Surprisingly no one noticed that I had been gone for nearly the entire day. My father was readying himself to go back to Paris, my mother drowsing in bed and my brothers nowhere to be found. I wondered if they were looking for me and Gabriel so I decided to ask my father if he knew where they were.
"Non, petit, I do not. I have not seen them at all today. They were gone before I woke and have not been home since," he turned back to his packing.
I shifted nervously, "I'm sure they will be home for dinner. They must be having a great deal of fun somewhere and forgotten themselves."
"Oui" he answered dismissively as he continued arranging his portmanteau.
"I will check with Cook, they should have at least come home to eat at some point."
"Oui, oui," he waved me away, "that is a good idea."
I turned and trudged back downstairs to the kitchen. Cook was busy preparing our evening meal for us and had no better information than my father had. I was ashamed at myself for worrying over them because they certainly did not deserve my concern but it was getting late. I couldn't help feeling in some way responsible for their not being home.
I went upstairs and poked my head in my mother's room. She was sleeping soundly and I didn't dare wake her to ask if she had seen them. I gently closed the door and went to my bedroom to freshen up before dinnertime. When Cook finally rang the bell calling us down, I was the first to the dining room. My father arrived shortly afterwards then my mother sluggishly followed.
We all sat quietly for a number of minutes waiting for the boys to appear but they never did, "Well, let's not let this go to waste; I've much to do before I leave tomorrow." He served my mother and I then hastily ate his dinner.
My mother picked away at hers and I picked away at mine and before either of us could finish my father had gotten up, kissed each of our cheeks and hurried from the dining room.
"Mama, I have not seen Philippe and Jean all day, have you?" I tried to sound nonchalant.
She shook her head and sipped her wine, "I have not."
"Aren't you worried? It is getting dark."
"The boys can take care of themselves, they are practically men after all," she shook her head at me as if I were being completely foolish for whatever it was I was suggesting.
We spent the rest of our meal in silence. After dinner my mother went back to her room and lay down. I considered running down to the farmhouses to find Gabriel to tell him that my brothers were missing; that no one had seen them since we left them at the barn that morning. I wasn't sure what else to do. My mother was not lucid enough for any real fear and my father was too wrapped up in his own concerns to consider that something might indeed be wrong.
I paced the floor in my bedroom for several minutes and when I looked at the clock decided I had no choice but to take action before it was too late and too dark for anyone to do anything. I laced my boots and tossed a heavy shawl over my shoulders. Before I knew it I was at the front door, on the porch and running down the path to the farmhouses.
It took me a moment to get my bearings and remember which one Gabriel had pointed out as his. I tried to catch my breath then raised my hand to knock. For half a moment I was completely decided against following through with it. Then I heard Gabriel's laugh and it strengthened my resolve.
He answered the door, "Vivienne," he seemed happily surprised.
"Oh, Gabriel, I didn't know what else to do," my story came pouring out. His father full of curiosity moved closer and stood behind him while they each listened intently. "I am sure I am worrying for nothing, but, but…"
"Non, you are right, I am glad you came," he held the door wide, "come in, and we will decide what best to do."
"Non, there is no time for that," Gabriel's father said, and was already pulling on his boots. "You and I will go, and Deaglan, too, if he is home. He can bring the dogs."
There was a reassuring command to the way Gabriel's father spoke and acted. Everything was done with great efficiency and within minutes they had lanterns and a small party mounted and ready to search for my brothers.
"Can you wait here, or do you need someone to take you home?" Gabriel studied me questioningly.
He nodded and pecked my cheek.
I watched until they were all out of view and closed the door. The strangeness of being alone in a house other than my own began to settle in. I looked this way and that and though I knew I shouldn't I began to move about the small rooms and to examine all the things I saw as I went.
The furnishings were not as elaborate as I was used to but sturdy, well-built and comfortable looking. The floors clean and smooth and covered here and there with carpets that though far from threadbare looked worn from many years of use. The walls were whitewashed and though there were no hangings or portraits anywhere to be found, there was a small photograph, framed and sitting on the mantle.
I could easily guess that it was Gabriel's mother when I picked it up. She was sitting at a piano her fingers poised on the keys as she looked over her shoulder smiling with a genuine warmth and happiness. Though I was sure she was posed by whoever had taken the picture I also knew that an expression like that could not be falsified and that she must have been a vibrant lady when she was alive. She was certainly very beautiful and I smiled as I caressed the frame and put it back in its place.
In the back of the house there was a stairway that led to the second floor. I decided that must be where the bedrooms were. Again, knowing I shouldn't, I couldn't stop myself from heading up and continuing my exploration of Gabriel's home. The first room I came to was obviously his fathers and so I only took a cursory glance.
