Chapter three: The story of a duke
"What are we to do with him Charlie?" Marie asked with worry in her face.
"Send him to my mother I suppose." He replied, finding his pipe.
"Send him away?" she said, paling.
"Only for a little while, "he tried to reassure his wife.
"But, but he's my baby." She said her voice trembling.
Charles lit his pipe and took a long drag on it knowing things were about to go bad. The thought of sending Erik away was one that his wife hated and feared. He hated it too, there was something cold and lonely about the very thought of that boy not being in the home. But Charles was at the end of his rope with the boy. He blew out the smoke and sighed, knowing this was going to be a very painful conversation. Marie looked sad as he knew she would be upon hearing his plan but she did not seem to want to fight him on it.
He almost wished she was as he looked into those hurting violet eyes and felt his heart snap in two. She looked as if she was trying to be strong and dutiful like usual and he felt like a bastard for doing this to her. Charles almost wished he could take it back but he knew it was the right thing to do for the three of them. Still right or wrong he felt horrible for breaking her heart and the distress she was in was something awful. He wanted her to yell at him, rage and demand he keep her child at home where he belonged.
He had prepared himself for the fight that was coming, for the argument and the anger that he would suggest such a thing. But none came; instead she placed her hand on her temple as if she had a very serious headache. She then turned toward the portrait of the three of them together, hanging above the mantle. In the painting she was standing in front of him. Charles had his hands on her shoulders strongly and her own hands on Erik's shoulders. It was his favorite picture of them, and the reason he had been so reluctant to let go of the boy.
Charles had tried to send Erik to his grandmother before and it never went well. He had bought up the subject of sending the boy away before and she had gone into absolute hysterics. Her anger bordering on all-out rage, they had fought for hours and she had even stopped speaking to him. He had prepared himself for a repeat of that and was taking a deep breath in preparation. But she didn't rage, she didn't scream…she just shook her head and let out a deep sigh. It was a sound that meant she had given up and the last one she gave before meeting his eye.
She just said, "all right," in that soft resigned way of hers.
"It will only be until the season begins and then he will come home." He said as gently as he could.
"I know," she said, "But Erik being gone, it's just unbearable."
"You know it is for the best." He said gently.
"But she lives so far away…" she protested.
"He is unhappy here; perhaps a good stay in the country will do him good and be just what he needs." Charles reasoned with her.
Marie nodded and offered a weak smile that never reached her eyes. He sighed and wrapped her arms around her. She leaned on him, feeling her eyes become wet and then she began to weep, holding his shirt. Charles wrapped his arms around her as she broke down on him. Marie cried for another quarter of an hour, before he put her in the armchair and had her swallow another cup of tea. It made her sleepy, as two cups of hot liquid always did. She finished the tea and then let out a yawn, causing her husband to smile.
"Good night dear." He said.
"Mph, no…Erik… I have to kiss him goodbye." Marie mumbled.
"I'm not sending him off tonight; I have to at least write my mother first." He said. "You know how she is about uninvited guests."
"Mmm…right…" she said, drifting off.
"Sleep well Marie." Charles whispered, taking the cup from her lap.
"Night Charlie…" was the last thing she said that night.
Charles sighed and kissed his now snoring wife on the head, putting a living room blanket over her to ensure she did not catch a chill. Marie just curled up in a more fetal position and moaned. Her husband had to smile; she always slept in the oddest positions. He found it adorable that she always curled up in a ball while she slept and drooled a little when she was deeply in her dreams. Which she was at this very moment and there was a little puddle on the cushions. Most men would have found this unappealing; in fact he was sure they would have thought it down-right disgusting.
But not him, he found it positively sweet that she could sleep so well in his presence. That here in his mansion he had the simple pleasure of having tea and dozing off. With the woman he loved sleeping at his side, a rare occasion in this world of money and power. He shook his head and took out his handkerchief, wiping her chin. Marie simply smiled at him in her sleep. Charles stood back a moment, still as a stone only his eyes moved about the room. He took in the beauty of his study, the fire crackling and dwindling warmly as a cheerful song might during the final verse.
It lit up the silver tea tray on the coffee-table in the center of the room which sported the china cups they had drank out of. They had little cupids with heart arrows on their faces. These were his wife's favorite and he thought they were charming. He looked at their mirrored reflection in the silver, slightly fogged over by the steam from the tea. Charles spit on the surface, rubbing the moisture in to shine it up. He smirked, knowing Marie would be repulsed at the thought of saliva on her dishes but it was just a speedy way of doing things.
