This week’s Tuesday Tale:
Ireland. Louis stepped off the train. The lush green hills did little to uplift his spirits. He paused a moment to inhale their beauty, but when it failed to satisfy him, he gave his attention to retrieving his bags.
He deposited his luggage with the bellboy at the hotel and walked to the local pub that he had frequented on his last vacation. It was a quaint place, with a limited menu, but that suited him. He did not need options right now, only something to fill his stomach.
The waitress remembered him, but politely did not pester him with questions. She would have heard of the misfortunes befallen him and there was no need to question the reason for his dampened demeanor. Louis did not know how word spread so swiftly or to such foreign lands, but there was no use in doubting the power of gossip no matter how distant or remote the land or relation. His district of the world knew the relationship between Louise Belrose and the maiden who had graced his side for three years were permanently severed. He traveled here to avoid the questions.
He ate in silence, ordered and finished a pint of ale and left to walk the hills before the sun sunk below the horizon.
Night came, but sleep failed to find him. Louis took to his reading to defy the negligent visitor. He would not give insomnia the satisfaction of his frustration.
Morning arose and Louis took to the hills on the back of his country horse. He stabled the gelding here and was always glad for the excuse to see the animal. He had neglected him for three years on the account of the woman who liked neither Ireland nor horses. She was English; Louise thought he better forget that country altogether. He was a Frenchman, but his heart was buried deep in the Irish hills – a debt to his mother and an obligation to his father. He was bound and tied between the two lands and nothing could drag him from those guards.
His horse galloped them across the countryside. Louise had purposed to drop by his relatives’ farm, but they would insist on feeding him and he knew the burden an extra mouth would be on their purse. He rode on though they would be offended by his passing. He muttered a promise that he would come on the morrow with meat and bread to share. His aunt had married only for love. He frowned as he thought he understood that sacrifice.
When he arrived back at his hotel, he took to the hearth to dry his dampened cloths and warm his chilled feet. A waitress brought him a mug of ale while he waited on his dinner. The fire danced before him and Louis watched the flames as one would an exotic dancer. When he grew tired he rested his head back and listened to its gentle crackle. He slipped the ring from his breast pocket and placed it on the table. The light of the fire flashed off the precision cut stone, a stone that would not decorate the hand for which he had intended. He carried it now. He carried it close and everywhere. Maybe he hoped he would lose it, that it would find itself fit to depart from him because he was not in the power to initiate that parting. He had carried it from his eighteenth birthday hence. It was his mother’s mother’s, an old Irish relic, and his to give to his future bride. He was entrusted to carry it until he placed it on a lady’s hand, but now there was no lady and no hand to put it on. Though the gem was precious in sentiment and value, Louis hoped he would accidently drop it in a ravine and forget the obligation to marry and perpetuate the Belrose family. If only he had a brother to carry out those duties. At present Louis was certain of a life of celibacy.
He repeated his journey the following day and arrived with a roast in hand at his aunt’s humble cottage. They welcomed him and treated him with the simply pleasantries of country life. His little cousins played on the floor at his feet and the other ones inquired about the world he had traversed. When evening came, he stayed on long passed the kept hours of farmers as they insisted he stay for whiskey and song. He found comfort in their little abode and slept well for the first time in days.
They obliged him to share breakfast before he mounted and by the time his horse’s swift legs crossed the high country, he had not quit his thoughts of his relatives and their simple ways.
Horse and rider thundered across the rich Irish soil and childhood stories of valour and revenge filled his head. He felt the need to conquer the world since it had beaten him so wrongfully. He felt like an ancient knight on the back of his war horse and he wished he were charging into battle — there would be a noble fight and if it came to it, a noble death. But gone were the days of knight and sword.
He rested from his ride at a lowly inn. A barmaid attended him over the packed house of locals. He knew her, but he did not recall how. Whether to smile upon an old acquaintance or escape from her duties, she lingered at his table.
“I won’t pretend to say I’m sorry about what happened, Lou. But I’m sorry you were hurt.” She laid her hand over his. She had working hands, hard and strong.
“I loved her.”
The barmaid smiled. “The heir of England? Oh, who could love a crown? Not the Lou I knew.”
“I did not love her for the crown.”
“Ah, but others did and is that not what ended your lovers bliss?”
“Don’t speak of it. It pains me.”
“Pains you? For years I have been in more misery…”
She trailed off and removed her hand from his.
“You are half-Irish, remember? Your grandfather had other plans for you before he died, but your mother was led astray by your French father and you by some English whore.”
“Dare you call that lady—”
“I’ll call her what I please. She stole your heart from me.”
“From you? And what claim do you have? A lowly barmaid in the Irish countryside?”
The woman sat tall and she shook the stray hair from her face. Louis squinted as he tried to place her, but underneath the grime of the tavern and the rags for clothes he could not distinguish her from any other.
“That I am now, but once, long ago our grandfathers were noblemen, sworn to honor both country and lineage. We were in the books, you and I.”
“An arranged marriage?”
The woman nodded.
“But that’s old-fashioned. No one hends those things anymore.”
“Ah, but he died when you were still a lad, you did not know him well-enough. Still, you inherited his love for this country and you cannot renounce it for the sake of your English lover.”
“Don’t speak of things you don’t understand.”
“I understand it plenty. There is ill blood between the Irish and English, still that between England and France, but the latter was of no consequence because you are but barely French. Your father was the traitor, though not the first.”
“Foolishness! Do we not live in a modern world? There are no queens or kings on thrones these days, only people who call themselves noblemen and act foolishly because of their titles.”
“Is that what you told her, when she asked you to renounce your Irish heritage?”
“I believe I’m more civil than that.”
“But she asked and you refused.”
Louis paused. He wished he could remember this woman, this barmaid who was once a noblewoman before they did away with such titles.
“There were other things that drove us apart.”
The woman smiled at his defense.
“And now what? Are you going to pressure me to fulfill an agreement made between our grandfathers? Do you want this ring?” He drew the item from his breast pocket and held it out for the taking. “Here, it’s worth more than you’ll ever make in this tavern. It means nothing to me. I’d rather you’d rob me than pester me to wed.”
“I don’t ask you to fulfill that promise in any way. Your heart is too far gone from the old Irish. You’re blood is tainted with thoughts of English love though you now despise her. I am better a lowly barmaid than the wife of a half-hearted, broken man. Do me the favor and don’t pass this way again.”
She picked up his plate of food and took his unfinished mug of whiskey. He did not see her sly hand pocket the ring, but when he returned to his chair by the hearth at his hotel, he noticed the emptiness of his breast pocket and smiled rather knowingly. Oh, the ways of a woman, he thought as the fire warmed his toes, whether Irish or English, noble or peasant, their tongues were forked and their plans deceptive.
“Sir, your food.”
Louise Belrose turned to attend his dinner. The waitress did not leave as accustom. He looked up at her and wrinkled his brow at the smile on her face.
“Congratulations, sir, on your betrothal to Lady Keating today.”
“The noble woman disguised as a barmaid. It was truly a brilliant plan to play on your sympathies, sir. But rest assured Ireland will welcome you back home with hearty hearts from your wayward days. Your English affair is already forgiven and forgot with so quick an engagement. Truly, sir, she has saved you both. ”
Louis knew then what he could not place in the barmaids face in the traven. He had been deceived by the hidden heir of the only living dynasty and she must marry him to inherit it.
Thanks for reading! Let me know how you liked Louis Belrose. Would you have done what Lady Keating did? -Abby