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Etienne & Lydia: A Love Story, part 1

I am enjoying a lovely week down at Rocky Point. There are hardly any people down here, which is surprising because the weather is so lovely. It is finally cooling down. We even got a little rain yesterday, but not so much as to turn the dirt road into an impenetrable mess of red-clay mud.

This month has been a very productive month so far, and it is not yet over. I am very nearly finished editing At the Mercy of the Sea and listening to the final uploads of the audiobook for A Home in the Wilderness.

I’ve also written a short story I would like to share with you, though I may need to break it into two parts so as not to prolong this email too long. It is a love story about Etienne Gayneau’s parents and their courtship.

The image here is not of Etienne and Lydia Gayneau, but is rather a painting entitled A Huguenot, on St. Bartholomew's Day, Refusing to Shield Himself from Danger by Wearing the Roman Catholic Badge painted by John Everett Millais in 1852.

St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre occurred on August 24, 1572, during which 3,000 French Protestants (Huguenots) were murdered in Paris along with another 20,000 across France. A small number of Huguenots escaped the city wearing white armbands to indicate that they declared their allegiance to Catholicism.

This painting portrays a pair of young lovers. The woman is Catholic and is trying to convince her lover to wear the white armband in order to save his life, but he is refusing. The young man is firmly pulling the armband off even as she is trying to tie it on.

The French Religious Wars between Protestants and Catholics raged from 1562 to 1598, ending when King Henry IV, a former Protestant turned Catholic, issued the Edit of Nantes. This law ended the violence and initiated tolerance for the Huguenots. However, tensions between Protestants and Catholics rose again under the reign of his son King Louis XIII, culminating with the Siege of La Rochelle in 1627-28.

During the siege the King’s forces blockaded the port of La Rochelle and surrounded the city on land with 7,000 soldiers. They prevented the Huguenots from leaving the city and supplies from entering. Canons were fired into the city and fighting broke out. The Huguenot resisted for 14 months before giving their unconditional surrender. Thousands died as casualties, or from starvation and disease. By the end of the siege the population of La Rochelle had decreased from 27,000 to only 5,000.

The image below, entitled Richelieu on the Sea Wall of La Rochelle and painted by Henri-Paul Motte in 1881, depicts Richelieu in the center is represented on a dike. At his side, in retreat, his general staff. This dike, which no longer exists today, was built at the time of the Great Siege in 1628 to prevent aid from the English to the Rochelais. Note the particular costume of Richelieu which combines at the same time the armor and the scarlet cape of a Cardinal.

Etienne and Lydia: A Love Story

1653, La Rochelle, France

Lydia hurried down the cobbled street past the cathedral to the market square and stopped at the imports shop. She peered through the window and saw Etienne, the handsome, dark-haired son of the shopkeeper standing behind the counter. She took a moment to pinch some color into her cheeks before entering the shop.

She examined the variety of colorful silks, blue and white porcelain, and turtle shell inlaid tables as she wandered up to the counter, where strings of pearls hung beside elegant jade necklaces. She paused to lift a strand of pearls with a gloved hand, pretending to admire its luster, as Etienne finished up with another customer.

As the customer exited the shop, the young man approached and said, “That is a beautiful piece, Mademoiselle. Would you like to see it on?”

She looked up at him, nodded, and smiled as their eyes met.

Etienne carefully lifted the strand and opened the clasp. She leaned toward him over the counter as he fastened the necklace around her neck and whispered into her ear. “Can you meet me by the harbor in an hour?”

She pulled back and admired herself in the mirror he held out for her. “It looks lovely. How much did you say it was?” Then she looked him in the eyes, smiled, and nodded almost imperceptibly.

Etienne wrote a sum on a slip of paper along with the words, “That sapphire dress is most becoming, mi amore.”

Lydia read the note quickly, tucked it away, and felt her face flush. “Thank you for showing it to me. I shall consider it.” She leaned forward and as Etienne reached over to remove the pearls from around her neck, she whispered, “I shall be waiting, but do not tarry too long.” She smiled again, turned, and left the shop.

