BrainStorms

LESTERVILLE, MISSOURI

October 31, 1998 - 7:00 a.m.

She awoke to the hubbub of excited chatter and the pressure of two small, rambunctious bodies clambering onto the bed.

"Claudine," she called sleepily.

Where was the lazy minx? Surely the chit knew better than to allow the children to enter her chamber so early. Drowsily opening one eye, she caught a glimpse of short, chestnut curls and gasped in dismay. What had Yvette been allowed to do to her hair?

"Claudine!" she called again, louder and more sharply.

Curious hazel eyes peered through a tumble of disorderly russet locks, accompanied by a suppressed and nervous giggle.

"Why are you calling me Claudine, Mommy? It's a funny name!"

She saw the mouth move and heard the words, but they made no sense.

She rubbed her palm across her forehead and frowned. This child was not her cherished Yvette. She wondered if the little urchin might belong to Madame Chardet. Rumor had it that the woman had whelped and suckled no less than a sturdy dozen. She had often wondered why it was that the common people had no difficulty in bearing healthy children when the highborn, such as herself, were cursed with sickly and delicate babies who so rarely lived beyond infancy.

As far as she was aware, however, the cook's prolific brood were all grown; nevertheless, she was forced to admit ignorance and, frankly, total lack of interest when it came the personal lives of her staff and servants.

"You okay, Mommy?" asked the small boy to her left. She blinked. And who might this be talking in gibberish? Certainly not her handsome Phillippe who, at fourteen, already displayed the regal features and majestic bearing of his Bourbon heritage.

Downstairs in the kitchen, Alex Moorlock bristled at the sound of his wife's hysterical shrieks. What the devil had the children done now? Probably snuck into the bedroom wearing those grotesque Halloween monster masks, interrupting their mother's rest and scaring her half to death. He'd made a special point of telling the pair to let Nancy sleep in for once. Hastily putting his half-empty coffee cup into the sink, he raced to the bedroom. A couple of tiny heads would roll for this.

He found her gazing wild-eyed into the mirror above the dressing table while the children huddled together, crouched in the corner.

"Mommy doesn't know us," whispered Paula, biting her bottom lip and placing a protective arm around Scotty's quivering shoulders.

"Nan," Alex coaxed gently as he crossed the room. "What's wrong, honey?" He extended his hand in a consoling gesture, only to be greeted with yet another ear-shattering screech.

She regarded him with disdain and a disturbing look of dread, muttering phrases that were incomprehensible. She tugged violently at her hair and raked at her cheeks, leaving angry welts in the wake of dark purple fingernails, painted the evening before in readiness for her portrayal as a wicked witch to celebrate the coming evening's festivities. There was no inkling of recognition, not the slightest sign of acknowledgment.

"Who are you?" she cried, although he understood nothing but the haughty pitch and superior stare. "How dare you enter my boudoir in such a manner and approach me as though I were a vulgar harlot. Bend your knee in my presence or I will have you flogged for this impertinence!"

He ushered the children through the door and reached for the telephone.

October 31, 1998 - 4:30 p.m.

"Will she be alright?" Alex asked of Dr. Stuart, as Paula and Scotty demanded to know when they would be taken out trick-or-treating. The elderly practitioner tried to hide the concern, but his tone was obviously troubled.

"I've given her something to help her sleep but this is way beyond my area of expertise," he said solemnly. "As far as I can tell, she's speaking French and believes herself to be member of the old aristocracy, related to Louis and Marie Antoinette, I believe. Of course, it's been years since I wrapped a tongue around the language myself or even heard it spoken, and she's using a very archaic form."

"French?" queried a puzzled and worried Alex. "Nancy doesn't know any French."

Dr. Stuart snapped shut the clasp of his black bag. "Apparently she does now," he sighed. "If there's no improvement relatively soon, I'd suggest taking her to see a psychiatrist. It's not my field I know, but she seems to be displaying classic symptoms of megalomania."

Alex rubbed harshly at his chin and shook his head. "You've lost me," he mumbled, eyes roaming desperately, as though searching for an answer within the walls.

