Two Vicomtes of Two Different Degrees
It was a rather cold morning in the last days of December, in the year 1611. A pair of glossy black horses galloped through the muddied fields in the province of Guyenne in the south of France. On this day, the sun spread its colours in a robe of pink and orange across the clouds and the wind whipped the cavaliers beneath their thick woolen suits, burning their eyes and reddening their cheeks. Yet it was a relief to see the sun after passing many days amongst the trees of the Forest of Landes, despite the shelter they had provided from the wind. The horses snorted with their efforts to continue over the softened hills, their flanks dripping with sweat, their legs covered with a mix of mud and half-melted snow courtesy of the south’s typically warmer climate. They carried full saddlebags and old valises that bounced against them with their movements, which improved nothing for either the travellers or their mounts.
A sombre young man of twenty years was leading the group, contemplating the hills of the route with his shocking blue eyes charged with disdain. His dark black hair was tied back at the nape of his neck in order to keep his vision clear, a task which was growing more difficult with the passing time. The rhythm of the hooves against the road seemed to hammer into his skull like a cannonade, courtesy of his post-drunken state. Despite his indulgent habits, the red wine of the south still troubled his stomach, and he took an ironic sort of pleasure at the sickness that told him that he was, indeed, still human despite the thoughts that plagued him, most of which were scientific, and had caused infinite problems in his life.
He gave a low pained growl and turned to regard the other rider, a woman, on the horse behind him riding sidesaddle. She was young, and pretty, with slate grey eyes and black hair that fell all about her fair face. She guided her mount with assurance, a sentiment marked further by the bearing in her svelte figure. She was small, but offered languorous curves that she did little to hide from others’ eyes, revelling in all attentions and seeming to feed off the admiration. A cry of laughter drew his attention forward and the man contemplated the child seated before him on his horse’s neck. The boy, who was no more than five years old, had the same black hair, grey eyes and milky skin of the woman. He was dressed in a long coat that much resembled a dress, but this was only because he had yet to receive a new pair of breeches to wear, as this did not occur until he was at least seven or until his father assured himself that the boy no longer had any childish accidents.
“Father, where is the town? Is it close?” demanded the boy to the young man. “I want food.”
“We are almost there,” he said briefly, “Do not speak. You will waste your strength.” They had travelled for days, and any money they had had been used by this time. The man had been absolutely unwilling to stop in Bordeaux, for whatever reason the woman could not comprehend, and they had slept in a ramshackle barn in a place called Saint-Symphorien that had barely kept out the wind after trading a couple of her husband's rings to the owner. Unfortunately, for the ignorant farmer, the rings, the jewels made of glass, were worthless, and the family would be far away before he discovered this fact. After days of huddling together amongst tree roots and getting turned around several times in the forest, the sight of the farm with its potential for shelter had been too heartening to resist the temptation of duplicity.
Now, on the horizon rose the shapes of houses, the fortified city of Mont-de-Marsan, the city of three rivers in the recently elevated comté of Marsan, built around the rivers of Le Midou and La Douze, who then joined to form La Midouze. Highly populated thanks to the efforts of previous Vicomtes, the port, commonly known throughout Guyenne for its transports of grains from its own fields and of wine from Armagnac in exchange for salt and metals, occupied much of the left bank of the Midouze, the families there particularly dedicated to the functions of the ports. Between La Douze and Le Midou, and in the distance, there were the distinct parapets of castles visible beyond church spires facing east, the only direction unguarded by the rivers, and surrounded by a bastion, and it was towards these buildings that the dark-headed young man led his small troop.
Upon crossing the pont La Douze and entering the porte de Campet, a man of middle age struggled with his mule and cart in the road beyond, and the young man became angry atop his horse as they were forced to slow down and stop before him. So furious was he that he took his whip from his saddle and began to strike them from on high.
“Monsieur, stop,” begged the terrified man, “Please, I beg you!”
“Move your stupid beast,” the young man ordered. “If you do not, I will kill it where it stands!”
