In the spring of 1788, the Jesuits allowed my friend Julien to return to the chateau for two weeks to attend his sister Berthe’s wedding—they could hardly refuse a request from the Count d’Airelles—and at the age of fifteen I had sex for the first time.
Berthe had resisted the marriage; she said that she loathed her husband-to-be, the middle-aged and portly Baron de l’Envol, a parvenu who had used his ill-gotten gains to purchase his title the previous year and whose so-called barony was really an abandoned farm in Brittany that had belonged to his grandfather. Knowing he could rise no higher in the nobility on his own, he had immediately asked for Berthe’s hand. She had no choice. Her father, the Count, finding it more difficult with every passing year to maintain a household in the grand style, insisted on the marriage, his chaplain delivered lengthy sermons on filial obedience at Sunday Mass, and the King himself had approved it. But Berthe would have objected to any match. From girlhood she had set her heart on becoming a Carmelite nun. Unfortunately, her sister Constance, the Count’s second daughter, beat her to it. At sixteen, their mother had found her in bed with her daughters’ tutor, and she was packed off to a convent. The tutor had enough sense to flee before the family could deal with him.
Berthe pleaded with her father in vain for permission to join the Carmelites. “I have given one daughter to the Church,” the Count said. “That ought to be enough.” Now she was eighteen years old, and like it or not, she was getting married.
Except for Sister Constance of the Holy Innocents, who had not yet pronounced her final vows and would have been granted leave to attend the wedding, but was still in disgrace, the entire family returned to the ancestral domain to celebrate Berthe’s marriage. Olivier, the Count’s older son and heir, his firstborn, came with his wife, Marie-Catherine, and also the Count’s oldest daughter, Jeanne, with her husband and their two children. Preparations for the wedding party had kept us busy for months. Then the guests began to arrive, and we were run ragged.
As the second son and youngest child of the Count d’Airelles, Gaston Dieudonné Alexandre Saint-André Julien de la Motte had more options than his youngest sister. He could choose to enter the Army or the Church. He kept changing his mind and showed no sign of deciding which career to pursue, favoring now one, now the other. Whatever his decision, in a little over a year he would turn sixteen and become either Monsieur le chevalier or Monsieur l’abbé, and I would have to stop calling him Julien. The Count, who naturally disapproved of Julien’s unseemly friendship with his head gardener’s son, had expressly forbidden him to seek me out when he came home on holiday. But Julien didn’t need to seek me out. He only needed to take a stroll on the grounds and we were certain to run into each other.
Julien and I had been best friends almost from the day of his birth. He was four months and four days younger than me and had been given to my mother to nurse, which made us foster-brothers. His father had accepted, even encouraged our friendship when we were little. Except for some peasants’ children from the surrounding farms and in the nearest village, there were no other boys our age to play with. It was only after Julien left to study at the Jesuit college in Paris at the age of ten that the Count felt we were best kept apart. But he had never taken a personal interest in his children, and with no one to enforce them, his wishes went unheeded. When my friend was home, we were virtually inseparable.
It was I who taught Julien to swim, and he gave me my first instruction in fencing, using sticks we found in the forest. Most important, he taught me to read and write. I’ve been literate since I was five. There are many ways of spelling my name—Vreyac, Veréliac, etc.—and it is written differently on my commission as a foot soldier in the Grande Armée, but here I use the spelling Julien taught me, which I assume he invented himself.
I understood the importance of reading and writing—very few of the Count’s servants knew how—and I missed Julien’s lessons when, at the age of ten, he was sent to study at the Jesuit college in Paris. I looked forward to when he would come back for a month in summer and teach me more, and now he would be able to teach me Latin too. But the first time I made a mistake, he slapped me so hard you could see the red outline of his fingers on my cheek.
“Why did you do that?” I asked, surprised and hurt. As the Count’s son he had every right to, but he had never struck me before except by accident when we played at wrestling, and I had done nothing to deserve it.
“So you’ll learn. The Fathers always hit us when we get something wrong.”