"I'm talking about delusions of grandeur, things of that nature," said the doctor kindly. "But let's not blow this out of proportion. Chances are, it will pass and she may not even remember it ever happened."

Dr. Stuart lifted his bag from the small hall table. "Nancy has been under a lot of stress lately," he comforted. "The miscarriage has weighed heavily on her mind. She badly wanted a third child and blamed herself for losing it. This may be merely a psychological manifestation of the guilt she feels, even if that guilt is unwarranted." He gave Alex the benefit of what he hoped would be a soothing smile. "In any event, it's important that those around her remain calm. No point in going into a panic until we knw all the facts."

"Thank you, doctor," said Alex, opening the door. "You'll call back tomorrow?"

"Most certainly," assured Dr. Stuart. "Try not to worry too much in the meantime, particularly in front of the children. We don't want to alarm them unnecessarily." He ruffled Scotty's hair and smiled at Paula, who shyly returned the gesture. Alex nodded, stared for a moment as the doctor walked to his car, and then wandered into the living room. Suddenly and inexplicably exhausted, he sank into an armchair and puffed out his cheeks.

"Wanna go get candy, Daddy," Scotty stated firmly, with all the self-indulgence of a four-year-old. "You promised!"

Absentmindedly, Alex lifted the small boy into his lap and listened to the distant threat of rolling thunder. He hoped it wasn't going to storm. Nancy would throw a fit if he took the children out in the rain just to gather sugar-coated gum drops and sticks of cheap chewing gum.

"Daddy?" insisted his son, squirming in protest within a hug which was far too confining.

Upstairs, snug beneath the covers, her eyelids began to droop. It was just a ghastly nightmare. Nothing more. She would awaken in a moment and tell François all the details of her strangely realistic dream. Her husband would smile and shake his head at her folly in imagining it to be more than that.

"My delightfully foolish Angelle," he would say. Then, he would kiss her and they would laugh. Later, during her next soiree, she would recount this most peculiar tale to the ladies of the court. They would find it so very droll and amusing.

November 1, 1998 - 8:30 a.m.

She was stirred from her deep sleep by a chilly morning breeze rattling at the custom-made periwinkle mini-blinds; the frighteningly low hum of a lawnmower outside the window; the faraway roar of a cruising jet plane...and screamed.

CHATEAU DE VERSAILLES, FRANCE
APARTMENTS OF THE COMTE AND COMTESSE D'AUBINGNON

October 31, 1792 - 7:00 a.m.

She awoke to uncustomary silence and the pale light of morning filtering through Belgian lace curtains. Hugging her pillow, she languished in the tranquil moment, knowing it wouldn't be long before the children bounced enthusiastically into the room. It was nice to have a minute's peace for a change, but there was a full day ahead and she couldn't afford to spend too many of the early hours indulging in selfish procrastination.

A subdued rap at the door startled her.

"Come in," she murmured, still suspended in the grey area of consciousness somewhere between slumber and sensibility. The knock sounded again, timid and hesitant.

"I said to come in," she called.

The door opened slowly. A silver tray, presumably balanced upon a hand as yet unseen, came into view. She wriggled her toes luxuriously. What a lovely thought. Breakfast in bed! She immediately recognized the petite figure bearing the unexpected surprise. Or, at least, believed she did. It had to be Alex's youngest sister.

"Brenda," she laughed. "What an authentic-looking costume. What are you supposed to be? Some sort of grand lady's maid during he French Revolution? It really does suit you. I just love it!"

The girl smiled doubtfully. "Pardon, Madame? Je ne comprends pas" It was so typical of Brenda to play the part to the hilt.

"Ooh-la-la," she countered with the only French phrase she knew, but the bubbling chuckle died in her throat. Something was wrong. It was the eyes. They were wide with trepidation and entirely the wrong color.

"You're not Brenda," she faltered.

"C'est Claudine, Madame," the girl ventured hopefully, while bobbing a neat curtsey. She carefully placed the tray on a massive bureau. What a monstrosity it was! Who had taken her gorgeous sleek dresser of white Scandinavian pine?

"Madame?" the girl addressed her again, backing cautiously from the room.

