“After that though, things just seemed to change. Once the war was over, I think we all just wondered what the point of it all is. What is the point of all of our morals and rules? That is how I ended up in Paris. We all seemed to drift there. We realized the pointlessness of it all, the naiveté we once had; my fiancé’s friends, my own. We could not live the same way our parents did. The old ways were done. It is time to just indulge and cast off that foolish innocence. We are all awake now.”

“Are you in love, mademoiselle?” d’Avout asked, almost at a whisper.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Your fiancé, do you love him? Have you ever been in love?”

“I…I think I do,” Charlotte replied, her unnerve growing again.

“You are not in love.”

His voice was different. It was no longer just that somber formality. It was laced with something; anger? “If you were in love, you would feel it in your very core, there would be no doubt what it was.

“You talk about loss, but what do you know about loss? Who have you lost, your husband? You hardly knew him. Have you ever watched your family die? Did you see your brother blow up from an artillery barrage? Did you survive only because a German bullet tore through your leg, leaving you writhing on the ground in pain, only able to watch as he was engulfed in flames?”

D’Avout looked at her now, his face showing a hidden rage. His eyes were still blank, but the spiteful sneer he held on his mouth scared Charlotte. Her knuckles squeezed the table with all of their might.

“You talk about loss after the war, but what do you know? After I was injured I was cared for by a woman in Lorraine. Sophia. She tended to my leg, and she helped me accept my brother’s death. I fell in love with her. We married when the war ended.”

Charlotte could not look away from the comte’s face. His gaze seemed to see look through her. All she could do was sit and listen. Were those tears welling up in his eyes?

“We had been married only for three months when the Spanish influenza reached Lorraine. Sophia fell ill, as did her family. I remained in good health, only able to try to ease her pain. Have you ever felt that helpless? No, of course you have not. First her brother died, then her parents. Finally, it was just her. She asked me to be happy, give her a smile, and I could not. She wanted a family, and all I could do was watch her dream erode. Then she was gone, just like that. After a month of pain, she was gone, and I was alone. I still am.

“Do not talk to me about loss. I know your kind, you are all spoiled. You are nothing more than bored fools with no grasp on true tragedy. You have too much money and no idea what to do with it so you fake some wisdom and waste away in debauchery. So do not try and justify your life or lament on what has happened; you have no right to. I hate you and everyone like you.”

“Monsieur le vicomte.”

Charlotte jumped in her seat at the sudden interruption. D’Avout stopped, his scathing words cut off by LaPadite. The sommelier stood at the doorway of the winery, a case of bottles in his hands. His weary face betrayed a distrust as he looked at the seated comte. LaPadite extended the case to d’Avout. “Your order.”

D’Avout closed his eyes, masking his fury once more. He seemed frustrated at being cut off and forced to stop in his attack. He broke his glare away from Charlotte and stood up, cane in hand. He took the case from LaPadite without a word, simply handing him a handful of francs. Adjusting his cane, d’Avout limped away from the table.

LaPadite looked down at Charlotte. “Mademoiselle, are you okay?”

Charlotte nodded weakly. She wrenched her hands off of the table, surprised to find her knuckles white. She felt drained all over, almost in shock over what she had heard. D’Avout’s words had cut to her core. The hate she had seen on his face was horrific, far more terrifying than the dead stare that had fascinated her. What had she found?  Even when Elizabeth returned from the hotel, Charlotte still had no idea what to think.


“Charlotte, are you ready?” Geoffrey asked from the doorway.

Charlotte looked up from her suitcase. She had packed everything up as soon as she returned to the hotel the night before. D’Avout’s words had left her in a state of panic. She had come back to her room unable to sleep. Geoffrey had tried to comfort her, but she just felt dirty, unsettled. She needed to get away, to just get as far from d’Avout and his accusations as possible.

Charlotte closed the suitcase and turned towards Geoffrey. “Yes, let’s go. When does the train get here?”

“We have half an hour. Then we’ll be on our way to Marseille,” he said, walking over to her. He wrapped his arms around her waist, but she walked away. “Charlotte, what’s the matter?”

“It’s nothing, I’m all right. I’m quite all right. Where are the others?”

Geoffrey hesitated, perturbed by her actions. After a pause, he replied, “They are meeting us at the station. Come on, let’s go.”

He grabbed her bag and followed her out the door. Geoffrey paid the bill and thanked their host. They walked out into the square, heading towards the train station on the north end of town. To Charlotte’s surprise, the usual crowd in the marketplace was gone, instead gathering around the old statue in the center of the square. She could make out a figure at the center of the circle, addressing the others, but she could not tell any details.

Geoffrey was similarly intrigued. He took her hand and led her toward the crowd. As they moved inward, pushing past a few onlookers, they could see the man at the center of the crowd. He was dirty, his hands and clothes stained by the soil. He was speaking with an animated voice, speaking out of shock and not worry. As the Englishmen approached, they were able to hear what he was saying.

“…the chateau was abandoned. It was just dust and fading paintings. He was in one of the few habitable rooms. A fire had died out in the hearth, and at least six empty wine bottles were strewn across the floor. And the ring! He had a ring on his finger. I’ve never seen it before. It was a gold wedding band.”

Geoffrey grabbed a nearby onlooker. The man turned towards him, upset at being pulled away from the story.

“That man, who is he?”

“Claude Chirac, a gardener of the area,” the Frenchman replied in a heavy accent.

“Who is he talking about?”

“The vicomte d’Avout.”

“What happened?”

“You don’t know? Chirac found the vicomte this morning. He hung himself.”

Charlotte felt her stomach knot. The words hit her hard. The noise of Chirac’s story faded around her. She felt the urge to run, just to get way. She had to leave Aubellet. She needed an escape. Charlotte tugged at Geoffrey’s sleeve.

“Let’s go,” she said.

“What?” Geoffrey asked, perplexed by her sudden plea.

“We just need to go, I can’t stay here anymore.”

Charlotte did not wait for a response. She would not stay anymore in the shadow of d’Avout’s words or the remnants of his memories. Chirac was describing the site of the corpse, but the words did not reach Charlotte’s ears. She turned and walked away.

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