Read The Making of a Gentleman Online
Authors: Shana Galen
Copyright © 2010 by Shana Galen
Cover and internal design © 2010 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover design by Will Riley/Sourcebooks
Cover illustration by Aleta Rafton
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For my daughter, who kept me company throughout the writing of this book with her kicks, hiccups, rolls, hiccups, flutters, and (have I mentioned?) hiccups. For you, Bellaboo.
France, July 1789
Eleven-year-old Armand Harcourt, the comte de Valère, should have been asleep. He was well aware nothing incited his nanny’s wrath more than when she looked in on him late at night and found him still awake. Armand did not consider reading a vice, but Madame St. Cyr, his nanny, had other ideas.
And so, with one eye on his book and the other on the door, Armand hunched over a candle and read with the sort of desperation one might expect from the starving wolves described in his novel. He knew he should go to sleep before he was caught, but the beasts were just about to attack a little girl. How could he be expected to put the book aside now?
Armand’s voracious eyes gobbled up the words. Halfway down the page, he began to hum. The song was something patriotic and vaguely familiar. He turned the page, still humming, and realized the song was growing louder.
He raised his chin and allowed the book to dangle from his fingers. Was that singing he heard?
He cocked his head, vaguely aware of the hollow thud the book made as it dropped onto the plush rug beside the bed.
Heart knocking dully, Armand snuffed out his candle and rose to his knees. His fingers shook slightly as he parted the drapes beside the bed.
At first he saw nothing. The lawn below was dark and peaceful. The stars in the sky flashed and twinkled. Then he looked at the fields. Dots of orange light burned and danced, coming closer. Closer.
The singing grew louder and shapes emerged from the low-hanging mist. Several dozen men and women, most carrying torches, marched in a jagged line for the château.
In surprise, Armand dropped the draperies back in place.
For a full five heartbeats he sat rooted in place. He did not know what the peasants marching toward him meant, but he feared it. Hadn’t his father, the duc de Valère, moved the family from Paris because of peasant uprisings?
Surely the same could not be happening here. The château was always quiet—a refuge for Armand.
But the singing grew louder, rising and falling into chants. Armand held his breath.
Mort à l’aristocratie!
Death to the aristocrats!
Terror sliced through him, leaving him cold and shaking, and he scrambled out of bed, tripping over books and toys littering the floor of his room.
Bastien—Bastien would know what to do.
A door on the opposite side of the room joined the brothers’ chambers, and Armand raced toward it. Flinging himself against it, he grasped the cold metal handle in one hand and wrenched the heavy wooden door open.
He stumbled into his brother’s room. “Bastien!” Armand gasped. “Bastien, wake up.”
The room was as black as a starless sky, and Armand groped wildly until he reached the bed.
“Bastien!” He clawed at the sheets, but the bed was empty.
His twin was not there.
Armand swore and immediately covered his mouth with both hands. Madame St. Cyr would have his head if she heard him.
Madame St. Cyr! Of course! She would know what to do.
He raced for the door to the corridor, opened it, and stepped into its gray-shrouded length.
Immediately, he began coughing as the smoke tickled his nostrils and curled into his lungs.
Armand looked about in confusion. Smoke? Where had it come from?
The image of the peasants carrying their torches sent him reeling. He did not want to accept what he knew must be true: the peasants had set the château ablaze.
Terror threatened to weaken and buckle his knees, but Armand forced himself to stand. He looked over his shoulder at the safety of his room, but how long until the smoke—until the peasants—infiltrated that last sanctuary?
He must get out, must escape the château.
The windows in his room were too high, and the peasants would be at every door. That left the secret tunnel.
Bastien used it all the time. He was always sneaking out of the château to embark on some adventure or other. Often he took Julien, their older brother, with him.
Armand didn’t mind being left behind. He preferred his adventures between the pages of a novel.
But there was no safety in books now. He must escape before…
He squeezed his eyes shut.
