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


Chapitre Quatre

Once Edgard had finished preparing himself for supper, he led Jean back out into the foyer, where the other dinner guests were waiting. There was a man, a woman, and two teenaged daughters. “The Potier’s,” Edgard whispered into Jean’s ear, “from the neighboring chateau.”
They looked at him with hungry, brown eyes. “What is your name, boy?” The father asked. He was grey-haired and dressed in black from head to toe.
“Jean,” the boy said, almost inaudibly.
“Jean will also be joining the Beauharnais’s for dinner. He is a new friend of Marie’s.” Edgard stated as he ushered the boy into a chair.
“What a delightful little outfit!” One of the daughters said. She wore a muted pink dress and held a white lace fan. Her hair was a coppery red.
“Yes, delightful.” The other repeated. She was the younger daughter, though she still seemed old and lifeless. Her dress was grey and she wore a large, feathered hat.
Edgard excused himself. He said he was going to go check on the Beauharnais’s and he imagined they would be ready soon. Jean sat awkwardly in his chair, his legs crossed because the Potier’s were doing so. He thought they were intimidating so he looked around at the things in the foyer.
“You like the armor, child?” The father asked.
It took Jean a moment to realize he was talking to him. He nodded his head. “Why is it so small?”
“Because it was made for a child, like you.” He responded with a hearty laugh.
“You mean kids fought in wars?!”
“Now announcing,” Edgard bellowed from the top of the stairs, “the Little Lady, Mademoiselle Marie de Beauharnais!”
Marie appeared next to him, wearing a light blue gown with pink ruffle trim. Her long brown hair was fashioned into tight ringlets and topped with an enormous bow. She held her pose as a tall, thin musician took his place at the piano beside the staircase. He began to play, and she descended the stairs prudently, her small white heels stepping to the rhythm.
“Announcing,” Edgard began again, “Madame and Monsieur Claude de Beauharnais!”
An elegant, fair-skinned woman stood at the top of the stairs with an authoritative-looking man. She wore her hair in a braided crown with red ribbon entwined. He had on a bag-wig with a large green bow. She dressed in a yellow silk gown, he in a vest of white silk with black edging, under a black cloth coat. They waved in a delicate, rehearsed manner and followed their daughter down the stairs, the man leading with a cane.
Jean was unsure of how to behave. He followed cues from the Potier family, who stood to meet Marie and her parents.
“The Potier’s,” Edgard proclaimed, “Louis, Charlotte, Marie, and Madeleine.”
The ladies curtsied and the Louis kissed Marie and Lady Beauharnais’s hands. Jean’s heart began to race.
“And the child, Monsieur Jean.”
Marie offered Jean her hand and he began to blush. He bent down and kissed it, then took her mothers. She giggled.
“Oh he is precious!” The lady applauded.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Jean!” Monsieur Beauharnais said in a thundering voice. He grabbed Jean’s frail hand and shook it confidently.
“Thanks for having me,” He said in a mousy voice.
“Of course, of course! Any friend of our daughters is a friend of ours!” Monsieur Beauharnais assures him.
Jean turned to look at Marie. She stood beside her father silently, her hands folded. “Thanks for inviting me, Marie.”
Her mother clapped her hands together merrily, “I bet you are all starving! Come on now, dinner is ready!” She placed a hand on the center of Jean’s back and guided him.
Jean’s knees went weak when he entered the dining room. Before him was a long dinner table, meant to accommodate up to twenty guests. He was seated on the left side, across from Marie. Madame Fanny sat beside him, with her husband across, and the Potier’s sat next to them.
The table was topped with a white, floral embroidered cloth and a series of lit candles. Each person had a set of silverware with decorative handles, two wine glasses, a cup and saucer, a bowl for soup and another for salad, a small plate for fruits and desserts, and a large plate for the main courses.
But what astonished Jean most was the variety of food. There was a large ham, beef, eggs, a platter of melon, oranges, and lemons, individually made salads with an assortment of toppings, white wine, coffee, biscuits, jars of different jams, and a plate of cakes and chocolates. He took in the mixture of tempting aromas and began to feel dizzy; his stomach rumbled loudly while Lady Fanny prayed.
He sat still behind his full plates and observed the manners of his dinner mates before selecting what he believes to be the proper spoon. Slowly, he attempted to down the soup, scooping the spoon away and not towards himself, then being careful not to slurp. The process was excruciating. His arm felt too feeble to hold the spoon still and his empty stomach was impatient.
Madame Fanny and Monsieur Claude loved to talk. They told Jean about their previous life in Brittany and how Monsieur Claude was gifted the Groslay chateau in recognition of his service in the Navy. They had left their other daughter, Anne, with her new husband. Their son was a count in Vendée. Madame Fanny had previously owned a salon in Brittany and had plans to open one in Paris someday. She was a distinguished writer and Marie planned to follow in her footsteps.
The Potier’s, on the other hand, kept almost completely quiet. They said little about themselves but sometimes the father would give a snooty “yes” in agreement to something Claude or Fanny said. The rest of them seemed to be withdrawn, or simply observing.
But even more unsettling was Marie’s behavior. She was quiet too, only adding small tidbits to her parents’ ramblings. Most of her time was spent staring down at her plates or peeking at Jean.
Jean slowly sipped his wine. He had wanted to soak up every small detail of the Beauharnais boastings, but he was beginning to feel nauseous. He remembered a story his brother told him – one of Gilles de Rais – a nobleman who took poor children off the street, clothed them, fed them, and got them drunk, then killed them. He gulped loudly, his throat feeling smaller.
“Did you enjoy the dinner, Jean?” Madame Fanny questioned with a sincere smile.
He nodded rapidly. Arielle took his empty plate and set a cup of hot, brown liquid in front of him. It looked like coffee, but did not smell like it.
“It is drinking chocolate,” Madame Fanny assured him as she wrapped her feminine hands around her mug, “you will like it! It is very tasty and very good for you!”
Jean grabbed the hot cup and wiggled the liquid around timidly. When he decided it was not poison, he brought the brim to his lips and took a quick sip. All seven of his dinner mates were watching him.
“Well, how was it?”
The boy smiled, showing all of his uneven teeth, and with big, glistening eyes he answered,
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