A countess finally accepts the reality of love, but it seems that it is too late.
Moments Too Late
Dawn… The sunlight had already crept into my room. I opened my eyes, and the first sight that greeted me was a bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley. One moment, I was staring at them, and the next, I cradled it in my arms like a newborn infant. Then I carefully tipped my face to the flowers. Their sweet fragrance filled my nostrils, and for a few minutes, I was beyond the boundaries of reality. Within that timeless moment, I forgot about everything. All that I could perceive was the blissful scent of the lilies that granted welcome numbness; freedom from the brutalities of life.
In the midst of my reverie, a name passed through my head.
My solace was gone. It was then that I noticed the small note attached to the ribbon that held the flowers.
My dearest Lisette,
How long shall you torment me with your rejection? We do not have forever in our hands. So, hear now my plea. Succumb to the emotion springing forth from your heart, and at last, we shall be bound in matrimony! My life’s goal is this. I hope that you shall let it be realized.
With a kiss,
Tears glistened in my eyes as I relived the days of my yesteryears with the constant presence of this man behind me. It tore at my soul like a forbidding scythe that I could never return his love. The warmth I regarded him was merely platonic and nothing more. Why then did he persist? He said he loved me. But I do not believe in love….
The chambermaid came and laced me up into my corset. I hardly noticed the pain that invaded my ribcage as she pulled upon the strings. So lost was I in thought, so lost was I in sorrow.
With the cool demeanor of ladies who lived before me in that somber mansion, I walked down the marble staircase . My right hand rested lazily upon the railings as I continued my descent. The train of my long gown slid stealthily on the steps behind me. When I had reached the bottom of the staircase, I turned stiffly and headed towards the garden.
Love is but a cruel lie on the human race. It is a malevolent joke played by fate on its victims. I, unfortunately, had been one in my younger days. Oh so innocent and unsuspecting.
I neared the doors that led to the garden. I swung the two open and the crisp morning air brushed against my cheek like the hand of a long forgotten lover.
I was once a bright-eyed girl of fifteen, full of expectations and silly notions of romance. I thought that a certain lad with dark amber eyes and smooth black hair would make those dreams into reality. Nicholas, who was then my best friend, had warned me of him. However, I did not listen for Philippe completely swept me off my feet with his witty comments and that searching gaze of his. A gaze that I believed to be saying, “ Are you the one?” In a desperate attempt to soothe what I thought confused him, I completely plunged myself into what I believed to be true, everlasting love. A love that would burn passionately between the two of us as long as we shall live.
Then one day, my illusions finally faded enough to let me see what truly lay behind them. In his eyes was not a look of longing for love but merely a want of the pleasures of the flesh, something he thought to be a sport of some sort. I dared not believe this quick sight of his true self at first. So, I asked him if he would consider marrying me someday and then he smirked and replied, “ It’s been fun with you but I’d rather have free reign in my conquest for women.”
My eyes glittered in rebellion as I watched unseeingly at the scenery around me. I reproached myself for being such a naïve young idiot in the past, and I hated the whole world for inflicting such a sadness upon me. Then, my thoughts drifted yet again…
I had cried so fiercely for my loss as I stared incredulously at Philippe’s face. Someone I once regarded as a divine man seemed to be a devil at that time. Then, with all the strength that I could muster, I slapped him and fled.
As I ran, I eventually wandered into the meadow in between the Solange’s and the Bouvante’s land. I sank gratefully onto the lush green grass and wept feebly. Moments later, I heard the sound of horse hooves. I suddenly sat upright ready to run off if ever Philippe had followed me. But when I looked to the direction of the sound, it turned out to be Nicholas. He dismounted from his saddle and I stood dazedly from where I sat.
He strode over to me. Nicholas stared into my eyes but did not say anything. Instead, he just hugged me then took me home.
My heart broke that day into millions of tiny fragments that could never be mended. That was when I dared to defy the fates for their cruelty; I forgot to love from then on…
Never again would I make the same mistake! Never…
My heart seemed to ache painfully in my chest as I thought the last word. But why? I pondered on this until the time came that I grew infuriated with myself. Why had my heart committed treachery against the rest of my being? Why, why, why? Then, I looked with uncertainty and anger at my hands. Was I--? No, I would never allow it. But still…
For many minutes, I struggled with my conflicting emotions. I was forever in denial until honesty finally triumphed over it.
Then, I collected all my thoughts and pieced them together oh so slowly. My breath caught at my throat. The inevitable had happened. Yes, I was in love. I was in love with Nicholas…Since when?
