Status: Currently working on - hope to finish by the end of the summer.


Chapitre Dix

It was a sunless afternoon with inconsistent rainfall. The preacher had come to speak to Jean’s mother, Clara, about plans for the wedding of her daughter. Jean sat in the other room and eavesdropped. His sister, Laure, absently swept different areas of the house. She seemed to take no interest in the conversation that would shape the rest of her life.
“The ceremony can take place in three days,” Father Jacques said in a hushed voice, “Clement has given his consent. Do I still have yours?”
Clara’s reply was inaudible to Jean.
“It will be kept a quiet affair…” The preacher continued.
Jean brought his knees to his chest and rested his head. His stomach was grumbling loudly. All of the neighborhood kids were inside for the day and he felt so bored and hopeless that he believed he had imagined the knocks on the door.
But when he heard them again, he sprung up and shouted “I got it! I got it!”, as if anyone there would have been in a hurry to answer it. He suspected one of his friends was coming over to play – the sky was beginning to clear up after all – but when he saw Marie standing there, wearing a brown hooded cape, he felt even more bored and hopeless than before.
“May I come in?” She asked with an innocent smile.
Jean slammed the door.
“Jean!” Clara scolded. “That is not how we treat our guests.” She turned quickly towards the preacher and apologized. “I do not know what has gotten into him, Father.”
“Boys will be boys.” He said gently.
Clara went to the door and opened it. “I am so sorry, Marie. You are all wet! Please come in!”
Marie, who still had an insulted look on her face, took a dramatic step forward. Jean stuck out his tongue.
“Quit that!” Clara ordered as she swatted her son away. “I am very sorry about his behavior, Marie. He has been stuck in the house all day and he is very wild.”
“That is fine, Mademoiselle –”
“Oh you can call me Clara!”
“It is nice to meet you, Clara.” Marie greeted with her hands folded in front of her. She found Jean’s mother to be loud and intimidating. Her face was tan and wrinkled and her thin frame was harsh.
Clara put her hand on Marie’s shoulder and gestured to the preacher, who was sitting patiently on a wooden bench behind a small table. “This is Father Jacques. Have you met?”
“I am afraid we haven’t!” Marie stepped towards him. “You spoke to my mother, I believe. Fanny Beauharnais?”
“Yes,” he answered with a pleasant smile, “she is a lovely woman. She told me many good things about you, Marie.”
“Really? How kind of her. I am sorry I was unable to meet you before. I am sure now is hardly the time either. Am I interrupting?”
“No, dear!” Clara endearingly squeezed Marie’s shoulder. “We were just finishing up our conversation. Don’t you ever feel unwanted here! You are welcome at any time.”
Marie nodded shyly. Clara let go of her and went to the preacher. They whispered to each other. Marie glanced over at Jean and saw that he was pouting at her. She hurriedly looked at the floor and saw a broom move across.
“Oh! I am sorry. I did not see you there!” Marie told the girl. “My name is Marie de Beauharnais. Are you Jean’s sister?”
The girl looked at her with empty blue eyes. Her face was fair and freckled, with a smudge of dust on her forehead. She returned to her work without answering. Her movements were dear-like and watching her made Marie uneasy.
She looked around to see if anyone else had noticed the awkward exchange, or lack thereof. The preacher had stood and was saying his last goodbyes at the door. “I hope to see you again soon.” He told Marie.
“You too, Father.” She said.
When he had left, everyone stood still for a moment. Marie looked around at the tiny little home, noting that there were only two rooms, both of which lacked sufficient furniture. There was a table and bench, a pile of blankets, and off in one corner, a lumpy bed. Something moved around under the blanket.
“Woo!” It cheered. Marie was startled. An old man with prune-like skin and a massive grey beard came out from under the blanket. “I was tired of pretending to sleep!”
“Grandpére!” Jean called happily. He went to him and the old man wrapped an arm around his shoulder.
He looked at the stranger. “You said your name was Marie, young lady? Marie de Beauharnais?”
She nodded.
“Well don’t be shy, Marie! You act like you’ve never seen a poor old man!” He hooted. “I’m Jean’s grandfather. You are a friend of Jean’s, right?”
“Yes.” Marie lied.
The old man gave his grandson a proud look. “You better not let this one out of your sight. She sure is pretty.”
Jean blushed. “Grandpére –”
“Let me tell you something, boy. Life is too short to be standing around pretending you do not notice beautiful women!”
“Enough!” Clara interjected. She turned to Marie with an exhausted expression. “Please excuse my husband’s father. He is ill.”
Marie looked at the old man and realized how famished he was. He slowly straightened himself up in bed and coughed a few times. “He is no trouble at all, really.” Marie insisted, though she worried he was contagious.
“How about the two of you get out of this stuffy house?” Clara suggested to Jean. “You could go to the market and get some vegetables for the soup.”
“I hate the market!” Jean whined.
Clara gave him a stern look then turned to Marie. “Would you mind going to the market?”
“Not at all. Edgard is actually there now.”
“See Jean? The two of you can go to the market and have a fine time. It is much better than staying here.” She went to her son and put a few coins in his hand. “Please. Please be good.”
Jean growled and stormed across the little room and through the door. Clara sighed and apologized again for his attitude.
“He’s a hard-headed boy,” the old man advised, “he will warm up to you in no time.”
Marie nodded and followed after him.