Charles opened his window that looked out into the field. On the boys? side of the house, Stuart had gotten the ocean view, and he had green fields. There was only the wind and the sound of the ocean that reminded him he was far from home. He pushed open the shutters and breathed deeply, and the night responded with a silent pause, running deep within the current of his blood and seeping out into the woodwork. The emptiness of that place ached, at that moment he longed desperately for his mother, his mother who had lost him so many years ago; this night his mother had been taken from him. After that, it was only guesswork, and how much could he know her through patches of intimations?
Outside was clear, and cool, like winter?s waning days. The moon was out, but he could not see it. Beyond the sloping grass he could see the small village of Cap Blanche Nez, and just to the south, the tiny port city Calais. Boulogne lay just west and beyond the cliffs that led gently down into the harbour where they had alighted three months ago. It seemed that moment was no different than this, where nothing happened.
A distant boom broke him from his mesmerized gaze, and he thought about the war. It had opened this country up and divided it like crepe paper. The whole world had seen the new face of warfare when troops died in droves, dying young men who fought as if the machine gun had never been invented, as if there was no such thing as mustard gas. They didn?t know about the new aeroplanes that dropped steel and death from the air, and they died, not knowing that the world had changed around them. It seemed as if no one knew. Yet here they were, barely two years since the Armistice, and he was looking at sodden darkness, outside of the window in the house that had been the silent witness for thousands of British troops marching past. The chaos and destruction was unparalleled. How was he here? Why?
He wrapped his hand around his wrist, holding it, feeling the emptiness between his thumb and forefinger. He was not well built as a child, and even now lacked in a convincing frame. He was tall and lanky, pale, a wealthy child of a wealthy man, destined from birth to be a playboy, yet somehow escaped and become something else. A fugitive, he thought, or a relic. Opening his mouth, he breathed in slowly, opening his pores and branching paths that pulled in the darkness, and then exhaling, closed the window.
Something stirred behind him, and he turned quickly. It was Lindsay, dressed in a white satin night shirt, decorated with gently waving blossoms of sheen and thread. Her d?colletage fell peacefully down to a ribbon tied loosely at the top, and above the fabric rested a small cross that hung from a thin wire of gold. She looked demure, vulnerable even, and in the weird dimness of the faded room, seemed to float. She had closed the door behind her entrance, and even now put her finger to her lips, a quiet reminder of their proximity to Stuart. She stood across from him, on the other side of his bed.
?What are you doing here?? he asked. She shook her head, pursing her lips and taking a half-step toward him. She brushed her hair back, a strand of which had fallen across her face. He saw on her wrist a bracelet, but unlike any she would normally wear. He motioned her to the bed, to sit. He matched her movement as she sat, pressing gently into the sheets; the illusion of oneness.
?I don?t think it?s?? Lindsay cut him off with a wave of her hand.
?Charles, be honest,? she whispered. He nodded.
?Do you love me??
The question. And he had almost convinced himself it had never happened.
Charles often thought that rationalization was the Renaissance?s finest contribution to the modern world. It is one of the clever nuances of that famous age, and Charles felt a tiny stab of pride in having discovered this fact. He had heard of no book, no scholar who had provided a study into the underbelly of the change in the world that occurred after the blooming of Italy and England in the 1500?s. As important as art and music were, Charles was more interested in how people thought, their thinking that changed as a result of the explosion that was the Renaissance. Not only had thinking changed, but the way people thought about thinking had also changed.
One of the biggest, the most profound alterations in the fabric of social thought was the new emphasis on individualism. The world had always been selfish, and people had always looked to their own interests above any others, but with the beginnings of the slow death of the authority of the Church, people began to think out loud, and more often. The new economy, capitalism, was just beginning to rear its head in England, and all across Europe, society slowly transformed from a ramshackle collection of loosely connected villages and cities into places of trade and commerce. Industry began to thrive.
?Do you love me?? she asked again, and put her hand on his, looking at it and then slowly moving her eyes up to his. He felt he had to get this weight off his mind. He struggled with the way to speak, and he was still rooting around in his head about the importance of capitalism and its influence on the way people, as a society, thought and spoke.
?I did, once. Now I just don?t know. With Stuart here, and this whole experience,? he waved his hand around the room. ?I just don?t know anything anymore. Do you,? he paused, searching for the right words. ?Do you at all regret having?? he could not imagine himself saying these words five months ago. ?I cannot betray my friend,? he finally said with effort.
?You cannot say his name. Stuart.? Lindsay smiled in the darkness, and she withdrew her hand.
?I am ashamed. I betrayed Stuart,? he said. ?Do you feel no such guilt for having done the same?? He got up quickly from the bed, and she quieted his movement with a stern look and closed lips.
?Stuart and I were not, are not meant for each other, despite what he may think,? she said. ?Despite what my parents think. I am unhappy, and further, I think he knows it. I have tried so hard to please him, and to give him all his needs. I can do no less, considering what he will go through once he learns of us.?
?Were you ever in love with him?? Charles asked, hunching over the bed and leaning down to look her in the eyes. She looked at him, trying to maintain contact, and failing, fell to her wrist. She wrapped her fingers around the bracelet, and sighed.
?We met a woman in Cap the other day. The day you and Francis found the body. She said something to me, and though it was Italian, I felt like she knew me and was telling me something, that only I would understand. Stuart was oblivious, thought she was drunk. But I felt in my heart, that somehow, this woman knew I was?not faithful. Not just to Stuart.? She stopped, and Charles saw she was quivering. Her eyes glistened with unshed tears, and she reached out to his face. He remained there, bent and submissive to her touch.
?I was so frightened of her, Charles. I thought, ?Certainly she knows!? I wasn?t afraid of Stuart finding out. Oh, he must know sooner or later. But it was as if I was failing my own mother or father. I didn?t want her to know, and she a complete stranger.?