I could not believe that anyone would dare raise his hand to a son of the Count d’Airelles. My father beat me when I made him angry, but I was only a servant.
“They do more than slap us,” Julien said. “You’ll see when we go for a swim.”
I did. His backside was crisscrossed with stripes made by a cane. “They do that to you?” I asked in astonishment.
“How else would I have got them? So there’s no reason for you to object to a little slap. I didn’t hit you in anger, Gérard.”
“How many strokes do they give you?”
“Three, usually. You have to go to the front of the classroom and bend over the desk. Then whomp! whomp! whomp! But if you’re punished a third time on the same day you get ten. That hasn’t happened to me. The worst part is having to sit on it for the rest of the day.”
I didn’t need to be told what the rod felt like.
“After supper the boys who were caned are sent to the infirmary,” he went on, “and Father Lebreton rubs ointment on our rumps. So it won’t leave scars, not to make them feel better, but it does.”
“Do you cry when they beat you?”
“I did the first time, because it was so unexpected. I don’t anymore. It’s unbecoming for a de la Motte.”
“Does it really help you learn?”
“I don’t know. I know that because of it I do everything I can to get it right, and that I am learning. It doesn’t do much good, though. Learning, that is. They don’t beat me as often as in the beginning, but I still get caned every week or so and get only bread and water for supper. To tell the truth, I wouldn’t go back there if Father didn’t make me.”
“I don’t want to know Latin if it means you’re going to hit me,” I said.
He seemed to think that getting hit was an integral part of education. “How about this as a compromise? I’ll only slap you if you make the same mistake three times in row.”
We shook hands on that, because I couldn’t imagine being that dense, but he did slap me a few times before he had to return to school.
Father Lebreton’s cream proved effective, and at fourteen Julien’s ass was unblemished, for now they disciplined him less harshly.
I truly believe I was the only one at the chateau Julien looked forward to seeing. He hardly knew his brother and sisters. Olivier was fifteen years his senior, and by the time Julien was three already had a position in the royal retinue at Versailles, and Jeanne was already married and living with her husband on the other side of France, in Lorraine. Constance had no interest in little boys, and Berthe, closest to him in age, always had her nose buried in her prayer book. Until the guests arrived, his family more or less ignored him, and he spent nearly all his time with me.
He reveled in not having to act like a grown-up, and we behaved with as much abandon and little dignity as we had when we were young boys, exploring the forest, running across the fields, climbing trees, telling stories and making up silly songs, and we talked about the wedding. I told him how excited about it the servants were.
“It’s given them an awful lot of work.”
“But none of us are complaining.” Julien never used “you” to refer to the servants when he was talking to me. I said “us” to remind him.
“They’ll complain enough when they have to clean up afterward.”
We also discussed more serious matters, serious for us, that is, such as whether Julien should become a soldier or a priest.
“Why don’t you become a gardener like me?” I asked.
“Unfortunately, that isn’t one of my choices.”
“Then be a soldier. Priests have sour faces and hit people.”
“Soldiers kill people.”
“But not Frenchmen.”
“I’ve seen them fire on the mob.”
“A mob is different.”
“I don’t think I could do that. Otherwise I would become a soldier. They have a lot more fun.”
“If you become an officer, will you make me your aide-de-camp?”
“Don’t be silly. You belong to my father. He wouldn’t give you to me.”
“Because you’re my friend.”
Since Julien might be joining the cavalry in couple of years, the Count encouraged him to ride. One day he took his horse and rode off to the woods to wait for me. I chose a feisty mount from the stables when the groom wasn’t looking and went to join him. I had not had time to put on a saddle. Julien unsaddled his, and we went for a wild bareback gallop.
When we rode through the village, the peasants doffed their bonnets and bowed. They used to bow to me, too, because I belonged to the Count’s household, but only when they came to the chateau.
We slowed our pace so Julien could acknowledge their respects. “Here too,” he murmured.
“Here too what?”
“The famine. How thin they are! It’s worse in Paris. The people look like sticks.”
“The Count has cut back on our bread rations too,” I said, “but we’ll get to stuff ourselves at your sister’s wedding.”
