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Jannie Balliett

Cold piercing winds sliced through weathered cracks of the tall arched windows. It chilled the study in spite of the warmth emitted from the fire blazing within the marbled fireplace. Whistling sounds penetrated the reverberating chords of Beethoven's Fourth Symphony, interposing with Dieudonne's defined preference in music.

He'd been engaged in a good book and gently closed its hand-tooled leather cover, placing it on the mahogany table next to the chair where he sat. He rose to his feet stretching and reviving his stiffened body, and walked over to the parquetry cabinet, gently turning up the volume.

"Sir, dinner is now served," announced his butler, E'douard.

"Tres bien, E'douard. I shall be there momentarily," he dismissively informed him.

He wasn't particularly hungry, but his servants adhered to a strict agenda unless instructed otherwise. He plumed on the coherence of his own stringent schedule, and demanded they do as well.

Dieudonne' returned to his winged-back chair and began reading the tome from the point he'd stopped at prior to being interrupted, and concluded a few chapters before finally closing the cover. Wrapping his over-sized cashmere cardigan together, almost doubling it around himself, the sharp gelid feeling of the room indicated he should attend the dying fire.

Clutching the brass poker with one agile hand, he prodded the fire stirring cinders and carefully rearranged an almost spent log, revitalizing life into a nearly depleted fire. The warmth sought its way upward, cupping his face and flushing his cheeks. The sensation brought a smile to his face and into his heart. The appearance of being a stoic man was only a façade he’d created and a moment of simplicity such as briefly contented feeling, had manifested a vulnerability within himself.

E'douard pulled the chair out from the head of the mahogany Louis XIV dining table awaiting his master to sit down. He courteously laid a linen serviette across Dieudonne's lap and poured an eight-year old Cote de Bourg, filling the crystal glass with the proper etiquette. He stepped back a few feet in a methodical fashion, standing nearby while anticipating his next task.

Entering the dining room, Adrienne served a delicious chicken liver pate', Mousse de Foies de Volatile, which was a favored, and planned to serve the main course of Coq au Vin and Potage aux Champignons later. As he enjoyed her delicacy, she refreshed his wine glass and gracefully exited into the kitchen.

Adrienne, both chef and maid for Mr. Dieudonne', enjoyed her employer's delight for her cuisine, knowing it was his weakness. She'd been employed by his family for two generations, and knew of no different life. His father, Dieudonne' Benoit Robillard, II, was a precarious man, but generous in all his endeavors, especially to his employees. Mr. Dieudonne', III, wasn't much different, though she knew he pretended otherwise.

Twenty-five minutes had passed since the main course. She presented his favorite dessert, Mousse au Chocolat a`la menth with a flaming brandied coffee, Cafe Brulot, and proffered a fresh linen serviette, then proceeded to gather the used porcelain dinnerware, and disappeared back into the kitchen.

E'douard poured a glass of an aromatic 1942-St. Christeau, Mr. Dieudonne's favorite cognac armagnac brandy, and placed the glass on a serving tray beside the cut-crystal decanter, then carried the sterling tray into the study for Mr. Dieudonne's evening drink.

Outside, rain surged a diapason of harmony beating down on the mansion's steep roof, streaming and running down arched windows, and pounding the upper and lower balustrades while resounding through the chimney into the study.

Dieudonne' found the rhythm soothing and relaxing. A warm cognac brandy, Beethoven's brilliance inspiring the atmosphere, serene resonant rain, a warm crackling fire and a satisfied palate. Life was often good hidden within the walls of La maison de Ruine. He was a man who enjoyed his solitude, but was lonely for companionship at times.

He sat comfortably while staring at the family portraits aligning the eastern wall of the study. Mademoiselle Chloe' jumped in his lap purring and rubbing against his chest with her petite body, marking her ownership of Dieudonne'. He subconsciously stroked her soft fur while reflecting back on time past, still gazing at the portraits that stared back at him. Flickering shadows born from the flaming fire, danced across the eyes causing them to appear alive.

Six generations of Robillards, he was the seventh, and had no intent of his portrait joining the condemned collage. For every portrait commissioned and inevitably hung in the gallery, the premature death of its subject would shortly follow. His father had suffered an agonizingly slow death, and was the first to have conceived the malediction of the portrait, and the doom that followed. It had been too late for him. But, at his bedside on that fateful night of his father passing, his last dying words were of a grave warning to him; take hearkening of the family imprecation.

