Authors: Caddy Rowland
Matt was dumbfounded. How had Jean fooled everyone for so long? The worst thing was he could do nothing about it. To call him out would humiliate Marguerite. She was a good, decent woman. Her life evidently had been hard enough. To be known publicly as a whipping block and that she “allowed” her children to be beaten would be wrong. Many men did hit their wives and use physical force on offspring to get them to obey. But, not like this! What Jean had done and said to Gastien was simply unforgivable! How could a man call his son names like that? How could he erode a boy’s self esteem like that, if he loved the boy at all?
“Gastien, I am so very, very sorry that you grew up like that – “
Gastien’s face burned with embarrassment. “Stop it, Matt! I was not looking for pity. You simply wanted to know why I was leaving, and I showed you. When you did not believe me, I elaborated. That is all. I don’t expect you to kiss my back and make it better.”
Matt placed his hand on Gastien’s shoulder. He immediately felt the shoulder stiffen.
“Take your hand off of me, please,” hissed Gastien. “My father was wrong! If you think I am somehow like a girl, and you can do things to me, I will knock you out of this wagon right now! I don’t care if it is your wagon or not!”
Matt jerked his hand back, shocked. “Oh,
! Did you think I was trying to be intimate with you? Oh, Gastien,
! I apologize. I did not realize that you must not have known any positive physical contact with your father. I should have thought of that before trying to comfort you. Again, please, I am sorry to have scared you!”
Gastien could see that Matt was sincere. After a few minutes, he said “Apology accepted. You are right. I have not experienced any warmth from a man. You scared the hell out of me!”
Their eyes met and they started to laugh. Carefully, Matt placed his hand on Gastien’s shoulder again. “Listen to me. You are a good young man. You are handsome, optimistic, and full of determination. Nothing can stop you unless you let it. You must be careful in the city, and not let people use you. Always remember that good parents show affection to their young. I am proud that you considered me worthy to tell your secret to.”
Gastien kept his eyes down, but his shoulder did not stiffen. Finally, he asked simply, “Please promise that you won’t tell everyone about the beatings. I don’t want Mother to be shamed. Her life is difficult enough.”
Matt offered his hand for Gastien to shake. As they shook, he said, “It is a promise. Although I sure do wish someone would give Jean Beauchamp what he deserves for beating you.”
Gastien smiled. “Don’t worry about that, Matt. I finally gave him something to remember me by, yesterday.”
Matt looked hopeful. “Did you? What exactly did you do, Gastien Beauchamp?”
“I think I probably broke his jaw. And then, for my mother, I rearranged his nose. I am sure he will look much different in the future whenever you see him.”
Matt could not help but grin. “Ha! Gastien, good for you! God forgive me for congratulating a son for hitting his father, but, well….good for you!” And they both laughed.
After a few minutes, Matt revealed, “By the way, my daughter Rebecca has a major crush on you. She would have been very disappointed had you been homosexual. It will disappoint her even more that you have left. She is only fourteen. Gastien Beauchamp is her first “crush”.
Gastien looked up in surprise. Cute little Rebecca? She was still a child, but was going to be quite pretty. “Seriously? Me???”
Matt laughed again. “Don’t look so surprised, Gastien. Boy! Your father really worked on your mind! Don’t you ever look in a mirror? You are going to have your pick of women, Son, unless you end up on the streets too long. Pardon a man saying it, but you are very easy on the eyes. Something tells me that when you are a few years older many women will be hoping to get a chance with you.”
Gastien excitedly considered that. Shyly, he asked, “Matt, are you joking with me?”
Matt looked at him and made a face. “Joking with you? I would give my left nut to look like you and have just a week in Paris. You will do quite well in regard to
“Wow!” Gastien murmured. “Perhaps it was only because there was little to pick from in our area,” he said generously.
“Oh, please. With the size of everyone’s families, there are plenty of males to choose from. And I am quite certain Rebecca is not alone in her mooning over you. I am willing to bet many of the area females think about holding you in their arms, even some that should no longer be having those thoughts!”