The once-unwilling beast lumbered off quickly under the blows from the whip. The young man led his group further, passing by the first castle they had seen from across the water, a building from centuries before their time. It was very plain, a sandy brown colour, and the ancient arrows slots were only indents in the wall's facade.
"Is that where we are to live?" she asked, her tone proclaiming her disgust as she pointed to her right at the building. The man gave a low chuckle, turning in his saddle to look at her.
"I highly doubt you would choose to live in a Protestant temple, my dear Parisienne," he drawled, smirking. "Does the Vieux Château please you?" She lifted her nose haughtily and spurred her steed ahead of his angrily until she reached the next corner, where she had to wait for him to come and take the lead once more. They passed what she recognised as a church, despite its dilapidated state of broken windows and discoloured whitewash. It appeared to be a part of the set of buildings built around it.
"I suspect the Protestants destroyed that as well?" she inquired, tipping her head towards the building as their horses clopped past it.
"I would suppose so," he replied. "I had never thought you to be so thoroughly concerned with your religion."
"What of those others?" she continued, ignoring his remark.
"They were priories, but I know not for what. One of the four religious houses in this city most likely," he said. Suddenly, the wind picked up and they bowed low over the horses' necks to shelter their burning faces.
"Enough questions," he snapped. "It is too cold for your blasted curiosity."
They turned onto an eastern running road, passed through a side entryway of the bastion that surrounded the building, and came up alongside the second castle, which was more a fortified mansion and was made of a different material than the previous yet not as old. It appeared welcoming with its warm, dusty coloured stone face topped with a black pointed roof and peppered here and there with narrow windows. It was a long and rectangular, stretching between the road down which one found the stables and the road they had entered. They circled around the building, passing an oddly placed forge, odd because of its proximity to the manor and because no smoke curled up from its chimney.
"Where are we, Father?" asked the boy, staring up at the house as the horse slowed to a trot when they rounded the wall and entered what appeared to be the courtyard. Gaston stood up in his stirrups, looking down the dead-end road towards Montréval, the place where he had often run as a child. There was no one immediately seen on the road from the stables. Eddies of wind blew about some wisps of hay blew, but as to the lack of activity, the man could only assume it was because of the bitter cold. To his right was a part of the lengthy ramparts that stretched between the Douze to the Midou, built by an ancient Vicomte in order to the protect the eastern part of the city not as protected as the north, south, and west were by the rivers.
The people of Mont-de-Marsan called the house itself Nolibos, which did not have as nice a meaning as it sounded, gaining the name from the declaration of their ill-contented desire for the building and its placement. This name, however, had remained despite this ill-meant wish and thus the house, dubbed the Château Nolibos, stood simply for its duty as a fortification and because of a love of the ironic. They approached the house, which had an abandoned air from a distance, but up close appears well kept despite some crumbling stone on the right side of the front stairs.
"This is my home," said the man coldly. "Quiet now, Pierre." The large door at the top of the short stair was solid in appearance, oak wood and suffering from a few scratches from when he had shot arrows at it as a child. Two men suddenly came running from Montréval, to Gaston's surprise as he had not expected anyone to be lodging in the loft on such a windy day, and they held their bridles whilst the riders dismounted. A third came to begin unloading their possessions, his puffs of breath intermingling with the steam rising from the horses' skins and the clouds they snorted from their velvet noses.
The front door to the house opened and Gaston turned to see a young, pretty, blond servant wrapped in a woolen shawl and brown wool dress. She dropped the chamber pot she had been carrying, leaving its contents to spill down the front steps and she rushed back inside, leaving the front door open wide to the cold air, mounting the staircase two steps at a time, one hand on the cool oak banister, until she reached the top. She crossed the corridor with its stone floor covered with a plush runner carpet to arrive at the door to the study where the house's master occupied himself with his affairs. She entered the room without knocking, barely pausing in her haste. The warmth of the fire roaring in the hearth washed over her and stunned her.
