Run Cissy Run
Cissy LaRoque tucked her head into her shoulders as she hunkered behind the Camellia bush. Fiercely screwing her fingers into her ears and squeezing her eyes tightly shut, she ignored the strident calls of her mother to come inside. She knew she was in for a tongue lashing for staying in the sun, ruining her new dress with grass stains, unladylike behavior, and any number of other sins catalogued in her mother’s daily litany of complaints. Sticking her chin out stubbornly she decided she would just stay there until night and then, under the safety of darkness, sneak into her bedroom. Later she could slip down to the kitchen where Bessie would have left her a plate of supper. Bessie was her friend and ally in the non-ending series of battles that formed her relationship with her mother.
It hurt badly that she could not make her mother love her. It frustrated her that she didn’t know what she had done that was so wrong; that she could never earn a warm word, a kiss, or a hug from the woman who had borne her. Had it not been for her father, Graham LaRoque, Cissy would not have known parental love.
Just as her mother shrilled another peremptory order for Cissy to come inside, her father rode into the yard behind their waterfront home that graced a bluff overlooking the Neuse River in New Berne, North Carolina. The raised voice of his wife, Monique, skittered gratingly across his nerves. He couldn’t blame his only child for ignoring the summons.
His wife’s imperious demands never came to anything but pain for either him or Cissy. He supposed he was partly to blame for the constant invective cast on the child from the malicious tongue of a jealous woman. Cissy was his one true love and Monique knew it. Looking back, he could only wonder what momentary foolishness had led him into matrimony with such a harridan.
Yes, she had been breathtakingly beautiful to look upon, but even before they wed he had recognized her self-centered ambitions and the willfulness that allowed no room for anyone else. Sighing softly, he acknowledged that it was her icy aloofness that had inflamed his passions and challenged him to conquest. In hindsight, he rued that he had not sought a more complacent woman. There had certainly been others to choose from. But hindsight could not help either him or Cissy now.
Swinging down from his horse, Graham saw the soft robin’s egg blue of his daughter’s dress peeping from behind the camellia. “Cissy, darling, come to Papa.”
“No. I don’t want to. I’m playing doodle bug.” Quickly Cecily, called Cissy since birth, grabbed a twig and began to energetically stir the conical depression in the sandy soil near the foundations of their house that announced the presence of that small gray insect. Chanting, she sang, “Doodle bug, doodle bug, come get your coffee.”
Rounding the bush, Graham smiled down at his daughter. Even with her curls disheveled and her checks smudged with dirt, she was an angelic vision: radiant emerald green eyes, a small slightly retroussé nose, full lips, thick blond curls, and an elegantly slim form promising a stunningly beautiful maturity. At six, she was a cheerful but stubborn hoyden. “Did that doodle bug show up yet?”
“I don’t think so. I’ll just keep stirring.” With a determined set to her mouth, Cissy dared her father to order her to desist and go to her mother.
“Come inside with me, darling. Let’s see what Mama wants before she becomes angry with us both. Will you do that for me, sweet little girl?” Graham wheedled gently.
“I can’t Papa. My dress is all dirty and Mama’s going to be really angry. I think I’ll just wait for a while.”
Graham laughed, “Do you think it’s going to become clean all by itself if you wait?”
“Of course not, Papa. That’s silly. I’m just waiting until she forgets about me and gets mad about something else.” Cissy looked at her father with a sardonic quirk to her mouth denoting a cynicism beyond her years.
“I think I’m tempted to play doodle bug with you, but I’d better go see what I can do to placate your mother. When she calms down, you go to your room and clean up, then join us for supper. All right, darling?”
“If she calms down?” A wry frown flickered across her face.
“You’ll come on in then, Cissy. That’s a good girl.” Graham ruffled her hair before walking toward the veranda, squaring his shoulders for battle as he went. Graham was a handsome man in the prime of his years, an accomplished businessman, educated, affable and thoroughly miserable. Fleetingly he envisioned himself and his daughter ensconced in one of the ships that came into New Berne’s port and safely on their way to Europe, before his wife awakened the following morning. He had not seen his cousins in San Remy du Provençe in many years and they had never met his daughter. If only it could be, he breathed before walking through the door to face a woman he had come to detest but still lusted after.
“Monique, my dear, what has you in such a foul mood this afternoon? I could hear you shouting all the way down the lane. It’s a little unseemly for the servants to hear you show such temper.” His unaccustomed criticism of her conduct should bring the lightening from his child’s head to his own, he thought with satisfaction.
“How dare you imply that my conduct is uncouth! I’m quite sure you will recall that I am the one descended from the French aristocracy. I’ve dealt with servants all of my life.”
He could have recited her diatribe by heart: her family name was the distinguished one, but who had ever heard of the LaRoques? Had it not been for an unforeseen decline in the de Guibert family fortune, she would never have married so beneath her station and been saddle with life in such a backwater town. She spewed the oft-repeated litany in French, knowing he would understand every spiteful word.