No, he would not think of that.
“You go that way. I’ll go this.”
Armand opened his eyes and whipped his head in the direction of the unfamiliar voices.
“If you find any of the aristos, kill them.”
Armand pushed a hand against his mouth to stifle a scream.
Armand shot upright, the sound of his scream still echoing through the room.
He clenched his teeth until his jaw ached to stop the sound, but it was too late. He had roused the house.
Reluctantly, he rose from the floor where he had been sleeping and stood in his breeches—feet bare, chest bare. He could hear frantic footsteps approaching already, and he had to force himself not to fist his hands. No one was coming to beat him. They were coming to soothe him.
In his mind, he saw a hand reaching out, touching his shoulder, patting it weakly. He shuddered in disgust at himself, at his weakness.
He wanted to call out—to stop them—but he could not.
Somewhere deep in the recesses of his mind, he knew how to speak. He even had a vague recollection of the sound of his voice. He knew what it was to scream, even the joyful release he felt when he did it. But the word to describe this? Even though he could sometimes think it, his mouth refused to curve around the word. For years, his survival had depended on muteness. Now, he could not seem to make his mouth remember how to form syllables, words, coherent sounds.
It was one of many things he could not remember how to do. Or maybe he just didn’t
to speak. Maybe he feared what he’d reveal—those terrors that hid in the forgotten caverns of his mind.
The door to his room banged open, and his brother Julien strode in. Julien spoke, but Armand tried to focus too late. The words sounded like a low hum, and Armand stared at his brother blankly.
Julien frowned and tugged a robe closed over his bare chest. His hair was tousled and unruly, and his face was peppered with stubble.
This man—tall, imposing, and commanding—did not resemble the boy Armand was beginning to remember. No, that was not quite true. The Julien in those faded, misty memories was also commanding.
But the harder Armand grasped at the memories, the more quickly they blew away. He clenched his hands in frustration, wanting the childhood memories to stay. But he could not choose…
Julien looked about and blinked at the bright light in the room. Armand kept several lamps, the fire, and a half-dozen candles burning at night. He disliked dark, closed spaces and would not tolerate them. Thus, even though the air outside was chilly, his window was wide open—the parted draperies flapping in the breeze.
This time Armand forced himself to listen, to focus.
“Are you well?”
Armand stared at his brother and strained to make sense of the words. Long ago, he had ceased even trying to comprehend what others said to him; it was safer, better. Now he had to battle daily to master the skill once again. As a youth, he easily plucked words from his vast vocabulary. Now those same words hung just out of reach.
His brother did not seem to expect a response and was looking about the room as if inspecting it. Armand saw his gaze pause on the open drapes, the candles. But Julien would find nothing amiss. Nightmares did not leave evidence.
Finally, Julien seemed satisfied with what he saw, and he stared at Armand again. “Is everything all right?”
This time Armand nodded. He knew this phrase. He had heard it too many times. He might have spoken, but he knew the words would come out as little more than unintelligible grunts.
Armand’s nod answered his brother’s question, but it did not eliminate the worry in Julien’s eyes. Armand hated that he was the cause of that worry—that he was the cause of these all-too-frequent late-night gatherings. He hated his lack of communication and the way he was often treated as a fool or a child. He was no idiot, and he was no weakling either. Not anymore.
The image of her came faster than the words. Images were easier for him.
Woman. Soft. Julien’s.
Finally the name: Sarah. Armand sighed. It was going to be another gathering.
Julien’s woman appeared in the doorway, her white robe held closed at the throat and her brown hair falling over her shoulders. She was Julien’s wife. And the slight rounding of her belly indicated she would also be the mother of his child.
Julien turned to the woman. “He’s fine, Sarah.” He turned back to Armand. “Another nightmare?”
Armand did not respond, knew no response was expected of him. He was ashamed. Ashamed to bring them here. Ashamed that he could not make it through the night without the nightmares.