While dismally reminiscing, he thought about the legend that his father had told him of how his great-grandfather had been born in Transylvania, Romania, and his grandfather being born in France, as was his own father. The Robillard lore began with his great-grandfather fleeing and relocating his family to France, where they remained in hiding from Count Pascaly. The Count had ordered his great-grandfather's first born child to be presented before him so his bride could raise it as her own and have an heir to his nobility. The Count had specifically required a child of particular characteristics and traits. His great-grandparents had qualified for the prerequiste, although a child hadn't been born to them as yet. The Count was said to have been impotent, thus, couldn't impregnate the Countess who had threatened suicide if a child wasn't made available to her for rearing.

It was later told, in a fit of raging anger upon receiving the news of the family's flight, the Countess covenanted a curse upon the Robillard family and all generations to come..."Mai Robillards a surveni la timpuriu moarte prin din 'nt' mplare vanitate ei `i tot generare spre urm 'tor." - Countess Pascaly

Then, a short time later, a son, Dieudonne' Benoit Robillard, I, the first generation, was born in France. Dieudonne's grandfather. Years later, Dieudonne' Benoit Robillard, II, his own father, was also born in France. As he was born in France like the two generations before him, and was christened the third; Dieudonne' Benoit Robillard, III. He never knew his great-grandfather's given Romanian name. He had changed it to a French surname upon commencement of his hiding.

Lightning suddenly cracked, clamoring and clattering a sharpness through the night, startling Dieudonne' from deep reflection. Mademoiselle Chloe' leaped from his lap leaving an abundance of tiny snags in his trouser pants and scurried under the bonneti're cabinet located in the far corner of the study. Sonorous thunder followed reverberating its powerful wrath, frightening her again. She shrilled a piercing feline squeal as she ran out the room into the foyer, off to hide elsewhere. Dieudonne', now amused by her protesting antics, swirled the remaining brandy inside the confinement of the crystal glass, warming it for immediate sipping. He took a drink allowing the warmed liquid to caress his palate, briefly savoring its flavor before swallowing.

He indolently glanced at the pewter longcase clock that his great-grandfather's father had handed down for generations, and the face displayed it was half past, eleven o'clock. He'd gotten sleepy from the effect of the cognac brandy and decided to retire for the night.

Dieudonne' called for his beloved pet confidant, Mademoiselle Chloe', intending to take her upstairs to bed with him. But, she didn't respond like she normally did. He called for her again. No response.

Knowing he couldn't summon E'douard for assistance, considering he usually retired at ten o'clock every night, he got up to look for Mademoiselle Chloe' himself. He turned off the lights one by one as he left the study, leaving the room barely illuminated from the fire burning its last bit of puissance.

Standing in the middle of the entrance foyer, he called out softly in his cunning feline-enticing tone, which commonly worked on Mademoiselle. He heard a faint response ensuing from under the bombe credenza and kneeled down on the cold marbled floor to look beneath it. There she was. Mademoiselle Chloe' was curled up in a diminutive white ball with all four paws neatly tucked under her frail body, eyes unblinkingly wide open, and issuing a throaty, reverberant purring of security and contentment.

Dieudonne' gently picked her up and cradled her warm softness to his chest and carried her with him upstairs to bed for the night.

His master suite was bedecked with gold and red burgundy leaf silk brocade overlaying the walls, which were richly accompanied by matching draperies adorning arched windows. Gold accessories tastefully displayed, completed the uniformity throughout the room and spilled into the heart of its grand essence.

The bed, a perfectly handcrafted mahogany masterpiece, which had been handed down through generations of Robillard's, stood proudly centered in the epitome of the room. Guarding its magnificent splendor, laid a gold accented brocade spread which countered the walls and draperies.

Dieudonne' proficiently folded the thick bedspread exposing the opulent silk sheets and red wool blanket, and placed it neatly to drape over an eloquently carved quilt rack at the foot of the bed, where it would remain unsoiled until morning.