"Wait a second," she cried, reaching out a hand sporting a huge, pear-shaped emerald ring on the forefinger. She tumbled from the bed in her haste to detain the girl, fleetingly aware that it was an ugly four-poster, and landed with a sickening thud on the cold marble of the floor.

The girl stared in horror and bit her lower lip, struggling to mask the tears. She would surely be punished for this. Claudine invariably bore the brunt of Madame's dreadful temper. The petite maid hesitated, uncertain whether to run for assistance or try and help Madame back to bed on her own. The matter was soon decided for her.

With her wrist captured in a vice-like grip, Claudine was obliged to face what would be forthcoming very shortly. She cringed and made ready for the vicious slap which would surely assault her cheek, but the slap did not materialize. Instead, Claudine staggered as Madame collapsed into her arms.

"Where am I?" Madame sobbed, her desperate gaze scanning the room as her head swivelled from side-to-side. Her expression was fearful and bewildered, as though she had never before seen the exquisite bedchamber with its sumptuous furnishings, gilt-edged fixtures and magnificent artwork.

Claudine distinguished the unfamiliar words only as an inquiry.

"Dammit, where am I?" Claudine stood very still. More questions followed, none of which she was able to understand, or even attempt to provide a response. Suddenly and without any warning, the anticipated smack was delivered, accompanied by a violent shaking of the shoulders that made Claudine's teeth rattle.

"Why won't you answer me? What in hell has happened here?"

The nails dug into Claudine's flesh until she wanted to scream. But by that time, Madame was doing enough screaming for the both of them.

October 31, 1792 - 4:30 p.m.

François, Comte d'Aubingnon, comforted his children before entering the carriage. Phillippe hid his tears bravely but little Yvette, not yet proficient in the customs of stately etiquette, was already missing her beloved Maman.

"I shall return by nightfall tomorrow," the Comte assured them, dabbing at his daughter's wet lashes with a silk kerchief. "Perhaps, before long, I will be able to bring Maman back home." Yvette beamed and squeezed her brother's hand.

In a corner of the coach, she shrank against the plush cushions, legs drawn up beneath the brocade skirt of the ridiculously elaborate gown they had made her put on before leaving. She wished she could make sense out of the exchange between the two men transporting her to...well, wherever they were taking her.

One of them appeared to think he was her husband. The other, she could only assume, was a type of doctor. She giggled hysterically. If such were the case, then he had a lousy bedside manner, confining her with ropes and chains.

"Angelle," François told her gently, "the restraints will be removed if you promise to remain calm." He slid warily along the seat in her direction, hoping that she would at least comprehend his intention, if not the words of his promise. She lashed out, kicking viciously with feet which, for the time being at least, were free of bonds. If they had tied her up so they could indulge in a bit of fun, then they'd soon discover they had a fight on their hands.

Sighing, François withdrew to the far side of the carriage, hoping that the children had not witnessed such a disturbing spectacle and, with a reluctant wave, signaled the coachman to drive on.

BICÊTRE ASYLUM, JUST OUTSIDE PARIS

November 1, 1792 - 8:30 a.m.

"I do not want her harmed or mistreated," François insisted, as the door of the institution gradually but firmly closed in his anxious face. "And I will expect frequent updates on her condition. She shall not be detained here longer than is absolutely necessary. Is that understood?"

"Mais oui, Monsieur le Comte," guaranteed the coarse, ham-fisted flunky with a barely disguised sneer. "No unnecessary violence or retribution for patients of Bicêtre, Milord. Discipline is only meted out when there is positively no other course of action...and then with compassion, Monsieur. Always with compassion."

Far from convinced or satisfied, Francois blew his wife a kiss. "Je t'aime, Angelle, ma cherie," he called. She gave no indication that she heard. He could only trust that she had.

A thick leather collar was fastened around her neck and she found herself being dragged, in the manner of an obstinate mongrel, along the length of a stone corridor to a tiny cell.

"Well, well," remarked a crude voice from behind, as she was tossed like a limp rag doll onto a pile of damp, filthy, stench-ridden straw. "What have we here?"

Boorish laughter reverberated with a sinister echo around the stone walls of the small dungeon. The distant rumbles of an impending thunderstorm added to the forbidding pall of gloom.

