Prologue Promo on Eat Sleep Write
*This originally posted here, but I will post it below as well.
Upon Your Return - Prologue by Marie Lavender
September 11, 2013 by Adam
Upon Your Return - Prologue by Marie Lavender
September 11, 2013 by Adam
November 8, 1853
Fara Bellamont stepped away from the bay window overlooking the harbor. She didn't want to move; she would miss her home too much. The view of the waves rocking against the hulls of the ships in the harbor had calmed her restless soul on many sleepless nights. There was something about the greenish hue of the ocean and its gentle sway that drew her to it. It was a sight she welcomed, but it was not exactly in her blood. Her parents' home was but a carriage ride away from port. Her father was a businessman who had acquired many connections with the trades' captains.
Even the sea's lullaby could not calm the uncertain waters ahead. With a heavy sigh, she crossed the room to the trunk in the middle of her chamber. She lifted the lid and kneeled, gently probing the yards of soft, blue velvet. It was her mother's gown from the night her parents had met. They had been united by her mother’s season celebration in Marseille. A woman's first introduction into society was not supposed to result in a love match, only certain options. A potential husband would have come in time when her mother had been to numerous parties and such. But, Andre Bellamont had been the luckiest suitor in the crowd. Fara had heard the story many times. Her parents often reflected on it, and she herself tended to beg them to tell her how they'd met time and time again. Nothing could have prevented their union. They had fallen in love despite her grandparents' insistence that Annabelle D'Aubigne was too young to be tied down.
Fara's throat tightened with emotion as she touched the portrait of her parents, which was rolled securely for safe storage. A sense of loss overcame her. It seemed like a lifetime ago when they had left her in the care of Rosalie, her nursemaid, so that her father could finish a business agreement. Obligation had required him to travel overseas and her mother refused to be left behind.
Though she loved them both dearly, she often wondered what might have happened if her mother had decided to stay at home. Perhaps Turkish pirates would not have overtaken the ship. Perhaps Andre and Annabelle would still be alive. Squeezing her eyes shut, her shoulders shook silently with grief. She clenched her jaw on the ache of tears. No, she could not allow herself to accept it yet. There was still much to be done.
Glancing up, she caught her reflection in the mirror propped up against a wall. Wearing a pure white muslin gown, she looked like little more than a limp waif in laced-up boots. Nearly the ripe age of nine, she wished she was much older. At least old enough to object to her parents' silly will. Or old enough to tear down the pale sheets enveloping the furniture in the house. It looked like a place for ghosts, not lively people. The house was dead, empty, much like her heart.
Now she was to prepare for a new life, transported to a stranger's home where her days would pass slowly, one just as grim as the next, she feared. She had heard rumors of her uncle's disposition. She had never met him face to face, but her parents had not wanted her to be around him.
She remembered one evening when she was supposed to be in bed and she heard raised voices downstairs. Fara had crept out of her room, careful to avoid disturbing her nursemaid, and kneeled at the posts on the balcony.
Her father shook his head. “He is family.”
“So he is. But, I will not have him within vicinity of our daughter.” This came from her mother, still as beautiful as ever in a pale blue gown.
“And why not?”
“You see the way he has treated me. He obviously does not like women. How can we know he won't treat Fara the same?”
Papa muttered something incoherent. “He is my brother. I cannot think he would shun her.”
“Did I say that? But, he is a harsh man, love. Not the sort of man you would want around your child.”
He nodded. “Perhaps you're right. In any case, it hardly matters. We live here in Marseille and he is in La Rochelle. And he could hardly wish to visit.” He sighed. “But, if anything were to happen to us, who do you imagine would care for her?”
“Lina has her own life. Besides, society would hardly accept that.”
“She will be married soon. Why not? Perhaps her husband would be all right with that sort of arrangement.”
“It is hardly likely. It makes sense to leave her to Michel.”
Her mother clenched her fists. “Not whilst I am living will I expose her to that wretched man.” Then she stormed out of the room.
Papa stared after her. “Chére, wait!” And he followed her mother shortly.
Fara rose slowly, frowning, and then went back to her bedroom.
The scene had made little sense to her then, but she wondered if her mother's claims were at all true. Could it be possible? Had her parents kept her away from her uncle for a reason? Because he did not like children?
Fara shuddered. She did not wish to live with such a man.
“Mademoiselle!” Rosalie rushed into the room now, fussing over Fara's auburn tresses and straightening her gown. “We must ready you for the trip.”
“When is he coming?”
“Monsieur Bellamont will be here shortly.”
“He has traveled so far.”
“You are family though.”
“Does that matter to someone like him?”
Rosalie frowned. “You must not say those things in public. Someone will hear you and believe you are not a lady.”
“Am I, Rosalie?”
Her nursemaid smiled a slow smile. “You will be one day, Fara.” She kneeled before her young charge and re-laced her boots. “Come. You must not keep your uncle waiting.”
“Is he as bad as they say?”
“Hush. All will be better soon. I promise.” She began to usher her out of the room.
