Tidbits: The Three China Doll of Ardennes by Penny Freeman

By Photoplay magazine [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

A deleted scene from My Father's Son

Durant blinked and forced his thoughts back into he room. He did not know how or if he should even attempt to answer that question, but one glance at the lady before him bespoke her utmost need for the information.
He wondered how to begin, then recalled the watch in his pocket. It was not the chronometer he had purchased that morning.
Rather, it was very old and very precious. The workmanship was unsurpassed, but for what it meant to Jeanne, to all the Marchands, to Isabella, and to himself, it was irreplaceable. He had found it in LeDuc’s desk at the study as he cleaned out the drawers.
He knew exactly what it was, and could not help but sense that his father had it put there of a purpose, knowing Durant would know exactly what to do with it.
Durant had brought the watch along with him on that venture, thinking he would return it to Madam Marchand. However, for reasons he little cared to explore, it always remained in his pocket.
The voice inside him which he tried to follow told him that it was as intended, for Jeanne required it just then, and that it was vital that he give it to her.  She had to understand.  She could not go seeking answers from that creature. 
Durant removed the watch from his pocket and Jeanne gasped.  She did not wait for him to offer it, but snatched it up.  Her fingers trembled as they searched for the secret latch, but it quickly sprung open and a delightful little melody began to play.  
Jeanne burst into tears, and to Durant, nothing seemed more abandoned or desolated as that little girl, for she could not have been more than four or five when she last saw it in her father’s hands.  So, he guided her to the sofa, sat beside her, and took her into his arms as she wept.  His tenderness tapped some wellspring which she had kept capped for more than thirteen years, and Durant knew she at last allowed herself to grieve for her father.
With time she grew spent, and not many moments afterward she realized herself in the arms of a strange man in a boudoir she knew not where.  She jumped to her feet and skittered across the room.  Durant had to smile when she snatched up the fire poker and leveled it at him, even as she scrubbed at her tears. 
“Forgive me,” she pleaded.  “I forget myself.”
“I rather imagine you remembered yourself, Miss Marchand, in moments both poignant and sweet.”
She considered him and allowed the poker to drop, although she kept it in her hand.  “Why?” she stammered.  “Why do you act as if you own me . . . as if I am your charge?”
“Because you are.”
“Who made you so?”
“Your father.”
The poker dropped with a clatter onto the stone of the hearth, the girl’s knees gave way as she crumpled to the floor and began to keen.  Durant knew better than to attempt to remove her, but he wrapped the counterpane about her just the same.  Then, he pulled an ottoman close that he might speak to her gently enough that she could hear.
“Your mother does not speak of that day,” he suggested.
Jeanne wagged her head, although she hid her face in her hands. 
“Your mother believes—or you allow her to believe—that you were too small to remember.  They planned it as much.  They did not wish you to ever recall that day.  But how could you forget?  You may have been small, but how could you forget the day that horrible woman came and took away your father and sister?”
He paused a moment as he considered how much to reveal of his own knowledge, for certain of his imminent death, Gabriel Hamilton had told the story to the boy, hoping he built a wall of protection around his daughter; hoping against hope that the Durants would bring his wife and children home after his death.  
But he died not but six months after their return from the Continent, too soon for his daughter to overcome her aversion of all things Durant, and war ravaged through Europe, making it impossible to bring the ladies home. 
With the loss of her family, especially her father—the girl’s previous contempt and dislike for her natural mother sprang into virulent hatred.  As it disseminated through the whole of her, it hardened, and Isabeau that was became Isabella, the scourge of the Family Durant.
“My father was your father’s friend,” he explained.  “Your mother met your father through my father.  They loved each other, but your father was a poor soldier and not high enough for your mother, and so he was sent away to Hanover.  
"There, he met another lady he had met through my father, she was in dire straits and so appealed to him for assistance.  The predicament was of her own making, but your father, full of compassion, could not abandon her when she was so heavy with child.  
"It was not his, but from the loyalty he felt toward her family, he provided protection for her.  It was not until later that she conquered him entirely.  They were never wed—not by a preacher or priest or even a judge.  The woman just put a ring on her finger and called herself Mrs. Hamilton.”
Jeanne looked up to him, disbelieving.  “I know Isabeau was my sister, monsieur.  Just see—“ She held out the watch to reveal the miniatures inside, three china dolls all made from the same mold, but for Jeanne’s emerald eyes, Briggite’s gentle sapphire, and Isabeau’s of absolute violet, just like her father’s.  
Durant knew them well enough, but he obliged her and took the watch into his hands.  After a glance, he shut it, for the music nigh well broke his heart just then.
‘Lock it down, son,’ he felt LeDuc tell him.  ‘This girl is the least of your concerns.’
No.  Not just then.  Just then, that girl was his primary concern.  He would not sacrifice his own humanity to the ministry.
“The woman had a baby boy,” he qualified.  “She named him Richard, after her brother, and Gabriel, after your father, and the last name of Hamilton.  She did this to anger the true father who refused to help her, for the nobleman (for thus he was) despised only one man greater than her brother.  