When both we and our horses had worked up a sweat, we headed for the river, stripped off our clothes and went for a swim. We wrestled in the water, laughing and ducking each other under the surface. Then we lay on our backs in the grass till the sun had dried us.
Julien ran his eyes over my naked body and placed a hand on my stomach. “Yes,” he said, “I can see you’ve lost weight too. At our age you ought to be filling out.”
“I’m still stronger than you,” I said. “I have to work, and I have plenty of opportunity to exercise, while you sit all day with your nose in a book except when you get down on your knees to pray.”
He left his hand on my stomach for a long time, sometimes rubbing it back and forth and marveling at how thin I had become. In retrospect I think he may have been trying to seduce me, but it didn’t occur to me then, and I didn’t get hard. We had grown up seeing each other naked, and had always been casual with one another about everything.
We differed as much in physique as we did in rank: I dark-haired and muscular, with the swarthy complexion of the southwest, and half a head taller than Julien; Julien much handsomer, blond, grey-eyed and skin so pale you could see the blue veins of his nobility, so slight of build that he seemed frailer than he in fact was. He would fill out over the next four years, and Julien at eighteen was broad in the shoulder and only a couple of inches shorter than me.
Late in the afternoon we walked slowly back to where we’d left his saddle. I knew the groom wouldn’t scold me for taking a horse when we returned because he’d see I’d been with Julien. It was the same with my father. My friendship with the son of the Count d’Airelles flattered him, and he always allowed me to skip work to play with him, though he warned me that when we were grown men our feelings for each other would end.
“Not mine,” I protested.
“No, not yours, but the young master’s will, and you’ll come to accept it.”
The chateau began to fill up, and it became nearly impossible for us to be together. We weren’t supposed to be together, and wherever we went someone was bound to see us. There were people wandering all over the grounds. None of them paid Julien any attention except to pat him on the head and tell him what a pretty little curé or brave little dragoon he’d make. Only Berthe spoke to him at any length, and only because she had no one else she dared complain to about her upcoming marriage. He had nothing to do but listen to the musicians rehearse. He was very lonely and very bored.
The day before the wedding Julien came looking for me while I was spreading manure on the flower beds. “Come with me,” he said, “I’ve found a place where we can be alone.”
“In the chateau. They’ve taken about three dozen chairs from the storerooms under the eaves so we’ll have enough for the guests to sit on at tomorrow’s outdoor reception, and didn’t think to lock the door.” He pointed to the lawn bordered by the long semi-circular driveway, where the house servants were busy arranging them. We’d had dry weather since the beginning of May, and there was little chance it would rain before morning. People predicted a plentiful wheat crop and said the famine had at last come to an end, but that June more rain fell in Paris than anyone could remember, and it became apparent that the famine would continue at least through next winter and on into the following summer.
“Are you sure they won’t come back for more?” I asked.
“They’ve taken them all, and if they do, what do the servants care if they see us together? I’ll wait for you by the small door on the north side; the stairway there goes straight up to the top story. But wash up first.”
I told my father that Julien had called for me, rinsed off at the pump, and hurried to meet him.
Inside the north door a wide arched corridor gave access to the front of the chateau. The servants had used it to carry the chairs to the lawn. We turned to a musty stone staircase on the right and followed its zigzags as far as the top story—the stairs, Julien said, continued on to the roof—then through a large wooden door standing open on its hinges into a vast, dusty room lit by narrow windows that appeared to have sat unwashed for generations, the floor, walls and ceiling beams in rough unfinished wood, with chests and furnishings piled high on all sides, and cobwebs everywhere.
I had never been in that part of the building. In fact, I seldom had occasion to go inside the chateau at all. We lived with the other chief outdoor servants—groom, coachman, gamekeeper, etc.—in one of two long, two-story stone outbuildings behind the chateau proper. The other housed the stables, coach room and workroom on the ground floor, and the outside staff slept in a large dormitory above that.
Julien pointed to doors at either end of the room, bolted on the inside. “That’s where the minor house servants live,” he explained, “men on one side, women and married couples on the other. But most of them are paired up anyway. The bolts on the doors don’t keep them apart.”