"One of the aristocracy, brother. Perhaps even a relative of those despicable Capets themselves!" She was frightened and confused by the blatant hostility of their predatory expressions and the raw loathing which seemed to be directed at her personally. She had done these men no harm.

"Dear God," she muttered, "please make this nothing but a horrible nightmare. Make Alex wake me up now with a hug and a kiss."

Softly, she repeated the plea over and over and waited in vain until her eyelids grew heavy.

November 1, 1792 - 1:30 p.m.

She awoke to the sound of ravenous squeaks and the scratch of sharp paws scuttling across a slimy floor; the scrape of a rusty key in a stubborn lock; the sight of a grinning, drunken stranger, reeking of strong onions and stale wine, fumbling with the frayed string holding up his pantaloons...and screamed.

WOMEN'S HOSPITAL, LESTERVILLE, MISSOURI

June 14, 2004 - 8:30 a.m.

To the squeal of tires and harmonious strains of a Mozart piano concerto emanating from the CD player, Alex Moorlock screeched to a halt before the entrance of the Emergency Room. Grabbing the small suitcase, he hurried to open the car door and help his wife into the waiting wheelchair.

"You will be in attendance?" she asked, her voice lightly laced with the tone of authority and antiquated manner of speech that never had quite vanished. Alex smiled and kissed the palm of her outstretched hand. He had learned to live quite contentedly with questions that were more commands than requests, and had even gradually grown accustomed to the lilting Parisian accent which continued to linger. It was all second nature to him now.

"Of course," he assured her. "I wouldn't miss this for the world."

A tall, blonde nurse relieved Alex of the overnight bag and ushered him toward the cubicle where he would find the necessary mask and green scrubs. "Hurry, Mr. Morlock," she urged with a twinkle in her eye as he stumbled over his own feet. "You don't want to be late for the delivery ." Alex most certainly did not.

The labor was an easy one, uncomplicated and surprisingly swift. Or, Alex theorized, maybe the time passed more quickly because he was actually present for this birth. It seemed as though the hours in the waiting room had been endless when first Paula and then Scotty had been born.

"There are no abnormalities or deformities?" she asked anxiously when it was over. Squeezing her hand, Alex shook his head and kissed her.

"I would call him Phillippe," she whispered, tears glistening in her eyes and a sheen of sweat still clinging to her forehead. "Assuming you have no objection," she added, as something of an afterthought. Alex grinned.

Six years ago...hell, two years ago...she would have never even dreamed of consulting him on anything. She had come a long way. She would never again be the Nancy he had once known, but she would always be the Nancy that he loved. Nothing could change that.

"A fine name for a fine boy," he replied, smoothing her damp curls.

Pleased, she nodded. "Then Phillippe it shall be."

Reaching out, she gently stroked her husband's cheek. "Phillippe Alexander, I think," she commanded softly. Alex beamed with pride.

BICÊTRE ASYLUM, JUST OUTSIDE PARIS

June 14, 1794 - 4:00 p.m.

Clenched within a tight fist, Doctor Pinel crumpled the dispatch he had just been given and sighed. Through the window, he watched the woman pull tenacious weeds from the little gravesite and remembered the day he had discovered her: Christmas Eve the year before. She had been a pitiful spectacle to see, barely recognizable as a human being, let alone a lady of high birth...wretched, slovenly, rambling senselessly and several months gone with child.

The asylum had been cesspool of depravity and brutal treatment when he had been appointed to oversee its operations in September of 1793. He had lost no time in enacting his own innovative procedures, quickly abolishing the bloodletting, purging, constant ducking and imprisonment by means of chained fetters and bestial leashes of rope and leather. Later that same month, he had been surprised to notice an imposing carriage arrive at the gates. The patrician who demanded to see him appeared no less surprised.

"Where is the former administrator?" the visitor had inquired arrogantly. "I come seeking news of my wife. I was given to understand that her condition is improving."

Pinel had extended his hand and inquired as to the name of the grand personage who stood before him. Recovering his manners, the noble had replied that he was François Phillippe Granier, Comte d'Aubingnon.

"I am afraid you have been supplied with erroneous information, Monsieur le Comte," Pinel had informed him. "This institution is for the male populace only. Women have never been incarcerated here."

