Rated: E · Short Story · Romance/Love · #1347802
One antique tea set effects the lives and furtunes of two vastly seperate generations
|The messenger ran into the room as Count Henri DeVoilie picked up his fork and prepared to begin lunch. |
“Sire,” Mortimer said out of breath, “The…”
Before he could continue, he was cut to the quick by Count Henri.
“Please Mortimer!” Standing, Count Henri said this with such force that everyone in the room was suddenly at attention and the only sound that could be heard was the low ticking of grandfather clock. “I realize that the entire nation of France has gone mad with fear, but it will not affect this home. Now please, compose yourself and if you have anything to say, please do it in a manner that suits your position.”
Mortimer was still frozen in place by the Count’s words but he only took a second to catch his breath and straighten his ascot. The Count took his seat again.
“My apologies, Sire,” he said, this time in a much more composed manner, “but it is this madness of which I have come to speak to you. I came to deliver a message from the Marquis of the city. There are reports that revolutionaries will be attacking DeVoilie manor this very night. This is not hearsay Sire, but has been confessed to, prior to the actual events, by Victor Arniou and the Marquis is powerless to stop him at risk of his own head.” As Mortimer went on with his recount, Count Henri’s face became pale and the fear, which he had been doing his best to keep at bay, overtook him visibly. Everyone seated at the table saw this and realized that the time had finally come. “The Marquis is sorry that is all he could deliver was a warning, but in his position…”
“Enough.” Said Henri, nervous as well as broken hearted. “At present, I can only see one course of action before us. Please excuse me.” With this, he stood up from his seat and with Mortimer in tow, started for the library.
“Father?” Genevieve spoke up but the Count had no time.
“I am truly sorry, my darling, but I have some matters to deal with which cannot wait. You will all be informed of what action to take at dinner.” With this, he was off to the library.
Within an hour, he was once again at the dining room table and his family were with him.
“As you know, we are in dire straits. Nearly all of the family’s wealth is being held by the crown for political use which means that, at present, we are at a loss. I have arranged a meeting with some business associates at seven o’clock and by nine we will be away from here, destined for the north.”
“May I ask which business associates, that is, if it my place to know?” The Countess Valerie had mastered the manners of her position and would not have asked in mixed company, but now her question was complete acceptable and expected. With a realization that he did not want to worry his wife, he thought about this for a second with a frown upon his mouth and worry upon his forehead, but she was his wife and did deserve to know.
“In dire times, dire action must be taken. I have sent Mortimer to contact Marcus Marcelles. He has assisted the DeVoilies’ in financial matters previously and has been recommended by peers in some rather elite social circles. I will be making arrangements to get a small loan using the antique tea set as collateral.”
Genevieve gasped. “Not the tea set, father!” but as soon as she said this, she realized she was out of place and covered her mouth in shame.
Although in a foul state of affairs, true emotion of any sort from his only daughter always seemed to strike Henri. He could not be mad at her. He could only make his best attempt to comfort her.
“Yes dear, the tea set, but please remember, this will only be temporary. It will be used as collateral and once all of this trouble has passed, it will once again be ours. There is no need to worry.” Even though her father’s words were soft, Genevieve had a sinking feeling in her heart that she would never see the tea set again.
Genevieve was now alone in the attic looking at the tea set, her favorite piece in the family’s collection. Dating back to the old dynasties of China, it had been in the family’s collection since it was been brought back from the crusades. With tears in her eyes, she looked around her at the other relics in the families’ collection. In the attic was everything from paintings and pottery to a small arsenal of antique weaponry, all of which had been gathered through grand exchanges made, not only in high society circles, but royal trades as well.
She was often up in the attic, exploring and looking through the treasures, but she would always return to the tea set. She never took it out of it’s sandlewood case, but quite often she had opened the large silver clasps and lifted the lid to look at the ancient hand painted porcelain. She was also filled with awe at the Asian calligraphy which adorned the inside of the box and would spend hours imagining what it said.