“Thank you, my dear. I appreciate this belated assessment of my merits. However, I don’t believe you expressed any reluctance to marry beneath your station at the time.” Graham was coldly furious at his wife and even more furious for allowing himself to be angered by her. Repetition should have dulled the edge so it no longer rankled, but it did. “I certainly recall the Comte and Comtesse’s delight when I proposed, especially after they requested and received a detailing of my financial particulars. They seemed to think I was quite a bargain. I’m beginning to think they got the better of it.”
“How dare you!” Monique whirled on him, intending to slap him until she caught the steely glint in his eyes. Changing tactics, she suddenly smiled and softly pleaded, “Graham, let’s not be difficult. There’s something I’ve been waiting to discuss with you for sometime and such unpleasantness between us is unnecessary anyway.”
Monique flounced across the parlor floor to stand by the long window that overlooked the front garden. Graham waited, nonplused by the sudden change of tenor. He watched her work her mouth as she fidgeted, obviously wondering how to begin. Refusing to make it any easier, he calmly walked over to the table that held a decanter and poured a glass of sherry. “While you work out how to drop this discussion on me, would you care for some sherry?”
“What? Oh, yes, please,” she granted distractedly.
Calmly he poured a glass for her as well, and then seated himself on the divan where he slowly sipped his sherry. Crossing his legs nonchalantly, he studied her through narrowed eyes as she paced back and forth across the richly colored Turkish carpet that glowed in the striped sunlight pouring through the louvered shutters that covered the floor length windows of the parlor. The nine years that had passed since their wedding had done nothing to dim the twenty-eight year old woman’s looks. If anything, maturity had brought her a greater beauty and a more sultry awareness of the power it gave her. He felt a stirring in his groin as he watched her and recognized it for what it was, a physical response to her external appearance that had nothing to do with his heart and emotions. Belatedly, he realized that she had caught his appraisal and gloatingly knew it for what it was.
Jutting her breasts provocatively, she leaned back against the bombé chest that filled the space between the front windows. Her eyes lowered seductively as she purred, “Graham, we have become much too confrontational. It seems my nerves are constantly frayed from the rigors of living here. I think I’m just a wee bit lonely for Paris and Maman. Perhaps, it would be good for us if we had some time apart. Maman wrote that Papa is not doing well and asked that we come for a visit. He very much wants to see Cissy before he dies. I know you cannot leave just now until you resolve some things business-wise. I thought Cissy and I might go ahead to Paris and you could join us later in the year.”
Graham commented obliquely, “I confess I was thinking just now of going to France myself. I haven’t seen my cousins there since our wedding.”
Monique beamed victoriously, “Marvelous. I’ll have Cissy’s things packed and we will be away as soon as you can arrange passage for the two of us.”
Graham shook his head. “You misunderstand me; you’re not taking Cissy with you. I’ll bring her with me when I come.”
“You cannot be serious? A child belongs with the mother. What would you do with her here? She would be left to the lackadaisical whims of the servants. Heaven only knows she is impossible as it is. What on earth would she be if I left her here with no discipline and structure? That’s impossible. She would become even more intractable. If she continues like this, she’ll never make a good marriage with anyone of any note.”
“Monique, forgive me the bluntness of this observation, but you and Cissy are not on very good terms. She does little to please you and she suffers from feelings of failure and inadequacy when she’s around you. Rarely does the child get any commendation from you; rather, there is a constant barrage of censure for one failing or another. I do not intend for her to be subjected to months of harsh and unfeeling criticism for everything she does. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with her that a little loving tolerance from you and time will not cure. She’ll stay with me and I will see to it that she is properly cared for. You go on your own and have your visit. As soon as I can leave, we will follow.” Graham raised an eyebrow and continued; “I doubt that she will have aged so much by that point that she no longer has a chance in the marriage market. I confess I don’t know many men that are going to be chasing a six-year old to propose. Furthermore, this is 1850 and America, not France. I will not stand for an arranged marriage for our daughter, not now and not later.”
“Your precious little girl can do no wrong, of course,” Monique stopped herself from continuing. “I think I just explained my reasons for taking her now. Who knows if my father will still be alive when you get around to coming.”
“You forget I also read the letter from your mother. She mentioned that Rene is complaining a bit about the indignities of age, but she certainly gave no indication that he is on his deathbed. I fail to see the urgency of this visit, although I share with you an inclination to return to France, not only to see your family, but my cousins, as well. If you wish to leave immediately, I will arrange it, but Cissy will be traveling with me, not with you.”
You catch more flies with honey that vinegar, she reminded herself as she rubbed the fabric over her breast with her hand. Graham watched as the nipple peaked and despised himself for the eager response that stirred in his loins. She still held him in sexual thrall and well she knew it. Lifting one perfectly arched brow, Monique shifted her eyes to his crotch in blatant invitation.
