Woman of Musillac
by Bev F.
DISCLAIMER: I did not create these characters and have no claim on them.
RATING: PG (I think)
NOTE :This is for all those who felt the Mariette character was wrong. I've
some background, and changed the scenes. This is how she really was! I like
Mariette much better and I hope you do too.
"Mam'selle, what is that noise?" the small boy in the front row
"What noise, Henri?" Mariette laid her book down and listened.
At first all
she heard were the usual sounds of the village, a chicken squawking, a woman
shouting at her husband.
"It's people marching, mam'selle! And I hear a drum!" Henri's
added. "Is there a parade? Can we see?"
A parade? Mariette had heard no talk of a parade. Today was not a
holiday, and Musillac was too small and too far away from the main roadways
attract traveling players .Then a cold chill went through her as she remembered
other marching feet just a day or two ago.
"You must all stay in your seats, " she said firmly. "If
there truly is a
parade, you may look, but only when I say. " Cautiously she approached
window facing out onto the street. The glass was poor - wavy and distorted
she could see men - many men - marching by. They were wearing uniforms,
the men who had marched through before, but the color was different - these
were white - and on their hats -
Without thinking she gasped, then covered her mouth with her hand. The
white cockade on the hats could only mean one thing. This was a Royalist
Had France been invaded then? Here in this tiny unimportant little village?
during the Revolution Musillac had mostly slumbered on, not even rising
their own aristocrat le Marquis de Moncoutant. His own terrors had caused
flee - one morning the villagers had awoken to find only the lowest servants
living in his grand house.
She remembered that day so clearly. She had woken up in her narrow
hard little bed in that stuffy cupboard up under the eaves, to realize that
daylight streamed through her tiny window. Somehow she had overslept; now
she could look forward to a verbal lashing, if not an actual beating, from
Roget, the Marquis' stiff unbending housekeeper. Madame Roget had come from
Vannes; she felt no kinship with the people in this sleepy little hamlet
- her future
was tied most securely to that of the Marquis, and she made no allowances
even the least inattention to the work of the house. And after Gabrielle
knew that the Marquis had instructed the housekeeper to pay particular attention
to the miserable offspring of Madame Renard, who had so inconveniently
coughed her life away and left the Marquis without a decent cook.
Quickly she had jumped out of bed, thrown on the clothes she had worn
the day before, jammed her cap on her head, and ran down the three staircases
the kitchen, praying in her flight that Madame Roget may not have missed
The kitchen was filled with people. Mariette stopped in the doorway,
unable to understand what was happening. "Mariette!" Madame Cormier,
had taken her mother's place in the kitchen, called out to her. "Come
- have a
glass of wine with us in celebration!"
A glass of wine? Celebration? Here in the kitchen in the morning? She
looked around. Nearly all the servants were here - except Madame Roget and
coachman, and the Marquis' valet. "But what is happening, Madame Cormier?
"The best thing imaginable, Mariette! Come, this is for you."
Cormier poured wine from the Marquis' crystal decanter into the Marquis'
wineglass and held it out to her. "The Marquis has fled, Mariette.
I heard the
carriage in the middle of the night. And that witch Roget gone with him.
Hesitantly, Mariette walked forward to take the glass from Madame
Cormier. Her fingers trembled so badly that the wine slopped out. Any minute
expected Madame Roget to leap out at her from the shadows, with the Marquis
smirking behind her; this whole tableau a ruse to compound her sin and make
deserving of the utmost punishment.
"Ma petite!" Madame Cormier left her place at the head of the
came to place a comforting arm around Mariette's shoulders. She curled her
roughskinned fingers around Mariette's own and guided the wineglass to
Mariette's lips. The wine, tart and cold, tasted good, and she drank it
"It is true then?" she asked wonderingly.
"It is true, Mariettie. He is gone."
Mariette stepped back from the window. She must not alarm these
children put in her charge; it was her duty to keep them safe.
"Mam'selle, can we see! Can we see! " Henri's excited little boy
joined by Eduard's, and then the other children.
"Quiet! You must be quiet!" her fear made her voice sharp with
they heard that something in her voice, and stopped calling out. "Now
your places while I see."
Mariette moved reluctantly to the door, took a deep breath and opened it
slowly. She looked to the right. Mon Dieu! As far as she could see were
soldiers with the white uniforms and the white cockades in their hats .
back behind them there were soldiers with red uniforms. The British wore
red coats - she had read that. But British? Then this must be an invasion!
Royalists and their allies. Come to return the past.
Eduard and Henri squeezed past her, and she stopped them firmly with her
hands. "No, we must go inside," she said, setting them behind
her and taking one
more look as she closed the door. Two men on horseback were passing - one
the British red and the other, a younger man, in a dark uniform she did
recognize. He turned to look at her, and she closed the door quickly.
"Mam'selle - can we see the parade? " little Danielle tugged at
and the other children watched her expectantly.
She drew a deep breath , then another. Royalist soldiers - and British -
the Republicans a day or two back - she had run to the door then with excitement
- hoping that her dear Philippe had returned, but she had found no friendly
in that army, kept in their orderly lines by sharp commands from their officers
and trundling their big guns behind them. They had passed right through
knew not where they might be now.
She peeked out the window again, just as the last redcoat disappeared.
Perhaps they would march on through also, and look after their affairs far
from her children and her school and her home.
But what to do with the children? Send them home? She knew bad things
could happen when soldiers wandered about the streets, even if those soldiers
sported the tricolor cockade and supposedly were fighting for you. No, better
wait and pray that in an hour or two , all this would be just a strange
mystery, and the only problem she need deal with was Eduard's continued
with his writing.
"We will say a prayer, " she said, "Please, fold your hands
and bow your
heads." Small sounds escaped as the children composed themselves for
prayer - a
cough here and there, the scrape of a bench. Then all was quiet She had
personal faith that a prayer would change anything, change this day, make
armies disappear. But prayer was ritual , and ritual could comfort in times
Before she started, she looked out over the small bowed heads - the hope
of the future, a hope that people like herself and these young ones, could
life with peace, and dignity, and self-respect. But as she opened her mouth,
deep dark foreboding filled her, as firmly as the breath she drew into her
And as she spoke the prayer, her eyes no longer saw the little children
in front of
her, but the white cockades, and blood.
Fists pounded on her door. Most of the children had left, going in twos
threes as they saw Maman or Papa in the street, or a neighbor. Now just
remained, and little Henri.
"Open up in there! You must open up!" She could see the door shake,
the pounding continued - it was a poor thing and needed mending. If she
to answer, she knew the door would be no protection from whoever might be
"Go, " she whispered to the children. "You must hide in the
back room and
be very quiet."
They obeyed immediately. Fear had spread through the village , seeping
even into this room and the children now listened to her every word.
Carefully she smoothed down her skirt, settled her cap more firmly on her
fair hair, took a deep breath, and stepped to open the door.
A Royalist soldier stood there. At first he said nothing, but stared at
insolently, and then, as his eyes took in what stood before him, gave her
that sent a shiver up her spine.
"How may I help you?" she asked crisply, praying that her voice
quaver. These - trespassers - must not sense weakness.
"You must come to the Square immediately."
"But why? What is happening? Who are you?"
"You must come to the Square. The Marquis has ordered it."
"The Marquis? But we have no Marquis now. We have a mayor."
The soldier laughed. "The linen merchant? That's what Le Marquis called
him. No, my pretty mam'selle, your rightful ruler has returned."
"Mon Dieu - not le Marquis de Moncoutant!"
"Mais oui. And he is very happy to see you all. " The soldier
raised his hat
and solemnly chanted "Vive le Roi !" Then , the hat replaced,
he ordered, "Now
get yourself down to the Square, Mam'selle or you will pay dearly. Tout
"Oui - yes, of course. "Anything to make this repulsive man leave
"I will look for you there, my beauty, and it will go hard with you
if I do
not see you!" His face twisted into a leer. "And I may look for
you later also! A
She slammed the door behind him. The Marquis? Was this a nightmare
from which she would soon awaken? But no, the wood of the door under her
fingers felt real and solid, and the children watching her fearfully from
doorway beyond were real too. So much to think about - so much -.
"We must go to the square," she said to Eduard and Henri. "
Her voice was
firm, and she kept it so, but inside she wanted only to scream.
"A holiday, Mam'selle?" Eduard asked.
"A holiday, Eduard."
She and the children stepped out into a stream of her fellow villagers,
headed for the Square. A tall pudgy housewife was just leaving her doorway
across the road.
"What is happening, Mariette?" Annette Lavallee called out, her
puckered with worry.
"It appears that Monsieur le Marquis has returned," Mariette answered.
Annette peered up the street, towards the village square. Then she hurried
Mariette and her small troop.
"But how can that be?"
"I think we are going to find out very soon."
"And the men in the red coats?"
"The British, it would seem.
"Mon Dieu, we are being invaded!" Annette crossed herself hurriedly.
will all be killed! "
"We must see what happens, Annette . Just keep calm and don't call
attention to yourself. " Now she had not only Eduard and Henri to watch
Annette Lavallee too.
As they walked along, she looked very carefully around. There were
soldiers stationed all along the route she, Annette and the other villagers
following to the square in front of the big chateau formerly occupied by
Marquis. But these were Royalist soldiers; they all wore the white uniform
sported the white cockade in their hat. The redcoats had marched elsewhere.
They could have traveled up the road, following in the footsteps of the
army. Or they could have returned to the bridge or taken up positions at
fort a little further along the river. If only she knew! Such knowledge
her well in the future, if Muzillac now had any future at all.
The four of them joined the much larger group in the Square in front of
Marquis' house. Whispers rose from the crowd like the busy buzzing of a
bees. No one spoke loudly, but every face carried a worried look. Mariette
herself in the center - her advice to Annette Lavallee was heart-felt -
do not call
attention to yourself, do not stand apart from the rest.
