I loved my sister more than anyone in the world. I can never remember whether my childhood was happy. I know there were days when we starved and nights when stories of more aristocratic abuse were traded in candlelit whispers. But in my memory, we were happy.
Even after she married Gratien and moved down the road, I visited every day. Her husband was frail and ill and we wondered whether he would live to be gray — but Christine was determined that he would. When September came, our harvest was better than usual, and our bellies were — a little — fuller. I spent the days helping Christine take up the gleanings with the other women.
One day in late September, a cloud of dust appeared on the road. I saw the heads of the field workers turn up, and then down, and straightened, shielding my eyes to see who was coming. I felt a slight pressure on my wrist, and saw Christine motion downward. Her gaze had sunk to the ground.
“Don’t look,” she murmured. Obediently I let my gaze drop. The passage of the carriage rumbled in my bones. As soon as it was gone, the women around me straightened and began to work once again, their voices ringing brightly across the field.
“Who is that?” I whispered, catching up to Christine.
“The marquis.” She didn’t look at me.
“Don’t you like him?”
“It’s not my place to like him or not like him,” she said, her mouth a hard line.
“Why did we all have to…?” I began, but Christine quickly cut me off.
“I think we’re done for the day,” she said, flashing me a smile. “Why don’t you come to eat with us tonight? I promised I’d teach you how to knit.”