Deaglan and Gabriel walked me part of the way home. The dogs loped along with us and I couldn't help marveling again at their size. Isolde was curious and after a thorough inspection decided I was worthy of her approval. She nuzzled me more than once as we walked and nearly knocked me off balance each time I ran my hand over her back.
When we mounted the short rise and could see my house from where we stood I said goodbye to each of my companions in turn. Gabriel lightly kissed me, "I'll miss you," he smiled into my eyes.
"You'll hardly have a chance," I said remembering the invitation my father had extended him. "It will be dinnertime before you know it," I smiled back.
I watched them turn and meander back towards the farms. As I neared my house the carriage pulled up. It worried me at first because all I could imagine was that it was there for one of my brothers; that something had gone wrong and one or the other needed to see the doctor. When I got to the porch, though, I noticed my father's luggage stacked neatly by the door; ready to be loaded.
"No," I thought, "he wouldn't leave now!" I assured myself.
I held my skirts and climbed the short flight and walked in through the open door. I could hear the raised voices of my parents in the parlor and cautiously went to the doorway.
"Papa, why is your luggage outside?" I asked when he caught me standing there.
"I am leaving today. I must leave today. It is regrettable what happened to your brothers but the doctor assures me they will be quite well. She…there is someone...I have urgent business in Paris that cannot be put off another day. I want you to take this," he handed me a letter, "to Mr. Bergeron this evening and give him my regrets and apologies that we won't be able to welcome him and enjoy his company tonight."
"But Papa…the boys…they need you."
"I cannot do anything for them that has not already been done."
I looked to my mother imploringly but she was looking at me as though I were the one who needed to come up with a solution. "But they will benefit from the comfort of knowing you are here," I solemnly said.
"Philippe and Jean are men now and they do not need to be coddled because they have a bump on their head or a bruise on their knee."
"Enough!" My mother and I both jumped at my father's tone, "I have made my decision and there is nothing more to be said," he took a deep breath and tried to master his anger. "Please, take that letter to Mr. Bergeron."
"Oui, Papa," I bowed my head and left.
My mother came out moments after me and stormed up the stairs. It was the most animated I had seen her since ever I could remember. I heard her call to Philippe and the tap of his cane as together they made their way to Jean's room. I imagined she was relaying the news to them of my father's imminent departure. My father slowly emerged from the parlor his hand chafing his neck and his eyes downcast as though he were deep in thought.
I felt some tears trembling in my eyes and hurried for the door.
It didn't take long to get to Gabriel's house. Mr. Bergeron answered shortly after I knocked and was quick to apologize that Gabriel wasn't there.
"Pas de quoi, Monsieur, I came to see you," I tried to hide my regret as I handed him the letter from my father.
He scanned it briefly and nodded, "Ah, that is a shame. Gabriel will be disappointed."
"Yes, we all will. Would you give Gabriel my apologies?"
"Of course," he smiled warmly, "but you are welcome to wait if you like."
"Non, I should see my father off. He is nearly ready I'm sure."
"I understand. I hope you will visit us again soon."
I smiled, "Mais oui."
It was just starting to get dark by the time I returned home and I couldn't see for certain whether the carriage was still there or not. My heart sank when I finally realized that it was gone along with all my father's luggage. I tried not to be so sullen knowing that I had missed him. He had only been home for a very short time and I should have grown used to his sudden arrivals and departures. There was something gnawing at my insides though, and I began to imagine that I might never see him again.
I went inside and hurried past Philippe's door when I saw that it was open. I paused briefly when I came to Jean's room wondering if he was sorry our father had left and if there was anything I could do to make him feel better. I called softly and when he did not answer I decided he must be sleeping. I was sure he could use the rest so I stole away and went to my own room to compose myself and my thoughts before dinner.
When Cook rang I took my time heading to the dining room. Philippe was the only one seated when I stepped in to take my place at the table. He was sitting at the head; it was the first time he had ever taken my father's place. It seemed bold, like he was declaring himself as the man of the house now that Papa had gone.
"How are you feeling Philippe," I asked as I shook out my napkin.
His eyes were glassy and his words were slow to come, "I'm well, sister, thank you for asking," then he turned and nodded to have our dinners brought out.
"Shouldn't we wait for Mama and Jean?"
"Jean is not well enough to manage the stairs and Mother is resting."