Now something was happening. Mariette cautiously rose on her toes a
little, just enough to see beyond the man in front of her. Mon Dieu, yes,
it was the
Marquis - that portly little puffed up man they had all thought never to
Behind him came Monsieur Faure, the Mayor. She could not hear what the
Marquis was saying but she saw clearly the Mayor pull his shoulders back
stiffly and then -
Monsieur Faure was starting to sing "The Marsaillaise" ! She wanted
out "Non, non!" She wanted him to stop - do not provoke the Marquis,
be reasoned with, he did not come here to hear you sing -
Without Monsieur Faure, Musillac might have foundered. The guillotine
severed heads from bodies; when the Marquis had left Musillac, the head
severed from the village. The head had been ugly, cruel and mean-spirited,
without it, Musillac jerked aimlessly, as a headless chicken might, not
where to go.
Mariette remembered the few days after the Marquis' hurried flight. Like
little children when parents are absent, the house servants, and then the
workers , spent the days in idleness and, discovering the Marquis' wine
drunkenness. Monsieur Faure had taken charge - replacing the Marquis' imperious
commands with reason, his irrational decisions with steadiness and calm,
punishments with kind words and rewards. And like little children who yearn
the kindly master even as they chafe against limits, the villagers with
delegated him as their first mayor.
Times were not easy in the weeks and months that followed. The riches
flaunted by the Marquis and his fellow aristocrats were not available to
peasants left behind. Patiently Monsieur Faure taught his fellow villagers
riches they had inherited . No longer did they have to neglect their own
work for the Marquis. And when the Marquis' fields were put back into
production, they produced more than ever before, when the tillers of the
knew that everything produced was theirs to keep or sell, as they wished.
baker somehow produced more bread, and even the chickens seemed to lay more
eggs. And all because of Giles Faure.
And there Giles stood now, head high, singing. Gradually all around her
the villagers joined in. Mariette closed her eyes. The Republicans had marched
through two days previous, but the Republicans did not stand in the Square
The Royalists stood here - in the charge of a madman, and the Royalists
enough muskets to send a bullet into each one of her neighbors. They had
right to be here - but they had the right of might on their side. Pride
wonderful gift to have, but pride could get you killed.
Suddenly a shot rang out, and Monsieur Faure dropped to the ground.
"No!" Mariette whispered and her eyes filled with tears. The singing
slowed and stopped as a communal hush filled the square.
The singing had stopped - but for one small quivering voice.
"Eduard - no!" she whispered loudly, and tried to stop his mouth
hand. But the child had always been perverse and he pulled her hand away
kept on singing.
As though in a dream, she watched as the Marquis peered down into the
crowd, looking for the offending voice, still raised in opposition to him.
narrowed, and came to rest on Mariette and Eduard.
"Ssh - Eduard - ssh! " But Eduard refused to be silenced and the
strode through the villagers, followed by some of his men, until he stood
"Give me your pistol!" The Marquis said, his hand held out to
"No, Monsieur le Marquis, he is only a child!" She shoved Eduard
her, and looked back at the Marquis and the barrel of his pistol. I am going
- the thought drifted through her mind, but the idea seemed unreal, like
whole day had seemed unreal. She already saw his finger tighten on the trigger,
heard the sound, felt the pain in her breast -
Then the young man she had seen earlier in the day stepped up to the
Marquis and said some words in his ear. The pistol stayed in place for a
seconds more and then mercifully lowered. Moncoutant turned away and she
realized that her life had been saved. As simple as that.
Her hands trembled as she gathered Edourd and Henri to her, still not
comprehending fully what had happened. In the space of a moment, she had
and been returned to life.
"Mam'selle, take these children away. " The young man spoke English
she needed a second or two to understand his words. She was aware of his
eyes staring at her, as he had stared at her earlier, and a concerned look
"Thank you, Monsieur," she said and turned away, her two young
still firmly under her hands. Her legs suddenly weakened, as she realized
how very differently this whole episode might have ended.
"Mariette - Mariette!" Annette Lavallee bustled up beside her
and placed an
arm round her shoulders. Mariette was never more thankful for anything as
was for that strong support. "The Marquis - he was going to kill you
, like he
killed poor Giles! My heart - it is still fluttering - but how were you
"It seems I was saved by an Englishman, Annette. But I am sure the
Marquis would not have fired. " A lie that - she had been so sure the
would fire. But even as Annette held her up, she felt a responsibility to
friend up also.
"The Marquis - you know he would do anything - especially now that
what will become of us!"
"Just go home, Annette, and feed your children and wash your clothes
sweep your floor - and in a few days this will all seem like a bad dream.
"Do you think so?"
"I am sure. " She was sure of nothing, except to appear strong
outside sometimes helped one feel a little more strong on the inside.
Over the next hour or so the children gradually drifted back into the
schoolroom. They were full of questions - questions Mariette could not answer.
They had been full of excitement too when the Republican army marched
through - with the little boys all wanting to go off as soldiers and the
wanting to follow the little boys. She had not the heart to tell them that
always meant death and suffering, and not always death and suffering for
whose business it was. They would not understand had she done so. So she
allowed them their little excitement, and then settled them down to their
But this was different. These were the enemy, and the children had
knowledge that the enemy might wish to possess. But how to warn them?
Children were perverse, she had learned. Give them a warning and they had
test its limits themselves. Tell them not to talk about the Republican army
instantly their minds would be filled with the idea, and the idea would
"Children" she said, rapping on the table in front of her to capture
attention. "You must make me a promise."
The faces stared up at her expectantly.
"You have all seen the soldiers march through the village. These soldiers
come from another country and are our enemies. They are not friendly to
may hurt us. "
"Like they hurt the mayor?" one of the older boys burst out.
"Yes, like they hurt the mayor. Some of them may be kind to you "
thought of the young man who had saved her life "but always remember
are not your friends. If they give you sweets, they are still not your friends.
call out to you, do not speak. When you leave here, you must go directly
homes. You cannot play in the street or run down to the river. Do you
The high sweet voices answered her , "Yes, Mam'selle" and she
none of them need ever think back on her words.
A loud thumping sounded at the door but before she could go to answer, it
was pushed open roughly. A soldier strode in, his musket held menacingly
of him as though he were facing the whole Republican army . Behind him bustled
the dumpy little figure of the Marquis. The Marquis. A coldness swept through
her. She laid her finger warningly against her lips and prayed that the
understood the danger here. Then she turned to face the next part of this
"Mariette, I have heard - but I did not believe - that you are now
teacher?" He smiled at her - and she remembered that smile - at a quick
friendly, but always with an arrogant look to it - a look that said 'I am
- and whatever I say you must do - you must do.'
"The children need to learn. This is a new world now, Monsieur."
"Monsieur le Marquis, Mariette. You must remember that. " He waggled
finger at her, as though she were one of her recalcitrant students, and
teacher here. "And you think to teach them, Mariette, you, a servant
in my house?
How can you teach anyone? Except to teach them to disobey their rightful
- to sing a rebel song that will soon be expunged from this country."
A servant in his house. Yes, she had been that. And when the Marquis left,
she too had drifted aimlessly, spending days in her stuffy little room,
by her few meager possessions, missing her mother and Gabrielle more than
coming downstairs only to eat. Until one day, Lucille Cormier had told her
"If you do not work, ma petite, then you shall not eat!"
How monstrous! Better the Marquis come back! "Madame Cormier, you
cannot -! " she sputtered.
"I can! This is my kitchen. And unless you can prevail on some poor
to feed your useless body for free, then you shall starve!"
She had fled, her stomach empty, her vision clouded with tears. She
wandered, unthinking, despairing, throughout the house, until finally she
her tortured body down on a chair and wept until her face ached. "I
myself." she thought desperately, "I cannot bear to live!"
Gradually her sobs subsided, and she hauled herself to an upright position.
In her frenzied rush, she had taken no notice of her whereabouts - now,
looked around, her addled brain thinking only of death and how it might
accomplished, she realized she sat in the Marquis' study, a bright sunny
containing a large desk, some comfortable chairs (one of which she had miserably
subsided onto) and - books. Books covered one whole wall, books were piled
the desk, books teetered in piles on the floor. She jumped up, ready to
flee - she'd
been beaten once for coming in here - but then she realized - the Marquis
gone. And the books were here.
Hesitantly she approached the bookcase. Hesitantly she reached out one
hand to touch the leather spines in front of her. The Marquis, a monster
respects, had been an educated man, and a book lover. Some of these volumes
looked new and untouched, but many had a worn, used appearance, as though
they had been lovingly fondled and read many times. She pulled one out at
random and opened it. A book of maps. She pulled out another. This was a
history of France. Another. Figures and calculations.
The light in the room was dimming. Mariette rubbed her tired eyes and
looking up, saw that the day was drawing to a close. Her empty stomach,
forgotten for hours, growled menacingly, and she realized she had eaten
all day. Books, dozens of them, lay littered around her. And the last book
chosen - just this one more and then -
It was a slim volume, and as she carefully opened the cover, she gasped.
There, in unfaded black ink, a name prettily written- Gabrielle - my book.
Gabrielle - this was hers. Dear Gabrielle. Mariette turned more pages; the
contained poetry: poems of love, of happiness, of joy. Just as Gabrielle
been: a loving, happy and joyous person. For a long time, she sat, the book
pressed to her bosom. And then - fully formed - as though all through the
mind had been busy deep down , an idea came to her. It was an idea so
breathtaking, so - so arrogant in its breadth that at first it frightened
her to even
entertain it. But once the idea took hold, it filled her mind so completely
no choice but to follow where it might lead. Slipping the little book of
her pocket, she left the study.
"Monsieur Faure!" Mariette cautiously peered into the little shop
Faure ran. "Are you in there?"
"Of course, of course! Come in, please! What can I sell you today!"
Mariette edged timidly into the room . The audacity of her plan made her
tremble; she opened her mouth but no sound came out.
"It's Mariette Renard, n'est-pas? And how are things going with you?"
voice was kindly; the words not merely a polite convention.
