Colette stood at the window unable to sleep. She turned back to look at her husband. He lay in the large guestroom bed, snoring lightly. Sometimes, he kept her up, but tonight that wasn’t the case.
She turned back to the window and focused on their little tiny spot where they were supposed to build their even smaller manor. She shook her head. Why did she even listen to him? Better yet, why did she even marry him?
Well, she would put a stop to this marriage quickly. All she wanted from that mud pit was what she buried underneath the ground right after Nicole’s death.
Those things belonged to her, not Auguste. Well, everything but the portrait. That was Auguste’s, but it wasn’t the portrait she was after. It was what was in the back of it that she wanted. Colette had placed some of Auguste’s ten gold coins spread out over the back of the portrait. She had placed them there after Auguste put the painting in the root cellar. Auguste had been saving them for Danielle. Well she was just as entitled to the inheritance as Danielle was. It belonged to her, not Nicole. They were to be married, she thought trying not to cry.
The minute that she brought him to see Nicole, that was minute that ended their friendship. It was love at first sight. Nicole and Auguste ran off and married, never giving a second thought to her feelings.
And so she thought she finally had her chance when Nicole died in childbirth. What goes around comes around, she thought and waited for Auguste to confide in her as he had always done before his marriage.
But he never came. So she had found peace with his brother, Antoine. He was engaged to be married and Nicole’s sister, Dominique and the affair was over before it began. She did marry eventually, a loveless marriage to one Count Emil du Lac, an elderly man twice her age. The marriage produced a son, Jean Claude du Lac.
She ran into Antoine last year in Paris. Her late husband left her wealthy, but she lost it all in bad investments and gambling. Antoine had remembered her and confided in her that she had passed away the same way Nicole had, in childbirth.
That marriage produced a daughter, Monique, who was growing every day to look like her cousin, Danielle.
He needed a mother for her daughter and she needed money and father for her son and so they agreed to marry under those conditions. And besides, Antoine told her, he loved her, had always loved her.
Well, what did that lovesick fool know? He wanted to patch things up and become friends with Auguste again, but she couldn’t do it. She had gone through too much pain and suffering at his hands. Tomorrow night she would rip open the painting and by morning she would be long gone and Antoine would have to fend for himself.
And his brother Antoine always willing to put the past behind him.
Well, she wasn’t about to. She was going to get whatever belonged to her. She would pay him back for the way he treated her.
It was a little past midnight when Danielle and Gustave left the manor. It was easier to sneak out when everyone else was asleep.
“We’ve got to get to the castle,” Danielle kept repeating as she picked Gustave up from the spot where he fell.
“How do you know that Henry is awake?” Gustave asked. “How do you know you’ll even get in the castle to see him.”
Danielle smiled. “I’ve done this before, Gustave. Stop worrying so much.”
They didn’t have to run very far. Henry was standing by the mud hole with his cousin Francois and his best friend, fourteen year old Laurent. They had just finished hauling up the last of the mud hole treasures.
“It looks like a painting,” Danielle said as she walked over to where it lay on the ground.
Henry looked up and smiled. “Danielle, what are you doing here?”
Danielle looked at him. “I wanted to see you, Henry. I wanted to tell you something.”
They both looked at each other not saying anything until Laurent interuppted. “Henry, what do with this painting?”
“Well,” Gustave said, “I can take it to my studio. We can clean it up there.”
“How will we get it there?” Francois asked.
“Get on the back of my horse, Gustave,” Laurent said, “hold the painting and tell me how to get there.”
Francois jumped on his horse and Danielle climbed on the back of Henry’s horse. They rode off into the early morning toward Gustave’s studio.
About an hour later, when the bells in the tower of St. Etienne’s tolled one, Colette walked over to the window and looked out at the spot where they were to build their manor.
They brought the painting into the studio, into the room in back where Gustave kept most of the ones that he was working on. The bells chimed three when the Henry finally brought Danielle back to the manor. Henry jumped first, then Danielle.
“Well,” he said, “we’re here.”
“I don’t want to go in just yet,” Danielle said.
“You know,” Henry said, smiling. “This is the latest any of us have stayed out.”
Danielle looked at him. “That’s true. Laurent brought Gustave back hours ago and we have to wake up in a few hours.”
Henry nodded. “Yes, you’re right. Our tutors will be arriving.” He looked at her. “You are sure no one saw you leave the manor?”
“Yes, everyone was asleep when I walked out with Gustave. What about you?”
Henry smiled. “We left early, the three of us, when the bells chimed nine.” He shrugged. “My curiosity got the best of me. I couldn’t stand it anymore, Danielle. We finally finished the minute you showed up. I wonder what the painting is.”
“We’ll find out soon enough,” Danielle said, “Gustave will begin work on it tomorrow morning.”
“This morning, you mean,” Henry laughed. “Listen, I want you to do something for me.” He pulled out something from his pocket. “Take this, Danielle. It belonged to my grandmother.” He reached out and put it into her open palm. It was a beautiful brooch in the shape of a butterfly. “It was her favorite. Keep it safe for me always.”
Danielle looked down at it in wonder. “It’s beautiful,” she smiled, “look how it gleams and sparkles.” She looked up at him. “I’ll wear it tomorrow when we see each other. And, yes, I will keep it safe.”
Henry smiled. He couldn’t understand why he felt so happy. He kissed her on the cheek again. “Listen, we’d better get going. We are out really late. My father when and if he finds out…”
“Go,” Danielle said, “I will see you tomorrow.”
“Good night, Danielle.” Henry called out.
“Good night, Henry,” she answered. She turned and walked towards the entrance.
Henry watched her as if he were in a trance. As soon as the door shut behind her, he climbed up on his horse and made for the castle.
[ Edited by susan on 2002/6/5 2:53:04 ]