As Lydia meandered through the street toward the inner harbor, she paused frequently to peruse the wares of the street vendors and chat with acquaintances she came upon. It was a lovely day; she relished the feel of the sun on her face and the smell of the salty air as she made her way to the low wall and looked out over the water. Small fishing boats and row boats were lined up along the docks or ferrying back and forth across between the inner harbor and the mouth of the outer harbor and the two imposing towers on either side.

She heard the cathedral bell toll and turned to scan the crowd for Etienne. She was growing more and more anxious as she waited. Had a customer detained him? She took a deep breath and tried to calm her nerves. Then she spotted him, hurrying through the thong of people in the square. She smiled as he approached out-of-breath.

“I don’t have long, my love,” she said, “before Maman notices my absence and sends the maid in search of me.”

“That dress really becomes you. It reflects your beautiful blue eyes.” He smiled, paused, and continued, “I’m sorry. Papa wanted me to take a parcel to a customer and it was further away than I had thought.”

“Well, no matter, you are here now. Have you spoken to your father?”

“I have.” A grim look crossed his face.

When he didn’t continue, she asked, “And what did he say?”

“My father said that if I should marry you he will disown me. I shall lose all rights to his business and shall have to go make my own way in the world.”

“But that is so harsh!” Lydia replied. “What would you do? How would we survive?”

“I know a man who builds potager stoves. He has only daughters and is looking for someone to apprentice with him. I told him I would be happy to come and work with him.”

“But manual labor, Etienne?” Lydia turned away, staring out over the water.

“Yes,” Etienne said and put a hand on her shoulder. “But it’s honest work. It would provide for us. And maybe, someday, I could save up and buy my own shop.”

“But why is your father so opposed to us?”

“Surely you know,” Etienne said softly. Because you are Catholic. My father was a boy during the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. He lost his father that day, you know. And … and then he and Maman lost everything during the siege. My older brothers, whom I never knew, went off to join the fight and were killed. Then my sisters died of starvation….”

“I told you I would convert to your Huguenot beliefs.”

“Would you really be able to stop praying to Mary, my love?”

“If that is what it takes,” she said. “I don’t understand though why that is so abhorrent to you. The Virgin was a mother and a woman. She understands a woman’s plight and our worries. That’s what makes her such a good intercessor.”

“But that is the point. We believe that there is no need for an intercessor. We believe that we can each approach God directly, without having to go through a priest or a saint. And besides, it is ludicrous to suggest that Mary never had other children. The Scriptures even mention Christ’s brothers by name.”

“But if she had sexual relations with Joseph, then she would not be holy.”

“Only Christ and the Trinity are holy. God is not cruel. Why would he tell Joseph he should take her as his wife and then demand he live celibate for the rest of his life?”

Lydia pulled away from Etienne, stared resolutely across the harbor without seeing anything, as tears blurred her vision.

Etienne sighed and gently spun her around to face him. “I do not wish to argue with you, my love. I know that you are trying to accept the Protestant faith for my sake. I do appreciate it … I truly do. I can give you time though my father is not so forgiving.”

“But manual labor, Etienne?”

“What other choice do I have; watch you marry another man? Would you not have me if I became a laborer?”

Lydia wanted to reply that it wouldn’t matter, but … it did. It would mean a harder life. Did she really want that? The cathedral bell chimed once. “I must go! Meet me here in two days, and I will have an answer for you.” Then she turned and hurried away.

(To be continued)

Black Friday is approaching next week and my publisher is offering all physical books at 25% off with promo code GiveThanks. If you know of anyone who might be interested, please tell them to visit Friday, November 25th through Monday, November 28th. They only run this sale once a year!

No matter where your journey takes you, may you always enjoy the adventure!

If you have any comments/questions for me, or book recommendations you would like me to share, please reply to this email. I would love to hear from you!

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