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From Childhood’s Hour


Prologue: Two households, both alike in dignity

There had always been two families on the spit of land between Marseille proper and the fishing village of Les Goudes. The first family had built the château hundreds of years earlier and watched it crumble as their fortunes faded. By the time the Revolution chased the women into exile and left the men without heads, the château was a mere pile of stones, the family having lived in town for generations, gambling away the produce of their lands. The second family had once depended on the first, but having acquired title to the lands they worked, they learned to expand their production and their holdings. When it seemed the family line would end in one beautiful daughter, she was carefully married off, not to the indebted aristocrats next door who would have welcomed the ability to reunite their lands, but to a young man who was making sizable profits in the Levant trade. The entrepreneur might not increase the land holdings, but he had the spirit the family required. Indeed, he sold off much of the land, using the proceeds to expand his business. The Levant trade was more profitable than landholding, though hardly so secure.

The revolution saw one family wiped out and the other ascendant. The son went to Paris and found a wealthy bride there, a young woman whose family had made connections with the men of imagination who so carefully manipulated the Convention and the Directory. They were married the very day Napoleon was declared Consul for life. The young bride was not well pleased to leave the glories of Paris to take up residence in Marseille, but the house her husbandís family had built was large and airy, with wide gardens sloping down to the sea. It would do.

Her first child, a son, was born a bare month before the Emperor realized the first of his imperial ambitions, his coronation as King of Italy. While lying in childbed was hardly pleasant, the Mediterranean spring was more conducive to relaxation and recovery than the busy social round of Paris would have been.

But that autumn, she convinced her husband that they ought to decamp for Paris. He agreed - he needed connections to the government, to monitor the war from the centre while his men tried to slip the British blockade. Thus they became migrants, spending the summers on their estate and winters in the grand house in Paris.

When next they returned to Marseille, building was going on near where the ruined château had been. Someone from further north had acquired the lands during the Revolution, but nothing had been done. Now it appeared the owner wanted a house. A year later, there stood a mansion overlooking the sea, rather gaudy to a more refined taste, inhabited by a large man of middle age, his very young and beautiful blonde wife, and a baby boy. There was a new family on the point.

The men made visits; the women made visits. The boys were perhaps a year apart in age and too young to care for visiting. The Parisian woman found everything about her neighbours in the poorest taste - the nouveau riche in all their tacky splendor. The Lyonnaise woman found everything beautiful and the countryside delightful but her neighbours terribly snobbish. The men did not mind that their wives did not get on; they were men of business, and the first order of business was a land swap each had been eyeing. The second order of business was to get the newcomer elected to one of the clubs in town. But autumn came, and after a winter in Paris, there seemed no real point to the acquaintance anymore. There was civility, of course, but no real feeling. The necessary sympathies were sent when the beautiful young woman died in childbirth, losing the child as well, but there was no friendship, no real contact after that tragedy. The business was done, and the mourning could never be complete.

So the families stayed, isolated but without rancor. Two families on the spit of land between Marseille and Les Goudes. Until ten years later, when the two boys had grown old enough to make their own plans.

 

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