"N-not well, monsieur."
"Ah, I am sorry to hear that. Is there something I can do?"
She swallowed hard. "I - you know, monsieur, I can read and write!
do calculations -"
"Mariette, my dear, are you looking for employment in my shop? Perhaps
can find something-"
"No, no, Monsieur. I wish - I wish to - to open a school!"
There, the words were out, and now she realized what a fool she was. To
think that Mariette Renard, useless Mariette Renard, who could not even
own breakfast these days, would presume to put forward this audacious plan,
expect to carry it out -
"A school? For the children, of course. Yes, a school for the children."
Monsieur Faure stroked his chin. "A school."
"Forgive me, monsieur, I am being foolish. I will not trouble you further."
She turned to go.
"No,no, Mariette, wait. A school. This is your idea?"
"And you think you can be the teacher?"
She opened her mouth to answer, then shut it abruptly.
"Come, my child. " Monsieur Faure came around from behind the
and laid a gentle hand on her arm. "You have approached me with this
you must have reason to believe you can do this. I am not mocking you -
I wish to
hear your reasons so we can go forward from there."
"I - as I have said - I can read and write, and calculate. The Marquis
many books - I can learn more - and - oh, Monsieur, the children need to
this new country of ours. To read - the whole world is at your feet!"
Gabrielle's little book tightly, her talisman, her good luck charm.
"A school. Yes, Mariette, we shall have a school!" Monsieur Faure
"And you shall be the teacher!"
She had returned to the chateau, to Madame Cormier. "Madame, "
said, her little book in her hand, "You can now serve me my breakfast.
I am the
teacher in our new school!"
"C'est vrai?" Madame Cormier clapped her hands to her cheeks.
Mariette, how wonderful!" And she bustled over, and gave Mariette a
Then, setting her back at arm's length, she smiled. "You truly shall
breakfast of a king, even if it is, " and she glanced over her shoulder,
darkness now outside the window," almost time for bed! And I think
- now you
are an adult, you must call me Lucille."
And now the Marquis had returned. She had worked so hard - laughed,
cried, felt dejection and exultation, despaired and hoped. And now?
"Why have you come back, Monsieur " she hesitated, then added
resentment "le Marquis. You are not wanted here. You will find no love
for you in
the hearts of Musillac. "
"Silence!" He roared forth, and spittle crept out of the corner
of his mouth.
"Your days of foolish dreaming are over! Soon France will be ours and
a king will
rule over you once more! " He breathed deeply and then continued in
sedate manner " I am prepared to be most lenient to you, Mariette.
In spite of - of
this. " He waved his hand towards the children now cowering in their
seats. "I will
expect you to report to Madame Cormier in the kitchen in one hour. I am
entertaining some of my officers at dinner and I know they will be glad
of a pretty
face to wait on them, and more -"
"I am now the master here, Mariette. You will do whatever I tell you
or whatever any of my guests tell you to do! " He smiled, and his little
looked her up and down, and she had no doubt of his meaning.
"I am no whore, Monsieur."
"You are whatever I tell you to be, my dear. And if you do not believe
then my friend Monsieur Guillotine will convince you otherwise!"
"Oh, no, Monsieur, you would never- not after Gabrielle -"
"Silence!" His face reddened alarmingly, and she jumped back,
blow or worse. " You as good as killed her - and after all her kindness
to you -"
"Monsieur, I did not -"
"I am the Marquis!" His voice roared so loud that he lost control
of it and it
squeaked a little at the end. But Mariette did not laugh. Now she was very
"Whatever you say, Monsieur de Moncoutant." She lowered her eyes.
liked that, she remembered, he liked his servants to stand penitent before
shaking with their fear.
"Very good. Do as you are told and no harm will come to you. "
now he was magnanimous, doing her a favor by sparing her life. "And
now - " he
raised a finger to the soldier stationed at the door and immediately a surge
white uniforms burst into the room.
"But -" Mariette started to protest.
"We have no further need for a school. So if you will, get these children
of here and let my men do their work -"
Their work. She saw what their work consisted of. Books crashed to the
ground as they casually swept the shelves with the muzzles of their muskets.
are your books, Monsieur, if you only knew -
"Children - children - come with me!" Already they had jumped
feet, scrambling away from their benches as the soldiers started upsetting
not caring if a stray child or two were entangled with the wood as they
She herded her charges out the door, flinching with every sound of
breaking wood. Out in the street, the children huddled around her, the smallest
ones crying and even the older ones having difficulty holding back their
she herself did so only with an extreme effort. The Marquis walked out the
of the school, and past her, without another word. He had no need to speak
further, she knew he expected her in the kitchens at the appointed time,
knew she would be there.
Much later, she could only reflect on her folly. Folly and pride, a taste
freedom. They would be her undoing. Mariette dropped to the hard stone step
front of the Marquis' home, her legs too shaky to support her any longer.
walked out : before the meal was ended, before she helped Lucille Cormier
the table and dispose of the ruins of the evening's dinner. She could no
submit to his crude and cruel remarks, his casual fondling of her body,
pinched looking face staring at her. She had disremembered the way of things:
the proper way, the way a simple peasant girl toiling in the house of a
should be. Be quiet, be dutiful, come when required, but not before. Do
speak. Especially do not speak. Do not remember you are a person, not an
Do not remember that just yesterday you taught school. Do not remember that
just yesterday the Mayor had bade her a cheery good morrow and now his blood
stained the paving stones at her feet.
A sound startled her. The sound of boots - someone walking up behind her.
How easy, once you have given up, to face the thought of death. A soldier,
doubt. The Marquis would not trouble himself when a fine bottle of wine
remained on his table.
"Mam'selle - " The voice was firm yet soft. She turned her head
to see the
young British officer who had saved her life earlier in the square. Well,
seemed to have been a waste of his time.
"Do with me what you will." she shrugged.
"Mam'selle?" His young brow was furrowed in perplexity. Perhaps
not understand her - she could get by in English, but this was her village,
country - and in her country she would speak her own tongue.
"Le Marquis has sent you."
"Le Marquis? But no, Mam'selle, I have left for the same reason you
yourself did. " His French was better than her English would have been
surprise in that prevented her from fully understanding his meaning.
"Please accept my apology, Mam'selle. Le Marquis believes that peasants
are no more than animals. On my word, it is not a view I hold. He also expressed
other sentiments I could not agree with. So here I am. "
"Oh. " He still stood there, staring at her. She scrambled to
her feet, at least
to face him with some dignity. He had looked her way as the army had first
marched through Musillac. And he had saved her life in the square. But truthfully,
she had seen only the uniform. Now she took a closer look at the man inside.
but barely - his fresh face, with its dark brown eyes, nose just a little
his mouth not smiling but looking like it could - his tall, gangly frame
- he seemed
a boy sent about a man's business. She had heard snatches of conversation
passed to and fro at the dinner table, with tureens, and platters, and jugs
He had dared to defend the simple man to the Marquis - that much she had
caught. And he had dared to leave the dinner table because he could not
the Marquis' view. Were the English different then, from the Royalists,
or was this
young man somehow different from the English too?
"May I escort you home, Mam'selle? " He may not espouse the Marquis's
views on some matters, but she did not trust that there was disagreement
"No, monsieur, I can do that myself. This is my village." She
prevent herself from adding that , though her right to call the village
now somewhat in doubt.
As he was quick to point out ."But your village has changed. Look "
raised his eyes to stare down the earth-packed space between the houses.
followed his lead - of course, her village had changed, despite her brave
few soldiers walked desultory along, a few more lounged in doorways and
walls - some stood at attention, their muskets clasped in their hands. "I
may not reach your home in safety."
"And I am safe with you, another soldier?"
He drew himself up smartly and jutted out his chin. Mariette barely
concealed a little smile at his transformation. "I am an officer in
Majesty's Navy, mam'selle, and a gentleman, I do assure you."
"And what is His Britannic Majesty's navy - and Monsieur Moncoutant's
rabble - doing here in my village.?"
"I am not at liberty to answer that, Mam'selle."
Of course not. She was the enemy, after all. Once more she looked up the
street. Musillac was small; the distance to her home short. But perhaps
feel more secure in the company of this young man as she ran the gauntlet
"I understand. And I accept your offer of an escort home. " He
fell in beside
her, his back straight, his hands clasped behind his back and they started
trip to her door.
"May I remark on your bravery, mam'selle, earlier today." he said.
"Bravery? A moment's foolishness, I think ,monsieur. But for you, I
have joined our poor mayor."
"Surely the Marquis -"
"I know the Marquis better than you, monsieur. I saw no hesitation
eyes, and no wavering of his hand as he held the pistol. Eduard showed the
foolish courage of a child, and I could not allow harm to come to him. But
considered a moment longer, I might have faltered."
Mariette flinched as a loud thud reverberated through the dusty street.
She glanced over to the ugly instrument that Moncoutant's return had imposed
the little village. A melon lay neatly sliced in two on the ground in front
"That is the only master in poor France now, " she said.
"A threat only, mam'selle - I am sure you have nothing to fear -"
"A threat only! You think the Marquis has brought his toy with him
melons for his grand dinner parties? Are you yet so innocent - or stupid
believe that he will not prefer the blade slice the tender flesh of his
Mam'selle - I protest - " The stern Naval officer dissolved in front
eyes into the very young man he was, his hands unclasped and gesturing,
a little indignant, yet questioning.
"You protest! Have you seen a man beheaded, monsieur? Have you seen
his head fall and the blood spurt? " This young British officer had
done her no
harm, had treated her with respect, had saved her life - yet somehow, she
great pleasure in watching him recoil at her words. "I left the Marquis'
table before I was excused - perhaps my head will roll too."
"Certainly not a woman - " he still floundered, still tried to
defend the man
he had accompanied to France.
"Not a woman? We are an egalitarian society here, monsieur. A woman's
head parts as neatly from her body as a man's from his. I have seen it myself
Her words brought back a memory she had tried to keep buried. Oh, what was
the use? Her words flayed herself as surely as they flayed the young man.