As of now, there was not only a band of revolutionaries, most likely on their way to loot these treasures, but also to take revenge upon the royalty. She did not honestly understand what “taking revenge” actually meant but it was this that worried her father. She thought back over the past few months when he, at the dinner table would slam his fist down and begin his pacing and ranting about why the family’s wealth was in the hands of the King when Louis could not even stop this simple little uprising which was costing himself and the crown so much money and trouble. More than once they had had to go without silks or even sugar because rebels were pillaging incoming commerce along the major roads which led into and out of Paris.
Genevieve was lost in her imagination when her father came up into the attic. When she heard him, she nervously, although carefully closed the lid of the tea set.
“Hello, father.” Walking over to her, he used his handkerchief to dust of an old rocking chair before sitting down.
“And what are you doing up here, my dear?” Her father asked with a warm smile.
“I was just taking a last look at the tea set.”
Count Henri squinted his eyes at her. “Do you really think this will be the last time we see the it?” A sad look took over Genevieve’s face and she lowered her chin to her chest as the tears began to well up once again. “Apparently you do.” said the Count, a little bit concerned. “Well, as of now, our family has no other options, but we will get it back. How can I make you understand this?” Genevieve raised her head to look at him.
“Do you really believe that, Father?” With an honest smile, he reached out and hugged his daughter.
“Apparently, I do.”
“What is the meaning of this?” asked the Count as the rebel himself, Victor Arniou entered the room with a smile, followed closely by Mortimer who had escorted him in, but the meaning was all too clear. Marcus closed his account books and put his hands up in a helpless shrug.
“As you know sir, we are mercenaries and have no loyalties, but Victor has been making quite an impression among, not only the royalty, but among the businessmen.” With this, Marcus gave a small but self satisfied nod, letting the Count know that he thought more of himself than Henri did. “Now call me a bit of a soothsayer, but recently I have been feeling the winds of change and Count, they are not blowing in your direction.”
In a manner more like a pantomime than a gentleman, Victor positioned himself at the opposite end of the room from the Count DeVoilie and, pulling out a chair, sat down and put his feet upon the table. “And I believe that those winds are blowing in mine. Marcus contacted me just after receiving your letter.”
Although Henri had not foreseen this turn of events, being a man of many means, he was prepared for the worst. Rubbing the back of his neck, he sat back down in his seat and leered at the two men. “I suppose I will be losing the tea set then?”
“Oh Count, don’t underestimate yourself.” Victor laughed manically. “You will be losing your head as well.”
Mortimer, who had gone unnoticed, was still in the doorway. Shocked at the identity of the fellow he had just escorted into the house, he saw the Count rubbing his neck. Being the head of the household staff, he had been briefed on a few of Henri’s secretive gestures and although it had been a long time since he had been hired, he still remembered what to do if the Count were to ever use this signal of impending doom. He was not sure if anyone had seen him slip out of the dinning room. Hopefully he would have had enough time before his absence was noticed to get the rest of the family to safety.
His first priority was to rush to the library and scrawl a quick letter documenting the events that had just transpired and naming the villain Victor Arniou. Stamping this with the royal seal, he took both the letter and the signet ring up to the Count’s bed chamber where his wife, two sons and daughter were waiting nervously.
When Mortimer rushed in with his warning, the family realized the worst. The Countess, followed by her to sons and finally Genevieve, were all quickly out the window and moving across the roof to a place in which they would have the easiest descent to the stables. After helping the others, Mortimer was just beginning to lower Genevieve down when Countess Valerie opened the stable door and was met by two armed rebels. Without thinking, Mortimer pulled Genevieve back up onto the roof as her mother and two brothers met a volley of musket fire. He quickly cupped her mouth so as not to let her screams escape.
With just a second's thought, he dragged her to the far end of the roof where they would be closest to the tree line at the north side of the manor. Getting as close to the edge as possible, he looked her squarely in the eyes. “I need you to take this.” With the tears already beginning to stream down her face, he handed her not only the letter and the signet ring but the jewelry box of the Countess. In a hurried whisper he said, “Run for those trees. Run and don’t stop until you reach Belgium.” Pushing her off the edge of the roof and landing quite hard, she was not injured and was off like an arrow for the trees. Within seconds, she was no longer visible through the wood.
