He creeps through shadows, robed in dark colors to blend with his surroundings. Every breath he takes is measured, his feet tiptoeing along the edges of buildings and through royal courtyards. Henri Denjean is a stealthy man, overly cautious due to previous bad experiences. Some call him a thief, but he scoffs at their ignorance.
Is it stealing, when you are only providing for innocent people whose life prospects are being decided by the house they are born into? Is he taking something those rich scoundrels will not be able to replace? Does a loaf of bread make a difference in a parlor that looks like the marketplace? Henri forces himself to calm down, blood racing with righteous indignation.
Everything, from murder to love, can be twisted; this is something he has learned, though his life has barely spanned three decades. Treachery is in a human’s nature, as is compassion and hope. What one man considers deceit is another man’s truth, and with this reasoning Henri justifies his nightly raids.
It is late 18th century, and France as he knows it is crumbling. The country’s debt falls to peasants – farmers, seamstresses, and tailors. His own closest friend, Jacques Louvre, who had studied alongside him with Monsieur Barron in their early years as fiery blooded young men, was forced to quit school in exchange for the farming trade. The loss of companionship in his studies was felt strongly, and even now Henri takes pains to visit his friend, attempting to help with small chores like feeding animals or heavy-lifting. All around him, he sees dark emotions growing in people’s hearts, ideas of revenge grasping onto them and not letting go. He feels their bitterness – from having responsibilities thrust upon them but no privileges to balance it out. When Henri sees lavish carriages roll by, he controls the urge to spit on the ground with disgust, as other peasants do.
Tonight, he tries to remember, is an especially dangerous night. The moon illuminates everything – alleys, streets, graveyards, churches, homes. He walks on his toes, a panther in disguise, brain racing forward and repeating each detail of his plan. Tonight – he wryly smiles, forcing all the nervous energy out of his limbs – will be the Dejean household’s turn. An influential family, to be sure, and the cause of his greatest distress. Eyes closing, forehead creasing, he thinks of his past and how it has brought him to this point.
Born into a noble family, he was raised to believe that family comes first, no matter what. Peasants are petty and squabble among themselves – noble families must always stick together, heads raised high as an example of family honor and pride. He is named Henri, because Henri means householder and as the firstborn son of a noble family, as a Dejean, he will be the leader of his family one day. But how could he believe this, when even as his father lectured him, the view through the window showed smiling peasant families? When his own friend, Jacques, speaks warmly of his little sisters, mes petite soeurs, and happily works for the good of his whole family?
In Henri’s mind, there is no difference between nobles and peasants; people are people, despite how you might try to warp it. Their differences are all ones of the mind – a noble considers himself more worthy, but is a man always worth his weight in gold?
Henri is a philosopher, a noble, a thief, but most importantly he is a man. If he was a painting, every layer of paint stripped away would reveal a bare canvas, the soul of a man. A soul, he thinks, thrives in different ways – but every soul requires balance in its life, whether it is a man, a woman, a child, or a colored person. The balance of taxes, the balance of learning, the balance of peasants and nobles – all are necessary. Henri Dejean is drawn to this promise of balance, this taste of hope he drinks in every time he gives food to starving peasants and he holds this passion in his breast, letting it guide him through doors.
He takes one last look around, before slipping into the Dejean house, mind honing in on the pantry. One might call him a thief, but the passionate roaring beast inside him knew better.
Henri’s heart beats for France – it is his home, and he will continue to help it along with every creeping footstep and loaf of bread, bringing the dreams of France’s hard working citizens to life.