"Oh," it was all I could think to say.
Philippe began to eat with relish but I was too uncomfortable to manage more than a few bites. I could hear his knife scraping against the plate and as I watched him chew it was so off-putting that I nearly excused myself from the table. I went so far as to take my napkin from my lap but as soon as I made the gesture Philippe interjected.
"You're not going to let me dine by myself are you?"
"I'm not hungry."
"Would it be too much to ask for your company?"
"Yes, it would," I thought to myself. "Of course not," I reluctantly replied.
"Have you seen Gabriel?"
I didn't want to answer; I didn't want to betray the depth of my feelings for Gabriel to Philippe. I imagined that if he knew Philippe would make it an even greater point to harm him in some way, "Papa sent me with a letter for Mr. Bergeron this afternoon but Gabriel was out looking for you horses."
"Did he find them?"
I almost answered yes, but bit my lip, "I don't know. I hope so," I tried to sound optimistic.
Philippe just nodded and finished clearing his plate. I quietly sat across from him wondering what exactly it was he was thinking and whether or not I should be afraid. There was no mistaking that he was still using the laudanum the doctor had left him. He was so calm and expressionless. As I studied him he looked up from his plate.
For a brief moment I realized how striking he was with his lanky frame, black hair, blue eyes and aristocratic face. He was certainly very handsome and I couldn't imagine how someone so fine on the outside could be something so completely different within.
"Let's not be like this," he said suddenly sounding full of remorse. "Come," he held his hand out to me. I slid back from the table filled with hope and took his hand. He unexpectedly drew me down onto his lap and I had a nauseating and ominous sense of what was about to happen. I was unable to react though because of the sudden fear I felt. Philippe brushed the hair from my face and tucked it behind my ear before resting his lips against my lobe, "I'm going to kill him you know," he stated; simply, matter-of-factly.
I tried to jerk myself free but Philippe was much stronger than I was and before I could fight myself away he kissed me full on the lips. I felt his tongue trying to force my teeth apart and every part of me revolted at the attempt. It was so shocking, so unimaginable. I struck him as hard as I could across his face momentarily stunning him and leapt away.
I was horrified by what he had done and what he had said, "How could you!?" I screamed. "You're disgusting! I hate you!" I grabbed my skirts and fled from the dining room to the sound of his laughter. I raced upstairs and slammed my door behind me then ran to my chamber pot and heaved again and again.
I stayed there, doubled over, sobbing, for an interminable time. I felt lost and alone; helpless and with no one to turn to. My father was gone, my mother useless and Jean, "Would he believe me?" I wondered. Or was it too incredible even for someone like Philippe to have done something so horrible.
I feared for Gabriel, but how could I tell him what happened? Would he still love me if he knew what a monster my brother was? I felt filthy and imagined how repulsed he would be if he knew what had just happened to me and that quickly brought on another fit of tears. I threw myself down on my bed and wept with abandon.
Somehow I managed to fall asleep despite the burden of grief I was under. I woke just as the sun was coming up and driven by the apprehension of seeing Philippe, or any member of my family, quickly refreshed myself, changed and crept from my room. I grabbed my shawl and headed for the farmhouses.
When I got to Gabriel's I couldn't bring myself to knock. I stood poised at the front door unable to do more than raise my hand once or twice and then swiftly lower it. The images from the previous night were so fresh and raw within my mind that I was not altogether in the moment and couldn't bring myself to act. Then suddenly I was bowled against the door.
"Isolde," I laughed when I realized what had happened. "Oh, you have come at just the right time," I hugged her and scratched her ears.
A moment later Deaglan rounded the house with Trista at his side, "Allô," he waved.
I waved back, "Bonjour."
"Did Gabriel invite you for breakfast, too?" he asked as he reached the porch.
"Non, I just…I just…I wanted to see him," I blushed with intensity.
He shook his head at me, "Why are you so ashamed of your feelings? Irish girls would never act so silly!" he told Trista and Isolde to sit and rapped on the door.
Deaglan's words rang in my head while we waited for either Gabriel or his father to answer the door. I knew he was right and that I shouldn't be ashamed of the way I felt about Gabriel. Then I thought further and decided I shouldn't be ashamed by what had happened with Philippe, either. I hadn't done anything wrong; why should I suffer from so much guilt. When he opened the door I saw his smile and the happiness of seeing me there reflecting in his eyes. Instantly, I knew that I needed to see Gabriel alone and tell him what had happened; at the very least the threat Philippe had made against him.
