Sample Saturday: Around the World in 80 Pages
Today, I thought I would give you an entire story that appeared in my first short fiction collection, Around the World in 80 Pages. This book is perma-free on Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBookstore, and Amazon. I hope you’ll pick up a copy. Enjoy!
No Eyes But Mine Shall See
Originally published in Bestseller Bound Anthology Vol. 1, 2011
Gilbert Rochambeau first appears in my debut novel, In The Eye of The Beholder. He also plays an important role in the upcoming sequel, In The Eye of The Storm.
Gilbert’s cravat hung loose, his shirt collar open. He dried the pen, closed the inkwell and sighed. His handsome face was tired and drawn in the lamp’s glow. Outside, the rain fell on dark London streets; it was late. He ran his fingers through cropped curls the color of old Roman coins and willed the tears to remain in his dark brown eyes as he reread the letter he would never send. He absently rubbed his leg with the other hand; the damp English weather made the old injury ache.
“Dear Claire” …
So innocuous. How could such a simple salutation say so much and so little at once?
He read on, the words flowing in his native French.
I watched your carriage drive away today, standing at the window until it was out of sight. There were so many things that I wanted to say to you, but you were gone.
I wanted to say those things when you stood in front of me, saying your farewells. You looked so beautiful in your blue cloak, its silver fox-furred hood lighting your eyes. Did I ever tell you how much your eyes reminded me of the Camargois sky?
No, I don’t believe I ever did.
Your glorious chestnut-colored hair was styled in an elaborate coil of braids: very fashionable. Yet my fingers recall its weight as I held those locks to brush them.
And my lips recall the kiss I stole that night. Did you feel what I did?
I wanted to speak so many times when I escorted you around London or Paris. Restaurants, museums, shops; we went so many places together. I wanted to be much more than your majordomo, but you never knew.
You encouraged my drawing, but you never saw the dozens of sketches I made of you. Some were from memory, from the days in Paris. You riding your fine horse; I know how you have missed that black mare. Many of them were made while you lay ill; I feared for you, as did all the household.
I wanted to whisper to you then, but I said nothing. Instead, I brought a black velvet toy mare and gave her to you. Your quiet smile was thanks enough.
I understand so much better now how a sadness of the heart sickens the body. The doctor called your illness hysteria, said you were mad. How wrong he was. You have ever been sane, even in the darkest times. Perhaps I could have done more to ease your burdens; I will never know. But I did what I could.
I wanted to speak when you befriended Joseph Merrick, and when you railed at Doctor Treves, my benefactor thanks to you, for the way he treated Joseph in death.
I thought about speaking up when the English ladies decided not to receive you anymore. You tried so hard to make things right. I wished, many times, that we could all go back to France. Now you are going, and I am staying here.
I wanted to say something the night you made sure, for the first time in years, that I was dressed and barbered properly. Your eyes were the first to look upon me as a woman looks upon a man whom she admires.
I wanted to tell you whenever I watched your kindness to the people of the Opera Garnier. You never failed to smile and say a kind word, even though I knew your misery.
Oh yes, I knew your misery. I watched your cousin François … my brother-in-law … take everything you had. He did the same to my sister; she died giving birth to his child. He lived in my home, but made it clear I was there at his sufferance. I became a servant in the home that should have been mine: your cousin’s valet. After all, how could a man with a twisted leg manage the affairs of a cattle ranch?
I watched François beggar and ruin you, and I could say nothing. He sold your home, just as he did mine. Damn those laws that say a man must control a woman’s property. Those same laws gave my sister’s inheritance to François; he squandered it all.
The closest I ever came to speaking my mind was the night I learned you were married, when Erik pressed his wedding ring into my hand and sent me to the little cottage where you awaited your newlywed husband’s return. Francois even tried to take him from you.
That night, I said that I was your man. You presumed that I meant only to help you. The truth was, I meant that and more. I wanted to be a bold chevalier: a protector. Yet, you barely knew me; I was your cousin’s valet, after all. It would have been unseemly to say more than I did on that night.
As it was, our lives were never the same.
Claire, I said nothing because I am a coward.
How could I say “I am in love with you,” even as you were preparing to return to France with your dying husband? Erik was as good a friend to me as he could be, and you chose him.
How could I say “I have loved you from afar,” without looking like a madman?
How could I consider casting myself at your feet and begging you to stay in London? And yet, that very thought crossed my mind as I watched your coach disappear.
How like you, in your compassion, to ensure that I would not be destitute in this strange land, since circumstances prevent me from going back to France with you.
There were times when you thought me so brave, Claire, but I am not. Only a craven would fail to speak these simple truths.
So, now I have done so, in a letter that no eyes but mine shall see. Perhaps one day, when I am in my dotage, I will tell my grandchildren about it. Perhaps, by then, I will be brave enough. I will live without you because I must, but your face will always live in my heart.
I am, your humble servant,
Gilbert blotted the ink and folded the paper carefully. He swiped a hand across his eyes, wiping away tears of regret, and tucked the letter into a desk drawer. He thought of glancing through the sketchbook there, but had felt his share of melancholy for the night.
Using the blue-knobbed walking stick, a gift from Claire at Christmas, he rose to his feet. He tried to keep his halting footsteps quiet as he made his way to the bedroom where his wife slept, peacefully unaware.