé looked at him and felt a strong stirring of emotion towards the boy. He felt they were two lonely souls, even though he had been able to recover from his loneliness and had been able to build a serene life for himself, at times even a merry one. Roland on the contrary seemed to be forever immersed in his melancholy.
"I have to make him smile..." Hervé said to himself, looking at him with the corner of his eyes.
"This villa, this estate... belonged to my mother. Her father had it built, when Napoleon gave him the title of Count of the Empire."
"Both the villa and the park are really beautiful..." Hervé said, trying to assume a carefree tone, hoping to divert the boy's thought towards more happy thoughts.
"A useless, wasted beauty..." the boy commented.
"Beauty is never useless and never wasted. What would the man be if he wasn't able to see and to enjoy beauty?" Hervé asked, trying to give a light tone to his voice.
"But what's the use of beauty if you can't share it with somebody?" the boy then asked.
"You... in some ways... you are sharing it with me." the young tutor suggested looking at him with a smile.
"Between you and me there is only a work contract. We have very little to share, you and I." Roland said, suddenly hard, looking straight into his eyes with an almost challenging expression.
"And yet... you can't avoid sharing your beauty with me, to make me enjoy it, willingly or not. Therefore, you see, in spite of all we are sharing something..." Hervé lightly retorted.
"My beauty? We were talking about the villa, the park... Don't change the subject!" the boy said, frowning.
"And why, pray, should I not change the subject? Who can stop me? You? You can avoid listening to my words, you can possibly even stop me from saying them, I don't know how, but you can't prevent me from thinking them, feeling them, looking at you and enjoying your beauty! At least about this, man is free, nobody can take away from him this freedom."
"Do you consider yourself a free man? Don't you think that freedom is utopia, pure illusion?"
"If this utopia, this illusion as you say, helps me to be happy, why should I chase it from me? Anyway, no, I don't think so. Freedom doesn't mean to do anything we like, but means remaining oneself in one way or another. Remaining oneself, in spite of any clothing we have to wear, of any role given to us, any mask we are forced to wear."
"Also if you disguise yourself as a governess to pull my leg." the boy ironically concluded.
"Also, why not?" Hervé answered, glad that the boy recalled his joke right at that moment. "Also under those funny clothes made out of old curtains and lace doilies, there was anyway me, Monsieur Hervé Brout!"
"Don't you think it was not at all dignified behaviour for you, disguising yourself in that absurd way?"
"Also dignity, like freedom, doesn't lie in exterior appearances. In the Holy scriptures it is written that King David danced totally naked in front of the Ark of the Covenant, and when they told him that he was not behaving in a dignified way, he just laughed and went on dancing without worries, entirely naked."
"A naked man... naked in front of the others, cannot be dignified!" the boy declared. "What would distinguish a king from a beggar, if it were so?"
"A naked man... naked in front of whom he loves, naked for love, is wearing the most kingly of the clothing, however. If he is a king or a beggar, nothing changes. David so much loved his God that he offered him his nakedness, he therefore undressed himself, in front of God, refusing all the useless frills of royalty."
"I have to concede that you have really original points of view, Monsieur Hervé Brout, and in contrast with public morals..."
"Thank you for your appreciation."
"I didn't say at all that I appreciate you because of this..." the boy retorted, somewhat dryly.
"It's true, you didn't say it... you were possibly just thinking it." Hervé gently said.
"Are you claiming you can read my thoughts?" the boy asked sarcastically.
"No... but I would like to be able to."
"Oh, really? And why?"
"To get to know you better... to pierce that absurd shell with which you are protecting yourself from me."
"I don't need at all to protect myself from you. You aren't dangerous."
"I really hope not to be so... and not to be so for you."
"You really are a peculiar person, Hervé."
Very slowly, the boy was starting to open up with him, mainly when they were under the big alder where nowadays they were going to have a rest almost every day. Nonetheless, Hervé hadn't yet seen the boy smile, even though at times it seemed that a smile was peeping out of Roland's eyes. The boy was continuing to be very formal with him even though he ceased calling him "Monsieur"... it was a small step forward. Thus Hervé decided it was worth doing something to make the boy assume with him a less formal, less distant and less cold attitude.
They were again up there in the clearing, they had leaned their bicycles against the trunk of the big tree and were standing side by side, looking at the wide panorama lightened by the warm sun of mid-afternoon. They just stopped talking about the plans that the boy's father had about sending him, after high school, to study at the Sorbonne in Paris. Roland seemed to be thoughtful.
Hervé decided he wanted to see the boy laugh, at least once. Thus he suddenly turned towards the boy and, without a word, started to tickle him.
"What are you doing!" the boy protested stepping back and looking at him in amazement.
"I want to see you laugh!" the young man declared seizing his arm and going on to tickle him.
"No... no... stop it..." the boy said trying to wriggle away, but wasn't able to hold back laughter.
"Good, you see... you are way more beautiful when you laugh..." Hervè declared, going on, unperturbed. "Don't you feel much better if you laugh just a little?"
"Enough... enough, stop it!" the boy protested.
A kind of struggle began; the boy, in spite of the fact that he was trying to assume an annoyed expression, was laughing. He writhed but Hervé wasn't giving him respite. Roland lost his balance and fell on the grass, unintentionally dragging his young tutor on top of him and Hervé, to keep Roland from to escaping him, blocked him with his legs and arms and went on to tickle him.