“Wow,” Gastien said again. “Well…
? I had nothing to do with it. Thank the man upstairs that he saw fit to give you the looks to take women’s hearts! Just be careful how you use it.”
but I sure would like to start using it!” laughed Gastien.
Matt looked at him carefully. “Did your father talk to you about whores and the dangers of disease?” he inquired.
“He did indeed. He told me about syphilis. He said you get it from whores, and that your pecker gets sores and falls off. Then you die a painful death!” Gastien shuddered. “I should think it would be best to stay away from whores.”
Matt chuckled. “Well, I don’t know that your “pecker falls off” as you put it, but the rest is true. Just don’t go crazy when you get to Paris, Son. I know, at your age, you are dying to try sex. Stay away from the whores!
, you can buy sheaths but all of the pleasure is dulled. Just use your hand, until you are in a position to have someone that has not been used over and over again. Syphilis is no laughing matter, and it is prevalent among whores in Paris. It is better to wait than to die.”
. I will wait. I have no desire to die before my time.”
They rode awhile in silence. A half hour later Matt spoke, “Well, I think your head has gotten big enough in the last half hour. If it gets any bigger you will block out the sun. So, before that happens, stop thinking about how damn good looking you are, and let’s have some lunch. I have a cheese sandwich I will split with you.”
Gastien laughed again. “Just my luck! I find someone willing to share their food and they have exactly what I have in my basket. I am starved. Let’s stop to eat. The horses can drink right over there,” said Gastien, pointing to a stream.
“Great idea,” agreed Matt. As he led the horses over to the water, Gastien realized that this was the most he had ever laughed in his life.
“Matt? I want you to know that I have never in my life laughed this many times in a month, let alone one day.”
“I am glad you are having some enjoyment. Life has been unkind to you, and I am willing to bet it is not going to get any easier for awhile. Just keep that determination! Use your brains to find your opportunity, and then go for it. And now, gorgeous, let’s get that cheese and bread out!”
“Oh, shut up!” Gastien laughed, playfully punching Matt in the arm.
“Oww! He is huggable, yet he packs a punch! A deadly combination to be sure…”
“Just be glad I am getting away from Rebecca!” teased Gastien.
“Oh, trust me I am glad, if you can’t settle down. That was an accident waiting to happen. Hell, if you want, I will drive you all the way down to Italy just to get you further away from her!”
And with that they prepared their simple lunches. Soon it was time to get on the road again. They passed the time talking a little, but much of the time they sat in comfortable silence. For Gastien, it was a pleasure to just relax and not worry about when he might all of a sudden be verbally abused or smacked.
The gentle warmth of the sun caused him to doze off at different points. Matt let him doze. He figured once Gastien got to Paris, and really understood how harsh the streets and alleys were there would be little time for good sleep. He wondered how Gastien would make do. He was silently offering up a prayer for protection on Gastien’s behalf, when Gastien again woke.
“Matt, I am sorry I keep dozing off. I am not very polite or much good company, I guess.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. I was planning on being alone. You looked so relaxed that I decided to just let you sleep. It is a beautiful fall day, nice and warm.” Silently he wondered what Gastien would do when the winter came. Hopefully he had a heavy blanket rolled up in that tarp. And, hopefully, it would not get stolen.
“Hey, Gastien, I don’t mean to get you worried, but do you have anything for protection in case someone tries to steal your belongings or rob you?” Matt asked casually.
, thankfully, I thought of that. I have a knife.” Gastien showed him the sheath and pulled the knife out.
Matt whistled. “
! That is a pretty dangerous weapon, Son. I don’t know that I would want to risk someone taking it and using it on me.”
Gastien looked at Matt soberly. “Trust me, Matt. No one will get it away from me. I might be young, but I am not weak. I won’t hesitate to use it if anyone messes with me.”
“But, are you sure you are a knife fighter?”
