Mr. Bergeron welcomed the opportunity of having me spend the day and he ended up being a very fun and informative companion. After helping him with some housework he took me for a walk around my family's property. He had lived there for 17 years and knew just about everybody and everything. We stopped a number of times so that he could point out different areas of the farms or vineyards and to tell me a brief tale about some little event or other that had taken place there.
We met several other people during our expedition. Each time he stopped to chat he would introduce me as Gabriel's friend Vivienne, nothing more, and spend a moment or two catching up with his acquaintance. He never lingered overlong and I felt like I was learning a great deal about my family and the people who lived on our land. It was interesting and refreshing to have such a lively perspective of a set of people I had rarely thought of until that fateful day I met Gabriel and he saved me from my brothers' assault.
I felt completely at ease and the hours seemed to zip by. Before I knew it lunch time was approaching and we were winding our way back towards the farmhouses. Gabriel and Deaglan came shortly after Mr. Bergeron and I were putting the finishing touches on everyone's meals. They washed and joined us at the table and this time it was me who was bubbling with stories to tell about the people we met and the places I had seen during our stroll.
When the meal was over and the boys were getting ready to head back to their duties I walked them to the door, "Deaglan has a solution to your…problem," Gabriel said softly.
I'm sure I colored with embarrassment, "Oh, non, you promised you wouldn't tell, Gabriel!"
"Ssh, listen, ssh," he hugged me, "I didn't tell him, not everything, just that your brothers are very mean to you and you have no way of protecting yourself from them." It took a moment for his words to sink in and for me to accept them. "I didn't even have to ask," Gabriel went on, "he is going to give Isolde to you."
My heart skipped a beat and I wasn't sure that I heard him correctly, "He's going to what?" I asked confusedly.
"Isolde…she is going to be your dog. Your brothers wouldn't dare lay a finger on you with her at your side!" I couldn't think of a single word to say I was so overwhelmed. "She loves you already and Deaglan says that she is very well trained and will do whatever it takes to keep you safe."
I looked over Gabriel's shoulder and could see Deaglan standing a number of paces away ready to head back to the stables and whatever other work they had to do. I placed a quick kiss on Gabriel and ran down to Deaglan.
"Really?" I breathlessly asked.
He smiled and nodded, "Really!"
"Oh, Mon Dieu, I cannot find a single word worthy of my thanks," I threw my arms around Deaglan and smothered him a heartfelt hug.
"Easy," he chuckled, "Gabriel is watching; he might get the wrong idea!"
"Non," I kissed Deaglan's cheeks, "he knows I love him and no one else."
"I believe he does. I believe it, too," Deaglan sighed forlornly. "I know you only have eyes for him but he's not the only one who loves you, you know." He was completely serious, but I was surprised by what he had said and didn't know how to reply.
Thankfully, I didn't have to since Gabriel decided he had seen enough of our display, "She's spoken for," he said good-humoredly and clapped Deaglan on the shoulder motioning him back to work.
"Well, you can't blame me for trying." Deaglan turned back to me, "I'll bring Isolde with me when we are done for the day."
I waved them off and went back inside to spend what was left of the afternoon with Mr. Bergeron. After some tea, some conversation, a game of chess and a few other minute activities the day finally ended and the boys came home. Deaglan brought Trista and Isolde who took up their station in the living room as seemed to be their custom and we all had dinner together. Eventually it was decided that I should go home since it was getting quite dark and again Gabriel and Deaglan walked me part of the way.
When we got to the top of the rise Deaglan bent down and whispered something inaudible into Isolde's ear and hugged her goodbye. Seeing how attached he was made me wish I hadn't accepted his offer and that I had refused to take Isolde from him.
"Maybe there is some other way," I suggested.
"Really," Deaglan insisted, "it's fine Vivienne. We will always be seeing one another; I'll hardly have a chance to miss her at all."
I looked at Gabriel pleadingly but he shook his head, "It's for the best, Vivienne. Neither of us wants anything to happen to you. Deaglan seconded his opinion.
"It just doesn't feel right," I sighed.
"I know, chérie," Gabriel hugged me and kissed my forehead.
I turned and took Deaglan's hands, "Merci, mon ami! Merci! Merci!" I kissed his cheeks. "Goodbye, I will come see you as soon as I can."
"Bon soir," they both called as I started back up the path towards home.
Deaglan encouraged Isolde to follow but she was reluctant to leave him. He told me to use her name and to tell her to come.
She took a handful of steps.
"Again," Deaglan said.
After the third or fourth time she came to my side and glanced back over her shoulder. Isolde gave a half-hearted wag of her tail then turned and nuzzled me as if to say we could go. I bent down and hugged her, "Thank you, Isolde. I will be a good friend to you. I promise."
I let us inside and made my way upstairs. It was well past dinner and thankfully I didn't meet anyone along the way. Philippe's room was dark but Jean's room was bright and the door ajar. I knocked and when he called poked my head in.
"Jean, are you alone?"
"Oui," I could hear the happiness in his voice when he realized it was me. "Will you come in and sit with me a minute."
I smiled, "Of course."
I crept in, Isolde directly behind me and closed the door the rest of the way hoping that we would avoid being disturbed that way.
"Mon Dieu," Jean exclaimed, "What is that?!"
