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! “Parlez-vous Francais?”
Declan shook his head, trying desperately to remember the simple French he had learned in school.
“No, I don’t… Parlez-vous d’anglais?”
The shopkeeper snorted at Declan’s pronunciation before going back into his shop without bothering to answer. Declan stopped for a moment to wipe the sweat off his face and process the situation. His daughter Claire was missing. She had been for nearly a quarter of an hour. He was in France. In a town where no one spoke English. Somehow, he needed to find Claire. Mrs. Raynott tugged gently on his arm.
“Come Declan, we need to continue our search. Shall we split up?”
“No, no, let’s not risk losing anyone else… you’re sure the boys are safe, Dolores?”
“You’ve already asked three times, they’re at home with their governess.” Mrs. Raynott’s patience, usually infinite, was wearing dangerously thin. Declan smiled apologetically and took her hand.
“My mistake… Let’s continue.”
Not at all refreshed, Declan stepped into the baking street, wondering where a little girl would go if left to her own devices. The market perhaps? It didn’t look particularly interesting to Declan, but he had never been a little girl, and it was sure to be full of the worthless trinkets Claire loved so much. Quickly suggesting it to his wife, his theory was confirmed. Claire had been begging to be taken to the market all day. Happy to have, at very least, a hunch as to where she could be, the pair walked down the street as quickly as they could. It was a truly horrible day, so hot that wash-water thrown from the windows of nearby houses steamed when it hit the ground. On top of that, the sky was a horrid biting blue, without a single cloud to take the edge off. Still, much as Declan would have loved to retire to his shady country manor, he couldn’t give up on searching for Claire. What if he never found her? What if she was forever lost in this remote French town? Disturbed by the idea, Declan quickened his pace. Entering the market, he wrinkled his nose in disgust. The whole place stank of fish, badly masked by the odors emitted by the bright flowers wound around every stall. There were many stalls; creating innumerable places for a toddler to hide. Breathing In short bursts so as to smell as little as possible, Declan began poking his way through.
“Claire? Claire!! Claire, it’s father! Come here Claire, I have the nicest thing to show you!!”
Mrs. Raynott gently slapped his arm for suggesting that her darling needed to be bribed, then joined in, imploring Claire to ‘come to Mama.’ Despite the noise they caused, all they were met with were the amused stares from the few locals who were brave enough to be out. There was no sign of Claire. Finally, after more than 30 minutes, Declan heard a familiar laugh a short distance away.
“Do you hear that?”
Mrs. Raynott smiled and nodded. Now that they were no longer desperate, she began trying to replace her crumpled hair-style, which she had spent nearly two hours on that morning. Upon turning the corner, however, she was again thrown into a frenzy. Little Claire was perched happily on Declan’s brother Thomas’s shoulders, singing a ditty about fish. Mute with horror, Mrs. Raynott snatched away her child.
“What do you think you’re doing, y- you disgrace!”
Thomas looked rather hurt, though not as much as one would think. He seemed used to the reaction.
“My apologies Ma’am, I was merely trying to restore her to her parents, though I had no way of knowing that she was yours.”
Mrs. Raynott glared while Declan coldly shook Thomas’s hand.
“Thank you, Thomas. We were worried. I’m sorry what befell your company, and though I’m quite sure it was not your fault…”
Declan paused delicately.
“May I ask what are you doing here? I was under the impression that you were in jail.”
Thomas flushed and ran a nervous hand through his overlong hair.
“I-I… I was given the day to come here and ask for you to bail me out. I just got off the ship. I’ll pay you back when I’m allowed my possessions. I promise.”
Thomas smiled nervously at his younger brother, not daring to meet Mrs. Raynott’s disapproving eyes. Declan frowned slightly, unsure whether to let his brother pay for his crimes, which in his heart he believed Thomas had committed, or let him out for the sole reason that Thomas was his brother. The pause grew so long that Claire began to cry. Brought back to the present by the simple noise, Declan spoke.
“Alright. Yes. Which is your ship? You’ll be out in time to join us for lunch.”