“If I have to be. Father taught all of us boys how to fence. He was a firm believer in a strong body. That way he could work you closer to death, I guess. Actually, I enjoyed fencing and practiced most days, usually at dawn. Father did not mind us boys taking time for that even if it was later in the day. Like I said, it made us stronger. The barn was a great space for it. The different stances give your whole body a stretching and build the muscles. And, of course, the thrusting and parrying give you strength and endurance. My balance is excellent after years of that. I will hold my own if I have to.”
Matt looked at Gastien with new respect. “Hey, that is great! I had no idea that there was sword fighting going on at your farm. I used to do that growing up. I think it is almost the national pastime for Frenchmen! It is an excellent method of exercise. I believe there are fencing clubs in Paris. Perhaps, once you get on your feet, you will join one to keep in shape. You won’t be so handsome if you get all fat and lazy sitting on a stool painting day and night!” he chuckled.
“I am not going to get fat and lazy. Once I get started with women, I will do what I need to in order to make sure they always are delighted by what they see.”
“Speaking like a libertine already, just like your father warned you about!”
. And I can’t wait to become a swordsman in more ways than one!”
“Again, I thank the Lord Rebecca will be far away from you,” Matt chided. “I don’t need my eldest girl a broken hearted spinster with a bastard to care for.”
They both laughed and rode a few minutes in silence. Pretty soon, Gastien had a brilliant idea. “Matt?”
“You know how you said Rebecca thinks I am good looking?”
. And I see you can’t get enough of the subject, you vain womanizer-in-waiting!”
, this is not about me. I was just thinking. My brother, Paul, is sixteen. He looks exactly like I did at sixteen. Perhaps – “
“A little matchmaking, Gastien? Are you trying to set up my little girl?”
“Well, not in a bad way. My brother Paul is not like me at all. He loves farming and has no interest in traveling to Paris to start a new type of life. He will always farm. So,
, I am matchmaking, but I don’t mean harm. I am thinking, if Rebecca was so focused on me, then she has not even noticed that Paul is becoming a young man. He is only two years older than her. If she likes what she sees when she looks at me, well, that is what she will probably see in Paul when he is eighteen. Unlike me, he will be loyal and faithful. He is that type. He is also kind. She could do much worse than my brother Paul, believe me.”
“Hmm. I see your point. Come to think of it, you two boys do look a lot alike. I imagine that he will look like you do now in a couple years. You may be on to something! I would be thrilled if she would marry a farmer that was more successful than I have been!”
Gastien smiled kindly. “She is a pretty girl. Paul would be a lucky man.”
“I think I might have to start talking to Paul more often at church, making sure Rebecca is there when I do. Brilliant idea, Gastien! It would be grand if this worked out. She would have her handsome prince, and he would have a pretty, very gentle, loving wife.
for the thought!”
Gastien awkwardly put his hand on Matt’s shoulder. “My pleasure. I only hope it works out. You would be a great father-in-law.”
“And had you gotten your alley cat ways out of your system, I would have been proud to call you my son-in-law. I doubt that will happen soon, if ever.”
“Matt, you are definitely right. I am not the settling down type. The love of my life will be painting. Women will simply be my entertainment and my relaxation. But, at least I am honest about it. And, I will be with them.”
“Something tells me you will find the right woman someday,” Matt said knowingly.
“That may be,” Gastien said firmly, “but I will not give up my freedom for any woman. I do not want to be interrupted with a family. A woman will have to accept that or move on.”
“But, what about love?”
Gastien snorted. “Love??? Somehow I don’t picture myself falling in love. But if I do, I will think of you and wish you could have the final laugh.”
Gastien looked ahead. “Matt, look! I see Paris in the distance! We are almost there! Oh, Matt, I am almost there! My life will finally begin!” Gastien willed the wagon to go faster. He could not contain his excitement.
“That is Paris for sure,” agreed Matt. “We should be there in an hour or so.” He thought soberly of how frightened Gastien would actually be when he was left alone later and night fell. Where would he go? Where would he sleep? How in the world would he get painting supplies and begin this new life? Matt was glad it was not him, after all. The farm was much safer.
“Gastien, do you have any money?”