"What is the meaning of this?" demanded the master angrily. "I said I was not to be disturbed!"
“Monsieur le Comte!” she gasped, regaining her composure, “Monsieur, your younger son is here, outside!” She pressed a hand to her chest and gulped down large swallows of air, blinking back tears. The man behind the desk across the room from the fire stood, a large older man with grey-flecked, honey brown hair and brown eyes that typically shone with a mischievous glint. Above his full mouth, which was missing several side teeth and made his cheeks sag inwards a little, a thick mustache curled down around his lips and joined his bearded chin. At this moment, however, his eyes were hard and wooden, ready for an unforeseen confrontation and his lips thin and white, pressed close together, his anger at the disturbance redirected.
“You are sure Madeleine?” he asked her as she was regaining her breath, “You are absolutely sure that this demon has returned?” The servant thus named nodded her head rapidly, freeing several wispy blond strands of hair.
“Yes Monsieur. He is outside with a lovely woman and a little boy.” She looked down fearfully at her feet and clasped together her trembling hands, remembering when the young man had cut off her long tresses and burnt them in one of his many mad experiments when the two of them had been much smaller. The Comte approached and placed a firm, reassuring hand on her shoulder.
“Do not worry. He will not stay long.” He turned his head in order to see back over his shoulder and into the study.
“Come along, Antoine. Your brother awaits us.” A young man in his mid-twenties closed the wide book of accounts he had been balancing in his lap and stood from the stiff-backed chair in front of the desk. His curly honey brown hair fell liberally on his shoulders and his blue eyes shone with curiosity over a slightly hooked nose, a well-trimmed mustache of the same shade as his hair, and a fine small mouth. He settled the book on the desk next to the sheets of notes his father had written, lists of what they still needed to requisition for his latest project, and what day-to-day affairs still needed attention.
“Gaston has come back from Paris?” he asked.
“So it would seem, my son. Let us go settle this then we may return to managing the estate accounts. I will need all of your faculties with figures to understand the costs of renovating your mother's manor in Mimizan.” When his father had left the room and descended the stair, Antoine approached Madeleine, who was rocking back and forth anxiously on the balls of her feet. She looked up at him from the nervous contemplation of her shoes after a few moments of silence passed between them.
“Is there something you want Monsieur le Vicomte?” she asked, and after a longer pause, trying to find his words, he shook his head.
“No, no, I do not need anything. Go about your kitchen tasks and do not fear.” She curtsied to him and left immediately, descending the stairs as quickly as possible in order to return to the kitchen as he had bid her, small blond curls escaping the back of her Provençal headdress. He watched her as she left and sighed longingly when he could no longer see her. As the first Vicomte de Marsan, he had a responsibility to his heritage to marry well, but there were often times he would give anything to have been the second-born son like his brother and to have his freedom of choice over the burden of duty.
He turned to the fire to stoke it briefly, turning logs with the poker with extreme care, and carefully replacing the protective grating his father had removed yet again, an old habit from his untitled days as a blacksmith's son in Bordeaux. He himself had never been comfortable with such a dangerous habit, but ever wary of his father's formidable temper and easily wounded pride; he never dared mention the lack of sense in this habit. Nor, he had noted, had his mother despite her frankness.
Suddenly raised voices from below reached his ears, and Antoine quickly left the study. From half way down the stairs he could see that his parents were furiously arguing at the bottom, his mother, her face shiny and her blue eyes bright from the kitchen heat from which she had just left, her ebony chignon loosened and scraggly, and his father, waving a fist and his fair face brightly flushed. Already knowing the subject of their dispute, he sighed, continued to descend and finally passed them by, the pair wholly ignorant of his arrival, so focused were they on attacking the other.
“Clovis, you are the grandest fool I have ever known,” declared the small dark woman, her cheeks blatantly red despite her olivine complexion. The Comte regarded her with angered, burning eyes.
“I will not have your son in my house, Carissa! He can go back to Paris and re-enter the guards or join a guild. He could be a blacksmith after all the training I have given him if being a soldier would not be sufficient.”
