Thank you for continuing to read GAMES AT DEAUVILLE. I'm glad you're enjoying it.
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The household staff stood before the entrance of the château as our car pulled to a stop before them. The chauffeur quickly moved from the car and opened the door for us.
D'Orléans stepped out and turned back to help Elizabeth out of the car. Holding Elizabeth's hand, he started towards the entrance as Barry and I got out of the car.
The butler bowed from his waist to d'Orléans. "Welcome, Monsieur le Comte," he said and slipped into a short speech.
"Hmmm," Barry said in a whisper a moment later, grinning as he looked at me. "Seems Elizabeth has caught the attention of a very big fish," he said out of the side of his mouth as he watched the tableau develop before us.
"Big fish?" I didn't recognise the expression and couldn't make it out, though I was listening to the same conversation.
"Our captain turns out to be the-" He frowned. "France doesn't have a King, does it?"
"Not that I've heard."
"Seems these people think that our boy Louis-Philippe is the Crown Prince then."
"You speak French?" I asked before I could think to stop myself.
He chuckled. "Americans aren't totally uncivilised. Besides, my family used to spend our summers on a lake in Québec and my best friend was Québecois. I started learning French when I was nine."
"I see." I did see - I had put my foot in it again. I was quickly coming to agree with Barry Alexander that being British did tend to make one a bit insular. He made it a practise not to take offence when I made a fool out of myself; he simply - and gleefully - made me aware of it.
"Our boy's the Count of Paris," he said.
"I know." I studied d'Orléans as he thanked the butler and then the staff of the château. The man was the Heir Presumptive to the throne of France. The man holding my cousin's hand. He was a gentleman, at least. Aunt Alice would certainly approve if something came of this. I took a deep breath, wanting to laugh.
My dear cousin appeared as smitten as d'Orléans did. That surprised me. Liza was always in control of herself. She had always being so unflappable, even when she was a young girl coming to terms with her mother's death.
I looked forward to seeing how things developed between her and the Comte in the forthcoming week. Perhaps I could even return the favour and put her and the Frenchman together as she had Barry and myself.
D'Orléans turned back to us and introduced us to the staff. The butler bowed to me. Not as deeply as he had to the captain, but he bowed. The rest of the staff bowed or curtsied on cue. I smiled and joined Elizabeth and the Comte de Paris at the open door. Barry jauntily followed me.
After being shown to our rooms, I crossed the hall and knocked on Elizabeth's door.
She smiled demurely as she let me in. We stood in the suite's drawing room. "Eliza," I began the moment the door was shut behind us.
"Robbie, why didn't you forewarn me that Philippe was - well ..." She looked towards the fire, her face reddening. "So interesting." She giggled. "I expected some unpleasant old man."
"Eliza, we must be serious."
"About what?" she asked innocently.
I collapsed on the chair nearest me and stared up at her. "Do you know who this man is?"
She giggled again. "Robert Adshead. I went to the finishing school that Aunt Alice picked out, remember? You also remember that finishing schools for proper young English ladies teach French - don't you?"
I remembered what she'd just called our French captain. I tried to imagine what I would call one of our two Princesses were I to become friends with them. Certainly not Elizabeth or Margaret Rose. "Philippe? When did you start using that name?"
"He asked me to use it - as we were coming into the house."
"He's the heir to the rightful claimant to the French throne, Eliza," I said, telling her what she already knew.
"He's interested in you-"
"You seemed more than just passingly interested in him," I mumbled.
She knelt beside me, taking my hands in hers, and looked up at me. "Robbie, I'm still Eliza. I'm still your best friend-" She giggled suddenly. "At least, I'm still your best co-conspirator."
"I don't want you to get hurt," I told her, admitting to my one concern.
"I find Philippe to be very handsome. He's also quite bright. I find myself attracted to him." She smiled up at me. "And I understand that worries you."
"Only if you're teary-eyed as we're leaving." I made my features blank as I stifled a laugh. "Pettigrew would be quite upset at me if that were the case."