My mother, a cleaning maid, would have lived there had she not married my father. She had never lived there, however. She was a village girl and hadn’t worked at the chateau before their marriage. The more important servants, such as the major-domo, the head housekeeper and the cooks, had apartments off the arched corridor on the ground floor. The Count’s valet and the Countess’s personal maid had small rooms adjoining their bedchambers. It surprised me that the Count and his wife did not share the same apartments.
The door creaked as Julien shut it behind us. He led me to a pile of straw mattresses and torn bedding behind a broken armoire, where we sat.
“Tomorrow’s the big day,” I said.
“Please, I hear enough about it from everybody. No one talks about anything else, even poor Berthe, who doesn’t want it to happen. She pours her heart out to me every chance she gets and makes a scene whenever the family is alone together. She actually threatened to kill herself so she wouldn’t have to marry L’Envol.”
“What did the Count say to that?”
“Nothing. But my brother Olivier told her point blank that suicide was a greater sin than matrimony. That shut her up.”
“I hear that after the wedding night even the most reluctant bride is glad to belong to a man.”
It was a daring thing to say about a member of the Count’s immediate family; I had never so much as hinted to Julien about his sister Constance’s indiscretions, for example. But he didn’t seem to notice. “Not all of them,” he answered. “It takes time, but eventually you learn to like it, and then you can’t get enough of it.”
“You sound as if you’re talking from experience. You haven’t been with a woman, have you, Julien? No, you couldn’t have. Not yet.”
He answered my question by smiling curiously at me for a long time. Suddenly he said, “That was very uppity of you to make jokes about Berthe’s deflowering.”
“I wasn’t joking.”
“I still ought to teach you a lesson.”
He threw himself on me. It took a moment for me to realize that he was wrestling in fun and it was all right for me to fight back. In no time I had him pinned beneath me, straddling his hips and holding his wrists above his head in a firm grasp. As I waited for him to admit defeat, I felt his penis hard beneath my scrotum. “Undo my culottes and suck me,” he whispered.
It never occurred to me not to obey him, nor did it occur to me that I ought to be shocked. I knew that other boys our age fooled around, so why not us? I opened the buttons and took him in my mouth.
I had no idea how to go about it and did a clumsy job. “I’d better show you how it’s done,” he said.
He had me stand up, then he knelt in front of me and pulled my britches down to my ankles. “You’re soft,” he said, surprised. “I’ll soon take care of that.”
He did. He put the tip of his tongue under my foreskin, swirling it around the head, retracted it. Then he took my penis in his mouth and, pressing it between his tongue and palate, sucked hard, as if he meant to pull all the blood in my body into my shaft. It worked, and I was soon engorged.
He sat back on his knees and said, “You’re very big, much bigger than me, and it’s very pretty. You should be proud of it.” Then he took it back in this mouth and worked me like an expert. It felt more wonderful than anything I had ever experienced. My knees buckled, and even the tight grip of his hands kneading my buttocks wasn’t enough to steady me. I fell over backward.
He continued to suck me, stopping only to lick my balls and inside my thighs or take my pubic hair between his teeth and pull back on it before he went back to sucking, his hands caressing my belly or reaching up to pinch my nipples all the while. I came quickly, and he swallowed my ejaculate. Then he got onto his knees and, licking his lips, asked me if I’d liked it.
I could hardly breathe, much less answer. “Where did you ever learn to do that?” I asked.
“Father Lebreton, and I’ve had a lot of practice with my classmates. He taught me more than that, as you no doubt imagine. Roll onto your stomach, and I’ll show you.”
He didn’t need to tell me what else the priest had taught him. “Won’t it hurt?” I asked.
“Less than you think. Roll over.” And I did.
He moistened the opening with his spit. He even licked it, a new sensation for me, and in no way unpleasant. Then he inserted a finger and pressed it against the sides of my anus to enlarge it, talking all the time.