I had recently turned seventeen, and my mother, Lady Julianna, thought that it was time for me to become a debutante. So, I was made to wear a breathtaking ensemble of watered apple green silk and white Irish lace on the night of my first appearance. After the last touches of rogue were placed on my face, I headed to the staircase. When I had reached the bottom step, I looked up to find my escort rising from his seat near the fireplace.
I watched his hazel eyes light up with expectation, and I wondered who the lad might be.
“ I beg your pardon sir, but I do not recall your name.”
He gave me a small smile that made my heart flutter for a second.
“Surely, you haven’t forgotten me mademoiselle? I have only been gone for two years.”
The handsome man gave an exaggerated sigh and looked helplessly at me. Somehow, he reminded me of someone. The way he spoke…it was so familiar to my ears.
His name came unbidden to my lips, “ Nicholas.”
“ Ah, so you remember.”
He had changed so much from a lad with a lean body to one with rippling muscles. His face was also a tad bit different. It was more ruggedly sculpted.
“ Cherie, I missed you so much while I was in Spain.” He took my hand and kissed it lightly, “ Did you miss me?” Did I miss you? Yes! My heart screamed. Yes! How could I not miss my best friend?
Then I looked up at his face, and my cheeks began to burn at the sight of this god before me; he was so handsome, and he looked at me, as if seeking my favor… Maybe I could fall in love with him… Perhaps, Nicholas was really the one for me.
Then, I remembered that Philippe had also looked at me in that same manner. I would not be fooled again… I gritted my teeth. I would not be fooled again…
With steely eyes, I gazed into his own. Haughtily, I said, “ No, not overmuch. There were many things to distract me while you were away. In fact, I hardly thought of you.” He stiffened suddenly at the unmistaken insult; I could feel his grip tighten on my hand. Then, he dropped it.
In an attempt at teasing, he replied, “ I believe I am offended.” Silence passed for a few seconds, and I could see that what he spoke was the truth despite his seemingly light tone. I stared at him, my lips sealed, for no words came to me.
“Well then,” he began while gazing meaningfully into my eyes. Dropping his voice to a whisper, he continued, “Perhaps I should contrive to make you miss me the next time I leave.”
My heart’s beating suddenly increased, and I was certain that I would swoon at his words. Why, I dared not explain…I couldn’t; I was too scared to venture deep into my emotions. The only explanation that I allowed myself was that I was alarmed at having to hurt him if ever he might consider courting me. But was that really the truth? Deep in the recesses of my soul, I knew it to be false.
Love for Nicholas was blossoming in my heart.
And as days turned into months, and months into years, this love I felt for him grew stronger.
For some reason, my heart seemed to soar amongst the clouds as I came upon this realization. Without a moment’s hesitation, I turned on my heel. Then I ran past the flower beds, past the garden doors and my servants. All seemed like a blur of colors in my sight.
‘I must tell him,’ was all that filled my mind. It was like a chant that threatened to haunt me forever lest I not heed it.
“ Madame! There is a note for you concerning Lord Nicholas. “ Francine, my chambermaid, called from behind me. But I did not care to stop for anything; so, I ignored her calls.
The big oaken door was now before me. The door that would lead me to the outside. Without waiting for the butler to open it for me, I burst out in a flurry of skirts. I rushed down the steps, all the while calling orders for a carriage. The footman hurried away and soon came back with one.
As I sat there inside the carriage, memories suddenly came rushing like waves upon me.
After Nicholas and I had laughed at a joke, I rested my back against the tree behind us. Dusk was beginning to descend upon the land, and I watched the brilliant hues of color splashed across the sky. My hand was itching to hold a paintbrush and to immortalize the scene on a canvas.
“How beautiful…” I said in a reverent whisper.
I could hear my companion’s baritone voice add in agreement, “Yes…”
“Don’t you just wish you could capture it in a painting right now?” I sighed, wistful eyes still raised to the sky.
“I’d rather capture it in a kiss…”
“How silly,” I said, not understanding at first. “One cannot possibly kiss the sky.”
“ I wasn’t talking about the sky, Lisette.”
Suddenly, my gaze riveted to his face, and there I saw a look of a most profound tenderness. I quickly looked away, a crimson flush staining my cheeks. In an attempt to be severe, I looked back at him. Then, in a voice filled with contempt, I raised an accusing index finger. “Really Nicholas, I thought you had manners better than that! You know quite well that you must not say such things.”