“Wait!” Fara sidestepped Rosalie and ran to the bay window, taking in the view she was sure she'd never see again. She grabbed a gold locket and chain from a nearby table, and then joined Rosalie at the door. As they trekked down the stairs, her breath caught in her throat. At the balcony landing, she could see a gentleman dressed in a dark coat and trousers. “Monsieur,” she greeted him and curtsied.
A grave expression settled over his face. “You must be Fara. I am your uncle, Michel de Bellamont. You will be living with me now.”
Fara hesitated to meet him on the floor below. A nervous ache grew in the pit of her stomach. She'd been led to believe that her uncle was not a man who gave over to emotions. He was much like the stuffy gentlemen her father brought to dinner at times. She was overcome with a sense of dread.
“He's your uncle,” Rosalie whispered, urging her forward.
She reluctantly went down the last few steps and came to stand before Michel de Bellamont. He seemed to tower over her. Uneasy, she shifted her feet.
Raising one eyebrow, he studied her. “You look like your mother.”
Fara felt the beginnings of a smile creep across her face for the first time that day, and the thought that she might truly resemble her mother brought tears to her eyes. “Thank you.”
“That was not a compliment.” He turned on his heel and left the house, calling over his shoulder, “Hurry along now. I have a business meeting this afternoon.”
She sighed deeply, her heart heavier than before. Perhaps the man would grow accustomed to her. Would he behave differently in that case? She wasn't sure he would. She just knew it was going to be a long day and she wanted to be much older so she could decide where she was to live.
* * * *
It had been a long ride to La Rochelle. Her uncle hadn't said much to her. He simply sat across from her, absorbed in a pile of business documents. Rosalie was not allowed to ride with them in the carriage; she'd had to come separately. Fara's uncle had made it plain that her nursemaid's station was completely different from her own. So she would sit alone in the carriage with him, bored out of her wits.
He was not a lively man, not like her father. At least Papa had spoken to her. Her father had been protective and careful to remind her of her position in life, yet he had still made the time to appear interested in her activities, whether she helped her mother with errands in the afternoon or received lessons from a tutor.
Her uncle, though, was a very quiet man. At the same time, she sensed that he was not too friendly when pushed. She was wary to appear curious about her life with him later on. She remembered how hard his face had seemed when she greeted him for the first time. Was he really as harsh as her mother had thought? She began to wonder if he would treat her as family or simply tolerate her. The man did not seem affected by anything. She wondered if there was even a heart beneath his suit jacket. But, perhaps he was more of an intellectual. She had heard of men like that.
Her father had commented about some gentlemen he had done business with once. They were scholars and taught at the university in Paris. After they had left the house and she had been standing behind him, he turned to her and claimed they were odd men, much like pieces of furniture. You could throw a valise at them and they'd never feel it. She'd giggled at the thought of people that tense.
But now, as she glanced at her uncle from beneath her eyelashes, she considered the possibility that he was just as unmoved by all that surrounded him. She frowned. It was hard to understand how anyone, even some of the dull gentlemen she'd met through her father's business liaisons, could be that detached from everything. Her uncle was a simple gentleman, dressed in a waistcoat and slacks and groomed well. His age was beginning to show; the once completely black hair had begun to gray slightly. She imagined he was a bit older than her father. Papa had told her that some men were so laden with responsibility that they could not enjoy life's pleasures. Was her uncle that way?
What was it that made him different from everyone else? Had he never felt pain, never broken a bone as a child or gone off to war as a young man? Had he never looked across the room at a soiree and seen the most beautiful young lady and hadn't he wanted to dance with her, perhaps even marry her? According to the servants, he was not married. And he was a very important businessman. It seemed to her that he'd felt none of the things that most people did. Did he not dream of those things? He was a serious man, the sort she was not at all accustomed to. Papa had been a businessman as well, but he had always had time for her. He knew how to laugh. She wondered if her uncle ever did.
Michel de Bellamont shifted his feet and cleared his throat. His gaze lingered on her face for a moment. “Perhaps you should rest. It is a long ride.”
She nodded absently, but noticed his eyes. They were a harsh shade of brown, dull and void of life. Whenever he looked at her, he wasn't looking. It was as if he stared right through her to a place she could not see.
For the most part, he seemed preoccupied with his business dealings. His very lack of joy in the world made her young heart sink like an anchor.
She knew as clear as day that she would never see her uncle smile. And suddenly, she knew why she had never been told about her father's brother. Not only did he dislike children, it seemed he hated life as well. How could someone live like that, every day despising the pride and excitement that everyone else felt?
Fara had been born into a loving world, a place where duty was only a side note and laughter made the tough times better. Again, the dread seeped into her belly. She did not wish to enter her uncle's world if it was a cold and lifeless place.
With a sigh, she knew she was powerless. An eight year old girl could do nothing in this world run by adults. According to her parents' will, she was to be placed in his care. It was so unfair. She would have to go to La Rochelle; she would have to call it home.
The carriage bounced a little as it went up a hill. Fara glanced out the window for the first time. The harbor was still there, the sea a dizzying crash of waves. Perhaps one day her restless spirit would subside and she would no longer need the sea to calm her. She would not feel the pull of the ocean, encouraging her into its peaceful cadence. The carriage veered off, moving further away from that vista and she could not help the yearning she felt to be out there, somehow united with her parents once more. But, it was not to be.