At first, the man had appeared baffled by the contradiction.

"But I delivered her here myself," he had stated with conviction, "and have called upon this place many times, although never allowed to see her. The last report I received regarding her malady was most encouraging. It was implied that I might soon be permitted to transport her home." He regarded Pinel with a suspicious expression. "This is a most perplexing state of affairs."

With a bewildered shake of his head, Pinel had frowned. "I have personally examined all the patient records, Monsieur. I assure you, there is absolutely no evidence that your wife is at Bicêtre."

Then, the Comte had then grown angry and seized Pinel by the throat. "What nonsense is this?" he had roared.

Pinel had been given no choice but to have the gentleman forcibly ejected, wondering if it might not be more prudent to detain him for a while. Quite obviously the poor fellow was delusional. Nevertheless, the query had continued to haunt him. Monsieur le Comte's tone had been very convincing.

Some weeks following the visit, after a diligent and thorough search conducted by Pinel through the tangled labyrinth of dungeon cells in the bowels of Bicêtre, a captive had been unearthed: a miserably abused female, raving and deranged, who could be none other than the Comtesse d'Aubingnon.

Immediately, the doctor had sent word to the Chateau de Versailles, but his message had apparently gone astray, or perhaps been intercepted by the incensed proletariat who were now beginning to run riot, creating havoc and disruption throughout the country. Whatever the reason, the Comte and his magnificent horse-drawn coach had failed to arrive at the gates Bicêtre in order to carry the Comtesse home. Still, Pinel persisted in dispatching letters, even when he heard that all members of the aristocracy had been placed under close arrest and divested of all privileges. For some time, Pinel had continued his attempts to contact François Phillippe Granier. It had proved to be an unfruitful endeavor.

So, he had moved the lady into comfortable quarters, not far from his own suite of rooms, and had seen to it that she was attended with kindness and considerate care. Gradually, the violent storms which ravaged her mind had diminished and she seemed to accept her fate with a gentle and civilized disposition. The impending birth of the child also seemed to soothe her and Pinel often heard her crooning lullabies in the hush of night. They were peculiar, though tuneful, little melodies whose lyrics appeared to be pure prattle, but the tender tone with which they were sung could not be denied.

Pinel himself had been present when the stillborn babe had been thrust into the world. The woman's grief had been well-nigh uncontrollable and, for a period of time, he feared she would regress into her former irrational state. But, under his compassionate care, she had recovered more quickly than he had originally hoped. She had requested that the tiny boy be buried in the garden and Pinel had allowed it. The action brought her some added degree of comfort and what harm could it possibly do?

Now, it had fallen to him to deliver even more unfortunate news. Straightening his shoulders, he walked outside with a heavy step.

"Angelle," he said softly. He was forced to repeat the name. She rarely acknowledged it as her own. Brushing twigs from the skirt of the black gown that she always wore, she regarded him with somber brown eyes. He took her hand. It felt cold within his own.

"Your husband and your son," he faltered. "I grieves me deeply to inform you that they both met their deaths beneath the blade of Madame Guillotine early this morning." He peered into her expressionless face before continuing. "By all accounts, they died bravely and with pride."

He waited for the initial shock to pass and prepared himself for the outburst of anguish which would follow, but it did not materialize.

"Merci, Monsieur Pinel," she said calmly and returned to tending the grave.

"I do, however, have more encouraging news of your daughter," he said with a sad smile. "It seems that she was spirited away by one of your former chamber maids before the mob arrived with their carts. There is every reason to believe that she has escaped to safety." He waited vainly for a response and then returned to his study.

Carefully, she arranged nosegays of purple pansies in small, ceramic pots. She had always loved pansies and recalled when they used to grow in profusion along the borders of rose bushes in her own beautiful suburbia garden...an eternity ago.

She felt sorrow at the deaths, particularly that of the boy, but was unable to truly mourn. How was it possible to mourn for those she had never known?

Unbidden tears prickled at her eyelids and fell upon the upturned faces of the sweet-smelling posies. Silently, she wept, crying bitterly for all those mothers who would never again see their beloved children.