Not that the maids were incompetent, far from it but he just didn't see anything wrong with a little spit and polish routine. His wife on the other hand had a dreadful fear of germs and other crawly things. Especially germs, they were not only crawly but invisible and apt to make one ill. She would berate him endlessly about sanitation if she saw him cleaning the dishes with spittle and the thought made him want to laugh aloud. Marie threw the most adorable tantrums. She was shorter than him by a foot and round as a country pumpkin. When she lectured him he was reminded of a dwarf, hopping up and down mid rant.
In fact he found nearly everything about his wife charming; from her fussy nature to her unladylike sleep. He had finished the tea with her in silence and picked up the half of a butter biscuit on his saucer. The Duke nibbled it thoughtfully absentmindedly reflecting on how long it had been since he actually finished one. Charles had remembered favoring these as a child, especially with his tea. The memory caused him to close his eyes and bite the cookie slowly enjoying the extra sweetness, which came from the overflowed liquid pooled on the plate.
He finished the cookie and grabbed two cookies from the three left over on the plate and carried them up the stairs. They were Erik's favorite too and it might do well as a peace offering before he told him that he meant to send him off. As Charles walked down the hall he was met with the sight of family portraits around every corner. There were pictures of all the milestones in his son's life. They were oil paintings of him riding his horse with his father, playing the piano for his mother and just about every other thing he could think of. Everything from him taking a nap in Marie's arms to opening a Christmas sweater from Madeline, it was truly something to behold.
He got to his son's door. Upon receiving no answer pressed his ear to the wood. Erik was snoring and he opened the door and stepped inside where his son was laying on the massive bed, peaceful. He wore no shirt and Charles took a moment to revel in the unmatched beauty that is Erik Charles Mansart. No, not Mansart… De Chagny. As much as it hurt Charles to admit it this beautiful young man was the very image of the late Comte Philibert De Chagny. He had the same sculpted body, the broad shoulders and the long fingers that marked the Chagny's ability to woo or so they said.
Charles was grateful that Erik had violet eyes like his mother because had they been blue people would have not believed he was his father. He wondered if Erik knew who his father was but banished the thought because there was no possible way he could have known. Charles had never told him and did not care to and there was not a chance in hell Marie had said a word. Still, looking down at Erik it was impossible to ignore that he was by all biological rights, not his son. Although he never really cared and loved him anyway it was painful to admit how badly he wished things were different.
"He should have been mine." Charles said to the darkness, "he is mine." He announced to the silence.
He spoke too loud and woke the boy, who frowned sleepily. "What's the matter father," Erik asked.
"Nothing son, go back to sleep," replied the older man.
"Are you sure?" Erik asked, though his voice was already groggy.
"Yes son, just go to sleep I am fine." He lied, not wanting his heir to see his pain.
"All right," He replied. "Good night father I love you."
Charles smiled at the sweetness of the young man's voice; he truly was an angel of music. The duke kissed him on the head and pulled the thick coverlet more snuggly over his son. Erik had gone right back to sleep as was his way. The young man was such a night-owl that when he did sleep (which was a very rare occasion) it was as deep if not deeper than Rip Van Winkle himself. If he was woken up from his rest in the night then he would just pass out cold nearly right after. He kissed the boy on his forehead, twenty-four or not he was still his only child.
"I love you too son," he whispered to the sleeping man.
The only sound that greeted him was the light snoring of his son who slept in peace. Charles could not help himself; he bent down and kissed him on the head again. Erik stirred and opened his eyes a little looking at him. Charles put his finger to the younger man's lips and made a shushing sound. Erik gave a tiny smile, and closed his eyes again grabbing his arm. The duke smiled down at the child he had raised and sighed as he tried to forget. Erik was the Mansart heir, period. He had no ties to the Chagny line.
None at all, except the most important one, the one that society cared about and hurt his poor wife. God help them all if someone ever found out, and the word spread it would devastate them. It would leave him in disgrace and poor Erik would lose everything. Of course, this was just paranoia. Charles seemed to live in a constant state of paranoia over the family secret and he cursed himself and his wife for forcing this on him. He hated that he could not have his own biological child, and for making his wife so desperate that she had to take on another man to have a baby.
He did not blame the boy. Charles knew that he had no control over who his parents were. Erik did not ask to be born another man's son and had no knowledge of it to begin with. But that did not mean the feeling of desire never got to him and even a little disdain. When he thought of how his wife had taken one of those stuffy stuck-up peacocks as a lover. When he looked at the son he had raised for more than two decades and saw another man it was painful beyond words. Especially when he thought of how close they had always been when he was a boy.