Gabriel's room was small and whitewashed just as the rest of the house. He had a narrow bed against one wall a small writing desk on another and a set of drawers standing against the third. The writing desk was covered with papers; sketches done in sharp, brisk strokes. Most were of landscapes or of animals and birds. There was one on top indicating it was recently done that looked to be a drawing of a person. It was hard to make out since it had grown somewhat darker so I brought it to the window to have a better look.
I sucked in my breath, "It's me," I gasped. There was no mistaking. It was masterfully done and as I studied it in the dusky light I shook my head thinking that he had made me far more beautiful than I actually was. Then I thought, "Could this really be how he sees me?" I was dizzy with the happiness the thought made me feel. Worried that I would inadvertently ruin it I carefully returned it to the desk.
As I did I caught sight of small jewelry case or something of the like. I opened it and tucked inside were a number of little treasures that I rifled through. Among them was the lock of hair he had clipped from me. It was carefully bound together at one end and looked as though it were being woven or braided into something more permanent.
I put it back and as I let the lid fall closed all my worries came flooding back to me. I was shaken from my reverie because I heard raised voices approaching outside. I ran down to the front door and stepped onto the small porch. Gabriel's father was carrying Philippe and motioned me aside to let him pass. I saw Gabriel dismount and Jean nearly tumbled from the saddle behind him but Gabriel steadied him and kept him from falling.
I hurried to where they were standing and helped brace my brother up, "What happened?" I frantically asked.
"We're not sure. When I found Philippe his leg was pinned beneath a tree that had somehow toppled over on him. Jean seems to have hit his head pretty hard, too, but I don't know how. He could barely speak or make any sense whatsoever," we urged Jean up the stairs and into the house as Gabriel explained what he knew. "I think he may have a concussion, but Papa says that neither of them has broken anything. Philippe's leg is torn and badly bruised, and once Papa dresses it he will probably need a crutch for a week or two."
Gabriel helped Jean to one of the settees in the sitting room. "Jean," I squatted down and looked him in the eyes, "Jean?" He was too disoriented to speak it seemed. "Jean, look at me, it's Vivienne," I gave him a little shake.
"Viv?" he grinned dazedly.
"Yes, Jean, it's me. Can you see me?" He lolled forward in an almost drunken manner, "We need to get them home somehow," I looked up to Gabriel.
He nodded, "I know Deaglan went for the wagon. As soon as Papa has done what he can for Philippe we'll bring you all home."
I stood up and threw my arms around Gabriel sobbing, "This is our fault isn't it? They were trying to find us; I'm sure of it!"
"Non, sssh, love, sssh. They did something foolish, that is all. You cannot take the blame for that; they made their own choices and their own mistakes. That is what led them into trouble, not you," he stroked my hair and back soothing me.
I desperately wanted to believe him and the longer he held me the easier it was to accept that what he said was true. I closed my eyes and began to relax as I felt his fingers running up and down my spine. His touch made me remember our kiss; the pressure of his lips against mine and how electric and alive it made me feel. My stomach did an excited little flip and I reflexively tilted my head back. He must have felt it too, but when he bent towards me someone coughed from the hallway and shook us to our senses.
"Deaglan, there you are," Gabriel blushed and smiled sure that we had been caught in an unguarded moment.
"Oui, here I am," the boy winked knowingly.
"Vivienne, this is my friend Deaglan. You'll have to forgive his accent; he is from Ireland, you know, and only just learning French."
I held my hand out, "It is nice to meet you Deaglan," I said in my best English.
He was not a very handsome boy but when he smiled at my attempt he brightened considerably, "It's nice to meet you…Vivienne," he looked to Gabriel and I felt some secret exchange pass between them. "So it is your brothers we were forced from our supper tables for?"
"Oui…uh, yes, please forgive them. They are…" I couldn't think of a suitable English word.
"Troublemakers," Deaglan suggested.
I giggled, "That is not what I was going to say."
"But what you were thinking."
I knew we would be friends.
Gabriel's father came into the room, "I've done what I can. It was not as bad as it first looked. Is the wagon ready?"
"Yes, sir," Deaglan replied.
"Good. Gabriel, help me with Jean then we'll get Philippe."
Once Jean was comfortably placed in the wagon Gabriel and his father eased Philippe along the hallway towards the front door. They had their shoulders tucked under Philippe's arms and he hopped on one leg between them. He looked my way as he passed and I tried to smile encouragingly at him but the look he threw back froze my heart. In instant awareness I realized that he blamed me and Gabriel for all that had happened to him and Jean. I fretfully turned away.
"Vivienne, we're ready," Gabriel held his hand out, "come let's get you all home."