LE CENTRE HOSPITALIER, UNIVERSITARIE DE BICÊTRE, FRANCE

August 10, 2012 - 4:30 p.m.

Hastily depositing her luggage on the floor of the room assigned her in the dormitory, Paula Moorlock scurried back down the stairs and rushed across campus to the site of the recently-constructed Pinel Research and Teaching College.

She had promised her parents she would call home the moment she arrived, but that would have to wait until she had satisfied her curiosity.

"France," she murmured, eyes bright with excitement. She felt as though she had been familiar with the country for almost her entire life. Soon, she would see for herself the glorious buildings and historical monuments about which her mother always spoke with such affection: Notre Dame, complete with its famous bell and majestic gargoyles; the royal chapel of Sainte-Chappelle, world-renowned for its stained-glass windows; and Montmatre, the highest hill in the whole of Paris.

But for now, she was content simply to be among the original class of enrollees at the new college. Apparently, none of the other students had yet put in an appearance. That really wasn't surprising. The majority were French and only had a short distance to travel. The remaining few were Europeans who had probably already been to France several times and would be in no great hurry. After all, the semester wasn't scheduled to commence for another month, but Paula had begun making plans the minute she had received the letter of acceptance. It had been a tremendous honor, a not-to-be-missed opportunity, and she was determined to make the most of every single second.

Out of breath, she paused before the ornate iron gates which opened onto the courtyard of Pinel College. The structure was semi-circular, erected of gleaming white brick and imposing turrets of bluish-gray slate adorning the roof. Huge paving blocks formed a path which encircled the interior, at the center of which was a lawn and a fountain, its waters gushing from an urn held aloft by a chubby, innocent-faced cherub carved from rose-tinted marble.

Paula noticed the figure of a young man, perched with knees drawn up under his chin, upon the fountain's parapet and wondered if she had been mistaken in thinking she had been the first arrival. She opened her mouth to call out a greeting, but then curbed the unusual and unexpectedly bold instinct. The young man appeared deep in contemplation. Paula didn't want to be an intrusion. It would seem rude and he might be a future classmate. Wouldn't do to get off on the wrong foot.

Hands clasped behind her back, she strolled leisurely along the paving stones. Startled by the tapping of her heels, the man looked up and inclined his head in a friendly fashion. Paula needed no further encouragement. She quickly made her way to where he was sitting. In true gentlemanly fashion, he stood up as she approached and bowed in her direction. Mentally, Paula hugged herself. To make such a showing of manners, he surely must be French. French men were so gracious and so romantic.

"Bonjour," said Paula. "Comment allez-vous?"

The man smiled. It was a smile which crinkled his eyes. Paula involuntarily sighed. French men were not only gracious and romantic, they were also gallant and so very attractive. Her heart fluttered just a little.

"You are English?" he asked.

Paula was chagrined. She had believed her enunciation to be quite accurate. Her mother, who had instructed her, had always maintained that it was. "American," she replied disappointedly, wrinkling her nose. "Is it that obvious?"

The young man laughed. "No, not at all. In fact, it's extremely authentic. Very Parisian, except for the somewhat antiquated emphasis that one so often hears when the English attempt to imitate the accent."

He brushed specks of imaginary dust from the low wall surrounding the fountain. "Won't you join me?"

"Merci, monsieur," said Paula, delighted to do so.

"Please," he urged, "let us speak in your native tongue. I am trying to perfect my foreign language skills." He grinned. Somewhat shyly, Paula returned the gesture.

"Are you going to be one of the students here?" she asked.

"Mon Dieu, non! I possess no medical ability. I am merely the architect who designed the building. It is quiet here and I sometimes come to...how do you say? Mull things over. Soon, it will be invaded by scholars and its tranquility lost forever." He winked at Paula and then grinned again.

"You did a wonderful job," she told him admiringly. "It reminds me of a castle."

He nodded. "Yes. That was exactly the impression I desired to convey. Long ago, there used to be a grand chateau here, before it was downgraded to a sanitarium for the presumed insane. I wanted to restore its dignity, reinstate its former splendor."

Paula shuddered. She had learned all about the horrific Bicêtre Asylum during the course of her studies at the University of Missouri. Barbaric procedures, tantamount to being medieval in their torturous delivery.