She tore her eyes away from the sight, sullen with a heavy, sinking feeling in her chest. “Monsieur…” she cleared her throat and began again. “Oncle?”
He lifted his head, his gaze slow to focus, like he'd never heard a child speak to him and it was somehow puzzling. “What is it?”
His irritability did not help her wave of grief. “What will I do once we are in La Rochelle, once I am settled?”
His eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”
“At home, I helped my mother with the duties of the household. My father had also hired a tutor near the end…” She blinked away her tears. If he was as harsh as she thought, emotions would be seen as a weakness.
“Oh, well, of course you will be educated. I have sent payments to an abbey in Burgundy.”
“An abbey?” She didn’t understand.
“You will be trained in your proper station. The nuns there know how to prepare young ladies for the future.”
“You're sending me to live in a convent?” She gasped. She had heard of the girls' schools. They had all been moved to the nunneries. Rosalie had informed her that it was a possibility, a fate she might be forced to endure. Most parents hired tutors, taught their children themselves, or settled for the latter. She had never dreamed she'd live out her days in a convent though.
He frowned. “For a while. Until they feel you are ready. Then, when time has passed, your season will begin. And then, I will find you a suitor.”
Already he was speaking of marriage? That was so many years down the road! “I'm only eight!” she cried.
“You will remember your position, Fara,” he lowered his voice by degrees.
She swallowed hard. “Oui, oncle.”
* * * *
The morning sun streamed through the doors of her new room. Fara hesitantly lifted her eyelids to the light of the day. White, nearly transparent curtains enveloped the bed posts, hanging around her like a cocoon. Caught off guard by a sudden chill in the room, she pulled the bedclothes closer to her chest.
It would be hard to live a different life than she was used to. In a few days’ time, she would travel to the abbey. She should not be all that surprised. With what she had gathered about her uncle, it was no wonder that he wanted her out of his hair as soon as possible. This was his chance to dispense with obligation, by letting someone else tend to her needs.
However, she was not too certain that the nuns would know what she needed. Her parents could not be replaced. But, Fara missed her mother's easy smile and the way she would casually ruffle her hair in an affectionate manner. She yearned for her father to pick her up in his arms and hold her to his hip while he laughed at her stories. Her eyes closed on the thought. Some things she would have to learn to live without. She could not forget what her uncle had said after she had spoken out to him in the carriage.
“Your father, it seems, was very lenient with you. He was always different. I did not imagine that he would be lax with conventions, however. You have not been instructed of your place. You will learn it in time.”
Her uncle was wrong. She had a tendency to speak before thinking, but that did not mean her father had not taught her in the right way. She was sure her parents had done nothing wrong. They had loved her. It had seemed enough then. Sighing heavily, Fara slid off of the mattress and landed softly on the floor in her bare feet. She picked up the dressing gown which lay near the bed, gathered it around her, and pulled the string tight. At the basin, she splashed water on her face and toweled it dry. She finished her morning ritual by dragging a brush through her unruly length of auburn curls. Then, she reached over and pulled the cord.
Within a few minutes, a maid entered demurely. It was not Rosalie. “Mademoiselle?”
She tried to hide her disappointment that her nursemaid had not appeared. “I wish a gown please.”
“Of course. Your uncle is expecting you at the breakfast table.” The maid, an average-sized woman with plain features and brown hair shoved beneath a white cap, shuffled around and removed a crimson colored dress from a set of drawers. She began to shake out the wrinkles.
“Oh? I thought perhaps he would have business to tend to.”
“Usually he appears at breakfast, but rarely for dinner unless he does not have plans.”
“I see.” Fara swallowed back the dread of having to appear before her uncle again. Averting her thoughts, she watched the maid working. “What is your name?”
“Marie, at your service, Mademoiselle.”
She smiled pleasantly and took the woman's hand. “It is good to meet you, Marie.”
The maid blushed and busied herself with helping Fara into the gown.
When she was prepared for breakfast, Fara thanked Marie and left the room. As she ascended the stairs, a chill ran over her arms, dousing them with goose bumps. Her uncle was not a terrible man, she supposed, only difficult to approach. She doubted they would ever be close.
When she rounded the corner and came to the door of the dining room, her hand rested on the knob, lingering on its cold metal. Her uncle would be her sole caretaker now. She was his responsibility until one day when he would relinquish her to another man. The very thought filled her with terror.
Why did they have to die? Why couldn't her life go back to the way it was?
She shook her head. There was no use lamenting things she could not change.
She would never forget her parents. But, perhaps she could learn to love her uncle in time. And he might feel the same in return one day.
Her heart clenched on the hope of future happiness and she turned the knob, and then stepped into the room. She sat down with the assistance of a butler and glanced across the table at her uncle. He was reading a newspaper. When he glanced up, she thought she saw surprise in his eyes.
“Good morning, Fara.”
Her heart soared. “Good morning, oncle.”