"I am sorry, monsieur - "
"You know better than I -" Their words crossed, and they both
The silence continued until they reached her door.
"I must thank you, monsieur, " she said, "You have been kind."
He bowed slightly. "You will be safe now?" He asked.
"Yes, I will be safe."
"Then I bid you good evening." For a few seconds she watched,
turned away and walked back up the street, his hands behind his back, and
back straight - a model of self-discipline. Then she herself turned and
One hinge on the door was broken - a reminder of the destruction she
knew awaited her within. Carefully she pushed the door to behind her - the
would not catch, and it swung open a little. She would push something heavy
front of it for tonight, and worry about a more permanent repair tomorrow.
The quickly failing light revealed the destruction within. Benches
overturned, shelves ripped off the walls, books scattered, precious slates
She remembered the day the school opened. A miracle, the school. She had
decimated the Marquis' library to fill these shelves. She had begged the
carpenter to build the shelves, these benches and a simple desk. Lucille
had helped her clean out this house - left deserted by a family only too
take up residence in the Marquis' manor house - until it was fit to receive
children. And Monsieur Faure had visited the villagers, explained the school,
cajoled and persuaded, until they were all eager for their young ones to
He had been close by always, and when she allowed frustration, or fatigue,
doubts to detour her determination, he was there with quiet encouragement.
Well, Faure was dead. And the dead do not return. And tomorrow - how
many more dead? But tonight - tonight she could restore a little order:
pick up the
benches, gather the books, take stock of what was damaged and what
salvageable. And if tomorrow the soldiers came again, and ruined it all
then she would doggedly clean, and tidy, and restore once more , until Monsieur
Guillotine did indeed come to claim her - or - if they could hold on -
The door crashed open behind her.
"Ma petite - " the endearment sounded ugly and crude and she turned
face the soldier who had summoned her earlier to the square. "you have
your duties for the Marquis -"
"Leave my house at once," she said in a stern voice, the voice
failed to quieten her students, even the boys big enough to overpower her
"I have not invited you in."
"Of course not. I have invited myself, ma petite. And now you have
duties to perform - we are hungry, my comrades and I, hungry for a fine
"No! " She had faced the pistol, she could face the guillotine
even, but she
did not intend to face this.
"But yes - " He advanced steadily towards her, and she edged backwards,
her eyes flicking over to the door, calculating any chances for an escape.
doorway was already filled with another soldier, a stupid grin on his face,
musket cradled in his arms. "You will be happy with a real man, cherie."
lunged forward, and Mariette found herself imprisoned in his muscular arms,
hot stinking breath fouling the air around her.
She tried to strike out with her feet, but he only tightened his arms,
squeezing her unmercifully, and his foul mouth squashed against hers. She
never cease to struggle, but deep down in her soul, she feared her struggles
be useless -
Suddenly, through the roaring in her ears,and the excited mewling little
sounds coming from that despicable soldier, she heard a loud crash.
"Arretez!" a voice yelled out. Mariette raised her eyes past the
of her captor, her wits disentangling themselves from the frenzy of her
and saw the young naval officer charging across the room.
"Arretez!" Now the muzzle of the officer's pistol bore down very
the Royalist soldier's head, and she finally felt a slackening of the viselike
had on her.
She stumbled backwards a little, and the young British officer stepped back
also: the Royalist was left tottering between them, as he tried to focus
thoughts and come to the realization that his night of fun had been ended
it had barely begun.
The pistol held steady in the young man's hand, and his face held such fury
as Mariette would never have thought possible from such amiable boyish features.
But the Royalist, as many caught in a compromising situation, could not
accept any blame for his position. "Sacre bleu! What do you mean, pointing
pistol at me! We are only having a little fun - the lady and I -"
"Silence!" The word seemed to echo and reecho in the schoolroom;
Mariette could see his finger pulling back on the trigger of the pistol.
"No, sir, no, sir, please -" The Royalist soldier now finally
realized that this
was no squabble between friendly allies over a woman. "I meant no harm
must believe me, sir I, I -" He began to sob, and dropped to his knees
in front of
the officer. The pistol followed his downward journey, and for one moment
Mariette truly believed he would shoot.
But then a shadow seemed to pass over his face, and he gave his head a
little shake, as though to free himself from the rage that had possessed
out, you filth," he said, stepping back , but the pistol steady, "And
maggoty friend with you."
The soldier crabbed across the room, not rising until he had reached the
"And pass the word that the women of this village are not to be touched
and if any are harmed in any way, I shall blame you, and you shall pay!"
"Oui, oui!" and the Royalist soldiers scuttled out of the room
like two dirty
The British officer slammed the door behind them and when it refused to
latch, he grabbed a bench lying on its side, and rammed it against the door.
"Damned Frogs!" he muttered in English.
Mariette's arms felt bruised, her lips tender, but she very nearly laughed
out loud as the young man turned and realized that she had heard that last
phrase. His face flushed, and he so looked like a little boy, caught with
on one of his mother's pies, so like Philippe, in fact, whose hearty appetite
often landed him in trouble with his mother, that she had to restrain herself
walking up to him, and patting him comfortingly on the shoulder.
"I apologize, Mamselle, I -"
"They are damned Frogs, Monsieur, "she said, in English.
"I trust - I trust that - are you hurt, Mamselle?" He had handled
dangerous situation well, but now he seemed at a loss.
" I am unhurt, and please, I am sick to death of these mamselles and
monsieurs - my name is Mariette Renard and you -"
"Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower of his Majesty's frigate Indefatigable."
She stumbled over the name.
"Horatio" he repeated again.
"Horatio". This time she almost got it right. " I must thank
you for saving, if
not my life, at least my virtue."
Mon Dieu, here he goes again, blushing. Mariette had no idea of the
conditions of service on a British ship, but however did he manage, with
delicate sensibilities? Then she remembered the look on his face, pistol
as he had stared at the 'damned Frog' in front of him. This Horatio Hornblower
was no ordinary British officer.
"I do not think they will be back, Mariette, but permit me - if you
will stay and protect you -"
She knew now she had nothing to fear from him - and though he had put
fear into the Royalist soldiers for now, she had no illusions that even
would prevent them from returning later. "I thank you for that, Horatio,
have few comforts here to offer you." She looked around the shambles
"The Marquis' soldiers did this?"
"Of course. "
"I saw you in the street, with your pupils. I - " He looked away
he could not meet her eyes, though she knew he had nothing to do with
"Perhaps we can put this to rights." He removed his jacket and
laid them carefully on one of the few benches still upright. His pistols
with him. Then he started turning up the benches one by one. She sensed
felt more comfortable with something physical to do and she came to join
the task, a task she had started herself what seemed like a lifetime ago.
"Permit me to ask, mam - Mariette -" he hesitated.
"You are the teacher here? "
"Yes. Or, as seems certain now, I was."
" When things are settled, I am sure -"
" The Marquis will allow the school to reopen? I think not. He wants
" What I meant to ask -"
"Why me? A stupid peasant girl? "
"No, I know you are not -" He stopped, flustered again. "Please,
let me start
again. If you are the teacher, than you were chosen with reason. You then
lucky to be educated? Or perhaps I misjudge the situation here."
"No, Horatio, I was lucky. Or so I thought. " Together they moved
heavy table that stood at the front of the room. "My mother was a servant
Marquis' home and at a very young age I joined her. At the whim of the Marquis'
"Sister? The Marquis has a sister?"
"Gabrielle. You see a man foolish with a sense of his own importance,
to tell the truth, he had more than a little of that when he was the lord
Musillac. But Gabrielle was the soft spot in his hard heart. He could deny
nothing. And when she demanded me as a playmate, I was given to her. And
when she demanded I share her lessons, than I did. "
"So you were educated alongside her."
"Yes. And most fortunately, she was of strong will and wished her lessons
to consist of more than just needlework and pious readings. So I enjoyed
literature, and learned to calculate, and to speak English, though not as
you speak my language. "
"And when the Marquis fled to England, his sister Gabrielle accompanied
"Ah, no, Horatio. Gabrielle is dead. " Mariette pushed a chair
up against the
table, and flicked a small spot of mud from it.
"Dead. We traveled to Vannes one day, Gabrielle and I. The countryside
was very unsettled, and I pleaded with her to stay in Musillac. But she
purchases to make, and she had no fear. Gabrielle was not like her brother
was a kind, gentle soul who truly did her best to make our lot better. She
loved in our village and she assumed that love protected her. But in Vannes
Mariette swallowed hard. "The people were restless. Nobles and even
less exalted position were being tried and executed and a bloodlust had
people. Someone recognized her as the sister of the Marquis and -"
whitened on the back of the chair. " I assured you earlier that a woman's
cut off as neatly as a man's, and I know - because it was Gabrielle's head
Her voice had dropped to a whisper.
He looked at her with a shocked expression on his face. "Mariette,
accept my deepest sympathy." For one endless moment she thought he
reach out to her, and she stepped away.
"Thank you, Horatio. We have done this to ourselves. But perhaps, despite
everything, I can understand one reason at least why that machine is standing
out there in the square." She blinked her eyes to clear the blurring
of Gabrielle always produced. "But to answer your question. When the
left, I went to Giles Faure the mayor - "
"The mayor? The man that -"
"The Marquis shot? Yes indeed. I went to the Mayor with my plan for
school -" No need to explain how shaky her plan, how shaky her confidence.
"Without Monsieur Faure this school would not be here. I owe him everything.
all owe him everything."
She bent to start picking up the books. Horatio knelt beside her, and joined
her in the task.
"You need not bother, " she said, "You will get your uniform
"A hazard of the trade," he laughed a little. " But the Marquis,
know who spoke against his sister?"
"He does not need to know. A peasant is a peasant. But I know he holds
partly to blame."
"But you were her servant. You had no choice but to follow her. "
"I am the one face there that he knows. " The books did not look
damaged; a page or two had fallen out from some of the more fragile volumes.