The young man slapped his forehead. "You must excuse my appalling rudeness," he said, getting once more to his feet and bowing low at the waist. "Phillippe Lamarque, at your service."

"Phillippe!" exclaimed Paula. "That's the name of my youngest brother, except that we usually call him Phil."

Phillippe rolled his magnificent dark brown eyes. "I will never understand the necessity to shorten a name. I much prefer Phillippe."

"So does my mother," agreed Paula with a chuckle. "It certainly has a more noble ring to it." She extended her hand. "Paula Moorlock," she announced, sighing once more as he lightly kissed the fingers.

"My mother suffered for several years from schizophrenia," she told Phillippe, as he resumed his seat beside her, "believing herself to be a duchess of the old French aristocracy. It was then that I first became interested in the field of mental illness."

"It would seem that we have something in common then," he replied. "Family tradition dictates that one of my ancestors...a mad woman so it is said....was confined at Bicêtre. It is believed that she died here shortly after the end of the Revolution, and so was lucky enough to escape the blade of the guillotine during the Reign of Terror." He chuckled, drawing a forefinger across his neck from ear-to-ear, and then elegantly shrugged his shoulders. "Assuming, of course, that one could be considered fortunate to have ever been an inmate of the abominable place."

Phillippe scrutinized the slated towers, silhouetted against a sky beginning to grow dark with threatening clouds. He wondered why he felt obliged to relate his heritage to this stranger. She surely must find the tale dull, if not downright boring. He persisted nevertheless.

"Her only surviving child was smuggled out of Paris by a loyal maid. It is from that daughter that my family maintains it is descended." He turned to Paula and raised his eyebrows. "Who can say? We French are extremely fond of imagining we were once related to the imperial aristocracy. It enhances our romantic image."

He frowned as the first fall of rain began to descend. "Nevertheless, the possibility is one of the reasons I accepted this assignment. It is a small tribute to her memory or, at least, an acknowledgment of all those who spent their last days in this dismal place."

Large droplets splashed into the fountain, creating small ripples which spread outward and eventually dissipated. Phillippe got to his feet. "Perhaps, if the story is true, then her bones lay buried somewhere in this very location," he mused. "That is why I wanted the area to display a sense of serenity, be as pleasant as possible. I like to think she is finally at peace."

Paula willingly accepted his invitation to join him under the umbrella. Beyond the spires of bluish-grey slate, thunder rolled and, in the distance, a curtain of sheet lightning flashed for a brief moment.

"It is nothing but a summer storm," he said, offering his arm, "and the shower will doubtless vanish as quickly as it came, but I would not like to see you get wet."

As Paula's hand slipped into the crook of his elbow, Phillippe coughed and, hoping she wouldn't judge him too forward, ventured to ask, "If you have no particular plans for supper this evening...?"

"I'd be utterly charmed," she quickly replied, before he could have a change of heart. In all honesty, she had to admit, she already was utterly charmed.

Together, they walked slowly toward the gates. Hesitating, Paula glanced behind her. The sudden storm was subsiding and glimpses of shimmering blue peeked from between the tall towers.

"That lawn could use some flowers," she said.

"I will speak to the landscaper," Phillippe chuckled. "Does Mademoiselle have any preference for the type of flora she would like to see in the garden?"

Paula's gaze lingered on the cherub. Dwindling raindrops trickled down his pale pink-marbled cheeks. "Borders of purple-faced pansies," she whispered.

"Pansies?" echoed Phillippe. He had expected something perhaps a little more exotic, but had long since learned it was unwise to question the whimsical desires of the fairer sex.

Paula nodded emphatically.

"Yes," she replied, fondly recalling vague images of a young and happy woman who had once spent countless lazy afternoons weeding and pruning and planting...a young woman whose denim shorts and faded tee-shirt were somehow gradually replaced in her mind's eye with a plain, sober, ankle-length, black dress.

Paula smiled at Phillippe's amused expression and squeezed his arm. "You know," she said softly, "as I recall, she always did so love pansies."

Phillippe nodded in agreement. It did not occur to him to question who.



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