Gabriel was quiet and deep in thought as he reflected on what I had said. A horse neighed, another stamped its foot, but those were the only sounds I heard besides the blood rushing in my ears and my heart pounding against my chest.
“Nothing is certain, though,” he took both my hands in his and kissed them each, “you do not know for sure that this is what your father wants?”
“Non, I do not know for certain,” I mumbled shaking my head.
“Well, hopefully you are wrong. But if you are not, you must tell your father about us. You must tell him that you love me…Tell him…tell him that you are already promised.”
“Do you love me, Vivienne?”
“Of course I do.”
“Would you marry me Vivienne?”
I wasn’t sure how to respond; if he was just asking me for my feelings or if he was actually proposing.
“You shouldn’t have to think, Vivienne. I know I love you. I know I would give my life to you. I know in my heart that we belong together. I have always known; since the moment we met.”
“Yes, Gabriel, I felt that way, too. Meeting you made me happier than I have ever been. I cannot imagine my life without you.”
“Then tell me that you will marry me; tell me that you will not marry anyone else,” his voice cracked and when I met his eyes they were pools of emotion.
In that moment I was certain that no one was ever loved half so much as I was. I pushed all the consequences that were racing through my mind aside, “I will, Gabriel; I will marry you. I will not marry anyone else,” I spoke softly, solemnly.
He threw his arms around me in relief and covered me with kisses, “Nothing will ever come between us, Vivienne. I promise.”
We only spent a few more minutes together quietly caressing each other; lost in our own thoughts and wondering how things would turn out. When we finally said goodbye it was with heavy hearts on both our sides. Part of me was elated by the commitment I had just made, the other was terrified of the consequences.
“I need to go home, Gabriel. I don’t know when I will be able to get away again, but if I can manage it I will come and see you.”
“Of course,” he reluctantly replied, “I will wait for you, chérie.”
I stood up and brushed the strands of hay from my dress, “Oh, there is a way for a few minutes tomorrow…Would you bring Cook your recipe for the crème puffs?” I smiled broadly.
“Oui, love, I will.” Gabriel helped me down and out of the barn, “Vivienne Bergeron,” he whispered as he hugged me goodbye. I loved the way it sounded.
I blew a kiss to him and called to Isolde as I stepped away. We watched one another until it was no longer possible then I turned and headed for home. Isolde seemed reluctant to leave; sometimes I suspected that she loved Gabriel just as much as I did. I laid my hand on her back as we walked and told her that one day we would not have to leave him; that she and I and Gabriel would all live together somewhere and raise a little family and that we would be together forever.
Neither my mother nor my father made an appearance at dinner. Jean told me that they were not feeling very well after all the pressure of readying the house in time for our company. When I realized that we would be alone for dinner I also realized that I wanted to tell him everything that I suspected our father intended for me and what I had done to prevent it.
“Jean,” I called softly across the table towards him.
He raised his eyes from his soup and smiled weakly, “What is it Viv?” he took his cue from me and spoke in a hushed tone. There was something in his expression; he looked as though something were weighing very heavily on him.
I tilted my head and laid down my spoon momentarily keeping my news to myself “Are you…are you unwell, too, Jean? You look...you look…”
“Disappointed?” he asked.
“Yes, something like that. What’s wrong?” I said concernedly.
“It’s…” he took a deep breath, “it’s something I cannot share, Viv. Not yet anyway.”
“Oh?” I was surprised and curious.
“I…I just can’t Viv. I’m sorry.”
“Well, if you could tell me I am sure that you would, just the same as I…if I had something to share…” I smiled to let him know that indeed I did have something I wanted to share.
“Really?” he smiled back and some of the worry seemed to fall from his expression.
I lowered my voice again, “I…” I bit my lip, “I am engaged,” I said, the words rushing out in a single, exalted breath.
Jean frowned and carefully studied me across the table, “So you know…Papa told you…” he sighed with relief. “I thought you would be upset. I thought you…but…this…this is not how I expected you to react. I am so glad you are happy with Papa’s decision.”
I shivered. I was instantly aware that Jean misunderstood what I was saying and worse that what I had suspected was true; my father did indeed intend me to marry his guest. Jean saw the sudden changes in my emotions as they ran the gambit from utmost joy to complete devastation.
He regretfully covered his face with his hands, “You didn’t know, did you? You meant to tell me that Gabriel proposed, didn’t you? You had no idea Papa arranged your marriage to Mr. Delacroix, did you?”
I shook my head, my eyes full of remorse, “No, Jean. I will not marry him,” I vehemently stated. “I am already promised to Gabriel. I will not marry anyone else!”
Jean looked up and hopelessly shook his head, “Papa will never allow you to marry Gabriel, Vivienne,” he assured me.
“He must,” I said. “I love Gabriel and I promised him that I would not marry anyone else. No matter what Papa says or what he does; I will not marry anyone but Gabriel,” I raised my head defiantly.
