Marguerite finds an ally in Henri’s family, though their stay is brief. Henri, Louis and her set off for Nice to stay at the villa, in the hope that they have seen the last of Alex and Rachelle, though Henri’s stay is short lived and he returns home. Life is simple, yet complicated with Louis continually going out at night and sometimes never returning until morning.
He asks Marguerite to marry him, to make the scam legal to which she consents, finding the wedding night something different to what she had ever imagined. His health failing, Louis continues with his nocturnal liaisons, unheeding of Marguerite’s pleas to stop and rest. The sudden appearance of Alex throws their lives into disarray again and Louis sends Marguerite back to Henri’s telling her he will join her as soon as possible. Henri rides back to Nice to warn Alex off and bring Louis back but is met with a macabre discovery.
Henri offers Marguerite an ultimatum with everything she could ever want, but his mother warns her, the son is like the father and she must decide what course she must set. Henri’s diplomatic postings keep him busy and at times absent from the home, but as the years move on and the children grow, Marguerite accompanies him, first to the Americas, then China and a return to Saigon. Here the past catches up with Marguerite, but with a surprising twist, leaving Henri to believe his wife is beyond reproach, and their lives are entwined, as one.
The large dining table was set for five, and the middle-aged couple waiting at the table watched as we entered, Henri seating himself beside his mother, and Louis and I took our seats opposite, while his father sat at the head of the table. They appeared to be a regal couple, though I felt the mother was much younger than the father. It was my first meeting with the Marquis and Marchioness of Vauclose, and I felt nervous and humble, though they put me at ease and neither stood on ceremony.
“Mama, Papa, you both know, Louis. This is his beautiful wife, Marguerite,” Henri announced, bringing only a welcoming reaction from them both.
I assumed Henri had forewarned them both or at least given them some excuse as to why we were here. They were both pleasant people, and asked questions of us both, mainly about family, and our lives to this point, though they knew much about Louis. They were most intrigued by my travels, and life on the plantation in Indo-China, a place neither had been. It seemed they had been to most other places of interest in the world, including the Americas, on which I had many questions, for it was another place I had read much about, and did, I told them, intend to visit one day.
In all, the luncheon lasted well into the afternoon and was only ended when Henri’s father declared it was his rest time and had to leave, Henri’s mother going with him. It was then that Henri informed us his father was unwell and needed to rest much of the time, though physically, he looked fit and well, but apparently tired easily.
After lunch, Henri offered to show us around the estate, but Louis declined, saying he had seen everything before, and returned to our room, but I accepted the offer, and the two of us went through to the stables, where Henri had some horses saddled, and we went riding. It was a magnificent estate, most of which could not be seen from the Chateau and where they grew many different crops. Most of them were sold to the local markets, along with a wine that was produced from a small vineyard that was looked after by the small number of farm workers, and families, who lived in small cottages on the estate. Numerous streams winding through the estate supplied cool clean water to the workers, and the crops, ensuring a constant supply and good harvest.
Henri was well known amongst the workers, and it seemed, well-liked. We stopped on a rise that overlooked much of the estate, giving Henri a chance to talk.
“You know, this will be mine someday, and I’ve often wondered how I would ever get the time to look after such a place.”
“You’d have to make time.”
“Easy enough to say, but I’m in the diplomatic service—a job I enjoy. I get to travel and see the world and get paid for it,” he said proudly.
“That’s why you're never home?”
“That’s part of the reason. My mother wants to know why you’re married to Louis. My father’s just confused.”
“You know I’m not married, so why didn’t you tell her?”
“And spoil the deception. Fine friend I’d be.”
“Are they uncomfortable with us being here?” I asked, not wanting to cause any inconvenience to anyone.
“They’re more uncomfortable with my friendship of Louis. They know about him from a long way back, but in all the time I’ve known him, he’s never once made any improprieties toward me, though I’m not sure if they believe that. You know there will be more questions over dinner tonight?”
“There’s not much more I have to tell.”
“You might be better to explain to my mother after dinner. It’s usual for the men to go to the parlour to have a few drinks and smoke and talk, leaving the women to their own devices, a habit that never seems to change.”
“Are you suggesting I should be the one to tell her of the deception?”
“I am saying she won’t rest until she gets to the truth.”
“And if I were to tell her the truth, what might her reaction be?”
Henri scratched his head and thought for a moment. “She’s a woman of the world. She’s more likely to appreciate the truth, than being lied to. Don’t you think?”
I failed to see what the difference was. It was not her son I was pretending to be married to, and we were only here for a few days, but I could understand how my deception might be of some annoyance to her if she later learned the truth. “I’ll think about it,” I told him.
“Good,” he replied and we continued on our way.
It would have taken more than a few days to cover the estate, and Henri showed me what he considered was the best of it, before returning to the stables late that afternoon. I then went to my room to get ready for dinner and found Louis asleep on the bed. He woke as I entered and asked if it had been a pleasant ride and I told him, very enjoyable.
“I was thinking we probably should be moving on. I don’t want to outwear my welcome here,” he said, while I prepared to bathe.
“We’ve only just arrived, Louis. Henri was saying about staying three days.”
“I’m bored. There’s nothing to do. I’d rather be somewhere where I know people,” he whined, sitting up on the bed while I undressed.
“We’re going to Nice after this. Will you be happier there?” I asked, slipping into the tub of warm water and relaxing.
“Much. Will you ask Henri if we can go tomorrow?”
“You’ll have more influence than me,” he suggested, walking into the bathroom and looking at me in the soapy water.
“He’s your friend.”
“But he’s your lover,” he countered.