They were not a poor family, but her father did have a dream and in her heart, she knew it was her dream as well. As she would perform her daily chores of brushing the horses and polishing the saddles, she would listen, in awe, as her father talked of America, the great land across the sea. “There,” he would go on, “a man could own his own land and turn a franc into a belga without a thought.”
He was not dumb enough to believe the fallacies of "streets paved with gold", but he did believe that a man would not have to break his back pulling stones before he could plow his field. Rachel would wash the dishes thinking of her father coming in to the house in a fine suit instead of returning from the field after sunset, stooped over and dirty from a day which was too long with nothing to show for it.
One day, as she had just finished cleaning the kitchen, her grandmother, who had just brought in enough wood to keep the fires burning throughout the night called Rachel up to her room. “I have something for you, child.”
Rachel was confused. “I don’t need anything.”
Smiling a toothless grin, “Oh, horse feathers. I was going to give it to your mother before she died but now I am going to give it to you and it's not because you need it. I am giving it to you to see what you will do with it.” Rachel paused and thought about her mother. She had died when Rachel was still a child but what memories had survived were sweet and a tear came to her eye.
“Oh, we don’t have time to live in the past.” said her grandmother showing a little of her stubborn side as she wiped the tear from her grandaughter's eye. She went to the corner of her room and reached up into a small crevasse she had made in the thatch. When she returned, she had a small wooden box in her hands.
Opening it, she pulled out an envelope which had apparently been opened and closed many times. “It was a gift from my mother and she got it from hers. I don’t know if the men in the family know of it’s existence, but some secrets are best kept secrets.”
Rachel took the envelope, opened it and took out it’s contents.
“May I sit down?” she asked her grandmother.
“Of course. I think I’ll join you.” Both sitting on the bed, Rachel read through the letter as a sparkle came to her grandmother’s eye.
“It’s about a tea set.” Rachel related, confused about the letter's meaning. “It was stolen from Count DeVoilie over a hundred years ago, before the revolution in France, but what does this have to do with us?” Rachel did not understand.
“And this was your great great grandfather’s.” her grandmother added.
Reaching into the box, she pulled out a large gold ring. Rachel’s eyes widened. Taking it, she watched it glisten in the palm of her hand.
“This is a signet ring,” she said with a question in her voice. She suddenly realized just what her grandmother was saying. “The Count DeVoilie was my grandfather?!” Her grandmother giggled and clapped her hands.
“Great great grandfather, and he certainly was! Now you know,” She quickly became rather serious, “but you must not tell anyone. We had to leave France because…” Rachel interrupted.
“I know. Because this Victor fellow betrayed our family.”
“No, because Victor and his rebels won the war against the crown. It is always the winners who write the history books.” For the first time, her grandmother sounded bitter. Handing her the wooden box it came in, “and now it is yours. You can do with it what you like, but I have been thinking for a long time, with the money we could get for that tea set, you and your father might be able to afford passage to America. Oh hell, with the money you could get for that tea set, you could buy your own boat and sail to America.”
Rachel was suddenly struck by her grandmother’s words. That’s right. She gently opened the wooden box again and returned the letter and ring. “Grandmother? Why are you giving this to me? I mean, why didn’t you ever do anything about this tea set yourself?” Putting a strong old arm around her shoulders, she said “When I got that letter from my mother, I had dreams and visions, but I never had any real reason. I didn’t ever want for anything and we were happy enough. As the years went by, the tea set became more of a legend than a reality, a fool’s quest, you know? Anyway, I have neither the eyes nor the back to go off on adventures, but you…well? You have to make your own choices girl and now that you’re sixteen…”
Rachel nervously knocked upon the door. Although not one of the largest houses on the street, it was still more grand than anything she had experienced in the north. Inside she was trembling. The fact that she had been holding a resentment for Victor Arniou since she first thought about the letter from her grandmother should not be discounted as the reason for this either. The gentleman who opened the door was one of the most handsome men she had ever seen. Although he was not large in stature, he was also not small and with his straight black hair and deep set eyes, he had the look of a leader of men.