“If I recall correctly, Monsieur,” spat the Comtesse, her teeth bared sinisterly. “He is as much your son as he is mine!”
"Madame, no son of mine would be such a man, if one could even distinguish this one as such!"
The man in question stood next to the door, his arms crossed over his breast and his mouth formed in a mean and bitter smile. A lovely-looking woman stood to his left, her hand on the shoulder of the pale boy, who observed the dispute with wide, darting eyes. Approaching, Antoine noted such a resemblance between the boy and Gaston that he had little doubt as to the boy's parentage, and it surprised him. He would have never expected his strange younger brother to accept any terms of domesticity, let alone marriage and all that it entailed. He stopped before his brother whom he had not seen in six years, the younger Vicomte been all but unceremoniously thrown from the doorstep and out into the world within a month after reaching eighteen. The two men contemplated each other with empty expressions, the distance between them almost palpable. Where Antoine was fair, Gaston was dark, and their only resemblance were their blue eyes, but even these were different by their shades, the former is again much lighter than the latter's.
“Welcome back, Gaston,” said Antoine simply, finally extending his hand. Gaston looked at it a moment before taking it in his own calloused one with much more force honed from his years as a soldier.
“It is good to see you again, Antoine,” said the younger man coldly. He did not release his grip until Antoine made the pain from it visible on his face.
“Was Paris kind to you?” asked Antoine, flexing his fingers in order to restore the feeling in them. Gaston looked away.
“Gaston, you are terribly rude,” said the woman, “You have not introduced us to this gentleman.” He lifted his eyes to the ceiling, making an impatient gesture towards her and the boy.
“This is my wife Geneviève and that is my son Gaston-Pierre,” he growled. “Madame, this is my brother Antoine de Chambly, the Vicomte de Marsan.” Extending her hand, Geneviève offered a reverent gesture to Antoine, fluttering her eyes coquettishly. He took her hand and kissed it gently then released it shortly after, resisting the urge to snuff like a beast courtesy of her strong perfume. The boy looked at his uncle with an extreme trepidation, quietly hiding himself behind his mother’s voluminous skirts when Antoine crouched down to shake his hand as well.
Suddenly, Clovis approached them with a closed expression, his fists held firmly at his sides, turning his back to his wife and the daggers her eyes threw at him. Antoine stood and backed away from the family with a frown, closely regarding his father.
“Why have you come back? You know that you are no longer welcome,” Clovis said coldly. Gaston coughed a little and turned to Carissa.
“This is your opinion as well Maman?” he demanded. “This is your wish? You are not against Monsieur’s decision to refuse me entrance in my time of need?”
“Gaston, mon petit chat, you know very well that that is not true at all,” said Carissa, stepping forward to be next to her husband yet still a man’s width apart. “I love you as much as your brother and if he needed help, I would help him in the same way I have helped you.”
“But because Monsieur says no, you agree, is that not so, Madame?” yelled Gaston. “What help have you given me in this instance? You are not defending me against him just as you never have.”
“That is enough Gaston!” ordered Clovis, putting himself between his son and his wife, whose lip trembled and eyes closed in pain. Antoine went over to her and wrapped an arm about her shaking shoulders. “It is time you left with your little family and returned to Paris.” Gaston-Pierre sniffled, tears beginning to fall on his cheeks.
“Papa, I’m hungry, I’m cold, I want to stay here!” cried the poor child. Geneviève gathered him up into her arms, trying to console him as he buried his face in her neck.
“Monsieur le Comte, you are the devil himself. You would put your grandson out in the cold without pity. You are cruelty in human form,” she declared, her tone vicious.
“Madame, you are wrong,” said Clovis severely. “I am returning my younger son and his marvelous family to the world in order to find their own life. Therefore, Gaston, you can—”
“Clovis, stop this! Stop this now,” cried Carissa, her face tear-streaked. “I have had enough of this fighting. He is your son just as much as Antoine. He will stay here with us with his family in our home.”