She giggled. "We wouldn't want to make the sub-lieutenant too upset, would we?" She instantly became serious. "Did I throw out obstacles when you were first learning to love Barry?"
"Are we talking love already, Eliza?"
"I don't think that I'm in love with Philippe, Robbie. Yes - I'm attracted to him; I find him to be a very interesting man. But I've lost none of my senses that I can tell."
"Why don't we simply leave things alone - and see how they develop? I promise that I'll keep my head about me." She grinned impishly. "I'll even be a very good girl and make sure that you or Barry are always there when Philippe and I are together. Will you trust me - as I trusted you with Barry?"
"He's not just any member of our sort-"
She laughed. "He's also probably a Catholic - can you imagine Aunt Alice's face when she realises that?"
I chuckled. "What're you saying then?"
"I'll keep my eyes open, Cousin. I'll keep the key to my heart locked away. Let's all just relax and enjoy ourselves, shall we?"
"A pleasant little interlude?"
"I find it interesting to feel this way, Robbie. It's a strange feeling, different from anything I've ever experienced. Do you ever feel like you're in a boat floating on a gentle current? On a summer outing, I mean. It's a heady feeling. Let me enjoy it, please."
I smiled at her as I stood up. I took her hands and raised her to me. And kissed her forehead. "Elizabeth, there is no better feeling in the world than to love someone - unless it is to feel them love you back." I left her, closing the door behind me.
* * *
Barry watched me as I entered the common drawing room of our suite. He continued to watch me as I crossed to the sideboard and poured myself a whisky. "Want one?" I asked without looking back at him.
"Not now. Come sit by the fire," he suggested as I raised the glass to my lips. He sat on the sofa and patted the seat beside him. I studied his face and saw only concern there. I smiled and joined him.
His fingertip traced my jaw. "Do you want to talk about it, Robbie?" he asked.
"I'm not sure I know how to handle this," I grumbled and brought the whisky to my lips.
"You mean this thing with Elizabeth?" he asked.
I nodded. "It happened too bloody fast," I growled and sipped my whisky. "I thought she was just playing - as she was doing with Pettigrew on the flight over."
"Love's a strange thing, Robbie - it sneaks up on you and pounces when you aren't looking." He leaned over and nuzzled my cheek. "Just look at us."
"Yeah. I remember I thought you were an attractive man and I wanted to have you. But I was thinking just sex those first couple of days - or thought I was. All I thought I wanted was a summer fling. Then, when you kept brushing me off, I kept falling right back into your path. I was shameless, and love made me that way."
I laughed. "You were. You even enlisted Eliza to help you. What you didn't know was that I wanted you and couldn't stop thinking about you. My resolve just kept weakening every time I saw you. Eliza's bringing us together destroyed what little resistance I had left."
"Perhaps we should be like Elizabeth was with us," he said softly against my ear. "At least, we could just stand back but be there if and when she needs us."
"There's no 'if' to it, love," I mumbled, trying to forget Eliza and concentrate on Barry. "He's the heir to the Pretender."
"She's an English noblewoman, Robbie-" His lips had begun to make little butterfly kisses down my neck, his fingers were loosening the knot of my tie.
I began to relax under his fingers. "He's almost certainly Catholic. And God alone knows how the French would feel about an English Queen - if they ever restore their Monarchy."
"Elizabeth knows this, doesn't she?" His fingers had loosened my tie and were now working at opening my collar.
"I suppose. Yes, she does." I swallowed the rest of my whisky and sat up. "And one of us will be right there any time he's with her. Elizabeth's virtue is still going to be intact when you get her back to England."
He pushed off of the sofa and, smiling, reached down to me. "Let's find a bed, Lord Petersholme," he whispered against my ear. He led me to his bedroom.
