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The words hit Armand like the lash of a whip, seared his dark eyes like a fire’s heat, and he collapsed, blind and hurt, into a chair, his legs blithely refusing to keep him upright.
Distantly, he heard a strange moaning, like a wounded animal had crawled beneath the window and had fallen there, unable to move on.
In his abject horror the paper fell, unheeded, to the floor.
It was then that he realized the source of the sound he’d heard was not from any lesser animal than the one who sat in his chair. As he realized this, the sound abruptly cut off, and he found himself tipping forward to keep from being sick.
“Desiree.” It was not so much a word, but rather a plea for absolution.
He bolted upright as if he’d been shot by a pistol, “Oh Mon Dieu! Desiree!” and leapt up, flying from the study. Flinging wide the door, he dashed down the hall like a madman, “LA BLANCHE!” he roared in desperation, “LA BLANCHE!!”
In his cabin, La Blanch started, and frowned at the sound of his master’s voice, something was wrong.
Armand continued to tear through his property, “LA BLANCHE!” he cried again in fury, “WHERE ARE YOU?!”
La Blanche called back, “Here, Master!” and rushed to meet the mad man outside before he worked himself into a heart attack.
When they met, Armand’s eyes were glazed with something akin to pain, “Where is she?”
La Blanche frowned, bewildered, “Where is who, Master?”
“Desiree!” Armand cried, “WHERE IS DESIREE?!”
La Blanche regarded him with some suspicion, “Why do you ask me this?”
Armand began silently to cry, “I have found.. She is.. God, I’m sorry! I need her. Where is my wife?!”
La Blanche gave him a disapproving look, “Monsieur, why would I tell you where she is?” he gestured to the courtyard, “You have burned her things. You burned her child’s things. You have hurt her. She was the best thing this place has ever seen and you killed her.”
Armand’s eyes widened like those of a frightened child, “K- I- I- I kill- she’s dead?”
He looked broken.
La Blanche grunted, “May as well be, Monsieur.”
Armand fisted his hands in the other man’s shirt, growling like some wild beast, “WHERE IS MY WIFE???”
La Blanche drew back from his master’s madness, “Ask the ferry man. Ask Coton Mais.”
Without another word or thought, Armand took off for the stables and tore through the bayou as if the devil chased his horse. When he came upon the ferry crossing, Coton Mais was in the middle of the water, and Armand leapt from his bewildered horse before the animal could even stop. “COTON MAIS!!”
The ferry man looked on in shock as the crazy man waded into the water, waving his arms like a loon. “Monsieur?” he called curiously.
Armand hollered back at him, ignoring his bewildered horse and the winter bite of the water, “WHERE IS DESIREE???”
Coton Mais stopped the ferry dead in its movements. He fixed the man with a cold glare, “She is long gone from here, Monsieur.”
Armand cried again, the tears scalding his cheeks, “Please, there is something I must tell her! Please, Monsieur, you must help me find my wife!”
Coton Mais leaned on the tiller of his ferry, “And what of her child? You need to find it too?”
Armand looked startled, he had not even thought of his child. “My son…Mon Dieu! My son! Please help me find them! Please! The both of them!”
Coton Mais shook his head, “Your Desiree can be found here, Monsieur.”
Armand looked both joyous and hopeful, “And my son?”
Coton Mais hung his head, and looked away in some shame, “He could not be saved.”
Armand blinked, stunned into silence. When he could speak only broken words escaped his mouth, “He.. What.. ?”
Coton glared at him suddenly, “He’s dead. Desiree’s child is dead!”
Armand groaned, “What have I done?”
The ferry man shook his head and moved the ferry to the shore, “Come aboard, Monsieur.” He saw the regret in Armand’s eyes, and the pain. “I will take you to her.”
Armand grabbed his forearm like his brother would, “Thank you, Coton Mais.”
The man looked wary, but allowed this contact in order to appease the other’s madness. “Sit.”
When they finally made it across the water and to the cabin deep in the bayou, Armand was nervous and he stopped a ways away from the cabin, wringing his hands.
Coton Mais let him take his time.
“How is she?”
The ferry man shrugged, “She does not speak. She eats sometimes. It depends on the day. She has not smiled.”
Armand bit his lip until he bled trying to fight his tears. Her name clawed its way out of his soul, “DESIREE!” It was the sound of a broken man.
Inside the cabin something clattered to the floor.
“Desiree?” Armand’s voice was softer this time, not torn from an unwilling mouth.
The door of the cabin flew open as if it harbored a vengeance for the wall it banged against. “Armand?” The joy in her voice was unmistakable, “Armand?!”
“Desiree…” her name was a sigh on his lips.
She crossed the distance between them in a flash and clung to him with all her soul. “The baby.. Armand, the baby is gone. He is lost to the bayou.”
Armand nodded accepting this, “It was not you, Desiree.”
She pulled away a little, “What?”
He hung his head in shame, “It was my mother who was not white, Desiree.”
She only stared at him, unable to comprehend, and he let it go. “I love you, Desiree, and I am sorry. We can try again if you want. We can have another child.”
Desiree clung to him, “Will it bring you shame?”
Armand shook his head, “No, Desiree, and even if it did, the shame would be mine. None would fall to you, and I would love you all the more for it.”
She cried into his shoulder, “Yes, yes, Armand. Whatever you want. We’ll start over!”
His heart broke at her desperation to please him. “Come home, Desiree.. Come home with me again.”
She nodded, “I must thank these people first, Armand.”
He nodded, “Yes of course. They will be well compensated.”
She nodded again, “Alright, Armand.” She looked wistfully out into the bayou, “Let’s go home.”