“You continue to defy my wishes, my dear,” he said coldly, turning to her and seeming to grow larger in his anger. He looked sharply at Antoine, who bowed his head to avoid his gaze, but he did not leave his mother's side.
“And I shall continue to do so, Monsieur, if you continue to harass our son. In fact, I shall leave if it so comes to it, so as to show you how defiant I can be.” Clovis glared at her with a vicious air and Carissa looked him firmly in the eyes. No one spoke in the bitter silence. Leaving his sons and his obstinate wife at the front door, he climbed the stairs to return to his study. Antoine followed him shortly after, but not before bestowing a kiss on his mother’s furrowed brow as he departed and pressing his handkerchief into her hands. Relieved, Carissa wiped away her tears on the cloth, waiting until she had heard her husband slam the door upstairs, and then held out her hand to her grandson, whom Geneviève had returned to the floor after Clovis’ departure. Gaston-Pierre looked at the hand and recoiled uneasily.
“Do not be afraid, my dear,” she said gently, leaning towards him, her green dress billowing out around her. “You are safe here, I promise you.”
“Go with your grandmother, Pierre,” said Gaston, giving him a little push in the back. Carissa took his small hand and led him away with her in the direction of the kitchen. Geneviève contemplated them for a few moments until they were out of sight before turning to her husband, her hands planted on her hips.
“What a great idea, Monsieur le Vicomte,” she mocked. “You lied to me about your title; you never told me you were the second son. What are you to inherit in the end, a farmstead in the country? Your parents are truly wonderful too. I wonder what they think when you tell them that you lost your commission from the corps?”
“Shut your mouth unless you would rather I should do it for you,” he growled. “I neither asked for your advice nor your reproach.” She put her hand over her heart, affecting the air of a hurt woman, her breasts visibly heaving under a corset that lay bare too much of her décolletage, but it did little against Gaston's disdainful expression.
When Carissa returned to the entrance hall, they pretended to be a well-measured couple, stoic despite their reddened expressions. He offered his arm to his wife and, following his mother, led her up the stairs and to his childhood room. Two servants followed them carrying their valises and their saddlebags. Arriving at the door, Carissa pulled a large key ring from the pocket hidden in her skirts and unlocked it.
"These were my chambers until I gave birth to Gaston," she said, "A bed chamber and a boudoir. He never had use for the latter, but Madame, I am sure you will like it. Our servants are truly the best; they leave everything very clean." There was a curtained four-poster bed, a sofa, a low, solid table on thick curved legs in front of that, two wardrobes with their doors slightly scratched, and a fireplace that was clean of ashes. A door was a conspicuously placed in the wall to the left of the bed, which one assumed led to the aforementioned boudoir. Carissa wandered around to several sconces, bearing a candle with which to light up the others and illuminate the room, while the servants entered and placed their loads at the foot of the bed and quickly withdrew.
"Thank you, Maman," said Gaston as Carissa lit one more candle. "Could you leave us alone? We want to get settled."
"But of course! I have to go to the kitchen regardless and tell Béatrice to cook for six and not just three." She approached him and kissed his cheek, lightly touching the side of his face with gentle fingers.
"I am very happy to see you again, my dear boy. Dinner will be served shortly."
"Thank you, Maman." When she left and closed the door, Gaston pulled Geneviève further into the room and pushed her on the four-poster bed with its green velvet curtains. She gave a little cry of surprise but stayed there while he threw off his doublet and fought to remove his breeches and stockings.
"I do believe I have to prove to you who is master and who is servant, my wife."
"Hurry up then. There is not much time.” She watched him fumble with disgust and sat up. “Oh, let me do it; you are shaking like an old man."