That evening, rested and refreshed, we drove to Deauville. I sat against the far door with Elizabeth immediately beside me; Barry faced d'Orléans, who again sat on the jumpseat. I had suggested the seating arrangement as we lay together in my lover's bed. Even faced with Barry sitting across from him, however, d'Orléans had eyes only for Elizabeth. Barry and I were forgotten adjuncts to his night out with her.
The Comte de Paris and heir to the man who would sit on the French throne peppered her with questions. He surprised me that he listened intently to her answers, and I wondered if I had been so obvious when Barry had entered my life. I prided myself that I hadn't fallen as completely or as quickly as d'Orléans had - not until Eliza had begun her campaign to throw us together. Even after we started doing things together with her as our chaperone, I hoped that I hadn't been as oblivious of everyone and everything as this Frenchman was.
D'Orléans' behaviour indicated that he was seeing an intelligent, witty person when he looked at Elizabeth, a woman whom he enjoyed being with. That was much more than the simple male attitude of seeing a pretty woman and wanting to bed her. And, whether something came of this encounter or not, I did have to accept that her emotions were hers alone to protect. Barry or I could only be a sympathetic ear - were she to need one.
As we entered the village, d'Orléans turned to me. "Monsieur le Baron, my commanding officer has suggested a hunting party for Wednesday morning-"
"A hunting party?" I mumbled.
"A stag hunt. In your honour, of course, Baron Petersholme. A hunt is a pleasant way of spending the day. The deer are plentiful and some of the stags are magnificent animals."
My mouth watered at the thought of venison. I had no idea of how Americans felt about hunting and looked to Barry to learn his reaction to the idea. He didn't meet my gaze. "That would be nice," I said finally.
"Good," the Frenchman answered. "I will make the plans for our hunt then."
Our car pulled onto a drive that quickly led to a palace. Not a converted manor, but a palace. As d'Orléans promised that he would teach Elizabeth to play la bocha like a professional, I stared at the well-lighted, ivory-coloured, two-storey building rising before us.
"Monsieur le Baron-?"
D'Orléans and Elizabeth were both looking at me. "Yes?"
"In addition to the gaming tables, there is a cabaret inside - as well as three restaurants..." D'Orléans managed to shrug as he sat there on the jumpseat in front of Barry and Elizabeth, bringing his entire body to the gesture as only the French can. "We could have eaten here, but Monsieur Reynaud's staff would have been insulted - I thought it best ..."
"Of course," I agreed. "Our dinner was quite good."
"Thank you." He turned to gaze at Elizabeth. "There are roulette wheels - in both the English and the French styles - and tables for vingt-et-un and la bocha." He smiled at her before turning back to me. "I have offered to show Mademoiselle Elizabeth how to play la bocha and to win at it. Do you and Mr. Alexander have a preference for a particular game?"
I glanced past Eliza to Barry. He simply smiled. "Not really," I told the Frenchman. "We're here to be entertained." I nodded towards the casino. "Anything will be fine."
Our car came to a stop before a columned portico. A doorman opened d'Orlèans' door, bowing from the waist. The Comte de Paris led Elizabeth up the steps, with Barry and I following. The staff proved to be as effusive in their reception as Reynaud's had been.
I was beginning to wonder just how strong republican feeling was in the country that gave the world liberté, egalité, and fraternité - and the generation of war that the first Napoleon's rule brought Europe. There were no more Bonapartes to threaten the Third Republic, but there were the d'Orléans.
"Do you think our Comte de Paris has figured us out, my Lord?" Barry asked softly as we moved through the glazed portico following d'Orléans into the lounge inside.
Our French host had remained formal whenever he addressed me. And I realised that he had avoided speaking to Barry in my presence.
"Do you think that we've been obvious?" I asked.
"I don't think so. But the distance he keeps putting between himself and us is becoming uncomfortable - me especially. It's like I don't even exist."
I frowned. "Perhaps, it's just Elizabeth," I suggested. "He seems to be completely taken with her."