Gabriel petted each of the dogs then took my hands and held them wide, "I am so happy you are here!" then he pulled me close and held me tight, "What's wrong, chérie," he whispered knowingly, "do you need to talk?"
I nodded as he released me and wondered how he knew. I was so relieved that he did, though, and that he kept the knowledge to himself. He invited us in; Trista and Isolde, too, who took up residence in front of the fireplace even though it was not currently in use. They circled once or twice and lay down with their noses touching and their bodies spread out in a giant V across the living room floor.
Mr. Bergeron poked his head from the kitchen, "Bonjour Deaglan…ah, Mademoiselle Vivienne, what a pleasure to see you again," he wiped his hands on his apron as he approached then placed two quick pecks on each of my cheeks. He looked me over questioningly and I had the uncanny sense that he, too, knew something was wrong. "Have you eaten?" he asked enthusiastically.
I hadn't, and quickly became familiar with the fact that I was very hungry, "Non, Monsieur," I shook my head.
"Bien, come, come…" he motioned us all to the kitchen.
The boys gave their hands a quick wash and as though it were a standard routine Deaglan began setting the table and Gabriel slicing the loaf of bread that was resting on the oven to keep warm. Mr. Bergeron was pouring coffee and placing the steaming mugs at appropriate intervals for each of us at the table. He smiled from the corner of his eye when I went to the sideboard and began preparing the fruit that was obviously there to be served with our meal.
A minute or two later we were all seated at the table and sipping our drinks, picking at our breakfast, smiling and talking about all the little things that had happened since last we were together. The boys were the most talkative while Mr. Bergeron and I interjected with our questions and comments at all the appropriate moments. My problems were all brushed to the corner of my mind and I hardly thought of them throughout the entire meal.
Eventually Mr. Bergeron cleared his throat and reminded the boys that they had work to do. Together we gathered our dishes and stacked them on the sideboard. Once the kitchen was again neat and orderly I thanked Mr. Bergeron for letting me join them and walked out to the living room with Deaglan and Gabriel.
"Here," Deaglan handed me a slice of the bread we had just enjoyed and gave a second to Trista. Isolde sat expectantly with her tail sweeping back and forth across the floor. I offered her the little treat and couldn't help laughing when she took it from me so delicately, like a treasure, and wandered a few paces away and nibbled it bit by bit until it was all gone.
"She really likes you," Deaglan nodded from Isolde to me. It felt like a tremendous compliment for some reason and I told Deaglan how glad I was to hear it. "Well, I guess I'll head to the barn; see you in a bit?" he asked Gabriel.
"Oui, I'll be right there."
Gabriel let Deaglan out and took my hand. He led us outside and had me take a seat on one of the steps then sat down a row or two lower from where I was and looked up at me expectantly. At first I didn't know where to begin, but then Gabriel took one of my hands and when he did his sleeve fell back to reveal the bracelet he had woven together from my hair bound about his wrist. Seeing this trophy of his affections so clearly displayed gave me courage.
My words came slowly at first but as the story unfolded I could tell he sympathized with me and was just as horrified by what had happened as I was. I could see his concern and feel the tension in his fingertips and the anger he was desperately trying to suppress. After I had told him everything Gabriel wrapped his arms around me and said that he was glad I had come to him.
"I am sure that he did…" Gabriel took a deep breath, "Philippe is not well enough to hurt us physically so I am sure this is just his means until he is well again. I'm sorry, Vivienne, I am so sorry this happened," he shook his head. "Let me talk to Papa…"
"Non," I quickly stood up, "you mustn't tell anyone else!" I insisted.
"I will not tell him, I promise," he stood up and took me by the shoulders, "but Vivienne, you need to avoid Philippe as much as possible. It will not be safe for you at home. I'll just ask Papa…I'll…I'll just tell him you are lonely and would like to keep him company today."
I was surprised how comfortable I was with the idea of spending the day with Mr. Bergeron, "Oui, but then we must think of something else."
"I will Vivienne; I promise." He pressed his forehead to mine and closed his eyes, "I love you," he said, "I won't let anything happen to you."