“Father Lebreton never bothers with this part,” he explained. “He just plows right in. That does hurt until you adjust to having it in you, which doesn’t take long. My friends and I figured out that if you get it wet and ready it doesn’t hurt, or hardly at all. The first times he took me it hurt from start to finish. It’s a good thing he comes quickly. Of course I was smaller then. I shouldn’t have any trouble getting it in. After all, you are fifteen.”
That didn’t sound very reassuring, and I did feel a fair amount of discomfort when he got around to penetrating me, but not what you’d call pain, and the pressure inside me sent waves of pleasure through my body once he started pumping rhythmically. The longer he pumped, the better it felt, and by the time he came I was moaning and pushing back against him to take him as deep as it would go. He collapsed on top of me and kissed my neck, ears and shoulders.
We lay for a long time snuggled close together on the mattress, kissing and exploring parts of our bodies we hadn’t touched till that day. “So this is what love is,” I thought.
The Count d’Airelles had had the absurd notion of marrying his daughter in a “village style” wedding. Instead of holding the ceremony in the chateau chapel, at noon the wedding party, which would consist only of the bride’s relations, would walk four miles to the village church, where his chaplain would bless their union. Half his servants would follow behind to fill out the procession, and the other half would remain at the chateau to attend to the needs of the greater part of their noble guests, who would not all fit into the church in any case. Then all but the servants would return to the chateau in carriages for the post-nuptial collation on the lawn followed by dinner and a ball (the last event not at all typical of a peasants’ wedding). Only the Count, the Countess and an elderly aunt would go to the village by coach.
It was a scorching hot day, and a thick layer of orange dust covered the road to the village. Except for the soon-to-be-married couple, everyone in the wedding party sweated profusely in their finery and grumbled about what Olivier called a forced march. The reluctant bride shuffled petulantly along in front of the others, not bothering to lift her gown, and when we reached the church the white silk had a terra cotta border that went halfway up her shins. The villagers lined up in front of their homes cheered as we went by. The Count had had the foresight to tell them to shut the pigs in their sties.
Julien wanted to walk back with me, but his father forced him to ride. Tired though we were, we servants trotted all the way to the chateau, eager to eat our fill of the wedding meats that would be laid out for us on a long table by the outbuildings. After that, those of us not called on to wait at table would have a rustic party of our own to celebrate the marriage of our master’s daughter.
Julien came to look for me where I was dancing with the village girls. He said he was tired of being patronized by the wedding guests and wanted to spend the remaining time before dinner with me. I was having fun, but I went with him. As I had expected, he led me to the storeroom again. I got hard as soon as I was sure where we were going. He put a hand on my buttocks and worked his fingers between them as we climbed the stairs, kissing my neck as we went. He pressed into me from behind and fondled my cock through my breeches while I shut and bolted the door. Then we hurried to the mattress, undressed, and touched each other intimately.
Julien pleasured me with his mouth as he had the previous afternoon, and then I had a go at him and had my first taste of semen. He complimented me on my cocksucking. I had learned quickly and done a much better job. I asked if he wanted me to fuck him, too, but he wouldn’t let me. “You’ve just come,” he said. “Besides, I have to change for dinner now and then put in an appearance at the ball or Father will scold me. Come back here at ten, and we’ll play some more and sleep in each other’s arms.”
A few hours later we met in the storeroom for the third time, and I sucked him again. Then I asked if I could fuck him. He refused.
“Don’t you like it?” I asked. “I know I did, both times.”
“Oh, I love it, and I’m glad you do too. It’s just that… well, with you it just seems wrong, if you know what I mean. Just the… you know. Not the rest. I have no problem sucking you. Now lie on your back and I’ll teach you some other positions.”
He lifted my legs and played with my hole until it relaxed before he took me. It felt less strange the second time, and I enjoyed it more. He had come just a few minutes before, so he stayed inside me a long time, and the longer it went on, the better it felt. I would have liked to give him the same pleasure and also find out what he was feeling. Later, lying in his arms as he slept peacefully, I remembered what my father had said, that when we grew up, Julien’s feelings for me would alter and our friendship would end.