Removing his jewelry, but, before he could undress and slip into his silk pajamas, Mademoiselle Chloe' had selected her place on one of the bed pillows as though she were the queen of the bedchamber, and awaited him to join her for the night. He got into bed, comfortably positioning himself on his back, primly arranging the bedding to his preferment, while Mademoiselle snuggled against his side to sleep contentedly. His mind wandered with thought, and realized that tomorrow was his birthday. He didn't like celebrations, therefore, planned to disregard the fictitious importance of the day.

Mademoiselle Chloe' woke him early daybreak with gentle rhythmic kneading atop his chest, accompanied by rotund purring of her appeasement.

E'douard knocked on the bedroom door at his accustomed time which he dutifully cleaved every morning. If Mademoiselle didn't wake him, E'douard professed the punctual obligation.

"Entrer, E'douard," he responded to the knock.

E`doaurd simultaneously opened both double doors and entered, cheerfully offering a prodigious morning to Dieudonne', then announced breakfast was served.

When he'd finished showering and dressing in approbated attire; black corduroy trousers and a favored matching cashmere cardigan, Dieudonne' carried Mademoiselle Chloe' with him downstairs for their breakfast.

Dieudonne' sashayed into the dining room where E'douard and Adrienne formally stood in waiting with happy expectancy of the special day.

In complete accord, they chimed, "Happy birthday, Mr. Dieudonne'!"

"Merci, Adrienne and E'douard. But you know I'm not in custom to commemorate my birthday," announcing with an appreciative tone nonetheless.

E'douard proceeded to pull the head chair out from the table for him, and Dieudonne' sat down respectfully thanking him. Adrienne served him one of his favorite breakfast dishes, L'Omelette Lyonnaise, complemented by a small loaf of ham and olive bread decorated with a single birthday candle eloquently centered. Dieudonne' pleasantly surprised, gracefully blew out the candle and cordially thanked her for her kind thoughtfulness. She graciously welcomed him, and presented a hot latte' coffee, then took the liberty of softly kissing his cheek.

After he'd finished relishing breakfast, he retreated into his study to entrance himself with the book he'd been rendering the evening before. Mademoiselle Chloe' predictably took her customary place in his lap.

E'douard served a fresh pot of rich coffee with nuggets of sweet dark chocolate, delivering it to the table next to Dieudonne's chair. The blended aroma of the dyad occluded throughout the room, annulling the dankness of the previous night's pith. He began a hearty construction in the fireplace for a pleasing fire to warm the study. After fulfilling the task successfully, E'douard left Dieudonne' and Mademoiselle alone to their esteemed privacy.

Within an hour, E'douard and Adrienne entered the study jointly carrying a large easel draped with a flax-linen cloth.

"What have you both got there?" Dieudonne' inquired.

"It is your birthday present, Mr. Dieudonne'," Adrienne excitedly and proudly beamed.

"Adrienne and I, have taken the liberty of joyfully presenting you with a special gift on your special day," E'douard promptly explained, gleaming.

"You certainly shouldn't of. It's not necessary to give me a present. I've already received the best gift that you both could have possibly given me...your loyalty," Dieudonne' thankfully told them.

"May we present it to you, sir?" E'douard asked, trying his best to mask his elated anticipation.

"Well, since you've gone to all the trouble for me, I accept your kind generosity. I feel honored, and anxious to see what it is that you've bestowed," he politely told them, feeling a little more excitement than he'd liked to admit.

Together in unison, E'douard and Adrienne grasped the linen cloth, looked one another in the eyes as if mentally counting down; one, two, three, and uncovered the mysterious gift presenting it proudly to Dieudonne' ...a beautiful life-sized oil portrait of him holding Mademoiselle Chloe'.

Dieudonne's heart careered frantically, eyes widened with utter terror, his mouth dropped open as if to yell out, yet no sound emitted from the gaping orifice.

He couldn't believe the absurdity that the two people he'd trusted the most, had inadvertently bestowed his early demise. They hadn't been privy of the curse that the Countess Pascaly had covenanted upon the Robillard family...the generations of portraits which hung in the family gallery that had been their demise...Now, his own portrait would be the seventh and last generation to complete the Robillard collection, when he would soon meet his own untimely death... as his father, grandfather, and grandfather's father had before him...

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