She would pack them carefully away until -
"Oh no! " One book , crushed into the corner, had split in two,
lay strewn around. Carefully she lifted the two halves of the cover, and
as she did
so, something fluttered in pieces to the ground. "No, Philippe, no
! " Her eyes
filled with tears and this time she could do nothing to stop them.
"Mariette, what is wrong?"
She carefully lifted a few of the fragile lacy pieces into the palm of her
hand. All she had left - perhaps all she would ever have - oh, she had been
foolish, so foolish - if only-
Mariette had spent her whole young life in the Marquis' house. Truly she
knew few people in the village; her whole world revolved around her Maman,
duties in the great house, and Gabrielle. Only when she started to set the
school to rights, did she make the acquaintance of many of the villagers.
And one day, a young man came to her door, running an errand for the
carpenter. He was tall, and solidly built, with a sprinkle of freckles across
friendly face to go with his reddish hair. "I have your benches, "
he said, waving
his hand towards a donkey cart laden with furniture. "I will bring
them in for
One by one, he carried the simple wooden benches into the empty
schoolroom, and set them up, following her orders. Then he returned, an
later, with shelves, and some tools, and hammered until the shelves were
the walls where she wanted them.
"One more trip," he said, and this time his little cart held a
desk and chair.
"But I did not ask for these. A simple table will do ." Mariette
"The Mayor may not find the money to pay for them."
"They are from us," the young man said. "From the people
of Musillac, in
thanks for what you are doing for them."
She stammered out a poor thank you. The Mayor had assured her that her
neighbours wanted the school, but she knew a few of the house servants were
speaking against her. Jealousy, the Mayor said, but how many more felt the
she could not tell. But to do this for her - her heart grew light.
"And this is for you also, " the young man continued, and from
back, he drew a small bouquet of wild flowers.
Now she was truly taken aback. If life in the Marquis' house had ill-
prepared her to live on her own, it had certainly ill-prepared her for this
gesture. Not that she was ignorant of the way of men and women; her mother
had educated her well from an early age - to arm her in some small measure
against the liberties too many aristocrats felt within their right to take
serving maids. As Gabrielle's personal maid, she had escaped the more
importunate of demands, but she had found it necessary to be ever vigilant.
"But I wish something in return, " the young man said.
Of course. The peasants, under the skin were no better than the aristocrats.
"I wish you to teach me to read and write."
"I wish you to teach me to read and write. But not in your class. Look
me!" and he did a funny little pirouette in front of her. "I cannot
sit with your
little boys and girls, and I need to look after our sheep, and farm our
the day. But if you could - perhaps some evenings - I want to learn."
His name was Philippe, she found out, and he lived with his mother and
father on the outskirts of the village. He did indeed tend sheep, and did
farm his parents' land, but the land was poor , and the sheep often fell
"If I can learn to read and write, " he confided to her at the
start of his first
lesson, "Perhaps I can go the the city, and earn a better living."
And so, once or twice a week, sometimes well into the evening, he came to
the school room and she taught him. He had a quick wit about him, and he
made her laugh; he had a kind heart also - more than one of her neighbours
praised his quickness to share a fleece, or a cabbage, when they had a need.
he always brought her a little bouquet of flowers; or, when the weather
cold, a fallen leaf, or a pretty stone. But the learning went hard on him
letter and word a wall to be climbed over.
One night he was stumbling over a short passage in Gabrielle's book of
poetry. She had chosen that for him to read because the words were simple
the lines short.
"You must tell me, Mariette, " he said in frustration. "I
do not know this
word." He pointed with his finger.
"Love, Phillippe, the word is love, "she answered and waited for
him to go
"Love." He very carefully closed the book and set it on the desk.
turned towards her - for once a serious look in his eye and no smile on
"Mariette - I - I love you." He held up his hand, as though to
push her back. "I
have waited many months to say this, and I will not bother you with it again."
Then he jumped up, and looking everywhere but at her, said, "And I
will not come
back again to bother you -"
"Philippe!" He had started from the room before his words to her
taken on meaning. And as the meaning became clear in her mind, Mariette
realized that she too had fallen in love .
And bitterly, it was his love for her that had sent him away. The lessons
still came hard, the crops still grew poorly and the sheep still died.
"I must make my fortune," he said, "And then we can marry.
"But Philippe, don't forget the school; with that we will have enough."
But like all men who are more proud than wise, he could not accept that.
will join the army; with my reading and writing, I know I will advance -
and in no
time I can come for you."
But your reading and writing are so poor, she wanted to cry out, but knew
she could not. He would be put with the cannon fodder, and die. "Don't
Philippe, don't go! " Even the tears streaming down her face could
not change his
The night before he was to leave, he brought her the last flowers she was
ever to receive from him. She cried again, and argued, and screamed at him.
he was resolute, and she knew the strength of his resolve , and that there
be no bending it. Then, faced with the finality of his decision, she begged
spend his last night with her - in her bed. But even that, he refused. "I
chance leaving you alone here with a child," he said, and they took
they could with each other before he sadly put her aside and left to gain
A hand touched her shoulder gently, and suddenly she threw herself
against another young man, this time an enemy, needing someone, anyone,
human touch as she sobbed out her broken heart. All the days and months
she had smiled and walked proudly and never let these tears well up - not
her bed at night. Philippe had been so proud as he marched off . She had
for the little money he might make as a fighting man. She needed him. If
they had married before he left - if only - but he had been so sure of himself.
will be back within the month" he said, months ago, so many months
had pressed his flowers in Gabrielle's book of poems. And now - the flowers
destroyed, and her hope also; somehow, she knew that Philippe would not
back to her.
Gradually her tears stopped flowing, and she became aware of the light
touch of Horatio's hands on her shoulders, and the fact that she had made
very damp. What was she doing! Hastily she scrambled to her feet, and stepped
Slowly Horatio stood to face her, and somewhere her silly brain registered
that he had indeed dirtied his uniform.
"Mariette, please, can I be of assistance?"
She grabbed off her cap and used it to wipe off her face. "No one can
she said and meant to leave matters at that, then changed her mind. No,
been kind, and deserved to know the reason for her outburst.
Finding one hand still clenched, she opened it to stare sadly at a few
precious morsels of the flower. "My betrothed," she said, holding
out her hand.
"He gave me this before he left-" She took a deep breath. "It
is all I have"
"He is - dead?"
She shrugged. "I do not know. He left many months ago - to join the
find his fortune, though I loved him as he was, with his few sheep and his
ways. I love him still."
"Surely you would have heard -"
"In these days, who can tell? And he reads and writes so badly - I
time to teach him more before he left - I have ruined your shirt-"
"Rather, I think it is war that has ruined your life."
"The lot of women, non? To sit and wait and bear the pain, while boys
off, thinking only of glory. While we see only dirt, and suffering, and
death. " She
tossed her cap down on the table. "Is someone waiting for you in England,
"No." His answer was spoken with no regret, just a bare statement
Ah, Mr. Horatio Hornblower, I think someday you will break hearts. But best
back now to more ordinary affairs.
"I am sorry, Horatio, I have a simple house. I cannot offer you a bed
He shrugged, seemingly as anxious as she to carry on past the tears. "And
am a simple sailor. I have slept in many situations. I am sure I can find
"Then I bid you goodnight, and thank you once again for all your
kindnesses." With that, she turned and fled.
Someone stood in the doorway to her room. The light was dim; she could
not see clearly at all. But there was something wrong with the shape, something
not humanlike. That someone stepped inside, and a stray glimmer of light,
moonlight it must be, bathed that someone in enough light to see - Mon Dieu
head! The body had no head! How could that be?
"Mariette - I've come back. " She tried to rise up, to flee -
towards or away?
- but the bedclothes weighed on her like lead. The voice belonged to Philippe
but how, when the body had no head? Should she rejoice that he had returned
her? But - the body had no head.
"Are you looking for this?" the voice asked, as though she had
trinket. And the body held out a hand, and in its hand, balanced neatly,
Philippe, his head, smiling at her as he always had smiled.
She plucked at the bedclothes, but the bedclothes now truly were lead and
her fingers made no indentation in them.
"Are you not happy? I have returned."
"Philippe - " she croaked. How could this be?
"I am most disappointed in you, Mariette. But perhaps you will be happier
to meet my friend."
And the other hand came forward - and in this hand, was Horatio, his
"See what you have done to me?" He, unlike Philippe, was not smiling.
save your life twice - and I end up no better than a common peasant."
Blood dripped steadily from both their heads. Now I shall have to spend
my day scrubbing the floor, or the Marquis will be angry-
From somewhere outside, she heard a rooster crow, then crow again.
Suddenly the bedclothes were just bedclothes again, and pushing them aside,
sat up. But where -
A dream. The body, the heads, a dream - nothing more. Pallid early
morning sunlight filled the room and no blood stained the floor. She breathed
deeply, once, twice, three times, and her racing heart slowed a little.
Hpratio was sleeping there, in a chair near her bed. She had not heard him
come into her room - indeed, she had fallen asleep quickly, despite all
excitements of the day. Asleep, he looked so young, as though he should
be one of
her pupils, not a man of war, brandishing pistols, and shouting orders,
worse. One of his long-fingered hands lay protectively over a pistol, and
legs stretched out in front of him. He seemed at ease, though the chair
afforded him little comfort. The dream - his head dripping blood - the ugly
picture intruded on her.
Suddenly there was a muffled thump, then another.
He started awake, his face perplexed, as he struggled to decipher the
mystery of the noise that had disturbed his sleep. Another thump sounded.
"The bridge!" Instantly he was alert and upright. Grabbing his
jacket, which he had lain nearby, he raced down the stairs.
Mariette moved to the window which looked out onto the street below.
Horatio was already running towards the village gate, and soon passed from
sight. Running towards what? Death? And now she realized - there must be
cannons at the bridge. Whose cannons? The Royalists'? The Republicans? Nothing
seemed to make any sense.
