“Is there something you wish to say to me, Charles?—something that you find especially difficult, even more so than what you confessed to me earlier?”
He rose and walked behind the bench, leaning against it as if to separate him from Marguerite’s physical presence, as if he were using the bench as a barricade.
“I am going to ask you a terrible question, Sister Marguerite Kircaldie, and you are going to hate me for having asked it.”
She saw that his pain was real, and that whatever it was affected him deeply
“I could never hate you, Excellency.”
“You will learn, Sister Marguerite.”
She laughed a mirthless laugh..
“No, it is not possible. Hatred is no part of my nature, and if it were, you would be the last person alive… whom I could ever hate.”
She began sorting through the apples on the sideboard to mask her nervousness.
“How do you do it, Sister? How are you able to be so full of sunshine even when there are dark clouds all around?”
“Why would you assume it to be the sun, Charles? Why not the light of God? And I take it that was not the question you were so hesitant to ask.”
He laughed at himself.
She tilted her head. She did not frown but her nose twitched.
"Charles, are you ill?
“No, Sister, I am not ill. I am merely fat.”
It was her turn to laugh.
“No one is merely fat, Charles. Merely and fat are contradictions in terms, I think.”
He joined her in laughter, but his did not last long.
“Do you love me, Marguerite?”
She dropped the apple.
“Oh my God!”
She sank to her knees on the tiles.
She looked at him as if he had just told her that someone dear had died. Perhaps someone had. Then she sucked air and tightly closed her eyes as if she were sealing her soul inside her body. He could barely hear her when she finally spoke.
“How could you be cruel enough to ask me that?”
She pretended to rub her nose, but she was really wiping tears from the corner of her eyes. Neither was fooled by the gesture.
“And yes, Charles. I truly do believe that by the time your questions settles from the air where it hangs between us, I shall discover that I, too, can hate.”
“I am so very sorry that I asked it.” Then he rethought his answer. “Actually, no, I am not.”
Then she stood. She was a tall woman, and the habit made her appear taller. Her face was flushed with a mix of embarrassment and anger. Both of her hands were drawn into tight white-knuckled fists.
“You were there the day they brought me to Les Grande Jardin. I was three or four or five depending on which dissembler I listened to as I grew older. I spoke no French other than my parroted greeting, Bonjour, Madame et Monsieur. Je m’appelle Daisy.
“You were there when the woman whom I thought was my sister was ushered into a coach and sent away. Then you and your family kindly announced to me that she was nothing at all to me but a surrogate and an escort. Do you remember that day, Charles?
“She was all I had—my lifeline, and I was there surrounded by strangers who did not even know my name, who insisted on calling me Marguerite, and who laughed behind my back. When Lady Ferniehirst left me, Charles, you were the one who held my arms and kept me from running after the coach.”
“You kicked and clawed like a wild animal you were so distraught.”
“Why should I have been distraught, Charles? I was to be afforded the charity and protection of the mighty House of Guise! I was to be taken to a strange place where stern women dressed in black made strange sounds or did not talk at all -- a place where other children also lived but with whom I was forbidden contact. They sang songs in the garden, but I was forbidden to listen. I ate with the nuns and prayed with the nuns and slept with the nuns and chanted with the nuns, a perfect little five year old Benedictine, just a tad too young for vows, so there I stayed. The amusement in my life was the adventure of Saint Doda’s Hole, a dead place in the chapel floor where I was taken to hide when outsiders visited.
“And in spite of it, I grew to love it, to embrace it, and I also embraced the holy vows of Chastity, Cloister, Poverty and Obedience. And thus I remained chaste, cloistered and obedient, but never poor, because somewhere along the way I was enriched by my faith in God and the Holy Virgin and the connection I felt to my Holy Order. And you, who knew better than anyone because you were there –you were in the barn and knew how much I had suffered, how gravely I had sinned, how much I had to repent, how hard I struggled to move beyond the ugliness, and how much it meant to me to find the strength to finally take my vows.
“So how dare you ask me such a question, Charles? How could you be so cruel?”
He picked up his gloves from the bench where he had laid them and walked to the library door.
“Forgive me if you can,” he mumbled.
“Oui” she said
Her voice rose to a pitch he had never heard, not even as he entered the barn in response to her screams.
“Not ‘Oui, I forgive you, Charles’, because I do not forgive you. You asked a question and I have answered it. You asked me if I love you, Charles, and the answer to your question is ‘Oui.’ So there you have your answer. And it is terrible, is it not.”
When he turned there were tears flowing down his cheeks.
“I have loved you since you were a little girl.”
“…The little girl who ruined your shins and stomped your toes and dug her fingernails into your wrists?”
“A different love then, but yes, even then. I loved your spirit, your determination.”
“You danced with me.”
“You were such a pretty little thing, all dressed out in crimson velvet, with ribbons in your hair.”
“You lifted me high above your shoulders in a Volta, while your grandmother bit her lip until it bled.”
Her own tears began to flow.
“If you had known, Marguerite, would it have made a difference?”