Seated before a table full of simple, but well prepared dishes, Antoine watched his family eating in complete silence. Clovis seemed bitter, stabbing his meat with violent conviction. Carissa contemplated him with furrowed brows, but Antoine knew well that his mother would never concede to Clovis on the subject of her preferred son, her temperament once jokingly compared to that of an old working farm animal when they were still attending Court in Bordeaux. Gaston-Pierre ate like a horse, staining his front with sauce. His dark hair was tied back like his father’s and his new clean coat was green, trimmed with fine lace, but his cuffs were already ruined from his haste to eat all that he could grab in his knobbly little fingers. Geneviève let him do as he pleased while Gaston drank plenty of wine, one glass after the other, and ate only a roasted partridge. He finished the final drops and lifted his glass for a refill by Madeleine, who stood near to the chimney. She approached him and poured the new glass, trembling all throughout until her hand made a sudden brusque gesture, dumping the lukewarm wine on the table and his knees, and Gaston leapt from his seat furiously.
“Sacrediable! What are you doing, you idiot?” Madeleine shied away from Gaston, dropping the pitcher and shattering it on the floor, wine spreading like veins of blood on the stone. Clovis stood, slamming his fist down on the tabletop.
“Gaston, I will not tolerate the abuse of my servants. Be silent and sit down immediately,” he ordered. Gaston was a bizarre man, but he was not at all as mad as Clovis believed. He looked at the Comte for several moments, his humid breeches stinking of wine, and then he left the dining room silently outraged and embarrassed, and doing his best not to move as a duck would. Madeleine continued to tremble as she bent to pick up the pitcher shards and Antoine stood and took her hands to make her drop them so as to escort her from the room. In the short hallway just outside the kitchen, where they were alone, he embraced her tenderly, caressing her back gently as she cried into the breast of his short doublet.
“I could not stop myself! I am still so frightened of him,” she cried. Antoine took her face in his hands and kissed her forehead.
"What were you doing serving at the table anyway?" he asked. "You work with Béatrice in the kitchen."
"Henri was too ill to get out of bed today, sweating and shaking like a tired horse, and Gustave let him stay there. Madame knows; she gave him one of her remedies." Antoine shook his head with a slow smile. He knew that his mother's 'remedies' were nothing more than honey, water, and the slightest pinches of salt. Given how often she had forced them down his throat as a child with the slightest sign of illness, as she was distrustful of doctors and surgeons; it was hard not to be familiar with their particular taste.
"Be that as it may, Michel and Philippe should be sufficient. We normally do not have enough for the three of them to do as is so they should have been able to handle a few extra cups and plates." Madeleine hiccupped miserably, her face flushed and eyes bright through the puffiness around them.
“Calm yourself, my dear," he soothed. "Gaston will leave soon. You know that Monsieur will no longer tolerate him in this house after all that has happened between them, this you know. There are no sentiments of friendship lost and, if Gaston stayed, there would only be chaos. You also know as well as I that Madame will not stand for this chaos in her home. In any case, stay here for the evening and leave the others who are to serve at table to do so. You should not have to suffer because of my brother and his strange ideas that still torment you.”
He left her pensive in the care of Béatrice, the broad-shouldered cook, who acknowledged his request with a silent nod before she steered the shaking woman to a stool in the corner and let her sip from her wine cup. When Antoine returned to the dining room, Gaston had already come back wearing new clean breeches and a dark expression as he drank more. His son had fallen asleep in his chair, his mouth shining with the juices of the fowl that he had eaten and his cheeks pink with happiness, his countenance much improved after having had a good meal. Carissa put down her knife, looking at Gaston and smiling despite the snaking feeling of tension that permeated the room.
“Gaston, tell us how you fared in Paris. You are married to this lovely woman; you have a precious son. Why did you not stay?” Gaston bit his lip, placing his glass on the table after having drunk the rest of the wine. Geneviève watched him silently, wondering if he could tell her the truth of their flight or if he would make yet another of his great lies. Clovis regarded him critically and Antoine listened curiously. Unable to escape the conversation under such steady scrutiny, Gaston sighed and began, looking solely at Carissa.