Her eyes strayed to the crucifix hanging over her bed. "Ah, Maman"
sighed. The cross was her mother's most loved possession - and one of the
things Mariette had taken from the Marquis' home after his escape to England.
She had wanted nothing from the man that had been her master for as long
could remember. But the crucifix had no taint of the Marquis upon it, only
reminder of the love her mother had shown her, no matter what. Mariette
wept that her mother had not lived to see her daughter settled in an honest
important employment, and her friends in the village finally have some mastery
over their own lives.
Before going downstairs, to face whatever horrors this new day had to
offer, she stopped to pull the coverlet up over the bed. A small memory
in her mind - a memory from the night - a memory of that same coverlet softly
dropped over her as she lay near sleep. A little smile curved her lips.
And then a
bloody tableau took the place of the memory - the bridge, littered with
pieces of men. And a young face, dark eyes staring .
"Mon Dieu! I am going crazy! " she scolded herself aloud and went
The village well was located down a small opening between the houses-
the menfolk maintaining that the location must have been chosen by a woman.
Like all village wells, it was the hub of gossip - and hidden away thus,
one good housewife lingered longer than she should have. But on this day,
hidden also from the soldiers who seemed to be everywhere .
The booming of cannon had ceased, as Mariette carried her wooden bucket
along to the well. She needed water, yes, but she also needed the companionship
of her friends and elders - women who had taken the place of a mother snatched
away from her too soon. She was still shaken by the events of the evening
and the dream - and the young lieutenant -.
Annette Lavallee had her two buckets brim full of water already. Robust
body, she swung them easily to the ground. But her will was weaker and she
giving in easily to her normal nervous twitchings and sharp wailings.
"Oh, Mariette, what a horrible noise! Did it wake you also?" She
florid face with her apron. "Pour Monsieur Faure and now this -"
"My son went down to the bridge last night, " Lucille Cormier
said in her
firm no-nonsense voice. "Carefully, so no one would see. He says they
big guns on this side of the river."
"But -" Mariette was puzzled. "Are there soldiers on the
other side of the
"Well, they are shooting at something. Perhaps our army has set a trap
"And how long before they turn their guns on us!" Annette cried.
"Annette - you must control yourself. None of us knows what is happening
here. " Lucille turned to Mariette. "Did you hear anything while
you were serving
dinner last night? Perhaps they were incautious -"
"The Marquis and the British officers were speaking English. I understood
some, but not all, of what they were saying. I do not think they discussed
of war." She did not add that the Naval officer seemed to speak for
in a way, and even the Army officer did not casually agree with the Marquis'
"And such a small force - not half - no, not even a quarter the strength
our glorious army - " Lucille mused, tapping her finger against her
"But Madame, no army has ever marched through Musillac before - and
now in the space of a few days, we have two -"
"And the Royalists face the wrong way at the bridge -"
"And have no pickets set up to the north-"
"So they are ignorant of the location of their enemy -"
Mariette and Lucille looked at each other. "Then most certainly it
is a trap."
Lucille said. "And let us pray it is a trap sprung quickly.
Annette Lavallee had been looking from one to the other as they spat forth
their unfinished sentences - obviously not following the exchange at all.
was the first to spy another good housewife strutting towards them, no buckets
in her hands at all. "And here comes Jeanne", she announced glumly,
the appearance of Jeanne Leblanc was as momentous and hateful an occasion
the arrival of the invasion in their midst. "What now!"
What now indeed. Mariette watched Madame Leblanc approach. Jeanne
Leblanc was Philippe's mother - and how such a shrewish, sharp-tongued woman
could have produced a son like Philippe had always been a mystery to her.
did not like her - but then Jeanne would not like any woman threatening
her son from her, especially one whom she was unable to keep under her thumb.
"The Marquis is setting up a table in the square," Madame Leblanc
"Perhaps he wishes to take his dinner outside," Lucille answered.
"You old fool! They say the Marquis has a list, and if your name is
list, then pfffttt! " she drew her finger across her throat "He
has come to take his
revenge! Now we know why these soldiers are here!"
"Ah, my dear friend, I am sure the British government would not waste
their efforts just to enable a petty aristocrat like the Marquis to - to
kill a few
"And why not! England is ruled by aristocrats and aristocrats help
own. After all, they must fear for their own heads. They must not let their
people see what is happening here. But you should know, Mariette Renard!"
suddenly bared her teeth at Mariette. " You are like the fox whose
name you bear
- sly and deceiving-"
"Madame, what are you saying!"
"You think you can hide your shame - I saw the British soldier run
your door this morning - in his shirt sleeves - and to think my son risks
his life for
his country while you play the whore to a foreigner -"
"Oh, Mon Dieu," Annette Lavallee shrieked, "Mariette, how
"And we have let this - this filth! - invade the minds of our children
dear children - " She wrung her hands dramatically, while Mariette
stare at her in horror.
"Silence!" Lucille Cormier's voice rose majestically out of her,
honed by years of chastising kitchen maids, and effectively silenced both
Leblanc's bitter accusations, and Annette Lavallee's wailing.
"Mariette, my dear, this is most interesting. " Abruptly, her
reverted to a friendly affable tone, as though they were discussing the
price of a
chicken, or the best way to make a pastry. She smiled, and the smile was
also. "You must let us all know how this dashing young man came to
be in your
home. " I trust you, her faded blue eyes said. I trust you to tell
me a truth we can
all bear to hear.
Mariette looked at the faces surrounding her - the pinched feral visage
Madame Leblanc, the open-eyed vacuous face of Annette Lavallee and the stern
but sympathetic Lucille . Philippe's mother had accused her of being sly
like a fox,
and now, like a fox, she was ringed by the baying hounds.
Her immediate reaction was to answer that she need not answer to them.
But before that reply half-formed in her mind, she knew that she did indeed
to give that answer.
Musillac was a small village, and like all small villages it thrived on
She had never given her neighbours reason to speak ill of her, but in these
troubled times, all could go for naught - as they turned their fears outward.
see that Mariette Renard - they say she - well, the officer was seen leaving
early morning - a British officer - come no doubt to kill us all - and she
to a fine young man of this village - ah quel domage!
Perhaps it was already too late. But what could she have done? Last night
she had been truly frightened; last night she had truly believed that the
soldiers - if not the same ones, than others - might have-. No, she felt
because all had been innocence.
And armed with that innocence, she told her tale. "The young officer
escorted me home, because there were soldiers in the street and he feared
safety. " She had no need to describe why soldiers in the street posed
a danger to
a young girl alone.
"He left me at my door, but later some Royalist soldiers came and -
hesitated. " The officer returned before I had suffered more than a
few bruises -"
She held out her arms; the bruises were plain to see.
"Foolish girl!" Madame Leblanc snapped. "Do you not know
enough to bar
your door in times like these?"
"My door was broken. The Marquis and his men came earlier and tore
poor schoolroom apart . I had no way to prevent them, or others, from returning.
The British officer spent the night on a hard chair, his pistol in his hand,
defend me. He was a true gentleman, if an enemy, Madame Leblanc."
"Ah, how sweet!" Annette sighed, as quick now to swoon over a
moment as she had been earlier eager to believe Mariette a whore.
"Still a fool!" But then Madame Leblanc believed most people she
be fools. "Well, your true gentleman may very well be a true corpse
day sees nightfall. One of our men is following the road out of Musillac,
direction our army traveled. They must be warned about this thorn in the
our beloved France. And to think - this day may see the return of my dear
"Philippe?" Mariette gasped. "What do you mean?"
"Did you not see him among our soldiers as they marched through?"
"You are mistaken, Madame!"
"Mistaken in my own son? I think not. "
"I watched the soldiers too, Madame. Philippe was not among them."
"Well, perhaps time has dulled your memory of him. As the truth of
faithlessness will dull his love for you. Now come, Annette, you must hurry
and make sure your husband stays out of the eye of the Marquis. "
"Oh, no, you don't think -!" and Annette Lavallee bustled off
Madame Leblanc, leaving her two full buckets of water behind her on the
"She still condemns me," Mariette said bleakly. "I should
have let that - that
animal rape me; perhaps then she would have been happy." Her eyes blurred
"You think so, ma petite?" Madame Cormier fished in the pocket
skirt and pulled out a scrap of fabric. "Here, dry your eyes. She is
not worth even
one tear. If the soldier had raped you, then she would have cried ' Ah,
Mariette is defiled; she is no longer good enough for my Philippe."
"So you say I cannot win."
"Mariette, listen to me." Madame Cormier placed a work-roughened
each of Mariette's shoulders. "These are troubled times. You are young,
smart, full of spirit. You are like a lovely flower whose beauty cannot
under a basket - always something will peak through. And that beauty will
attract beetles as well as butterflies."
"You offer me little comfort."
"I can only offer you the truth. Young girls look at me and see only
aging, ugly crone. But age can have its advantages and youth its trials.
your head down and pray to whatever gods and saints you hold most dear that
this nightmare will soon end.
"And it will end?" Mariette whispered, as though the Marquis himself
straining to catch her every word.
"Mais oui. We have an army to the south and an army to the north. And
"And the winner?"
Lucille shrugged. "All France may be burning, for all we know here.
somehow - I think not. I think these usurpers will die. Now, come, we must
your bucket." Expertly, she lowered the bucket into the well, and pulled
it back up
again, brimming. Resting it on the edge of the stone well, she turned back
"Do not worry, ma petite. Madame Leblanc's gossipy tongue may titillate,
but the people will listen to me. Now go home and wash your tears away with
this nice fresh water." She handed the bucket back to Mariette.
"Lucille, did you see - did you see Philippe among the soldiers?"
"I am afraid - I did not observe them carefully."
"But his Maman was so certain."
"She sees what she wishes to see. But I think we will soon find out.