The fellow who had opened the door was at a loss for words as well. He was struck by her simple northern beauty and well rounded body. For a second, the two of them just stood there speechless, but eventually the gentleman realized that that it was his obligation to say something. “Uh… hello. I’m afraid that I haven’t had the pleasure.”
Rachel, still half dazed came to her senses. “Uh…yes. Is this the Arnoiu household?”
“Yes it is. I am Charles. My father is in bed at present, is there anything I can do to help you?”
With this, everything suddenly came flooding back to Rachel. “Yes there is. I have some business to discuss with the lord of the manor. My name is Saunters, Rachel Saunter. I realize that you may not recognize this, but you may recognize the name of my grandfather. It was DeVoilie.” A sudden fire came into Charles’ eyes but his mouth was not as quick as his mind. All he could manage to say was an awkward “Oh.”
“I’m sorry but you can’t discuss this with my father as he is ill, I have been managing most of the business affairs. I must admit, I don’t have the abilities of a bank, but my skill with numbers is fair.”
Sitting on the back porch, drinking lemonade and eating cakes, the air was warm and heavy on this beautiful summer day. A flower bed, filled with buzzing bees and glorious scents filled most of the back yard.
“The reason I have come is that I am searching for some lost property.” Charles understoodmost of what she said but for some reason, possibly her perfume or the warmth of the sun upon them could not stop himself from admiring her and this task was eclipsing his ability to exercise his fullest discretion. “Charles?” she asked.
She realized that he was rather taken by her and as any woman would, she was admiring him as well, just more subtly.
“Yes?” Charles snapped out of his trance. “Searching for lost property. Uh… yes. Well, as you can see, we don’t have anything of real value. Most of my forefathers were fans of the wine and I’m afraid that what we have been left with is not all that much. What is it you are searching for?”
Removing the letter from her handbag, she set it on the table and with it, the signet ring. Charles picked up the ring and looked at it, whistling. “This is a royal seal, isn’t it?” Rachel just nodded politely.
“It was the property of Count Henri DeVoilie” When she said this, Charles looked stunned. He set the ring down quickly and picked up the letter as Rachel waited with her hands folded in her lap.
After reading the letter, Charles seemed to understand. Shaking his head, he looked at her. “The villain Victor Arniou?” he asked with a cocked grin, implying that this may not be a universal sentiment.
“Yes.” she said simply, almost smugly.
“Well,” said Charles, taking a deep breath, “it seems we have a difference of opinion. You see, Victor Arniou was a hero. He not only broke the chains which kept out family in poverty, but was one of the greatest forces in leading the revolution against King Louis. He freed all of France.”
Rachel thought for a second. “That may be true, but he also killed my great grandfather and grandmother and stole our property.”
Charles invited her out for a walk along the pathways and side streets which led to the market district. “I’m sorry about this Rachel, but I believe that the tea set you are talking about is in the Louvre.” Rachel did not know what that was. “It’s a museum. It contains art from as far back as anyone can remember and the truth of the matter is, I’m not sure if it is in the art section or the history section.” Rachel smiled, thinking about the possible value of the relic.
“In a museum, eh? Do you know how old it is?”
With this, Charles was quite embarrassed. “I don’t think it is there because of it’s age.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“I think it’s there,” he said, clearing his throat, “because it is a French national treasure, liberated from the tyranny of the crown.”
Rachel was awe struck by this. No matter what he did, Charles could not keep from infuriating her. “Are you telling me…” but before she could continue, he looked at her with eyes revealed that he had just realized his own mistake.
“No, no, no….Shhh.” He said putting a finger over her lips. “I’m not telling you this to make you angry, I’m telling you this because I think it’s the truth. That is how history has played itself out, and I truly am sorry if it breaks your heart, but that’s how it is and I didn’t know the truth would hurt you so badly.”
At this point, Rachel stopped talking. Charles didn’t know what do. He considered ways to repair the relationship, but being a man, he was clueless.