"She leveled an extreme insult when she named his son after one so low as your father.  He raged, so much so that when he came and claimed the boy
He stole him from the wet-nurse with whom the babe dwelt, he changed the name to reflect his peerage.  
"The woman had captured your father in her trap with that babe as the lure, and by the time the nobleman arrived in Hanover to claim his son, the woman was again with child, with Isabeau.”
“My father could not leave her.”
“No, mademoiselle.  Not just then.  But, very soon he realized the evil nature of that woman and that she despised them both.  From the cottage of the wet nurse, she placed Isabeau in a terrible school.  
"Your father objected.  He wanted to make a true home for his daughter, but the woman refused.  He also had never ceased loving your mother.  
When he became ill, he sold out and went on half pay, and since her father was then dead, he went to Sainte BarbĂ© and pleaded for your mother’s forgiveness.  
"Your mother is a great lady, Jeanne.  She had forgiven him the moment he left that woman a year after the babe was born.  He only saw the mother occasionally, but his daughter he visited every day.  
"Your mother knew the nature of his illness would not give them much time together, but they wed just the same.  They would take what they could and be glad of it.  You were born, and then Briggite
“But Papa could never forget Isabeau.  He went back to get her.”
“—just as soon as he could save enough money to pay the school.  He stole her from the woman, just as her first paramour stole his own son.  He paid them, which the woman had not done in some time, and took her away.  
"When the woman finally found out after many months, she did not care, as she did not care for her first child.  They were mere encumbrances to her.”
“Then why, monsieur?” Jeanne demanded.  “Why did she come destroy our family?”
"The Black Brunswicker by John Everette Millaise
“I believe for two reasons, precious.  First, the woman had run out of money, and had abused her friends so horribly, none would take her in nor lend her aid.  Her only recourse was her father who was very, very wealthy.  
"But she knew they believed she was married and had not only a son, but a daughter.  Everyone knew the nobleman had appropriated her son, but she could not return home to her family without her daughter.  Her father would turn her out.  
"In truth, he never accepted her when she did return.  He took in your father and Isabeau.  He knew your father to be a good man, saw he loved his daughter and had taken good care of her, and was much distressed to see him so ill.  
"Your parents had already written to him and told of their marriage, which gave them joy because your mother was at last happy.  The ruse was pointless, but the woman gave your father no choice but to go.”
Jeanne nodded.  That made sense to her.  She would never forget the look of hatred on the woman’s face that same expression she had seen so clearly in the window of the hotel nor her determination to take away her daughter and the very real and dangerous threats she leveled at her father. “My father returned for Isabeau,” she peeped, the realization flooding over her.  “He wanted to stay with her.”
“He wanted to stay with you all, Jeanne,” Durant denied.  “He wanted to live with you many more years in your little cottage in the woods hidden away from that woman, but she found you.  Your father went with Isabeau to protect her.  
"You had your mother and the Pelletiers, but all Isabeau would have was a mother who despised her, and that mother’s family who may or may not accept her because she was only their daughter's natural child.  Do you see?  He wanted to teach Isabeau to love that family and let them help her.”
“Did he live long enough, monsieur?” she peeped.  “My mother said he was dead from that day.”
“No, Jeanne.  He did not, and your mother was correct, for all intents and purposes.  He left his will to live in the Ardennes, in the little cottage with you and your mother and Briggite.  Without you, he very quickly declined.  
"Isabella deeply felt the loss and blamed the evil woman.  As she grew, the woman filled Isabella with such hatred and spite, she blamed her mother’s entire family for your father’s death.”
The little maid was silent a moment as she processed everything he told her.  Durant waited, knowing it a great deal to absorb all at once.  But Jeanne had always been raised in a home of love and acceptance and truth and she understood the whisperings of her heart which reassured her in that strange man.
“And the other reason, monsieur?” she ventured to ask after a few moments.  “What is the other reason that woman wanted to destroy my family?”
“She hated your mother who was actually her aunt, the youngest sister of her father.  They spent much time together as children, and everything your mother is, that woman was the absolute opposite.  Everyone loved your mother, especially your father. That woman thought nothing of him because he was so low.
"Her paramours were lords of the realm.  The father of her son was heir to a marquess.  But, she knew how much your mother loved your father and knew how it would break her heart should he choose anyone else, especially herself.  
"But, her plot only succeeded partially because your mother forgave your father and they lived happily together for those few short years.  The woman could not bear it, and so she had to destroy it.”
“Will she come again, monsieur?  Does she follow her daughter?”
Durant bit back his reflexive reply that the daughter had proven that day her mother no match for herself, and that he feared her lust for vengeance would never be sated.  “That woman died more than four years gone,” he told her instead.  “She had a terrible addiction to laudanum.” 
From his estate in Languedoc, Etienne Gaillard had returned to England for a quick visit to the uncle who raised him, James Durant, and ultimately found himself extending his addresses to Isabella.