Inside the casino, it was obvious that the republican disregard of title and ancient privilege was still alive and well in bourgeois France. D'Orléans appeared to be treated like any other field grade army officer. The staff was effusive, but they appeared to be treat all of the guests the same way.
* * *
Something felt different about the cottage. Something wrong. He was instantly wide awake. He didn't move as he used his ears to find what had woken him.
Clive snored in his bed next to Neville's. Whatever had woken him couldn't have been his mate. He opened his eyes into slits and looked at the side of the room that he could see without moving, peering hard into the dark shadows.
"Clive?" The voice was a low whisper behind Neville at Clive's bed. "Clive! Wake up, lad!" The bed complained as his mate was shaken roughly.
"Wh-?" Clive grunted.
"Sshh! You'll wake him. Get up, lad. We need to talk."
Neville mumbled nonsense and smacked his lips as he'd seen Clive do many times in his sleep. He wanted to turn over. He wanted to see who was in their cottage. But he didn't dare. He guessed it was best that he pretend to be asleep. The cottage was totally silent. He couldn't even hear anyone breathing. He snorted and breathed loudly through his mouth, hoping to convince Clive and whoever the other man was that he was still sleeping.
An eternity later, Clive slipped out of their bed. "It's bloody cold!" Clive complained in a whisper as he left the bed.
"Get dressed, boy. We need to take this outside."
"Give me a moment, Dave."
Dave? Neville wracked his brain for someone - anyone - on the farm with that name. There wasn't anyone. So who-? Dave Rice? The blacksmith in the village? He and Clive knew him, but-
He remembered the last couple of times that they'd been to the pub then. Clive always seemed to find a moment to chat with the smith there - alone. But why was the man here in their cottage? Waking Clive up? It made no sense at all.
Neville shut his eyes and started to snore loudly.
"I'm ready," Clive grumbled a few moments later.
"Let's go then."
"This had better be bloody good, Dave."
Neville heard the door open and then squeak as it was pulled shut. He opened his eyes and looked around the cottage to make sure they'd left.
He stared at the door for what seemed to be an eternity. He wanted to know what had caused the smith to be in their cottage, but he didn't want them to know that he was awake and knew something strange was happening. Still, if he was going to know, he had to listen at the door. He took a deep breath and let it out. "It's the only way I'm going to know what Clive's about," he told himself and threw back the blankets.
The fire was just embers and the cottage was cold. The floorboards on the bottoms of his feet were even colder. Neville moved steadily to the door, trying to ignore the chill that seemed to be seeping into his very bones.
Pressing his ear against the door, he heard David Rice say: "The man'll be here Wednesday. You'll need to show him around so he can get on with his orders."
"That's going to cost. I have other things to do than be a tour guide for anybody - and I expect this lad's going to be a Hun on top of that."
"I've been authorised to pay you five quid to show him around - another ten if he needs help from you."
"Let's see it."
Neville heard the rustle of paper through the door. Five pounds? More than a week's wages, that was! Bloody hell! What had Clive got himself into?
"Five notes here, Dave, me boy," Clive chuckled. "I'm all yours."
"This Horst Müller who's coming over here doesn't speak English, Clive. He'll have an Englishman along with him to make himself understood."
"That's two of them - that's double the coin, Dave - else, it's nothing that involves me."
Neville could imagine Clive offering the blacksmith his money back. That would be just like his mate, offering the money back and knowing full well that it wouldn't be taken. Clive had guts, he had. But where was this heading? Neville knew that, wherever it was, he was there too.
He made his way back to the bed then. He wanted to hear anything else that might give him a hint as to what they were planning but hadn't dared stay at the door listening until Rice said goodnight to his mate. Clive was quick - quicker than he was. He'd have been inside before Neville could make it to the bed, much less get the covers over himself and pretend to be asleep.
Whatever Clive had in mind would involve him. But he had to pretend he didn't know anything until his mate told him. Clive had a temper, he did. A nasty one too. It was really best to keep quiet until Clive decided to tell him.