The Marriage of Opposites

Page 96


All in all, she only wanted to know the cause of his attraction. Her husband would be getting home soon. He was at this very moment at the family office with his brothers, shrugging on his soft woolen overcoat, thinking about the dinner that awaited, the wife at the door, the stars that would appear in the pale twilight.
“If you had ever stopped and spoken to me, I would have been relieved,” he told her. “For a very long time you failed to notice me. And every time I meant to talk to you, I was uncertain all over again. You seem so happy.”
She smiled. He was so serious and earnest. He did seem older than his age. “And what do you have to tell me that would make me less so?”
“We’re somewhat related,” he told her.
“Are we?”
“We’re both from St. Thomas.”
“Yes. I’ve discovered I was born there.”
“It’s a very small place.” He scowled at the memory. “Too small.”
They walked along as if the rest of Paris did not exist. Perhaps because he admired all things French and would be leaving at the end of the school term, Camille was glum. He said there was little freedom where he came from; his mother watched over him too closely, and he was expected to live a life like that of his father and brothers, a life that he already knew he would reject. “Shopkeepers,” he said of them. “Concerned with ledgers and sales. At least here in Paris the workingman is rising up to claim what he deserves.”
“People must shop,” Lydia reminded him.
“Must they? Perhaps all shops should throw open their doors and let those in need take what they must.” He looked at her for a reaction.
“Perhaps. I don’t know the answer to the world’s woes. I barely know the answer to my own.” The loss of her father had affected her more strongly than she imagined. She sometimes worried about her own children becoming orphaned, her most dire fear.
They passed the park where he had often watched her. Sometimes he’d sat here and sketched. His teacher, Monsieur Savary, had suggested that he carry his artist’s materials with him, for a subject often appeared when one least expected it to do so. A leaf, a woman, a shaded path.
Artists were those with supporters, wealthy families or patrons. They went to the Académie and studied with masters, and few were allowed into such society. He was a Jew, from St. Thomas, seven years old, with no financial backing. His lanky form was stooped with regret as they walked on. And he was nervous now that he was in Lyddie’s presence. Time and again he might have spoken to her, but on each of these occasions he didn’t feel up to the task of telling her the truth. She seemed far too content for the message he’d brought. But now she spoke of woes, and he wondered if perhaps he should have told her long ago.
She suggested they sit on a bench in the park, though it was damp. She had a shiver inside of her. When she thought back, there was only so far she could reach. Her father had told her she was very ill as a child. That they’d been traveling and she’d had such a high fever she’d had a loss of memory. He said she had spoken four languages, but when she recovered she’d forgotten all but French. Something haunted her about that time. Occasionally she used a word from some unknown language when speaking to her daughters. Once when they looked at the night sky she said stjern, and the girls said asked what she meant and she simply had no idea.
“I made a promise to find you; otherwise I would have given up.” Camille took an envelope from the inner lining of his coat. “Your mother wrote this to you on the day you were abducted.”
Lydia laughed, then held a hand over her mouth. A soft sob escaped. It was a ridiculous remark, yet it rang with a certain truth, particularly after her conversation with Madame Sophie.
“My father was my father, was he not?” she said.
The boy nodded. “He was raised by my family. He was orphaned somehow.”
“Abducted is not the right word if I was raised by my own father.”
“But it is. You were stolen.” This was what he’d come to say and couldn’t before. “From your mother.”
Lydia let those words settle inside her.
“They tied her to a tree and had hired men standing guard. She’s been waiting for you all this time. I need to know what I should say to her when I return.”
It was now fully dark. Men in overcoats and hats were walking past, on their way home. The sky was ink, the boy noticed this, ebony at the edges, midnight blue in the center. Only bits of pale light still remained. The city was a miracle, and the idea that he would be leaving it depressed him immensely.