Isolde gave a little half-growl.
"This is Isolde," I ruffled her ears, "my new dog. Isolde this is my brother Jean." I called her towards the bed and Jean reflexively pulled back in fear. "Don't be afraid Jean, she is a nice dog," I laughed, "just a very big, nice dog."
"Where did you get it?"
"Gabriel's friend, Deaglan, gave her to me."
He inched back towards us as she started sniffing at him, "Whatever for?" Jean cautiously held out is hand.
"Oh, uh, just to keep me company, I guess. You and Philippe have each other, but I don't have a sister," I was not ready to tell Jean what had happened at dinner the other night. He may have apologized but years of Jean's antagonism could not be erased by words.
Isolde accepted his offered hand and he turned it over once or twice until she was satisfied. She seemed haughty and indifferent towards him and decided to put her attention elsewhere and began inspecting Jean's room.
"Are you feeling any better?" I asked.
"Much," he smiled. "The médecin came by earlier and said that I should try getting up and moving around for a while tomorrow."
"Oh, that's wonderful news Jean," I clasped his hand.
Just as I had done this Isolde sprang for the door growling and bristling. I followed her with my eyes and watched as Philippe opened the door and froze in terror at the sight that greeted him.
"What in the name of God is that?!" he jumped back.
"Isolde, come!" I called. She backed away, without taking her eyes from Philippe and stood protectively in front of me.
Philippe took a step or two into Jean's room scowling at each of us in turn, "Well, don't you two look quite cozy," he spat, "so what is that ungodly creature you have there?"
"This is Isolde," I stroked her back, "my new dog," I stated.
"New dog? Where on Earth did you get her, and who gave you permission to bring her in the house?" Philippe inched a little closer but quickly stepped back when Isolde started leaning aggressively towards him.
I hadn't thought of that. My father was gone and my mother would never agree to letting me keep a dog in the house especially one the size of a small pony. "She was a gift and it would have been rude not to accept her," I tried not to sound worried.
"Mother will never agree to letting you keep her."
Jean interjected, "I'll talk to her for you if you want Viv."
Philippe looked at Jean with incredulity, "Are you mad, brother? Did that bump on your head addle your brain?"
Jean's expression changed, "It did something, yes, brother."
Philippe turned his astonished expression from Jean to me to Isolde and without another word stormed from the room. I listened to his cane tap along the hallway and was thankful that he went in the direction of his own room and not my mother's.
"Don't worry, Viv, it will all work out, you'll see."
I smiled and nodded, "Of course it will Jean."
I stayed and chatted a while longer; Jean asked me a number of questions that made me realize that I didn't know the first thing about caring for a dog. He made a list of things for me to do and by the time he was done we were both yawning and stretching to keep awake. We said goodnight then I led Isolde to my room and told her to stay. I went to the closet where the housekeeper kept our extra linens and built a nest beside my bed for her to sleep in. She seemed to know my intentions and lay down as soon as I was finished.
The next morning Isolde woke me bright and early prodding me with her cold, wet nose. I brought her outside then to the kitchen. Cook looked her over appraisingly, "She is a beautiful animal," he said, "let's see what we have for her to breakfast on, huh?"
He made a hefty plate for her with a little bit of everything; eggs, bacon, chicken, carrots, and a few other odds and ends. She enjoyed it heartily and licked the plate clean while I watched. When she was done her feast I heard my brothers and mother taking their places in the dining room for their morning meal. I took a deep breath and passed from the kitchen smiling and greeting everyone by name. Isolde followed me directly and when I took my seat she chased her tail once or twice and lay down behind my chair.
No one said a word as they all watched the display. Cook brought our meals out and set them before us one by one. He stooped to whisper some affectionate expression to Isolde, nodded to my mother, and sauntered back to the kitchen as though nothing out of the ordinary had taken place. The moments ticked by as I held my breath waiting for the inevitable debate but it never came. My mother eventually shook out her napkin, took up her silverware and applied herself to her breakfast.
I didn't know it but Jean had already spoken with her; whatever he said I never learned, but somehow he managed to convince my mother that I should be permitted to keep Isolde and she became a fixture at my side wherever I might be. Her presence brought me over a year of uninterrupted peace from any harassments from Philippe. He avoided me whenever possible and I did very much the same; spending much of my free time with Gabriel and some with Deaglan as well.
Between the three of them, Gabriel, Deaglan and Isolde my heart and my head were full; full of love and hope and happiness - all the feelings I had been so deprived of during my life thus far. Both Jean and Philippe slowly healed but they were never able to recover the brotherly bonds they once shared.
Jean's experience had altered him greatly and he turned to faith as a means of occupation rather than hunting, fishing or any other of his past pursuits. He studied, he prayed, he became the confident of everyone; the one we all turned to whenever we needed someone to talk to. It was as though all the beauty that Philippe embodied physically, Jean embodied mentally and emotionally.
We all grew a lot during this period of our lives; the boys became men, I grew into a woman and it was becoming time for all of us to consider our futures with the seriousness of adulthood rather than all our past childish notions. My father had not returned during this entire span of time and throughout his absence he was hardly given any thought.
As my 16th birthday approached he quietly came back and everything he brought with him kindled the destruction of the delicate, peaceful balance we had somehow managed to establish.