This is a bit different than previous chapters in that it is a lot longer and I used the prompt much more loosely than I have in the past. It took me a while to get through and I'm not sure what I think of the final result, but I liked the concept.
Philippe was dying and he knew it. He'd killed that bastard, but he'd himself been shot in the process. Now he was lying on the side of the road, helpless, giving in to the dizziness and exhaustion that had overtaken him. He was half way to the doctor's office at the end of the street, but he knew it was futile. He'd left a trail of blood down the block and it wasn't stopping any time soon. It was a strange and disgusting thing, to stick fingers into one's own flesh, to feel life pulsing out of you, warm and sticky. He was so far past pain that he knew he would soon pass out and never wake up.
He would die, just like very other man, He would stop breathing and stop living and become a body rotting in the gutter, just like any other man. There was only one way he was different, and it was her.
Ellen loved him—he didn't know why—and he loved her back. He would've married her in a heartbeat if her father hadn't forced him out. There was no possibility of even describing her sweet countenance, her calm demeanor that hid a well-tamed youthful passion he alone had had the honor of seeing.
It began when he went to the family country home for a few weeks last summer. They knew each other well but had both changed considerably since their last meeting. She was growing into a womanly figure, and he was well on his was to a fine set of sideburns. When he had seen her, a strange sensation overtook him, blinding him to the fact that he was looking at his cousin. He didn't believe it was her until he saw that child-like and exuberant smile, and then he knew it had to be Ellen. He quickly pushed whatever that thing bubbling within was aside. This was his cousin, and he had known her since she was three. His feelings were surely inappropriate. Besides, she must not find it difficult to breathe when she saw him.
But Philippe underestimated his own qualities, and Ellen's readiness to fall in love as a teenage girl. To her, he was handsome, charming, and witty, and he paid her attention like no other man ever had. The other men were afraid to talk to her because of her father. Philippe, of course, had no such worries, as they were related.
Therein lay the main problem. Ellen had heard of several marriages between relatives such as cousins, but she didn't think her father would be especially enthusiastic about one that involved his own daughter. Philippe was, after all, from the poorer branch of the family tree. There was no reason to dislike him as a person, but Ellen was sure that Father would find plenty as a son-in-law.
There was nothing for it. Both decided, independently, that it would not do to fall in love with the other. Because of this they spent the first week of their time together being friendly and sweet, and the next avoiding each other. Their minds were so similar that they had the same reactions to this startling turn in the other--surprise, disappointment, anger at being ignored, and a frostiness that prevented and further interactions.
Mammy, of course, noticed all of this. She didn't know the exact cause of the open hostility, but she knew Ellen well enough that it was clear that something was wrong. Pierre Robillard did not know Ellen well, but he could sense the bad blood between his daughter and nephew. One evening, determined to put a stop to this nonsense, he summoned Philippe.
"Tomorrow you will take Ellen on a buggy ride and picnic at ten o'clock. Resolve this silly business," he barked gruffly. Philippe was left with nothing to say but 'Yes, sir.'
Ellen did not seem at all pleased when she stepped in to the buggy the next morning.
"Where's your mammy?" Philippe asked.
"She doesn't handle the jangling well," she replied, not making eye contact and sounding annoyed.
"Oh." Alone, with Ellen. He supposed it was alright, since they were related. But still. Ellen.
She was wearing a flattering shade of peach that day, and carried a delicate white parasol that matched the lace on her bodice. He hair was pulled neatly beneath a white bonnet and her dainty hands protected by white gloves. The fluttering quality of the materials gave her an ethereal, or at least very fresh and spring-like, character. However, the little scowl on her face was threatening to ruin the entire image.
"Please don't scrunch your face. You look so much prettier when you're not angry." She looked stunned for a moment, then quietly sat back. He took the reins, sat up straight, and clicked for the horses to go. He probably should not have said that but, well, better for her to be silent and confused than silent and fuming.
They did not speak as he brought the horse to a stop next to the sparkling lake. They did not speak as he helped her out of the buggy and spread the picnic blanket on the ground. They did not even speak as they began nibbling on the food packed for the occasion.
Eventually, it became too much for Philippe. Unable to contain himself any longer, he blurted out the question he'd been dying to as for weeks now.
"Ellen, why do you dislike me?"
She stopped for a few seconds, surprised and looking straight at him. Then she placed the cup of tea she held in its saucer on the ground and regarded him seriously.
"It's not that I don't like you, but I am not inclined to continue acquaintance with one who dislikes me."
"I…do not dislike you. Besides, I am your cousin, not some acquaintance. You cannot avoid me forever." He felt his chest tighten. This was why he had decided to put this behind him.
"You are doing the avoiding, I believe, and it is no fault of mine that we have not spoken for weeks."
"Well, if I have not started a conversation it is only because I do not feel worthy. What a foul beast you must think me that you avoid every glance, shrink from my presence, close your ears to my voice." Philippe felt the tightening intensify and knew, somehow, that how she responded now would determine relations between them from this moment on.
Ellen looked down, suddenly shy and unsure. "I…I do not think you a monster."
"Then do not treat me like one," he said, voice thick. He meant to stop at that, but the words kept pouring out. "Do not put me in a cage. Ellen, the more time I spend with you, the more I realize that you have the key to my heart. Do not cage me away." He reached for her gloveclad hand and held it in one of his. She looked at his hand, face bright red but not feigning the shyness that he was sure she had been told to show.
"I…don't know what to say."
"Say you love me. That is what I am telling you, Ellen. I love you." She blushed furiously, her eyelashes fluttering as she looked down at her hand in his. "Didn't Mammy teach you how to fend off a man who has confessed undying ardor?"