He gritted his teeth and felt his hands ball into fists. His instinct was to send them all flying back to their beds. He could rant and roar, punch a hole in the wall. He looked at the other holes he had made.
No, that was the coward’s way—the same as hiding.
The woman stood in the doorway and studied Armand, her dark eyes thoughtful and kind. She had always been kind. When he had first arrived in London, she had taken him to see his mother, in this very house. He had thought his mother was nothing but a fantasy he dreamed up in that dank cell where he rotted year after year after year.
The years ran together, and so did the memories and fantasies. Armand did not know what was real, what was conjured. His mind played tricks on him; tricks that kept it occupied and drove him half mad.
But his mother had not been a fancy or a whim. She was real, though not exactly as he remembered.
Nothing was as he remembered.
Sarah came into the room now, her small white hand still clutching the robe at her throat. Crossing to Armand, she stood beside him. Armand’s eyes flicked to his brother. Julien watched his woman protectively. Armand wanted to tell him he would never hurt Sarah, but his attempts at speech would more than likely scare her.
She reached out and took his hand, and Armand braced himself.
The image of fire leapt into his mind—
Hot. Hurt. No!
But because Julien was watching, Armand endured the pain and allowed her to hold his hand. He knew this was intended to be comforting, but it made him grind his teeth. Her closeness—anyone’s closeness—was awkward and almost unbearable.
“Armand,” she said quietly. He darted his gaze to her, then back to his brother.
“Armand, Julien and I have been talking,” Sarah said quietly, “and we think it might help your recovery if you had a tutor.”
Armand glanced back at her.
The word was familiar to him. He could not remember the last time he heard it, but it was a word he liked.
, he said in his mind, rehearsing it as though he would speak it.
She squeezed his hand warmly, causing another searing bout of agony. “Would you like a tutor? Someone to help you remember how to speak?”
She was looking at him, and he stared back at her. Julien was behind her now, his hand on her white-clad shoulder. Her hair fell over that hand in soft waves, and Armand wondered if it was as soft as it looked. He once had a rat in his cell, and he had made it into a pet. Its fur had been soft and brown like Sarah’s.
“Armand, do you remember Monsieur Grenoble?” Julien asked. “He was your tutor in Paris.”
Something about the name caused Armand’s heart to speed up. He did not know who or what Monsieur Grenoble was, but the memory was pleasant.
This Grenoble was from before the years of hell. Before the dark prison, the frequent beatings. Before he had been left for dead.
Sarah was smiling. “I think he does remember him,” she said to Julien, turning her head to look over her shoulder. “Did you see the way his eyes lit up?”
Armand was aware they were speaking of him. They did this often, and he hated it.
He jerked his hand away from Sarah’s, and she turned back to him. “I’ll begin making inquiries tomorrow,” she said, reaching out to pat Armand’s arm. “We’ll find someone extraordinary.” She lifted on tiptoe to kiss his temple, and Armand dug his fingers into his thighs. This time it was not just her touch that pained him, it was her scent. She smelled sweet, like apples or peaches, and the feminine smell of her was almost more than his senses could handle.
When she stepped back, he could breathe again.
“Good night, Armand.”
Julien watched him for another moment then followed her out the door.
The door closed behind them, and Armand looked about the white-walled room. He had paced it and knew it was three times the size of his prison cell—bright and sunny during the day, shadowed but not menacing at night. There were pictures hanging on the walls—between the holes he had punched.
Flowers. Field. Color.
He could not remember the names of all the colors.
Armand considered lying down and going back to sleep, but tonight the sound of the peasants singing was too loud. It echoed in his head, and Armand closed his eyes to block out memories of that night so long ago.
But the song would not be silenced, and even opening his eyes and staring at the flickering candle would not burn the images from his mind. The flame rose and fell, hissed and smoked, danced before his eyes—just as the fire had danced in the night sky so long ago.
The fire had danced as Armand’s life burned to ashes.