“Lucius!” exclaimed Mr. Courbet, “Can’t you see I’m in the middle of a discussion? Whatever happened to your manners? You used to be so refined.”
“How was I to know you were going to have a visitor?” scoffed Lucius, “You never really tell me any-”
Lucius paused when his eyes fell on Elise. The warmth she was feeling from the fireplace drained in an instance as he stared hard at her with a shocked expression. Staring back at his face, Elise noticed how Lucius strikingly resembled Mr. Courbet. Silver grey hair and amber eyes.
Unlike Mr. Courbet, his manner of dressing was less formal but more casual. He was in his school uniform, his navy and white school blazer over a dark grey hooded jumper, accompanied with his navy school trousers and black Dr. Martin style boots. He had supposedly just returned from school.
“Lucius!” snapped Mr. Courbet, “You are scaring Elise! It is improper for a gentleman as yourself to stare at a young lady so intently.”
“Elise?” said Lucius, “But she-” he began but was cut off by Mr. Courbet.
“I apologise for the sudden interruption,” said Mr. Courbet turning his attention back to Elise. “This is my son, Lucius Courbet. He is currently a student at Our Lady of Sorrows Secondary School and you will be in his class.”
He then turned to his son. “This is Elise Benoit-Smith. She is going to be my ward starting today. Please treat her kindly.”
“Ward?” scoffed Lucius, “You didn’t even bother to discuss this with me first? What if she’s taking advantage of your so-called generosity just to benefit her? You never know what women are like on the inside!”
“Lucius!” snapped Mr. Courbet, “It is not I who jumps to conclusions about women, it is you. My ‘so-called generosity’ you seem to judge is my own decision. I admired this young girl’s talents in writing and art, and felt compelled to assist her to become who she wants people to see her as. It seems as though you still have not grasped the full understanding of those who are less fortunate than yourself. The reason you are able to live the current lifestyle as you are now is from your father’s hard work. Do not forget that.”
Lucius clicked his tongue in agitation. Going over to Elise, he quietly told her, “I will never accept you as my father’s ward.”
Chills went down Elise’s spine when she heard his cold words.
Just as Lucius was about to walk out of the living room the same way he came in, Mr. Courbet called out. “Lucius, I would appreciate it if you could at least take Elise out to Whitby this weekend. Show her around the town and get her familiarise with everything. And also, please be her escort on her first day of school.”
“Whatever!” said Lucius as he exited the room.
After Lucius left the room, Mr. Courbet sighed.
“My deepest apologies that you had to see something like this,” he told Elise. “Lucius can be a handful at his current age. I have been a widower for a long time and being an only father can be a bit tiresome. Perhaps your influence might help Lucius become less aloof.”
Aloof. Thought Elise to herself. He sounds a bit like me when I was still living at St. Jerome-Emiliani Orphanage. Will I really be able to change him? He did not like me upon the first encounter. An image of Lucius flashed briefly in her mind. How could she not forget his handsomeness that had been engraved so deeply in her brain? I will never accept you as my father’s ward, she remembered him saying.
He was clearly shocked to see her, but when he said those words, she had somehow noticed a hint of despair in his amber eyes. These seemingly trivial details made Elise curious to know what kind of person Lucius really was.
“Right,” said Mr. Courbet, breaking Elise’s string of thoughts. “now that we have done our introductions, I would like to give you a tour of my manor.”
Placing his cup back on its saucer, Mr. Courbet stood up and beckoned Elise to follow him. As they headed to the first room, Elise once again found herself gazing at the ancestral portraits in the hallway. I’m jealous. Thought Elise, but it was not of Mr. Courbet’s wealth; it was because of his ancestral line. If she had not lost her own parents, would she not have to occasionally question her own background?
“I don’t know who my birth parents were,” said Elise, attempting to strike up a conversation. “but I was told that one of my parents was French while the other was British. When I first arrived at St. Jerome-Emiliani, it was written on my birth certificate that my family name was Benoit-Smith.”
“It is not unheard of, having a double surname,” replied Mr. Courbet. “In the British tradition, double surnames are heritable. The main purpose is to preserve the family name that is about to go extinct due to the family’s absence of male descendants bearing that surname. Did you know that your French surname, ‘Benoit’ is derived from the Latin word, ‘Benedictus’ which means ‘the one who says the good’?”
“No, I didn’t,” said Elise. “but I do know that the Benedictus is one of the three canticles featured in the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke 1:68-79. It was a song of thanksgiving which Zechariah addresses to his son, John the Baptist.”
“You surprisingly know the Bible very well,” said Mr. Courbet. “I assume that you are a devout catholic? Your orphanage did have a church on its grounds.”
“The church at St. Jerome-Emiliani was like a sanctuary for me,” replied Elise. “After school and over the weekends, I would usually go to the church to pray, have some quiet time, or just to forget the feeling of being ostracised. I sometimes read the Bible as a way of passing time. It is also compulsory to attend church every Sunday at the orphanage.”
“Then I’m sure that you will enjoy Our Lady of Sorrows Secondary School,” said Mr. Courbet. “The school devotes itself to the Virgin Mary. Celebrations of her feast day and Easter are the ones to look forward to during the school years. It is not only the suffering of Jesus that Christians and Catholics are needed to be reminded of, but the sorrows of Mary herself and her devotion to her only son.”
Arriving at the first room, Mr. Courbet opened the door to a vast library. Every shelf was filled with books; some looked centuries old and some were closer to Elise’s time period. A library ladder with wheels was propped against the shelves for easy access. There was a long table in the centre of the room, with chairs aligned on each side, making it seem as though the library was also used as a dining hall.
“I heard from Mrs. Lindsay that one of your hobbies include reading,” said Mr. Courbet. “You are free to use the library as you please. However, do be careful with the more fragile books. Book conservation is a demanding job nowadays.”
“St. Jerome-Emiliani also had a library,” said Elise. “but not as grand as this.”
Mr. Courbet then led Elise to the game room, which consisted of a pool table, darts, a poker table; several arcade games, a jukebox, and a mini bar. She had heard of these games, but had never tried them herself. Mr. Courbet offered to teach her once she had settled in his manor.
“Here is the conservatory,” said Mr. Courbet as he opened the door, revealing a room made of glass walls and roof. “I keep all my plants here and in the summer, you can use this room for relaxation when Lucius is not doing experiments.”
“Experiments?” asked Elise feeling intrigued.
“Lucius enjoys Science,” explained Mr. Courbet. “especially Biology and Chemistry. He now uses the conservatory as his laboratory, because there was an incident where one of his experiments went wrong and it caused a morbid smell around the manor for several days. The conservatory is a suited place to allow ventilation for scientific experiments.”
Elise chuckled when she heard this. This is the first time I felt amused. She thought to herself. I really hope Mr. Courbet has more stories like this.
Her eyes suddenly spied Lucius’s figure obscured by some potted palm trees. He had not changed out of his school uniform, but wore an apron to protect it. Probably for school appearance sake. Elise noticed the chemistry laboratory equipment, squeezed onto one table, making her curious as to what kind of experiment Lucius was conducting.
“Best not to disturb Lucius,” said Mr. Courbet as he guided Elise away from the sight of his son. “I will now show you my most prized art collection in the ballroom.”
Mr. Courbet exited the conservatory, Elise following behind him. However, as though she had been bewitched, she could not keep her eyes off Lucius. As she moved further and further away from the conservatory, she kept glancing back at Lucius’s figure as it became fully obscured by the plants.