However, Georgiana had set her sights on the heir of Westmark and his fortune.  Her daughter was meant for none but Piper.  She refused her consent to the match, then quite conveniently died of an overdose the next day.  Within a week Isabella had become Madame la Comtesse d’Artigue, and had returned with Etienne to Carcassonne.
The thought ever sunk a pit in Durant’s stomach, as he could never again feel the same about his cousin.  None could ever prove it, Durant chided himself when the suspicion niggled at him, but Etienne had wed the creature knowing she had possibly committed matricide.  
Perhaps Etienne never considered it possible, but after that day at Geneva, Durant believed it to the depths of his soul.
Four years of wedded bliss for Etienne and that creature.  Four years wed and after only two, he sent her away from the Spanish court because of the reputation she had cultivated.  
Four years, and at the tender age of twenty-three, his wife earned the honors of a full-fledged courtesan of such skill that she could ensnare such a man as Antoine Pelletier. 
Etienne had been placed in the custody of his uncle, James Durant, when the evil times came to France.  He had always been Durant’s mentor.  He made himself the older brother Piper never had, but, he had shackled himself to such a creature, a courtesan, a murderer and tool of FouchĂ©, and where once he thought the world of the man, that day he could do naught but weep for him.
Durant could not understand why Etienne failed to see the creature for what she was.  More than five years’ his senior, Etienne had become a man of the world by the time he wed.  
He had ingratiated himself to the emperor of France, and not only regained his father’s lands and then some, but Bonaparte also restored his peerage.  
If he could maneuver the upper echelons of power so well, how could the gross and inept efforts of an apprentice jade ensnare him? 
But, then again, after his first discovery of her true character, Durant had indeed kept her locked down tight and never revisited her.  In the ensuing three years, he avoided all thought of her when away, and like the plague when he returned home to visit his family. 
Then, he saw plainly that to which he had been blind as a lad of sixteen.  She insulted him when she thought blatant machinations would ensnare him.  She never relented.  Ever.  And so Durant made a point of staying way from Westmark while she was there.  
Fortunately, her absences from his home came with increasing frequency, and her mother was too doped to object. 
Then, Etienne took her to wife and LeDuc took Durant from Inverness to Madrid and every point between while investigating the man.  It in that journey, they proved Etienne’s continued honor and devotion to the cause.  
Durant knew his father unearthed Etienne’s true motivations, but LeDuc did not choose to enlighten him and so Durant left it.  Despite not knowing the why of it, Etienne slipped in Durant’s eyes because he knew he had in LeDuc’s.
Not until that journey did Durant learn of the creature’s secret elopement with Matlock to Gretna Green—a marriage she dissolved as easily as her mother conducted her own wedding ceremony.  
She gave him the brush and returned his ring.  In an ultimate act of cruelty, on the first anniversary of her marriage to Matlock, she walked down the aisle of Saint Paul’s as Comtesse d’Artigue, bells ringing and doves flying, in a celebration befitting the vestal Daughter of Westmark and the French compte.
In his heart, Durant knew Etienne’s secret motivations floated just beneath the surface of his own consciousness, but he little cared to delve into it.  He would rather turn his back on the actions of men he had always loved and respected and tell himself that they knew what was best and that Etienne (he hoped) went into the marriage with his eyes wide open.  
He could not imagine his father allowing Etienne to remain blind to the creature’s predilections.  Durant had been away for all of it, and counted it a blessing.  He had seen Etienne but rarely since.
“You knew her, monsieur?” startled him from his black musings. 
“I knew your father—I loved him.  He was a good man.”
“But you knew—that creature.”
“I never knew that creature, Jeanne.  I believed I knew Isabeau, but she died when did your father. . .  You must not weep for her, Jeanne.  Allow Isabeau to live on in your memories.  Push this other abomination out of your mind.”
Jeanne turned away from him but he captured her shoulders in his hands.  At his insistence, she looked up into his face.  “Promise me you will never speak to her.  You must never seek her out nor even approach her.  If perchance you find yourself in the same proximity, you must hide away.  Do you understand?”

“No, monsieur,” the little maid denied.  “No, I do not.”
“Do you know Madame Pelletier’s nephew, d’Artigue?”
“I have never met him, monsieur, but she often speaks fondly of him.”
“Four years gone, Isabella ensnared him and they wed.  She is Madame le Comtesse now—nobility—a place she had strived to gain since she left your little cottage in the Ardennes.  
"She wanted to make herself higher than her mother’s family, and in her own eyes, she has done.  
"But you, Jeanne—you know ‘the three china dolls of Ardennes’.  You know the little cottage, a simple hutch compared to the palaces where she has lain her head.  
"You know her the natural daughter of a harlot, howsoever high, and her father of no rank, fortune, or family.  She would assume you knew the squalid conditions in which she lived before your father brought her to your cottage, and that her mother died in an opium haze, only a shadow of what she once had been.  
"Your father, whom she worshiped, adored your mother, while he had nothing but contempt for her own.  You are her past, Jeanne, and she does everything in her power to erase it.  
"You are a lady’s maid, a non-person, and no one who saw you stand side by side would believe you anything but sisters.  That alone would damn her in the eyes of the beau monde.  If she found you—merciful Heaven, she must not find you.”

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