A brisk knocking started at her door. Mariette had spent part of her
morning gathering up the spilled pages of Gabrielle 's little book - smoothing
them out and putting them in order - pausing once in a while to read an
remembered poem. The brittle fragments of flower petals she swept up and
carefully poured into a little bowl. The shattering of her hope, that had
the disintegration of Philippe's simple gift, had now been partly mended,
kindly or cruelly, by Madame Leblanc's fervent belief that she had seen
among the Republican soldiers.
Could Philippe be close by waiting - longing for the tide of this small
to bring him back to his village and his love again? Mariette had not seen
Maman had. They could not both be right.
And this knowledge she possessed - along with every inhabitant of the tiny
village of Musillac - the knowledge of the passage of the Republican soldiers
it a secret to be kept or a weapon to be wielded? If she kept silent, the
Republicans would surprise Moncoutant, the Royalists and the British. The
villagers would turn on their occupiers also - and much blood would flow.
other hand, if the invaders knew - would they retreat, saving life on both
Or would Moncoutant, in his single-minded quest for revenge, refuse to listen
insist on fighting? And could he win, with the help of the British, at least
small skirmish? If Philippe were truly among the Republican soldiers - would
increase his chance to survive - and return to her, by following the first
the second? And what of Horatio? She had seen his severed head in her dream.
Did she have some power over his fate as well?
Her mind had spun dizzily in pursuit of this vexing question all morning,
she worked over the little book. But anything better than dwelling on the
obscenity taking place in the square. An hour or so ago, Lucille Cormier
stopped in with a warning.
"Madame Leblanc was right - this time at least" she said, tears
sad old eyes. " The Marquis is ordering executions - now. Madame Lavallee
already lost her son-in-law and her daughter a husband. If a simple baker
executed, then who will be next?"
"Mon Dieu!" Mariette gasped. "Is there nothing we can do?
"All has been done, ma petite. Our army knows the Marquis has returned.
But armies march to their own time - a few peasant heads more or less will
hurry them up. You must stay inside, keep your door secure if you can. This
a day to be strolling in the street."
"Madame Cormier -" Mariette clutched at the old lady's sleeve
turned to go. "You must tell me - last night - I left the dinner early
- I am afraid -"
Madame Cormier patted her hand fondly. "Do not fret. The redcoat officer
left soon after your young officer - and the Marquis and his remaining guests
availed themselves of what little brandy was left and drank themselves nearly
insensible. They would not have noticed if the Devil himself had served
the Marquis has you on his list, it is not because of that.
Mariette thought briefly of Gabrielle , but smiled shakily at Madame
Cormier. "I credit myself with too much importance," she said.
"And was Annette's son-in-law of any importance? No, we all can only
one thing - remain hidden from the evil eye of that evil man and hope his
does not light on us. "
Madame Cormier's terrible news about the executions gave her indecision
another factor to consider. How true that armies march to their own time
that time could be ten minutes from now, or tomorrow or next week. By that
time, would there be anyone left in the village but Moncoutant and his men?
Surely if he knew how close the enemy was, he would stop this madness and
his little army the leadership they needed. But madness was truly what was
happening here - and madness did not listen to reason.
The knocking came again. She had barricaded her door as best she could -
and she had no intention of answering the summons. No friend of hers would
bang so importunately - unless - unless the Marquis had remembered -
"Mariette, it's me, Horatio!"
After Madame Leblanc's vicious words earlier at the well, she might have
been less than eager to open the door to the young man - even Lucille might
wonder at a second visit - but she was so relieved to hear a friendly voice
a summons to that bloody blade, that she rushed to push aside the motley
collection of benches she had wedged against the door.
"Mariette - I must speak to you - " Horatio looked less than composed
morning - but he was every inch the officer who had attacked the Royalist
last night, and not the young boy whose shirt she had dampened with her
As he stepped through the doorway, Mariette heard the whistle of the blade,
solid thunk as it met its target, and the wail of anguish from the villagers
in the square. Something snapped inside her.
"How dare you speak to me!" she said, her voice shaking with her
"How dare you come in here when you are murdering my neighbors one
"But, Mariette -"
Deep inside she knew that he was not to blame, not directly, that this was
all the Marquis' doing, but he was here, and he would bear the brunt of
despair and fear.
"Do the British then wage war on poor peasants who wish only to have
decent meal on the table at night - who wish only to see their children
some hope for a future? Is that so terrible? Is that a threat to your great
glorious King? Did you and your red-coated friends come all this way just
blood spout from the neck of a poor baker? How rich the King of England
- to spend all this money to afford this poor sport for his army!"
Horatio's jaw had dropped at the force of her words and he stuttered in
answer " B-but it is the Marquis - "
"And can you not stop him? If you wish too!" She turned her back
not wanting him to see the tears again filling her eyes, for how many times
She felt him take the few steps to stand directly behind her. And if he
thinks I will collapse into his arms again - he is the enemy, and he is
people as surely as if he dropped the blade himself.
"Mariette -" She refused to answer, refused to turn and face him.
"Mariette - I cannot stop him. I have tried to call him to his duty,
purpose for being here - but he refuses - "
"But you, yourself, could stop him - take your pistol, and walk up
and shoot him. Or, " and she turned to face him, "give me your
pistol and I will
"Believe me, Mariette, it is an option I have considered. But I see
massacre following that course of action. You know what his soldiers are
of. They have no discipline - without a leader they would devastate this
and make your neighbors welcome the cold steel of the guillotine. "
He was right - she knew that. She had only to think of the events of last
night, when the soldiers still felt the thrill of victory. "Then why
have you come?"
He hesitated. He was troubled, his brow creased, his eyes hooded. "I
to ask you something, Mariette. " He wasted some seconds looking around
schoolroom, as though checking it for neatness, or the presence of an enemy.
"I - I
need to know whether you have seen any soldiers - "
"Soldiers! I have only to look out the door to see soldiers! "
"I mean - Republican soldiers. "
And there it was, the question she had been waiting for, the question she
could not answer. Answer one way, answer another - who would live and who
would die? Lie or tell the truth? And who was there to answer her questions?
Philippe with the Republicans or no? Would the British and the Royalists
quietly or no? Would the Republicans return to the village or no?
"And you think I will tell you that?"
She sensed his impatience with her. His jaw firmed and he took a deep
breath. "I have a duty to my men - "
"To save their lives?"
"If I can."
"And your own life?"
"We are all afraid to die, Mariette, but my life is not an issue here.
I live or die counts for nothing - but if I fail in my duty -"
"So which is more important - that you save your men, or that you do
"I - would not risk their lives in a forlorn hope. Your answer can
make my decision. Please, Mariette -"
His sorrowful brown eyes seemed to drill directly down right into her soul.
Whether he lived or died was not an issue here - with a shiver of dismay
realized how untrue that was, for her at least. But what of Philippe, the
her friends - was there no way out for her - damned for lying, damned for
the truth. Or -
"Horatio, why are you asking me this now? "
"Because - " he stopped. Now he had a decision to make, did he
trust the enemy, even if the enemy was a simple French schoolteacher, whose
honor he had saved, whose sleeping form he had watched over. Or to keep
because that was his - his duty.
"I fear we are at an impasse, Horatio, " she said. Another loud
sounded outside, and tides of blood seemed to fill her mind and heart. Why
he asking her now? Because - because he had seen something ? Or heard
something? Something was going wrong with their cause - she could see it
eyes, in his anxiety to hear her answer. "But I think perhaps you know
must do. "
He stared at her silently. She could almost see his mind following the path
she had followed also. The furrows deepened momentarily; then he gave his
a little shake and blinked his eyes, and she knew he had his answer.
"I must leave. " He walked past her, slim, erect, proud - the
at his side, every inch the fighting man. But at the door, he paused, turned
and was the little boy again. "Thank you, Mariette, for helping me
find my own
He reached out one long-fingered hand, and barely brushed her cheek.
"Stay inside, barricade your door. Stay safe. Stay alive."
"And you, also, Horatio." He turned and was gone. She lifted her
touch her cheek, where his hand had touched. "And you, also."
she whispered. But
her heart held no hope. Better he were a craven coward, thinking only of
his own life, than to speak so blithely of duty. How easily she could see
standing to receive the musket ball, the cannon shot, the bayonet thrust,
protect those left in his care. Like her Philippe, so like her Philippe.
A man of
honor, a man of - compassion. Wars chewed up men like that.
A shot sounded in the square. Oh no - he hadn't - surely he had not taken
that route - surely he meant what he said - that one man could do nothing.
forced herself to peek through the window, and the indescribable feeling
poured through her, leaving her so weak she almost collapsed, as she saw
leading his horse towards the village entrance frightened her. What am I
Whether he lives or dies - I will not see him again.
With trembling fingers, she smoothed back her hair and went to barricade
the door again. There was nothing else to do now; nothing to do but wait.
Perhaps she could neaten the schoolroom - but the schoolroom was as neat
could be, after the Royalist soldiers had had their way, and the children
returned to leave a slate on a bench, or a book open on her table. What
give to have Eduard here now, full of nervous energy, fidgeting in his seat,
distracting the others. Or little Emile, with his chronic sneezing and coughing
Lucie, with her clear bright voice , breaking in unbidden on the lessons.
Perhaps she could eat, but she had no appetite, and little food in the
pantry; no one was out selling their fresh vegetables and - and now even
baker was dead. How many others - Mon Dieu, how many others?
Slowly she walked up the stairway to her room. The crucifix over the bed
mocked her now. Prayers had not saved her mother; prayers had not kept
Philippe from leaving; and prayers would not stop the guillotine blade from
falling again and again. She sat on the edge of the bed, numb, spiritless,
But something caught her eye - something bright, something foreign, caught
the edge of the drawer in the little table near her bed. At first she just
stared at it,
her brain too inert to even wonder what it might be. But the gold kept winking
her until finally she levered herself up and walked the two or three steps
her hand within reach of the mystery.
Carefully she pulled it away from the crack in the wood. A piece of gilt
twisted cord - whatever could it be? Then - then she remembered - the sword
had lain on this table overnight - Horatio's sword, with its gold tassel.
must have caught and pulled free as he had snatched it hastily this morning.
