"Close the door please," the doctor said as he sat in the armchair and adjusted his spectacles.
"I'm sorry we're late, there was a rather sad occurrence this morning."
"Oh?" he leaned forward, "And what was that?"
"Our hound bitch died giving birth to her first litter just before sunup," Philippe said, "I'm afraid that Raoul is not taking it very well."
"Indeed, I can't imagine that he would."
"He was reluctant to leave the newborn pups alone, but we left them with a neighbor's dog that has recently had a litter of her own so that they may be weaned. It's actually quite a story. Raoul says he is responsible for the pups' survival. He was there when she was birthing them and he assisted her to save them."
"Well, the lad's a hero then," He smiled at the Viscount. "Does he seem to be improving?"
"Yes, he appears to be. He does still have his days of melancholy, especially after his father has come home from business afar."
"How has the Count been treating the boy of late?"
"I'm afraid, much as usual. He ignores the poor boy and treats him with disdain when they are present in the same room together. It's truly sad to see my own father treat his youngest son in such a way," Philippe sighed, "It's almost better that he is away most of the time."
"Yes, yes. It's very sad, that." The doctor opened his notebook and adjusted his spectacles to review the last session's notes. "You said a month ago that you have found him curled up on his mother's grave weeping inconsolably in the middle of the night. Have these occurrences continued?"
"No, thank God. At first it took a servant guarding his room at night to ensure that he does not venture past the boundary of his quarters. He seems to have given up on that idea and the servant is no longer required to watch him."
"Yes, that is a good thing; what with the nasty chill he took the last time he did that. Now tell me, does he still have his nightmares? Wet the bed? Sleepwalk?"
"Yes, I've heard him in the night crying out upon waking from such dreams, but he always claims he cannot remember them."
The doctor smiled, "I wouldn't worry too much about that. Children usually do not remember their nightmares, as you might recall from your own childhood."
"Yes I do remember having them when I was young, but there is something eerie about the way he cries out. It's very reminiscent of a newborn baby's cries."
"Interesting," he jotted down a note in his book.
"He's not been eating well though," Philippe continued. "His appetite seems to come and go."
"Do these recessions in his appetite occur frequently in lieu with the Count's time at home?"
"Not especially. I think it comes more from Raoul's boredom. When he has more time alone to dwell on the guilt, he seems to slip farther into himself."
"Aha. I see," the doctor confirmed. He wrote down a few more notes on his paper, his pen scribbling madly, scratching the surface with the dulling quill tip. "Well, I think that will be all. Would you care to send the boy in now?"
"Of course sir," Philippe said, shaking the doctor's hand.
The doctor waited several moments, jotting down notes in the margins of the notepad as the ticking of the clocked mimed his rhythm.
The door finally opened and he looked up to see Raoul enter the room. The doctor thought to himself once again, that for a boy of only six, he was remarkably somber and mature looking.
"Hello again young master," he said jovially.
"Hello sir," Raoul replied softly as he climbed into the large couch across from where the doctor sat.
"How do you feel today?" he questioned.
Raoul shrugged his shoulders, "I don't know."
"Your brother told me that something happened today. Would you like to talk about it?"
Raoul shrugged his shoulders again and idly twirled his finger in his blonde hair. "Mabel is dead. Her puppies killed her."
"Is that so," he replied, "Son, I don't think that her puppies killed her. It's just a part of nature. Sometimes the puppies grow too large for the mother to push through."
"Yes, I know. Last spring the same happened to the neighbor's mare and her foal," he said dismally.
"There, you see? It's all part of nature. Life and death are natural and nothing is wrong with either."
"But the foal and the mare both died!" Raoul shouted at the doctor.
"Now, now Raoul, calm down please," the doctor said in a lower voice. "I understand." He waited for Raoul to stop his harder breathing and to relax in his chair a little before continuing.
"Your brother tells me that the puppies all lived. They lived because you helped them. Is this true? Will you tell me what happened?"
Raoul seemed to brighten up at this. "Yes, I will tell you. Mabel was whining out in the barn and I could not sleep. My sisters say I must stay in bed until the rooster crows, but I was worried for her."
"Mhmm, go on," he replied.
"Well, I snuck out of the house and went to the barn and there she was. There was one puppy already born in the hay. I sat and watched her, but then she stopped moving and whined a lot. There was a puppy stuck. So I pulled him out and brushed him off with my shirt because he was all bloody."
"Yes, that is normal, Raoul."
"Well, she looked tired and couldn't push the rest out so I helped her."
"I can see how. You have small enough hands to do the job. I doubt anyone else could have saved them."
"Yes, that's right. I'm the only one who could." Raoul stopped there.
"Go on," the doctor urged him.
"And then she looked at me and wagged her tail and then she died."
"How do you feel about that? Even though she died, you saved all her puppies."
Raoul shrugged his shoulders. "Now they have no mother to care for them."
"You could care for them once your neighbor's dog has weaned them. Just as your brother has cared for you since your mother passed on."
