Chapter 29, Part 1

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At dawn, Basil departed with Rene and the other soldiers, bound for Paris. Simon and Evelyn, along with Marie, set out for the Gisborne estate. It was to be a long journey, fraught with many tears. Marie tried her best to offer comfort, but Evelyn could find little to ease her heartbreak. It was not until they neared Marseilles that she was able to find a measure of consolation.

Seeing the site of her childhood home, perched on the hill in all its stateliness, she pressed her hands to her mouth. She had almost forgotten, until now, how much she loved looking at it. It was difficult to sit still as they approached the house. Simon, riding alongside the carriage, looked at her through the window opening. Seeing her expression, he was pleased by the change in her demeanor.

“How wonderful to see your smile,” he said. “I have missed it.”

She had found little to smile about over the last few days. But now that she was near her family again, there was at last a reason to rejoice. As the carriage came to a stop, she looked at Simon. He seemed to sense her urgency, and he smiled.

“Go to them. Let decorum be forgotten, if only for one day.”

From the window, she could see all of the familiar faces she had grown up knowing. But her family stood out from all the others. Without pausing to make the proper gestures of etiquette, she rushed into the first pair of arms that she could reach, and her eyes filled with tears as her father held her close.

“Oh Papa,” she cried. “I have missed you so.”

Guy held her tightly for a moment, and then he urged her towards her mother. Cassia kissed her cheek, hugging her in a loving embrace. Evelyn shared similar affections with the rest of her family, including Owen, who wore a frown that she wondered about for a moment. But she put the thought aside, too happy to think of gloomy things. She was with her family once again, and when Simon joined them, they were both swept into the house in a gesture of great love and welcome.

*****

All of the women were gathered in the master chamber. Evelyn held her baby brother, while Cassia and Thea were seated on the floor with little Gabriel. Celeste was near them, while Marie and Violette sat nearby, conversing quietly. While they talked, Evelyn listened to the tale that Thea told her, and it was a stunning revelation to hear.

Owen and Lady Isabella had fallen in love. Lady Isabella’s son, Sebastian, was now a page in the Gisborne manor, thanks to Owen’s efforts on his behalf. But the tale was not yet done, and Evie listened intently.

“Isabella was attacked by an assassin, one hired by her husband. God be praised that Owen intervened and thwarted the attempt on her life.”

“Did Owen seek revenge?”

Thea nodded. “It was intent to do so. But as it turned out, his mission was in vain. Gilbert LaCroix was murdered by his mistress.”

Evelyn gasped. “Good God.”

“Isabella is in Spain now, with her relations. William accompanied her there, to serve as her escort. There has been no word from either of them. And Owen has been more unpleasant than ever since her departure.”

Cassia spoke up. “Do not talk meanly of your brother, Thea. Not when he is set to the task of battle. You will speak of him with respect.”

Thea nodded, replying softly. “Yes, Mamma.”

Evelyn looked away, and tried to think of a lighter subject. She had hardly had time to know her youngest brother, and she took joy in holding him now. She held Phillipe upright, letting him stretch his little legs. He was not content to lie on his back or on his belly, nor was he happy to sit on his bottom. As small as he was, and even though he was barely two months old, he seemed determined to raise himself up. He pushed his feet against the tops of Evelyn’s legs, and she smiled at his constant effort.

“Mama, look at how he makes such a valiant attempt to stand. I feel it will not be long before he is taking his first steps.”

Cassia sighed. “He is growing much too quickly already.” Sitting on the floor with Thea, they watched as Gabriel tried to keep his balance while sitting up. Now and then he teetered slightly, but his mother and grandmother were quick to catch him. Evelyn smiled at the sight of them.

“The children will bring us much joy while the men are gone.”

“I am going with your father,” said Cassia.

Evelyn’s eyes grew wide with shock. She and Thea stared at one another. Handing Philippe over to Celeste, Evelyn went to stand by her mother’s side. “You will go with him, Mama? How is that possible?”

Cassia’s words were calm and direct. “The army is making its headquarters at Palais de la Cite. I will go there.”

Thea, looking equally stunned, inquired with an intense but curious look. “Mama, can you do that?”

Cassia reached for Gabriel, picking him up and holding him close. “I will not remain isolated here,” she replied. “I will not be hundreds of miles away from my husband. Celeste and the others will care for the children. But I must be with your Papa. Our remaining years are dwindling, and I will not lose a moment of that time.”

At that moment, Evelyn worshipped her mother more than ever before. As Gabriel’s nurse took him away for a changing, Evelyn knelt down beside her mother, hugging her tightly. If her mother was so determined, she saw no reason why she could not be too.

“Oh Mama,” she cried. “I must accompany you. I must. Please do not deny me.”

Thea grew excited, coming close to join them. “I will go as well. I will not leave Lucien.”

Cassia kissed Thea’s cheek. She took a hand of each daughter, holding them firmly. As she rose to her feet, Evelyn and Thea stood with her. Cassia’s expression grew quite serious.

“I will not deny you, my darlings. Either of you. I understand your desire to be with your husbands. But you must know this. This is not a journey of leisure. Even in the relative safety of a castle, you will see things that will shock and sicken you.”

Thea nodded. “Yes, Mama. We are aware of what awaits.”

“You will perhaps be witness to the happenings of death,” said Cassia. “Perhaps, even the death of those you love.”

Evelyn looked down, speaking quietly and softly. “I know, Mama. But if God chooses to take those that I love, I would want to know that I spent every last moment with them. I could not bear to learn of their loss after weeks, perhaps even months, of remaining here with my worries.”

“Quite right,” Thea replied. “I must be with Lucien, even should the worst come to pass.”

Cassia smiled, softly cupping each of their faces. “My brave darlings.” She embraced them both, kissing them on their foreheads. She rose to her feet, eyeing her daughters with a look of great purpose. “We have much work to be done,” she said. “And firstly, we must inform our men that they will not journey to Paris on their own.”

“Papa does not yet know?”

From down below, the trumpet sounded for supper. Cassia squeezed Evelyn’s hand. “He will know it now. Come.”

Evelyn and Thea looked at one another, and they both felt a twinge of fear at the thought of what her father would say. Evelyn wondered what Simon would think of this. But there was little time to ponder it, as Cassia ushered them both from the room.

*****

“This is nonsense,” said Guy, walking along the length of the dining table. His response was as expected. He was angry, of course. But Evelyn knew that her mother’s response would be just as strong.

“It is how matters will be,” Cassia replied. “My mind is set.”

Evelyn stood beside her mother, along with Thea and their maids. Together, they were a formidable presence in the room, and as he had done so many times before, Guy left without saying a word. Evelyn saw the way the other men looked at them, especially at Cassia. Would they dare to challenge the lady of the house?

It became quite clear that they would not. Their silence said so. Evelyn felt a strange sense of triumph as her mother declared...

“Come, ladies. We must prepare for the journey.”

Evelyn, Thea, and the others followed behind her, leaving the men behind in stunned silence.

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