"Enough... stop it..." the boy was going on to say amidst fits of laughter, but his eyes were shining with a light that Hervé never saw before, a beautiful light, incredibly beautiful.
Hervé's face was above that of Roland, almost touching it... with a slight move, the young man lowered it, put his lips on those of the boy and kissed him. The boy was wriggling under him, trying to escape that kiss, that body weighing on him, but more and more weakly. He could feel his young tutor in top of him, around him, everywhere, and Hervé's tongue inside his mouth was searching for his tongue... A fire invaded his entire body, an intense warmth, a sensation of dizziness... a very sweet weakness...
They both, almost at once, became clearly aware each of the other's excitation that they perceived through their members, that at once swell and hardened and that now were pushing through their clothes against the body of the other one...
This awareness made all the strength flow away from Hervé's body but gave instead to the boy the strength to free himself, to stand up and run to his bicycle. His face reddened, his hair ruffled, his eyes burning like from a sudden fever attack, the boy looked towards Hervé who was slowly standing up.
"You should not do that! What seized you! You should not! How did you dare..." the boy yelled, mounted his bicycle, and pedalled headlong down towards the villa.
For a moment Hervé remained there on his feet, confused, panting, almost trembling from the intensity of the emotion that had seized him. He went to his bicycle but leaned against the tree. Right, what seized him? How dared he? Of course he shouldn't have done it... why did it happen? If Roland hadn't escaped him... (this thought struck him like a revelation) he would have undressed Roland... he would have kissed him all over his body, breathing in his youthful freshness, savouring his warm excitation, he would have caressed him all over his body that he felt he desired with a sharp pain... he would even (even!) have tried to unite to him... to carnally unite to him!
What seized him? How dared he?
Moreover... now Roland had all the good cards in his hand to have him fired, to free himself from his tutor much faster than what he needed to get free of his governesses... chased away with dishonour... he would lose his job and possibly he would never find another one... but above all, he would lose Roland! He would lose his Roland... "his" Roland?
Hervé was used since his childhood to be honest with himself, and so now he had to acknowledge, to admit to himself, to accept that... he fell in love with Roland!
He fell in love!
And he had just lost him, forever, with dishonour.
He could try to deny what happened, but this would not have been worthy of him. No, he could not deny, he could not search for justifications. A man is such also because he assumes the responsibilities for his actions...
Even though at first he planned everything but that. Even if at the beginning his intentions were totally alien to that... but then... that kiss... and the strong arousal that followed, feeling the boy's body under his own body... But since when was he in love with Roland? And how could he not be aware of it before?
Of course, if he were aware before, he would have avoided all that... He could well understand that it was senseless, a man has to fall in love with a woman, marry her, make children... he can't fall in love with another man, everybody knows that... And yet, he now knew it, it happened just so... He did fall in love with Roland, with a boy!
To Hervé this was not a problem of religion, of morals, and even less of laws... he simply didn't ever have to face that problem before, he didn't have criteria to measure it, to understand it... Hervé was a virgin, and not only physically but also for what concerns the desires, sexuality in general. Differently from Roland (even though he didn't yet know it) he never masturbated...
This complete virginity was anyway an advantage to Hervé - in fact he didn't feel filthy, wrong, different in discovering he was feeling desire and love toward the boy. He simply took note inside himself that it was something possible, as it just happened. Something unforeseen, never thought of before, but something possible, or to better say real.
While his body was finding back the calm, also his mind was putting again his thoughts in order.
What he just felt had been beautiful, he didn't have doubts about that. Now to him Roland was way more than just a boy he had to care for, he was finally a person worthy of being loved... But at the same time he knew well, as the Jesuit fathers explained it to their students, that such a love is not allowed neither by religion nor by society...
It was beautiful... but it was not allowed...
For a moment Hervé forgot the problem of his job. He sat on a bench and started to reflect. There was, at present, something much more important than his job, of the scandal, of all the rest - he had to make a basic choice.
It was beautiful, but it wasn't allowed.
But Hervé was a sound young man, not only in his body but also in his soul, he was sound, clever and honest. He therefore understood that it was not important if it was something beautiful or ugly, allowed or prohibited, he had to understand if it was right or wrong.
But what makes something right or wrong?
To decide about that he could neither base it on his personal experiences nor on experiences of other people, but only on the values he absorbed along his young life and thank to his studies...
Right - is defined as a thing, an action or a behaviour corresponding to justice; it is said so of something corresponding to truth; it is said so about something appropriate and suitable...
Justice is based on the respect of the others' rights, and truth is something authentic, genuine... Desire is right when it is not prejudicial to the others' rights; love is true when it is not selfish...
"Therefore, is it right for me to love and to desire that boy? Yes, as long as I respect him, as long as I don't pursue my, but his pleasure... Anyway it is not right if I impose on him something he doesn't want... Roland asked me how I dared... right, it was not fair I allowed myself something he didn't want... he asked me several times to stop... this is where I have been wrong. Yes, I wasn't wrong in desiring him, in loving him, but in imposing on him my feelings... and now I have to pay for the consequences... and I will pay!" Hervé concluded.
He took his bicycle and went down, walking, towards the villa, ready to undertake his destiny. He certainly was not the kind who throws a stone then hides his hand!