Fading flower petals, a slender thread of gold - and memories - how narrow
life had become in such a short space of time. She clenched the tiny cord
fist , then thrust it in her pocket. Again her eyes strayed to the crucifix.
God, " she said, "Please - keep them both safe."
She saw the bodies falling, falling, falling. Lucille Cormier, Eduard, Annette
Lavallee. She saw little Lucie run out and tried to call, to warn her, but
seemed swallowed up in a thickness in the air, and the girl's body fell,
everywhere. Then - no, not Philippe, and opposite him - Horatio - and she
rush out between them but the thickness held her back, and as more shots
out, their lifeless bodies fell.
Her eyes opened. Another dream , a nightmare. But the shots had not
stopped with the abrupt end of the dream. Mon Dieu, has it begun? She ran
downstairs, then stopped, and approached the window carefully. There were
many men out in the street - the Royalist soldiers and - the Republicans
they had come. More shots sounded ; men shouted; men screamed. And there
was that -?
She tore the piled up benches from the door, and threw it open, not
thinking, not caring that a stray bullet might find her there exposed. No!
been right. Horatio was there, in the midst of the melee, there alone ,
soldiers anywhere. Why had he come back? His duty? His damned duty?
"Horatio!" she screamed, "Horatio! Here! Come here!"
Please let him hear
her, please! She screamed again. And again. And finally her voice seemed
him; he looked up, and fought his way towards her, sword in one hand, pistol
"Quickly, quickly" she said, and as he raced through the door,
it shut, and they both replaced the poor barricade .
"Oh, Horatio, why are you still here. It is ended, is it not?"
"Yes, Mariette, it is ended." His voice was bitter, his face bitter.
the window, he glanced out. "I fear the Marquis will taste his own
"But why are you still here? And your men, what of them?"
"I expect Major Edrington is looking to their withdrawal right now."
"But you must escape-"
"I fear there is no escape now." For a second he looked dazed,
pulled himself together, stood up straighter. "I am endangering you
by being here
- I must rejoin the Marquis." and he started towards the door.
"No! Come this way! You can escape!" And she turned and raced
stairs, not sure if he would follow. "Come!" She called back,
His boots sounded on the stone steps just as a rock crashed through the
window, amid shouts of "L'anglais!"
"Here," she said, throwing open the window that faced away from
village street, out into the open country, towards the bridge. "You
can climb down
here and go to rejoin your men."
He looked over the window sill and then back at her. "Then come with
I will not leave you here to face them!" Already angry voices drifted
staircase from below.
"No, I cannot. This is my home. I - I must wait for my Philippe. I
have nothing in England, nothing!"
"You would have me, Mariette. I would look out for you." His sweet
was so earnest, so caring, for a second she considered his offer. For a
"No, Horatio, I belong here."
"Then take my pistol -"
"No. These are my people. They will not hurt me. "
A loud crash sounded downstairs. "Hurry, you must go!"
"Mariette-" They moved towards each other in the same moment;
met hard, fast, and then he was gone. She did not watch as he ran; she did
wish to see him perhaps stumble and fall. Resolutely, she turned to face
sound of feet on the stairs, her head high, her back straight, and a sweet
Horatio stood on deck, watching the far horizon , hands braced on the
railing in front of him. The coast of France had disappeared some time past;
head hurt abominably, and his heart ached.
He heard Archie come to stand beside him.
"A miserable business that, " Archie said.
"A miserable business indeed. And Archie -"
"Yes, yes, no need to say anything, Horatio. I couldn't leave you there,
could I, not after what you've done for me. "
He'd run like the devil after dropping from Mariette's window and the
bridge had been in sight when a chance shot had creased his head and dropped
him. So this was it, he had thought, I am going to die, and somehow it was
right. But then Archie was beside him, tugging at him, yelling at him, and
somehow, he had managed to stagger to his feet . "Run!" Archie
and the shock of Archie screaming at him had made him run. And only when
bridge started exploding behind them had he realized what Archie had risked
go to his rescue.
"Nevertheless, thank you, Archie. I owe you my life. " He fell
and kept staring over the water, as though if he looked long and hard enough,
would see Musillac, see inside the wall, see whether ..
"Is there something else, Horatio? The men we lost - they were good
but Captain Pellew knows we had no chance there."
Yes, Captain Pellew. Well, he had made quite a spectacle of himself in front
of the captain. And only someone of the high caliber of Sir Edward would
led him so expertly through his difficulty. Nonetheless, he should not have
And he would not break down again in front of his friend Archie. No, he
would not. But he could not leave Mariette behind - he could not. Suddenly
blurted out " There was a young girl in the village -"
A young girl in the village. He'd seen her first as he and Major Edrington
had ridden into Musillac, with the Marquis' troops and their own. She'd
out into the street for a moment, met his eyes for a moment, then hurriedly
the door. A pretty flower in this foreign place, and the sight of her had
lifted his heart a little.
Then later, in the square, she had stood resolute, as the Marquis' pistol
pointed unwaveringly at her. She was prepared to give her life to protect
audacious little boy now sheltered behind her body. Moncoutant's precipitate
execution of the Mayor had caught him unawares; nimble mental exercises
possibly find some tenuous justification for that but he could not allow
Marquis to harm a young girl for shielding a little boy. He'd found the
to whisper in Moncoutant's ear, and the Marquis lowered his pistol.
He saw the girl again - the Marquis' soldiers had turned her and a small
crowd of children out onto the street from the doorway he had glimpsed her
earlier. Only later, at dinner, he realized she was the teacher and the
pupils. She served the diners efficiently and quietly - until the Marquis
unkind remark - when she replied with spirit and left the dining room.
Later, after he too had replied to the Marquis with some spirit and left
found her outside. And from there the evening had progressed. Until he was
alone with his thoughts beside Mariette's bed as she slept. He had considered
his duty to deflect the Marquis' wrath and the pistol he held - a young
boy and his
teacher were not the enemy. He considered it his duty as a gentleman to
peasants such as Mariette when the Marquis disparaged them. He considered
his duty to see a young lady safely to her doorway, and later, to rescue
the villainous Republican soldiers. But what duty could he call up to explain
help as Mariette tried to put her poor schoolroom to rights? And what duty
him to hold her sobbing body close to him, as she cried for her lover? And
duty now held him here, at her bedside, as she slept? Or had duty fled,
replaced by - what?
Certainly duty had nothing to do with the strange tenderness he felt as
watched her gentle breathing under the thin coverlet. And duty had nothing
with the irritation he felt to think that she had been promised to some
village boy, who had promptly run off to join the army. And duty had nothing
do with - other feelings.
She'd asked him if someone was waiting for him in England. He'd asked
Archie the same thing, back there in the Spanish prison. And he'd asked
Kitty Cobham had aroused feelings in him he didn't quite understand. His
back home had been devoid of feminine touches. His mother had died when
was just a young boy, and his life from then was a solitary one. He'd heard
of the other men speak so casually of their women, and he'd always taken
avoid those conversations. But now this Mariette - the enemy. And Musillac
alien village. His thoughts should not be wandering where he could not stop
She was a pretty girl, with her dark blond hair pulled back from her fresh
young face. But in a court full of ladies, she would be overlooked. What
so special was her spirit, her heart, even her sadness. He could see her
face resolute as she waited for death from the Marquis' pistol. He could
see her at
dinner, head high, back straight, dignity retained where the Marquis looked
remove all dignity. He could see her indignation as she spoke out against
toy the Marquis had brought with him. He could see her fright as the Royalist
soldier crushed her to him. He could see her tenderness, and pain, as she
the poor broken book with its shattered flower petals in her hands. And
feel her warm body against his still.
The following day he had pounded loudly at her door. He knew now the
Republican artillery most likely was to the north. Well, he would make her
him the truth. As he had raced down the poor dusty village lane towards
bridge that morning, he had realized how easily he had been deflected from
duty to his men. He should have been with them, at the bridge already, not
slouched in a chair in the bedchamber of a French peasant girl. And his
himself so easily translated itself into anger at her.
Until she had attacked him first - blaming him for the blade descending
again and again in the village square. He could not tell her how close he
come to insubordination - how deeply the executions had affected him. What
happening in the village square to these simple people appeared to have
relation to Royalists' purpose in being here. But the reasons he gave her
interfering were true reasons, and not mere excuses. Now the only path left
to him was to end this thing as soon as possible. But in the end she had
with her own people . "I think perhaps you know what you must do".
known, known since he found the broken gun carriage, and the cap with the
artillery insignia. And deep inside, he was relieved that he had not been
force her into revealing the truth, nor revealed the truth to her.
In the end, she'd saved his life. And he had left her with only a hasty
that he could still feel on his lips. He would have taken her with him,
what problems might have come from that - but truthfully, had she been with
him, she might have been wounded too, or worse. Better he had died there
square than that she would give herself to save him.
"There was a young girl in the village -
"Ah, yes. Major Edrington mentioned someone."
Horrified, Horatio realized what Archie might be referring to. " I
-I think I
left the wrong impression with the Major, Archie. I watched over her ; some
Moncoutant's miserable excuses for soldiers had treated her roughly -. "
stopped, swallowed hard. " She helped me escape the Republicans . Without
you would have had no chance to play the hero. " His voice was bitter.
"And I left
her there, to face them -"
"They were her people, Horatio. She would be safe with them."
"Or considered a traitor, for helping an enemy escape. I fear they
pay to the fullest for that."
"You cannot know that, Horatio. You must believe she is safe and well."
"Yes, Archie, I must believe that. Or else I should go mad."
And that was the only answer. He must believe that. He must believe that
she was safe and well, that her Philippe had returned, and years from now
would be a Maman and a Grandmaman, and happy in her life. He straightened
up, and clasped his hands firmly behind his back. His head still hurt, and
welcomed the hurt, because for a while, it helped hide a deeper pain that
would carry with him forever.