First, he offered to let her do the shopping. This was a mistake. Then he offered to buy her something, but seeing that he did not have all that much money, any offer he could make would sound cheap. There was nothing he could do except simply walk along next to this silent woman and worry about what he had said or done.
After an hour had passed, and they had both returned to the Arniou manor, Rachel spoke, but unfortunately for Charles it was only to say that she would not be staying for dinner. This was unfortunate, you see, because even though he had only met her earlier that day, he was rather taken by her.
She had not known how to deal with her emotions when Charles had told her about the tea set being in a museum. Was it even possible that what was rightfully her property and could make her and her father’s dream come true was in a museum and no one even realized it was hers? She wanted to ask Charles for his advice on the matter, but when she did, he acted like an ass and it didn't help. So she stewed.
When Rachel did speak, everything came back to Charles.
“Wait.” he said. She did not know how to take this. He was off like a shot around the house. Debating whether it would be worth actually waiting for him, she opted to sit but counted the seconds. He was back in a half a minute with an armful of flowers he had just picked from his garden. He was also nursing a bee sting attained while gathering them. “I know today didn’t go well, but if you come back here….oww.” he said looking at the red bump that was already growing larger. “These things really hurt. Um… If you want to come back here tomorrow, maybe I could take you to the Louvre and we could get a chance to see the tea set.”
Taking the flowers, she held them away from her body and shook them vigorously. No bees. “Maybe.” She said, but her eyes gave her away. She would be back, but for now, she had to be gone.
“Next case, Saunter’s plea for return of stolen property.”
The barrister who read the docket was rather surprised when a young woman stood up. “Miss, please. This is a hearing for lost property, not a kitchen.” Although quietly, Rachel asserted herself with enough force and confidence to make herself heard.
“Begging the pardon of the court, but I am Miss Rachel Saunters and I am the one who made the claim.” Whispers darted around the crowd of well dressed gentleman and lawyers who were gathered in a circle to hear the cases. The barrister who had read the docket was at a loss and walked to the head of the circle to convene with the high judge. After a minute's conference, the high judge, peering over his spectacles, looked at the young woman.
“And what property might such a young lady come to the High Court of France to lay claim to?” Holding up a bundle of papers which included the journal of one Victor Arniou, she said, “It is all clearly laid out here, if your honor pleases.”
With this, the high judge waved one of the lawyers closest to her to stand and retrieve the parcel. Once it was brought back to the judge, he quickly untied the bundle and began looking through the papers. Rachel remained standing for the entirety of the process and was not only intently concentrating upon the judges as they looked over the proposal, but could not help but overhear the whispers and speculations which were carrying on all around her. When the high judge would finish with one piece of the parcel, he would pass it to his left and it would be read by the next until it once again reached him. This process went on for roughly a half an hour as Rachel stood and waited patiently.
Once the high judge had finished looking over the last of the information he had been delivered, he looked once again at Rachel. “Your proposal has been thouroughly researched, Miss Saunters. Unfortunately, there seems to be one or two major point which we, as representatives of not only the government, but the people of France, as well, take exception to. First and foremost, I do not think that it would be in the court’s better judgment to release an antique of such value into the hands of a woman, at least one that is unmarried.”
“Maybe I can be of assistance.”
Turning around for the first time, Rachel saw at the back of the crowd, the handsome face of Charles who had just risen to his feet. Nodding to her with a soft smile, he raised his voice above the now almost riotous murmuring which was filling the court room. Raising his voice, “I would ask that the court let it be released into my hands, Charles Arniou, until arrangements can be made that the property can be shared between we two.”
By this time, Charles was slowly walking down the stairs toward the center of the court, using the most regal stature he could manage and holding his hat and coat over his arm, so as not to expose the bandages.
Most of this was lost of Rachel until the judge said to him, “But that would mean that the two of you were to be married. Is this correct?” With this, Rachel’s eyes widened in sudden realization of what Charles was implying.
“Yes! Yes, you honor, it does.” Turning to the aisle where Charles had made his way to a point parallel to her, she began to weep. “Yes, it does. I do.”