He grinned and stared at my flushed face. “Even when I perfectly mean it?”
The carriage had begun to rock in the coachman’s haste. I overlooked such inconvenience as a smile began to tug at my lips. All that mattered was that I would finally be with him! Together we would be bound and become one after 3 years of denial on my part. I could hardly wait.
Finally, the vehicle came to a jarring stop in front of a large estate’s steps. I hurried out and rushed up the stairs towards the heavy doors. A footman stood bewildered behind me.
The butler promptly opened the door and began to speak. I interrupted him while I let myself in, “Off with the formalities, Gaston! I must see Nicholas at once.” I rushed down the hall, my skirts rustling. The butler was at my heels, trying to tell me something. Yet again, I did not listen. Nicholas was all that filled my mind. I finally came upon the doors to his study, and I swung them open.
“Nicholas, I must---“ I stopped abruptly as I looked upon an empty room. I quickly turned around and clutched the collar of Gaston’s uniform.
“Where is he?” I demanded. The butler was too surprised to speak, and in my impatience, I frantically shook him. “Tell me where your master is! Hurry, I must speak to him!”
Gaston’s face contorted into a pained expression as I spoke. With pity in his eyes, he said, “ It is obvious that you have not read the note his mother sent you. Follow me, my lady.”
I could not understand the reason for his behavior, but a sense of disaster was threatening to invade my thoughts. I followed like a marionette behind him, my hands growing sweaty in anxiety.
The butler stopped before the salon doors. Then, he carefully turned the knob and gently ushered me inside.
Madeleine, Nicholas’ sister, arose and turned to where I stood. I could not tear my gaze from her face; it was clearly etched in grief. I could not understand why. Grief for what?
The other woman rushed towards me, her arms outstretched and her eyes misty. She enfolded me in a tight embrace and whispered, “Oh, Lisette, what shall we do?” I could not comprehend what she meant by her words. Then, I gasped in horror. There at the far end of the room was a structure I had not noticed before.
It was a coffin---- and Nicholas was inside.
He was dead.
My knees grew weak, and the whole room seemed to swirl around me. It could not be true! My heart screamed in desperation. Pray, let it not be true!
I released myself from Madeleine’s arms, and I slowly approached the coffin. All the while, I was praying that it was all a terrible nightmare.
I peered inside, and my heart wrenched painfully in my chest. It was him. Nicholas was inside. His eyes closed, his skin a deathly pallor, his lips pale, and his arms clasped atop his stomach. My dear sweet Nicholas… dead and forever gone from my life.
Disbelief was raging inside of me, and in a moment of hysteria, I pounded my right fist against the coffin’s glass.
“Nicholas!” I screamed. “Darling, please awaken. You’re really not dead. It can’t be true. Please, it can’t be!” My shoulders slumped, and I began to slide against the coffin’s side. Tears threatened to fall from my eyes.
It was then I noticed that the lilies that I still clutched in my left hand were wilted. I realized that he had sent them three days ago. Just like me, they seemed to have lost the vitality to live.
“Oh god!” I gasped, as the great sense of loss began to haunt my heart and thoughts. Three days ago… I could have changed everything then… I could have told him…
Ever so slowly, I turned my face to where Madeleine stood and spoke in a quavering voice, “Why?”
With a grim and tear-streaked face, Madeleine answered, “Oh, Lisette, it was terrible! Two nights ago, he had just stepped out of the Opera when suddenly, his nemesis appeared from the corner of the street. The man lifted a pistol and shot Nicholas, straight at the chest.”
I clutched at my bodice, as if I, too, had been shot. The pain that I felt was so great that I could hardly breathe. I ached so much to change everything, to be happy again, but I knew that it was impossible.
Nicholas was dead now, and there was nothing I could do except to say farewell.
I straightened, and I stared at the lilies-of-the-valley for a few seconds. Reverently, I kissed them and placed the bouquet upon his coffin. “ I love you,” I whispered brokenly before I stepped away. I brushed past Madeleine, and still I continued walking, not daring to turn back lest I burst into uncontrollable tears.
Before I knew it, the footman was opening the carriage door for me. Once in the sanctuary of it, I allowed myself to feel the sorrow and loss.
Twice, I had been robbed of love. However, the second time around I was the one to blame. It was I who had put an obstruction in the second chance that life sent me.
I stared out the window at the mansion where Nicholas once reigned. We could have lived there together in happiness.
But I was just moments too late.
Tears began to run down my cheeks.