“You have to understand that I never wanted to come back, but I had no choice. I had amassed debts of money and honour, and my word was no longer enough to satisfy their demands for payment. After two years, no one believed me anymore. My comrades and my creditors came to find me and take everything I owed them.”
“Thus you fled like a frightening rabbit,” said Clovis, sneering. “You never did have the courage to accept your responsibilities.”
“Quiet Clovis,” said Carissa sharply. “Continue Gaston. Ignore your father.” Instead of following her advice, Gaston spoke to him coldly.
“I have a family thus I had to protect it. That was my only reason for leaving the city. I would never again have laid my shadow across your doorstep if I had any other choice.”
“In all your letters, you told me many things about your friend, Hector,” said Carissa tenderly, trying to avoid a new dispute between the two men with the change of conversation. “Why did you not go to him for help?” Gaston’s expression closed and he looked at no one, focusing his attention on the flames of the candles in the candelabrum.
“He died, Maman,” he murmured, “he died saving me.”
“Again, because of you, my son, a family has lost one of their children,” said Clovis impassively. “What a surprise.” Standing, Carissa glared at her husband.
“I have had enough of you and your attacks, husband. I will no longer tolerate them!”
“Mother, please, sit down,” asked Antoine gently, taking her arm and trying to pull her back into her seat. Carissa smacked his hand to make him release her, throwing her napkin on the floor and marching from the room.
“If you need me, my children, you will find me in Bordeaux at the Duke’s court because I cannot stay here with a man without any sense!” she yelled in her departure.
“Carissa, stop this at once and sit down,” commanded Clovis, his face reddening. “I am lord and master of this house, and I am telling you to stay in your place at the table!” When she blatantly ignored him, he chased her to the second floor. She slammed their bedroom door shut in his face and locked it before he could force his way in. The others around the table could hear all that went on above, Clovis yelling reproaches and Carissa giving as good as he gave through the locked door, her responses muffled significantly by the thick wood. Antoine looked at his nephew, wondering how he could still sleep, before turning to his brother.
“Gaston, I know Mother sent you the allowance given to her by Father, but I kept it hidden from him. You lost it all?” demanded Antoine. Gaston did not appear to be very contrite despite this.
"Gaston, she gave to you so much that she would come to me in secret to ask me for money! How could you be so careless?" said Antoine. Gaston ignored him, turning instead to Geneviève.
“Take my boy and put him to bed,” he said. She sniffed disdainfully, tossing some of her long black hair over her shoulder in order to better display her décolletage.
“You have servants so leave them to do it. I am neither a nurse nor a maid and I refuse to become one.” Antoine fixed her with a look of incredulity.
“You are a mother and you do not care that your son sleeps in that chair and not in his bed, Madame?” Geneviève quietly drank a little wine. Gaston raised his hand to strike her, growling, but Antoine stood and caught it suddenly in his own, Geneviève watching them fearfully. Her cup had fallen, completely abandoned, and she had dumped it down the front of her skirt. A door slammed upstairs, and Carissa stomped down the stairs with a battered valise under her arm and dragging a worn-looking trunk behind her, thumping loudly on every stair. Clovis was no longer following her and in fact, they did not hear him anywhere about at all.
"Gustave! Fetch my horse!" she called angrily into the house, ignored by everyone but the servants.
“That is what you have become! You do not only continue your cursed experiments but also beat women," said Antoine in disgust. "My brother, you have to change your ways and yourself otherwise you will suffer the consequences after your death.” Gaston tore his hand away from his older brother with a glare.
“You are neither priest nor God therefore what right do you have to question me about how I discipline my wife?” he responded, spit flying.
"Will Madame by wanting a food packet?" the harried valet asked as he hurried past the Comtesse, taking the trunk and dragging it to the door.
"No, that will not be necessary," snapped Carissa. "Hurry up and summon my mount."
"Yes Madame. Philippe, go to the stables and get one of the grooms to saddle Madame's horse."
“There are other ways to make a woman obey you such as gentleness or respect, not by violence and insults," snarled Antoine.