Charles loved Erik, always had and always would. But the resentment was there even now as he looked at the sleeping young man in front of him. How beautiful he was and how like his birthfather he looked. Charles resented the fact that he could not have a son of his own and needed womanizers like Philibert to provide decent men with children. He pulled a blanket over Erik watching him sleep and gently ran a hand through his black hair. Marie had the same hair, he looked like Marie and for that Charles loved him even more looking like a Greek God the way the other two boys did.
The duke had pushed the thought out of his mind, but still he wondered what Erik would be like if he weren't his stepson. He wondered and he wished, he cried and he cursed his heart for wanting it so badly when he knew that would never happen. He sat down on the side of the bed, looking down at the boy. Remembering the first time it had hit him this hard. Erik had been no more than a week old then, still an infant fresh from the womb. Marie had been resting from the ordeal and Charles had been left to tend the child.
Marie did not trust any of the servants to handle him so Charles had been holding the future duke and looking down at him. He stared back at his stepfather with a seriousness that was positively frightening. He had the Chagny coldness of his birthfather, it was plain as day on his little face even then. Charles had been gazing down at him and felt angry at his wife and at Chagny. He hated Chagny for sleeping with his wife. He was angry with Marie for poisoning herself because her lover wanted to be rid of his bastard. That this beautiful child had to pay the price for his mother and father although his beauty was another man's.
He had to give Marie credit for one thing. If she must have taken a lover than she had picked the right one, they had made a handsome son. And it was that beauty that made him so angry, the child should have been his, had his slender but stocky build and not these angular features. Not this heart shaped face, perfect nose. Charles wanted him to have a crooked nose, not the sharp narrow ark that was his nose. Still Charles could not deny that he felt attached to him. He hated himself for it but that's the way it was, and so he went into his bedroom where his wife was just waking up.
"Morning love, nice nap?" he asked.
"Yes is the baby all right?" she asked in reply.
"Your son is fine." He snapped without meaning to,
She winced, "Good." She whispered almost too softly to hear.
"Marie I…" he started.
"No, you are right, he is my son." She said obvious pain in her voice.
"I should not have said that." He said.
"It's the truth." She said the pain in her voice heartbreaking.
"No, Marie love, he's ours I just…" he stopped.
"You just what, know that he isn't yours. Do you think that is lost on me Charles?" she snapped.
"No of course not, but I…" he didn't know what to say, he had never seen her so upset before.
"Well I am sorry Charles, but I wanted a baby and you needed an heir. You cannot provide me with a child so I shall provide you with one." She snapped at him.
"You don't know that…" he whispered, voice breaking.
"Yes I do," she said, "You told me yourself that the typhoid fever you had as a child malformed your seed."
"Marie please just try to understand…" he pleaded.
"Understand what?" she asked, "if you are so bitter about it than perhaps you should leave me and my son to the street as many of those above me would."
That made Charles wince that she would think of ever being abandoned by him was something he could not take. He sighed and looked at her hurting, angered face wrapped his arms around his wife and pulled her to him. She was so angry and hurt by this conversation that she pounded his chest and pushed at him to get away. But he was stronger than her and laid her against him easily before dipping his head over hers and whispering words that broke her heart.
"I…it just kills me that he has the Chagny blood…I love you so much and I wish he could have been mine."
When she heard the soft sob in her husband's voice Marie softened and she opened her arms to him. He accepted the hug and she let him weep in her arms, Charles never cried, even when his father died he hadn't shed a tear. When Erik was born he had shown no emotion other than a small smile to show that he was happy the child had been birthed a male so that he was not asked to try a second time. But now here he was, expressing love and pain openly and telling her how he loved her and wanted her child to be his.
She could not change the fact that he wasn't, biologically that is. But when it came to whose son the boy would be well that was entirely up to Charles. He knew it too, and when her husband pulled away he looked back into the room where the baby was sleeping. Marie sighed and lifted him up as she bought him to his stepfather and placed him in his arms. Charles looked down at the deformed child and touched the black fuzz of his just-sprouting hair.
"Erik…" he said.
"Hmm?" she asked.
"I want to name him 'Erik' for my father."
"Of course," she said and stood on her toes to kiss him.
In that moment Charles knew that no matter what Erik was his son and that was the end of it. They never spoke of it again. Now as Charles made his way to the drawing room he wondered how he would tell the boy that in the morning that he was sending him away. For tonight he went down to his office and taking out his pen wrote.