Rene looked around at the collection of stone crosses and grave markers. Louis stood just behind him, and after a long silence, he spoke quietly.
“They all departed this world peacefully. And Papa had but one regret...that he did not live to mend the rift with you.”
Rene swallowed a lump in his throat. “So he no longer hated me, then?” His eyes were fixed on his father’s marker. It was weather-beaten and faded...a painful reminder of the passage of time. Louis came to his side.
“His anger seemed to fade with time. And when Mama died, she begged him to make peace with you, even if only in spirit. When his last words were spoken, your name was upon his lips.”
With a nod, Rene looked skyward. The clouds parted, revealing a patch of azure blue sky. In his sadness, he felt a strange sense of peace. He sighed.
“I am content, then. And I shall see them again...and Gustave as well, in the life to come.” His eyes lingered on the graves for a few moments more. Then he turned away, slowly returning to the house with Louis at his side.
He spent the entire day with Louis, talking of things both past and present. The end of the day found them sitting together before a blazing fire, dining and drinking in a leisurely fashion. The wine helped to ease the mood, lessening the sadness they both felt. Rene leaned his head back, letting out a deep sigh. His thoughts turned away from the loss of his family. He had come here with the intention of finding peace. But that intention, true as it was, had not been born on its own. He sighed...his heart quickening its beats as he thought of the person who had, unknowingly, set him on this course of redemption. He spoke partly to his brother, and partly to himself.
“I have fallen in love, Louis.”
Louis sounded amused in his reply. “You? In love?”
Rene raised his head. He looked at Louis, and saw the expression of surprise on his brother’s face. “Is it an impossible notion?” he asked.
Louis shrugged. “In all honesty, I cannot say. You have been away for so long. I remember a spoiled boy who found delight in tormenting the opposite sex.” He poured himself another glass of wine, and Rene returned his head to its relaxed position.
“That boy grew to be a man,” he replied. “One who found much pleasure in the company of women. Their beauty...their generosity, when given proper attention. All have allowed me to survive in this difficult world.”
“And suddenly you have found one who suits you?”
A sound of wonder came to Rene’s voice. “Oh Louis, if you could only see her. Her beauty radiates from within, complimenting a face and figure blessed by heaven. And her voice! I wish you could hear her speak as she does, with the sweetest of tones.
There was a smile on his brother’s face. Rene knew it was there without seeing it.
“Is she yours to have?” Louis asked.
His moment of joy, brought by thoughts of Evelyn, was dashed when he was faced with the facts of the matter. His reply was grim.
“She is promised to another.”
A moment of silence passed between them. And then Louis asked, more of a statement than a question, “But you would pursue her, despite her being the betrothed of another?”
Rene lifted his head. His eyes shined with determination as he looked at Louis, who raised an eyebrow in curiosity at his brother’s sudden excitement. Rene’s expression bordered on intensity.
“Her betrothed is not worthy of her. She is warm and vivacious. He is cold as ice...without humor and without character. The pompous bastard even threatened my life on one occasion.”
“And should I guess his reason for threatening violence? Perhaps it had something to do with your feelings for his lady?”
Rene did not answer, and Louis scoffed. “What can you expect when you covet another man’s property? You always were a selfish cad, forever wanting that which did not belong to you.”
Rene rose up in defense of himself, folding his arms. “Such as?” he demanded. And Louis was direct with his answer.
“Gustave’s collection of tin soldiers. You misplaced your own, and attempted to steal his.”
With a wave of his hand, Rene dismissed the accusation. “I was six years of age, you fool.”
“And what of Grandfather’s amulet?” Louis reminded him. “The one he bequeathed to me upon his death? You attempted to take it for your own and I corrected you with a black eye.”
He seemed amused by the memory, but Rene could find no delight in such useless reminders of his past behavior.
“Those are childish incidents. They cannot be compared to matters of the here and now. My feelings for Evelyn are genuine and most noble. I have never known such a tenderness of the heart.”
Growing frustrated by his brother’s seeming lack of support, Rene filled his cup and drank deeply of the wine, wishing to ease his displeasure. He was surprised when Louis came back with an inquiry that was not at all droll...but rather, quite serious.
“Does your lady return your love?”
The question doused any anger he had started to feel. A deep sense of sadness filled him, and it colored his words as he answered.
“She has spurned me. And the fault is mine.” He let out a ragged breath, and was thankful that Louis was silent, perhaps allowing him time to tell his tale of woe. He wished to speak of it. And yet, there was too much to say all at once.
“I will not go into details tonight,” he replied. “The story is much too long. I will only say that I was not truthful with her, and it has cost me dearly.” He hung his head, thinking of the way Evelyn had looked at him...her disappointment and disgust, as if she thought him to be the lowest creature that crawled. He could almost feel the sting of the blow she had made to his cheek.
Louis broke the silence, his voice calm and almost fatherly in its way.
“To be quite frank, she is not yours to have or lose.” He stood up, and coming to Rene’s side, he gave him a slap on the back. “You had best forget her, or the cost may be more dear than you realize.”
As he walked away, Rene raised his head. His eyes were filled with a determined look.
I cannot forget her, He thought. I will not forget her.