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The summerhouse

They knew a peace and solace in the old summerhouse that was mixed with pain. A cold wind with a bitter note of burning timber filled Delphinia's lungs as she stood in the doorway, watching Oskar's terrible looks.

He was like a restless cat pacing, penned in by his own grief, about to fight, like a cat, with unbending will.

She too had bitter memories in this place. They were so few, so brief, but they consumed all of her. Gauvain would never hold her again. Soon he would belong to someone else, and she had not even the consolation of his love. He viewed her and her love as utterly wrong. Now that she understood the integrity in him she knew he would not spare her another look. This mingled bitterly with the sweet sting of knowledge that she had found, she was convinced, the person she had sought all of her life, someone who had loved her genuinely and unreservedly.

In that moment she knew she would never marry Christoph. She felt equal to the burden of disapproval, loneliness and perhaps even poverty. She saw herself hobbling, hulking in the shadows of a London alley and was not daunted. The only thing she feared now was the ownership of a soulless man who had never wanted for anything, who would soon realize the deep imperfection of his pretty new piece.

"'Her eyes are with her thoughts, and they are far away,'" quoth Oskar softly.

Delphinia was startled. "They are in England," she said.

"You have a serenity about your looks that seems much at odds with the scenes I have witnessed in the past two days."

"Peace comes with decision," she said, "no matter the decision. And what is your interpretation of what you have seen?"

"I have seen that you and my brother are in love, and that he is to marry your friend. Through a system of errors not yet explained to me you arrived in her place, became fond of Gauvain, and now you are to play your original role of organizing the bride."

"Everything you have said is correct, but there may be things you believe that are not correct."

"If you think so, how do you allow me into your presence alone?"

"Because..." Because she knew too much about him to be worried for her virtue, she thought. She sensed that Oskar's ardour lay in the grave forever.

"Because men are not the threat protective mamas and strident fathers would have maidens believe. Sometimes we are the threat."

Oskar laughed. "That is only too terribly true. I lost my poor virtue to a maid like yourself."

"Tell me about her," Delphinia said lightly, but suddenly the lingering wisteria and decay scent closed in on her, stifling her breath. The wind was like a caress of silk across her face.

"She is dead," he said. "My brother separated us, and she died alone of a lingering illness."

"It is Oriente," Delphinia said, because she knew it was what he was implying. "Can you forgive him?"

"How can I forgive someone who repeats the same sin again, who regrets not his wrong? He seeks now to punish himself far worse than I ever could." He looked at Delphinia more closely. "Or perhaps I could punish him still. See how strictly he can hold to his lofty integrity."

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