After a while, her tears stop. Angela hugs her again, and offers her a handkerchief.

“Are you alright?”

“Yes. No. I don’t know. Angela – I do believe you, and I know it doesn’t sound good. But…”

“You still think he loves you.”

Margaret shrugs. “I don’t know. Maybe – maybe there was a misunderstanding. Maybe he didn’t want to insult his new betrothed by pining over his old one. Maybe there’s something we don’t know.” She sighs. “Or maybe he really doesn’t love me. But I need to know for sure.”

Angela’s voice is taut. “You want to speak to him.”

“I do.” Margaret reaches out to her friend, but Angela’s hands are drawn away before she can clasp them. “Angela – I don’t want to hurt you any more than you want to hurt me. But if he loves me, and I him…”

“Then I have no business marrying him, however desperate my own situation may be?” There is bitterness in Angela’s tone.

Margaret hesitates. “Is it truly desperate?”

“The apothecary has said that my father may live two months, maybe three. I have no other relatives, and the house and shop are both mortgaged. Medicines are expensive, and doctors are worse. If I do not marry before my father dies, I will have nothing to live on.” Angela’s voice is hard. “Love is a beautiful thing, Margaret, but it is also a luxury. I can’t afford it.”

Margaret is shocked. She and Angela grew up together, but it always seemed to her that Angela lived a charmed life, even a luxurious one, at least by the standards of their village. Certainly, her father’s house is far grander than Margaret’s cottage. It has never occurred to Margaret that this wealth might be precarious – that something as simple as an illness could be sufficient to tip the family into poverty.

Perhaps she should relinquish Baptiste after all. She can, she knows, survive without him. She has already done so for a full year. And yet…

“What if I gave you my cottage?” she asks, suddenly.

Angela stills beside her. “Your cottage?”

“I own the cottage and garden free and clear, and there is enough to live on, if one is careful. If I marry Baptiste, Paul can live with us – so could you, for that matter – but the cottage would give you independence. You could wait to marry until you found someone you actually wanted to share your life with.”

There is a long silence.

“And if Baptiste does not wish to marry you?”

Margaret refuses to consider such a possibility. “He will marry me. I am certain of it. But if he does not wish to do so, you may marry him if you choose. And if you choose not – then you will still be welcome to live in my cottage, as my sister and my friend.”

Angela is silent again, and Margaret bitterly regrets the blindness that leaves her unable to see the other woman’s face.

At last, Angela’s hand finds hers, and squeezes it. “I will take you to Baptiste,” she says.

You know, it’s about time we found out what Baptiste thinks about all of this, don’t you? I mean, we have no idea how he feels about Margaret at his point, we only know that he didn’t ask Angela about her. Maybe he thinks she is dead. Maybe he has fallen out of love with her. Maybe he has fallen in love with Angela. Maybe his mother begged him on her deathbed to marry the woman his father chose. Maybe he is desperately in love with her, but despairs of disobeying his father. We just don’t know.

So what do you think? Does Baptiste want to marry Margaret?

Of course he does! This is obviously a romance – haven’t you been paying attention?

No, he does not. If he really wanted to marry her, he would have figured out a way to do so twelve months ago.

[This is all way too nice. I want something grittier. Take me back!]

[Take me back to the start]


Michel-Ange – Auteuil fleur9left Jasmin fleur9right Ranelagh

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