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


Chapitre Trois

That night

“Hey!” The boy tightened his grasp on Edgard’s shoulders and peeked around him. “I know this place! My dad worked here sometimes. My brother too, I think!”
“For the old owners, maybe,” Edgard mumbled. He was exhausted and anxious. The boy was still in stained, patched clothing, wearing dress shoes that were several sizes too large. Edgard knew that Marie’s father, Claude de Beauharnais, would not be happy to see such a filthy little brat at his dinner table. He also knew that he would receive the brunt of the blame.
When he reached the stable, a boy – not much older than Jean – came to assist him. His name was Gustave, and he had been with the Beauharnais family for a year. “I’ll take her in,” he said, grabbing the horse’s reigns with one hand.
Edgard dismounted and put his hand out to help Jean. He ignored it and jumped down, landing on his hands and knees in the wet grass. Gustave was stunned to see this. He turned away, nose in the air, and led the horse into its stall.
Jean did not see his reaction; he was fascinated by the vineyard. The sun was setting and the grape vines seemed to be on fire. He began to move toward them, but Edgard grabbed his arm.
“No!” He shouted, so frustrated he felt he might cry, “Stop playing around!”
He pulled his arm and the boy quit resisting. When they finally reached the porch, Edgard was relieved to see the guard, Guiles, waiting. “Have Claude and Fanny been told?” He asked.
“I believe so,” Guiles said, calmly, “Antoine is taking care of everything. He has had Arielle prepare a bath in your quarters.”
“Oh thank goodness!” Edgard cried. He went into the chateau, still dragging the boy by his arm.
“Une belle maison!” The boy cheered. He wiggled away from Edgard’s grasp and ran into the middle of the foyer, spinning. “It’s so big! And what is that?” He pointed towards an old suit of steel armor.
Edgard grabbed the boys shoulder and jerked him away. “No touching anything until you have had a bath, understood?”
“Aye aye!” The boy said. He bowed his head so that he would not be tempted by anything.
Edgard led him past a couple ballrooms and closed doors, to a decent-sized bedroom with red walls and matching window drapes. A lady servant with a poufy green gown and grey hair was standing by a brass tub, checking the temperature of the water.
“Bounjour Edgard!” She welcomed warmly, relieved that she would not have to refill the bath, “and bonjour child!”
Jean waved shyly. He looked at the large four-post bed, the dresser, and the full-length mirror in the corner. He stepped out of his grandfather’s shoes and wiggled his grimy toes against the dark hardwood floor.
“Could you bring the child a more suitable outfit for dinner?” Edgard inquired.
“But of course!”
“And Arielle,” he leaned in closer to the maid, “do bring a fresh loofa!”
She laughed and nodded energetically, finally dismissing herself with a passive wave. Jean, flushed with embarrassment, quickly removed the rest of his clothing and lowered himself into the brass tub, moaning with satisfaction as the hot water rose around his shoulders. Never had he known such a luxury as a full, heated bath.
Edgard removed his coat and rolled up his shirt sleeves. “When is the last time you cleaned your hair?” He asked haughtily as he poured a cup of water over the child’s head.
Jean stared at him curiously, his hair deflated and dripping.
“Never mind, I can tell it has been long enough!” Edgard grabbed a bar of soap and began to rub it over the boy’s head. The bar yellowed from the dirt and oil that had accumulated in his hair. This made Edgard uneasy, and he began to entertain scenarios of deadly illness, all from this contact. He doused the boy with another cup of water and took a break, blotting his hands with a towel.
Jean submerged himself in the water and stared up at the high, domed ceiling. It all seemed like fantasy to him. Any moment, he thought, it will disappear any moment.
He lifted his head and gasped, watching the brown water droplets fall in front of his eyes and roll down his thin arms. Arielle entered with the requested loofa. He stood up in the tub and reached out for it.
“Sit down child!” Edgard boomed. He grabbed the sponge from the startled maid and she ran out.
The boy fell into the tub with a great splash. He did not understand why Edgard was angry.
“Lift your feet,” he said.
Jean set his small, pink feet at the edge of the tub. Edgard began to scrub them with the loofa, but Jean giggled and kicked at him.
“Quit that you insufferable brat!” Edgard dropped the loofa into the water and tugged at his slick black hair in frustration. “Bath time is over…” He handed the boy a soft white towel and pointed towards the mirror. “Not another peep out of you!”
Jean stood and eyed his foreign reflection. Never had he expected to see himself fresh out of the tub and wrapped in a clean towel. He leaned towards the mirror and examined the freckles on his nose. His green eyes crossed. He laughed and crossed them again and again as Edgard held his chin and brushed his hair.
“Psst,” Antoine whispered from the entryway, “I brought an outfit of young Claude’s!”
Edgard went and wrapped his arms around him. “You may have saved me this time, brother,” he said. He took the clothes and looked them over. It was a favorite ensemble of Claude de Beauharnais III, Marie’s older brother, which included black trousers and a black top with a sailor collar. The fabric was of outstanding quality, even after several wears, and the white stocking were unstained. With a sigh, he handed the clothing to the boy, who received it with a mixture of delight and uncertainty. He removed his towel and attempted to put the trousers on.
“No, no, no! Stocking first!” Edgard instructed.
The boy dropped the pants and grabbed the stocking, turning them over in his hands several times before putting them at his feet. He struggled one leg in and nearly tripped. Once they were on, he went through a similar routine with the trousers, hopping on his left foot a few times before pulling them over his waist. The shirt went over his head easily, but fit a little large. He tugged at the collar in distaste. Finally, he stepped into the black leather shoes with a satisfied grin. He had never worn shoes that fit.
“What an improvement!” Antoine praised. “How does it feel to be all cleaned up and in such nice attire?”
“Silly!” The boy squeaked, bouncing on the toes of his new shoes.
♠ ♠ ♠
Sorry about the delay! I was away from home. There should be another chapter tonight!

Thank you for reading. :)