"My brother isn't my mother. He can't be. He has a beard and wears a suit."
The doctor laughed, "Yes, I suppose that is true."
"But who will teach the dogs to hunt? Who will teach them how to be a dog?" Raoul asked.
"I suppose the sire will do that once the pups are old enough. They will watch him and know what to do."
Raoul frowned, "Father's don't do that. The father will abandon the puppies because they killed their mother and they won't be cared for by anyone and they will die too."
"Raoul, you don't honestly believe that. Do you?"
He shrugged again.
The doctor stood up and motioned for Raoul to do the same. "Raoul, come here by the window, I want you to do something for me."
"What is it?"
"It's sort of a game. Let's pretend we are puppies."
Raoul looked up at the man and smirked a little. "Why?"
"Because pretending can help. Now I want you to close your eyes for me. Pretend you are a newborn puppy who hasn't yet opened his eyes. Can you do that for me?"
Raoul reluctantly closed his eyes and tipped his head back, concentrating.
"Are you thinking of being a puppy?"
"Yes," Raoul replied softly.
"Alright then. I want you to keep pretending that you are a helpless newborn puppy with not a care in the world. And I want you to repeat after me 'It's not my fault my mother is dead'."
Raoul opened his eyes and looked at the doctor questioningly.
"Don't open your eyes Raoul. Those poor puppies probably feel it is their fault, but its not."
Raoul closed his eyes once again.
"Now repeat the phrase after me. 'It's not my fault my mother is dead'."
Raoul repeated it softly, "It's not my fault my mother is dead."
"Good, again. Louder this time."
"It's not my fault my mother is dead."
"Keep going, louder!"
"It's not my fault my mother is dead! It's not my fault my mother is dead! It's not my fault my mother is dead!"
"Alright now. I think we can stop," the doctor said, putting his hand on Raoul's shoulder. "Open your eyes."
Raoul opened his eyes and squinted at the window.
"How do you feel now?"
"Well, it wasn't the puppies fault the mother died. But I think it was the father's fault."
"Oh?" He said.
"Yes. He put the puppies in her."
He motioned for Raoul to sit down again. "Well, that does seem to be a valid argument. But like I told you before, these things are just a part of natural life. We live and we die. There is not anything that can change that certainty."
Raoul pondered this for a moment before continuing to argue, "Perhaps. But how do you know for sure?"
He smiled at the boy, "Because we are not The Almighty. Only he has control over such things."
The doctor looked at his pocket watch then returned it to his vest pocket. "Well, I think that will be all for today, son. Will you be so kind as to send your brother back inside for a moment?"
Raoul nodded and quietly slipped through the heavy door.
Philippe came in and sat down, "So? What is the news?"
The doctor sighed, "I think that with time he will be able to outgrow this morbid fixation of guilt concerning his mother's death. Perhaps as he grows older, he will learn to recognize this budding anger at his father for placing the blame on his shoulders. Raoul needs to confront this anger he has towards his father now that he sees that the guilt does not lie with him."
"Are you sure that is wise? I don't want my brother to feel guilty for our mother's death, but I also don't want him to resent his father."
"Hmm, you may be right in that, but I believe that this is the course the events must follow for him to be right again," he said.
"Is he at least making more progress?"
"Oh, yes. I believe so. More and more each time we meet for these sessions I see a marked improvement."
"Well, that's a relief," Philippe added.
"Do be sure to keep an eye on the boy though. He is not completely through with his therapy and this is of course, a crucial time at his impressionable age. We don't want him to grow up to have all sorts of repressed feelings. They say that is how madness sets in."
Philippe looked slightly alarmed. "Well, we must try our best not to let that happen."
"Of course; it was good to see you again. So, next month at the same time?"
"Yes, and thank you once again." Philippe shook the man's hand and exited his office, collecting a quiet Raoul on his way.
Raoul clambered into the carriage, followed by his brother, and they went back to their estates. Philippe was going over some paperwork so Raoul stared out the window, deep in thought. Neither of them said anything the whole way home.
Raoul thought back to that morning. He felt hot with guilt at having lied to the doctor. Did his brother suspect he lied? He knew what he had done was wrong, somehow. But what part of it? The part where he snuck out of his room, disobeying his sister's rules? The part where he found Mabel struggling to give birth, just like his mother struggled with him? He felt bad that she was hurting, and he tried to be quick, but because he was only six, it took several blows to the head with a rock to try to kill the dog. Even after that, she was still breathing and struggling with the puppy. His shirt had worked nicely to suffocate her the rest of the way. Isn't that what had happened when he was born, he thought? Hadn't his mother died, forcing them to cut him out of her? What he did was no different with the puppies.
Raoul wandered next door and entered the neighbor's barn and found where the newborn pups were sleeping. He knelt down beside them and picked one of them up, rocking it back and forth against his chest. "Shhh, it's alright. It's not your fault your mother is dead. It's not your fault your mother is dead." Raoul looked up and whispered to himself, "It's your father's fault. And he will pay."