55. Wedded Bliss

September, 1840

Etienne sits peacefully at the dining room table, reading his way through a stack of nine variations on the theme of "How I Spent My Summer Vacation," and, every now and then, making a mark on one, or writing a comment.

Presently Chantal enters with a soft rustling of skirts and a small sigh of accomplishment, having successfully gotten Mathilde into bed and, apparently, to sleep. She pauses by his chair, smiling a bit as she looks over his shoulder.

"One would think that some of them would do something interesting," Combeferre muses as he sets the current paper aside and waits for the ink to dry. "'I wash my dog.' 'I run in woods with brother.' Don't they ever play any games?"

Chantal chuckles. "I suppose they don't want you to think they're frivolous."

Etienne smiles and shakes his head. "I know they're frivolous. Perhaps if I told them so, they would stop dissembling." He takes her hand and presses a kiss to the palm. "I should have these done in another half-hour. Is Mathilde asleep?"

Chantal traces her fingertips across his cheek. "Well, if she's not, she's an awfully good actress for a three-year-old."

"Good." He smiles at her. "I'll check on her in a few minutes. She's so beautiful when she's sleeping."

Chantal smiles back at him, perching on the edge of the table. "She is." She tilts her head slightly, regarding him.

Etienne looks back, raising an eyebrow. "What?"

She still blushes on the least provocation. "Nothing. I was just thinking." She glances down, plucking at the pleats of her skirt.

Etienne prompts gently, "Thinking what?" He obviously teaches with the Socratic method.

Chantal glances up through dark lashes, shy. "...That I'm lucky."

Etienne does not blush. He only smiles. "I could easily say the same, ma chérie."

Chantal puts out a hand to touch his cheek briefly, then lets it fall. "I should let you finish."

"As you like. I shall be done quite soon." He takes up another paper and begins reading it.

Chantal nods, and stands, pausing to drop a kiss into his hair before crossing the room and retrieving her sewing basket. She settles in a chair across from him, and sets to mending one of Mathilde's much-abused play dresses.

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