“You don’t know what you are saying. You haven’t thought this through.”
I remembered Gabriel’s words and used them to express my own sentiments, “I don’t have to think, Jean. I know. I know I love Gabriel and that we were meant to be together.” I looked sadly away, “I thought you would be happy for me. I thought you, of all people, you would support me.” When I looked back I thought I could see tears standing in Jean’s eyes.
“I’m sorry, Vivienne,” his voice full of regret.
I ripped my napkin from my lap and tossed it onto the table before fleeing the room full of anger and disappointment. Isolde followed me to my room and once we were both in I locked the door behind me. I began pacing back and forth back and forth as I wondered how I could possibly flout my father’s will and embrace my own.
Nothing. My mind was a blank. I could think of nothing but the dread of not being able to escape the fate my family had planned for me.
“Please Gabriel, please think of something for I cannot,” I sobbed as I flopped down on my bed.
At some point Isolde whined and nudged me from my sorrowful reverie.I hadn’t taken her out as was our custom after dinner so I dutifully composed myself and made a hasty escape, whipping by Jean’s brightly lit doorway and bustling down the stairs along the foyer and out into the night air. I thought of running down the path to the farmhouses but Isolde suddenly stopped in front of me. She stood as still as a statue and I could just barely discern her nose twitching and catching at some scent on the light breeze.
I had never seen her so acutely poised for any reason. She always seemed to have an aloof, almost loafing, carefree spirit no matter what she was doing – running, walking, eating, playing. She was all business at the moment and I couldn’t imagine what had gotten into her.
“Isolde,” I called trying to shake her from whatever object had seized her attention.
She glanced back and immediately squatted down then turned toward the house; obviously done with her needs. As I opened the front door to let us in she snarled over her shoulder before stepping through the threshold. We started up the stairs and as we did my father appeared at landing.
He started to say my name but before he could utter the first syllable Isolde began growling and bristling at him. My father quickly backed away.
“Isolde,” I scolded, “no! Bad dog!”
She grudgingly checked herself but as soon as my father came back to the top of the stairway she resumed her tenacious attitude.
“Vivienne, what is wrong with your dog?!” my father demanded.
“I don’t know,” I shook my head but then she started snarling again and straining forward. She looked as though she was going to charge him.”
I threw my arms around her neck before she could take more than a step or two, “No! No, Isolde! No!”
My father’s fear was quickly replaced with anger. He whipped one of his shoes off and brandished it as he came towards us ready to strike. He whacked Isolde as hard as he could across her nose. She gave a hideous yelp but quickly recovered and started towards him again. She was the most menacing creature I had ever seen as she toppled my father.
The commotion drew my mother and Jean to the top of the stairs. My brother knocked my mother aside and flew to my father’s aid dragging him up and away from Isolde as I tried to yank her in the opposite direction. I lost my grip and tumbled down the stairs. The wind knocked out of me when I hit the floor and in her fear for me Isolde dropped her efforts to attack my father and leapt down to my side. She licked my face over and over again until my lungs finally found their rhythm and I sucked in a deep and painful breath.
“Jean,” my father commanded, “go down there and put that devilish beast outside!”
He did as he was told and for whatever reason Isolde obeyed him as he opened the door and told her to “Git!”
Though I couldn’t see her from where I lay I distinctly heard her bound away, “No,” I choked the word out. I tried to sit-up so that I could go after her but my chest ached too badly for the motion and I helplessly fell back down. My mother and father came down the stairs and hovered over us.
“Ssh,” Jean soothed, “ssh. Just relax a minute. Catch your breath. Isolde will be alright. You need to worry about yourself right now.”
I closed my eyes for a moment and then suddenly remembering that Jean was not my ally, clawed my way up his arm and pushed myself to standing. I tried to reach for the doorknob but my father cruelly knocked my hand away.
“Let that dog back in and I will put a bullet in her, do you understand me?!”
My face went livid with shock and I was torn as I tried to decide what best to do. Strangely it was my mother who came to my aid. She wrapped her arm around my shoulder and guided me away from the scene. I was too dumbfounded to resist as she quietly led me upstairs and the length of the house to the attic.
She helped me undress and tucked me into my bed, “It has not been a very good day for you has it?
“Non, mama,” I whimpered.
“Get some rest, sweetheart. Everything will seem better in the morning,” she kissed my forehead and said goodnight.
Nothing she had ever said had any meaning to me. I never found any value in her words but for some reason what she had done over the past few minutes meant the world to me. For the first time in my life, I felt like my mother understood me and knew what I was going through. I took a deep breath and shuddered letting it all out as she left.
“Oh, my lock,” I thought with a twinge of panic and remembering that Philippe was away I rolled to my side rather than getting back up and left my door unbolted.
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