Aline wondered why Philippe had remained beyond her grasp. His brother Edouard had won and she knew the wrong choice had been made. Standing together as a newly affianced couple they had watched Philippe take ship on the morning tide from Le Havre. Somewhere out there among the muddle of sails and steam, the man she loved was leaving France for a new life. Did the constant fights and petty jealousies blind her or was it the distraction of Monsieur Alphonse’s pleadings on behalf of his eldest son? Philippe’s itinerary of Le Havre, Portsmouth and then The New World was daunting. He had asked her to go with him, told her how she had been deceived by his father. She had refused to believe. Now she wished she could throw herself into the sea and swim to Philippe.
Edouard, sensing her reverie, pointed his cane at the gladioli. “My father takes great pride in his flowers, I’m certain he has a name for every one.”
“I know you are correct,” said Aline coldly. Monsieur Alphonse tipped his hat on overhearing this, considering the comment a compliment. Aline didn’t like Monsieur Alphonse. His hands wandered. The servants whispered it. Her hand moved to the pin which fixed her straw hat. She wished she had possessed a similar one on that day in the greenhouse, or rather the will to use it.
Some people wished for revolution like the one in 1848. She wished for a blight to kill his seedlings. Only through flowers could she break the man’s heart.
Aline turned her attention to the sea.
“You’re wondering if you made a mistake?” Edouard moved so close she could smell his cologne.
“I cannot lie to you.” Aline brought her parasol down to shield her eyes. Edouard brought his lips into the shade and guided by a finger on her chin, kissed her.
Aline took Edouard by the elbow and turned him to face the sea. “I keep thinking of Philippe, alone in his cabin…” She confessed.
“It would not be natural if you didn’t. He is your brother-in-law.” Edouard took her gloved hand and stroked it as though it might dissipate concern. Momentarily their fingers locked.
“I feel guilty now that he’s gone,” Edouard confided then turned to face Aline. “My jealousy was stupid. You and I grew up as neighbours and as you grew I began to love. In the end one of us had to prevail. I suppose my persuading father to advance Philippe the money to emigrate to the United States won him over?”
“So it was you all along?”
“Why, yes. What did you expect? Did you think I wouldn’t use any method to make you my wife?”
Aline took a deep breath and tried to remain calm. “I am glad you fought for me and won,” she lied. Maybe it was the scent of lavender and geraniums which brought her to her senses. She was both surprised and angry to discover that Philippe had been bought off. She lifted her lace-trimmed parasol so that when she looked into Edouard’s eyes this time she saw they were shrewd, not those of a lover. She caught her breath.
“I am a man of property.”
“I am a lucky woman. I have everything I could wish for in you.” She stopped herself from saying except. Aline looked around Monsieur Alphonse’s garden. It possessed a contrived beauty which juxtaposed colours at the creator’s whim. It was neat and conventional. She took a desperate look at the ships leaving the harbour and carefully placed the parasol in an attempt to shade her face and hide her torment.
“Aline, you look pale,” Edouard said with concern and ushered her to the cane chair. Monsieur Alphonse returned from the greenhouse and produced smelling salts. A servant was ordered to bring out a glass of his finest brandy.
“This happens to young ladies in their first days of betrothal. They are so overcome by happiness that they forget to breathe and faint at the drop of a hat!” Monsieur Alphonse smiled, he smoothed his grey beard and signalled his son to act.
Aline’s perspective from the chair returned her thoughts to the garden, to the gladioli standing tall and swaying gently in the sea breeze. She looked at the cascade of geraniums and begonia. When she felt Edouard squeeze her hand, her lightheadedness disappeared into the horizon. It was the same horizon which Philippe traversed. She must pack her bag and catch the boat train for Dover. It would be a tedious journey to Portsmouth via London but she had enough English. “I think we should go in now. It’s the perfume—it’s overpowering,” Aline lied once more.
Monsieur Alphonse sat next to her and touched her knee. A wave of revulsion broke inside Aline. Her fingers shifted to the hatpin. She realised what this was about. In purchasing Philippe’s ticket to New York, her betrothal to Edouard had been assured. Monsieur Alphonse had manoeuvred Aline. Philippe was kept at a distance because he had wanted to take her with him to a new life in the United States of America. Monsieur Alphonse tightened his grip on her thigh.
It was easier than she thought to pierce his hand with the bodkin. To skewer it to his leg and leave the bead protruding like congealed blood.
Monsieur Alphonse stifled a scream and Aline rose. “I will see myself out. The walk will clear my head.”
Edouard appeared concerned. Her bloodied glove rose to his face. He knocked it away. “What have you done?”
“Something I should have done before you bought your brother!” Aline walked off, deadheading the flowers with her parasol. This time she was going to escape. Tomorrow she would discover England and maybe by the end of the day she’d find the man she truly loved.
Clint Wastling is a UK writer based in The East Riding of Yorkshire. He’s had stories published in newspapers like The Weekly News and online with Every Day Fiction and in anthologies on both sides of The Atlantic. The Geology of Desire, his first novel, is available at Stairwell Books.