She giggled, suddenly much less serious and with a smile that lit up his world. "No."
"You're supposed to say, 'you're very kind, dear Philippe, but I cannot reciprocate your feelings at this time.'" He grinned devilishly and she laughed again. "But I don't take no for an answer. I've decided…that you're perfect. Everything I want." He brought her hands to his lips and heard her intake of breath.
"Philippe..." Hearing his name on her lips, breathy and passionate, drove him even wilder than he thought possible. "We cannot do this," she murmured, pained, even as her hand tentatively stroked his cheek. "You should take me back to the house."
"Yes, I should," he sighed, rising, and holding out his hand for her. The warmth of her grip shot through his body. He wanted nothing more than to always be near her, always able to hold her if at all possible. He grudgingly packed up the food and blanket and they boarded the buggy.
"I do love you, Ellen," he said seriously, taking up the reins. "You must know that."
"Philippe…" She turned her head away from him, hands gripping her parasol tightly. "I cannot tell you the same."
He sat, very still, staring at the horses. "Very well," he said after a long moment. He couldn't believe he'd been such a fool! Of course she didn't feel for him; she was just trying to be kind. She pitied him!
After dropping Ellen off at the house and putting the buggy and horses away, he took out his mare. Spurring her to go as fast as she could, he rode as far as he knew the land extended. It wasn't long until he could feel his horse panting hard beneath him, but he couldn't stop. Not now. He'd run himself if he had to stop now.
Of course she didn't love him! He was beneath her, and a boy she had grown up with to boot. She was not interested in his average looks or his below average income. He couldn't make her happy, and he was a fool to ever think he could!
When the horse finally did begin to falter, he was slightly calmer and thought that it might be time to head back in. Poor creature, it wasn't her fault that he was mad with emotion at this moment. He let her walk the distance back to the stables, not at all keen to be back in the house. By the time he saw the yards the sun was low in the late afternoon sky. He made sure his mare was well-taken care of and then stormed inside.
His room was on the second floor, and he had to pass by Pierre Robillard's study on the way. "Philippe!" Pierre barked, as the young man knew he would. Gritting his teeth, he turned back and walked in to the study. "Where have you been?"
"Enjoying the beauty of the grounds, sir."
"Are relations mended with my daughter?"
"Yes, sir." About as mended as they could be when he had made a damned fool of himself.
"This was brought by a negro this morning." Pierre handed him a folded piece of paper, sealed with wax. His father's initials. He tore it open, scanning it.
"I am needed for business. I'll leave tomorrow morning."
"If it is necessary." Pierre was already disinterested, instead going back to reading business papers. Philippe walked out quickly, eager to be shut away in his room. He would pack this evening, leave before dawn, borrow one of Pierre's horses if he had to, anything to get out of—
Ellen was in his room. Why, he did not know, but when he opened the door she spun around, looked at him with wide eyes, almost…quivering.
"What are you doing here?" He sounded so cold, so harsh, even to himself. She looked so scared that he wanted to reach out and hold her, and take back the tone he'd just used.
"I—I…Philippe, I…I couldn't bear to think that you would think that I…I must tell you, I think I love you as well."
"Ellen!" He immediately crossed the room, took her hands in his and looked at her intently. "I thought you hated me!"
"I didn't want to tell you." She looked down, seeming so young, so small. "It is wrong."
"Love is not wrong! Ellen." He cupped her chin and pushed it up so that she would look at him with those terrified, wide blue eyes. "Ellen, this is not wrong." He pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her body and covering her mouth with his. She felt soft and delicate, her mouth barely moving. He realized it could have been her first kiss. Tears rolled down her cheeks when they parted. "What's wrong?"
"I just…feel so strange." She kept her grip on his arms, clinging as though she would fall if he let her go. He held her tighter and smiled.
"That is love."
Philippe still left early the next morning, because the business in Savannah really was pressing. He felt torn, desperately wanting to stay with Ellen. He left her his best quill, instructing her to write every day and promising to do the same. He hoped to return in a week, and then they would decide how to tell Pierre.
But Philippe's business lasted more than a week. Every day new complications arose, and some were probably his own fault. He was distracted, longing to visit Ellen. Her letters were a blessing and a curse, and in each of his replies he confessed that he loved her at least a half dozen times and always meant it with all of his heart. Soon a month had almost passed, and he felt like he was going insane. His only salvation was her daily letter.
But it couldn't last. Of course something went wrong. One Thursday, a seemingly normally torturous day, he opened her letter to find it tearstained and crumpled. Scribbled on the back was a smudged 'I will always love you.' With a sinking feeling, he read the letter.
My darling Philippe,
My father found your letters and is furious. He says that if he ever sees you he will kill you, and he's going to write to your father about your misconduct. I fear he will actually hurt you if we ever see each other again. I love you, my darling, but I could not bear to see you hurt. We can never be married, and my father says he will never let us speak again. My love, please do not write to me! I could not bear it, and I will probably never get the letter because he is reading all of my mail. We must be apart, but know that I love you and will be yours forever.
With all my heart,
He felt physically sick, and his heart was ready to explode. Never see her again? Never say one word to her, never hear her beautiful voice or see her lovely face? He couldn't live if they were to be forever apart!
And that was how he ended up here, half drunk, crawling down the street at one in the morning with his intestines spilling out. He had been looking for a fight, someone to give this pain to, but he had picked the wrong man. Now he would die, alone, and his last thought would be of Ellen in his arms, her face framed by that peach dress, a little smile shining through her tears.