Cissy was crouched in the bushes beneath the parlor window listening to her parents’ rising voices as they launched into yet another battle of wills. When she realized that she was once again at the center of the verbal maelstrom, she edged away from the window and ran pell-mell from the yard into the woods behind her home where the trees were just beginning to bedeck themselves in the colors of autumn. Not content at the too close proximity to the battle that raged in her wake, she continued into the trees finally emerging in the garden of their widowed neighbor, Evangeline Forrest. Cissy crossed the grassy lawn using shrubbery that dotted the green expanse to screen herself from watching eyes. Reaching the far side of the lawn, she sat down on the bank of the river and stared out at the wide expanse of sparkling water.
She could not help but remember her mother’s words. The most awful thing Cissy could imagine would be to go away with her mother, no father to protect her from her mother’s vicious tongue. Her father rarely won in arguments with his wife, preferring to accede to her wishes rather than create greater strife. If he lost this one, she would have to go to France with her mother. Thinking of having to leave without him, made fat tears roll down her cheeks leaving grimy trails in their wake. Her shoulders shook with silent sobs. So wrapped was she in misery, that she failed to hear the quiet footsteps that approached her.
“What’s wrong, child?” a soft, cultured voice inquired.
Startled, Cissy sprang to her feet and would have dashed off, but a gentle restraining hand on her shoulder held her there. Cissy looked up into the kind eyes that were peering at her with concern. Studying the halo-like aura of golden hair that tumbled about the woman’s face, Cissy blurted, “Are you an angel?”
“Well, you’re the first to ever mistake me for one of those.” The woman chuckled merrily. “No, my dear, I’m not an angel. Now, tell me what has made you so sad?”
“My mama hates me and now she wants to take me away from Papa and go all the way to France to find me a husband. I’m just a little girl and I don’t want to get married, not ever. I’m not going. If she tries to make me, I’ll run away. Papa is the only one that loves me. I’m staying with my papa forever and ever.” New tears followed the muddy paths of the old ones.
“Sweetheart, I’m sure your mother loves you. How could she not?” Evangeline smiled at the little girl. “I don’t have a child,” she bit back the words ‘not anymore,’ before continuing. “But if I had, I would want her to be just like you.”
Cissy looked at the women in surprise, “You would?
“I would,” Evangeline smiled her assurance. “Now you come to the house with me and have a nice cool glass of something to drink. I think I heard Beulah say she made some teacakes and lemonade. I think that would just be perfect, don’t you?”
Cissy wanted that lemonade and cookie more than anything. She wanted it so badly it made her mouth water. But if she stayed away any longer and her mother found out, she would be in terrible trouble, worse trouble than she was already in. Her mother did not like for her to socialize with the neighbors, either child or adult. If she knew that Cissy had criticized her to others, she would be even more incensed. Cissy bit her lower lip in concentration, considering whether or not she dared. Finally she looked up with an impish smile, “You won’t tell on me, will you, if I stay just for a minute?”
“Of course, I won’t child. It will be our secret and we will gobble those cookies up quick, quick, so you can run home.” Evangeline smiled down at the little girl, feeling her heart break at the sadness in those emerald eyes. “My name is Miss Evangeline. What’s yours?”
“I’m Cecily LaRoque, but everyone calls me Cissy.” Skipping along at the woman’s side, Cissy felt her heart lift. She had a friend, a nice lady who must know how much Cissy loved teacakes.
When Evangeline looked down at the bedraggled child at her side she felt her heart contract. Her only child, Lorena, had died of diphtheria at the age of six. Surely this lively little girl must be of much the same age as her daughter when she had died. A sudden fierce longing for Lorena gripped her heart like a physical pain. Momentarily staggered, Evangeline struggled to regain her composure as she led the child to the solarium for the promised treats. Intent on the plate of cookies, Cissy was oblivious to the woman’s inner agony as they entered the house.
“Oh, it’s nice here. It looks happy.” Cissy twirled in a circle noting the brightly colored furnishings and paintings that filled Evangeline’s home.
I’m glad you think so, Cissy. These are my paintings. I make them happy because they’ve become my friends and companions. It’s good to have pleasant company, I think.” Evangeline paused to look at the paintings that filled the entry hall. They were all washed in sunlight whether floral, landscape or portrait. “I try to keep the sunshine in my life. Dark days are always lit by these paintings you see here.”
“I wish I could paint, but Maman doesn’t like me to do messy things. I may only draw,” Cissy commented.
“You’re welcome to come paint with me. Perhaps we should ask your parents’ permission for you to do so?” the woman offered.
“I don’t think so. I’m not supposed to even visit. I’m sure she would not like me to visit and paint,” Cissy smiled sadly.
“We’ll just wait a bit then. Since your mother is leaving for France, after she has gone we could ask your father if you’d like?” Evangeline surprised herself by suggesting the child defy her mother’s wishes.
“Yes, please.” Cissy beamed with pleasure. Her day had just brightened with the promise of good things to come. As though pushing the thought of France from her mind, Cissy stood and solemnly extended a sticky little hand. In her most grownup voice she intoned the memorized response, “Thank you very much, Miss Evangeline."