"And you learned this from Monsieur le Comte, did you?" Gaston replied snidely.
"You have maybe drunk too much wine, but that is not an excuse for being vicious simply to ask for the completion of such a task. She is right; we have servants who can help her until you hire a proper nurse to look after Pierre. Wait! Where are you going?” called Antoine, suddenly thrown from his thought's track as Gaston left the room completely beside himself with anger, his chair falling to the floor with such force from his exit that it cracked. Antoine watched that tense back walk away from him, that which he had protected when they were young, but which now he no longer understood. Gustave re-entered and quietly shut the door after Philippe had followed him in, the sound of hooves briefly heard beyond it before it closed. Geneviève turned to her brother-in-law, her grey eyes shining.
“Monsieur, you are a brave, honest man. I thank you.”
“Madame, it is not necessary. I am a gentleman and as such I cannot tolerate the abuse of women in such a manner.”
“Gaston is a little eccentric,” she said, “and his temper is great, but he is very intelligent, and he loves his son when he does not drink.”
“How often is he not drunk?”
“Not too often unfortunately. After having lost his commission as a light-horseman, he drinks more, he swears like a common fisherman, and beats us more than that.” Geneviève shook her head, biting her lip. Antoine took her small, white hand and kissed it gently. Her skin smelled of the dinner meat and a springtime rose. He let her go, looking nervously to the stairs that Gaston had climbed, but he was nowhere in sight. The Vicomte remembered well the jealousy of the dark man after having seen it each time Clovis passed him over with his favour and ignored him immediately thereafter.
“I must leave you, Monsieur,” said Geneviève as she stood, breaking through his thoughts. “I am tired after travelling and I must sleep. Good night.”
“Good night, Madame.” Picking up her son in her small arms, Geneviève carried him up to his own bed, leaving Antoine alone in the dining room with his half-picked plate. The lackeys waited quietly in the corners to clear the table. Antoine remarked on the silence of the house with surprise, expecting his parents to continue their fight throughout the night, but he could no longer hear their furiously stubborn voices. With a sigh, he nudged around his food a few more times with his knife before setting down the utensil and abandoning his repast. He could hear the clatter of the plates and the scraping of knives as the two men cleared the table of the leftovers, which was to become the staff's own supper. Climbing the stairs, he found the door to the study open, and through this open portal, he saw Clovis seated in his chair behind the desk, holding a cup of wine, the bottle standing open on the tabletop.
“You have ended your dispute, Monsieur?” Antoine asked.
“Yes, of course.”
“Where is Madame then? Is she sleeping?”
“No, she has left for Bordeaux.”
"Father, you cannot be serious."
"You did not hear her leaving, my boy? She was screaming quite loudly downstairs."
“You allowed her to leave at this hour? Monsieur, forgive me, but I think you have gone mad!”
“Women will make you such, Antoine. We must realise that in the home, we are not the master because your wife dominates everything. It is only in the society of the Court or on the field of battle that man has power.”
“Monsieur, you have such strange philosophies when you are drunk.”
“Look around! Where is your good mother, so beautiful and strong? She has left me because of a vicious son, one who is terrible and strange.”
“Monsieur, if you prostrate yourself before her, she may forgive you.”
“I am neither a dog nor a valet! I am the Comte de Marsan morbleu. I will prostrate myself before no one like some peasant,” declared Clovis.
“If you do not do so, you will lose your wife, Father. You only have to follow her to the city. You are still good friends with the Duke, are you not? Go and visit him! I think we received an invitation to the fête de Saint-Sylvestre some weeks ago thus you have an excuse to go there.”
“I never responded to it.”
“Let me make the arrangements,” said Antoine, his tone determined. “You have to think of how to make her forgive you.”
“Go ahead and do so, my son. You will be a good Vicomte in the future and an even better husband, but despite your wisdom, I am afraid that you will also be a slave to your wife.”"Father, you are drunk. I would suggest that you get some rest and let me take care of this affair."