This particular scene comes right after the flashback at the end of Chapter One where Aurore announces she has "found" Michel with whom she used to play. She tells Dominique she doesn't want to be his sister, but they could get married. She's about seven. He's twelve and horrified, of course. I deliberately put the flashback at the end of the chapter when Aurore and Dom are physically at their lowest and it acts as a sort of fever dream for both of them.
Since this scene repeated much of the one before and I was overloaded on flashbacks, I had to cut it. I've never stopped liking it, though, for the interaction between Dom and Cédric, who are like brothers, even though Cédric swears he has enough brothers.
As Dom and Aurore's relationship frayed, so did Dom's relationship with the rest of her family. At times, it's not clear if he misses Aurore or Cédric more. But here, they're just kids, dealing with the blowback of family drama.
Dominique covered his mouth and looked away, his shoulders shaking. He wiped away tears of laughter and turned back to Cédric to see his friend doing the same.
Cédric blinked his eyes rapidly. “It would have hurt her feelings, to hear us. Girls are impossible to understand. Both your father and mine said that it doesn't get easier when they get older.”
Dominique nodded again, and grinned at Cédric. “But just think. If I married her, you would be my brother.”
Cédric rolled his eyes. “Mon Dieu! Don't I have enough trouble with the brothers I have already?”
Dominique frowned in disappointment, but Cédric punched him on the arm and they shoved each other back and forth a few times. Cédric's father, the baron, strode into the room and both boys jumped to their feet, the bench screeching on the floor as they shoved it back with their knees.
“Papa, Aurore has just gone upstairs to look for you. She was quite cross no one told her that Michel was here and not dead,” said Cédric.
“Was she?” asked the baron, pausing, distracted for a moment from whatever was on his mind.
“Yes, sir. She said she cried and cried,” said Dominique, feeling the need to defend the chubby little girl.
The baron nodded and went to the staircase.
Dominique grabbed the bench and yanked it back in and sat, Cédric dropping down beside him and nearly toppling off backwards, as he wasn't ready when the bench hit the back of his knees.
Dominique counted months on his fingers. Aurore said the baronesse was as big as a house, but she shouldn’t be as big as all that after just a few months, should she? He cleared his throat. “Your mother returned from court just a few days before you came here, didn't she? Seven months ago?”
“Be quiet.” Cédric turned his back slightly.
“I am not trying to...” said Dominique.
“Shut up,” said Cédric, leaning over his letter and jabbing his quill into the pot of ink that sat between them.
“It could be a large baby, you know,” he said. He had no idea if that was true. He knew nothing about pregnancy.
Cédric shielded his face and set the tip of his pen to the paper, but lifted it immediately. He watched as a drop of ink fell and then jabbed the pen back into the ink. He picked up a bit of blotting paper and touched the corner to the blot, watching the ink intently as it soaked up. Dominique watched the ink as well, not sure of what to say.
Finally, he looked down at his own paper, at his own attempt at a letter to his grand-père, a landed gentleman near Nantes. He had been writing in solidarity with Cédric, because their tutor told him to compose a letter for his mother to send back with his family. He reached for his own quill, flicking Cédric's out of the way. He replaced it without writing anything, either.
“I'm sorry,” Dominique said softly.
“Do you have any bastard brothers and sisters?” said Cédric, glaring at him.
“I don't know. My father said once that it was his great regret that le bon Dieu did not give him more children, but who knows? He might be lying or he wasn’t counting bastards. He was drunk at the time.” Dominique shrugged.
“My father has a bastard. I don't know who, maybe someone in Paris. He hasn't acknowledged the boy. None of us are supposed to know, but I heard my mother shouting about it. She said she would never let him back in her bed,” said Cédric.
They were silent for a while longer.
“She said that the estate was already too small to divide among three boys and to give Aurore a dowry. I am to inherit the main portion, of course, Henri is destined for the church, and Jean-Louis will be bought a commission and will inherit a small property,” said Cédric.
Dominique nodded because he knew all this almost as well as he knew his own future holdings.
“And the bastard boy... Maman will not tolerate seeing him. My parents have hardly spoken in years. They go up to the court separately, Maman keeps to herself when she is home. She hardly even sees us,” said Cédric, dragging his finger across the few lines he had already written. The ink had long since dried and nothing was smeared, though Dominique was sure that Cédric would not care if it were. “Papa still speaks with us, at least. Listens to us. Spoils Aurore, of course. She is the baby and the only girl.”
“Maybe when you're grown up, you can find the boy and do something for him,” said Dominique, shrugging.
“'Sorry you had to grow up poor and alone and despised, but voilà, have a horse,'” said Cédric, gesturing grandly.
“He might have a high-born mother. Or maybe he has a father who will raise him as his own,” said Dominique.
Cédric shrugged. “Before today, I would have felt as though I were betraying Maman.” The specter of the evidence of the baronesse’s unfaithfulness hung over them. Seven months and she was as big as a house?
Their tutor strode into the room and smacked them both on the back of the head. The boys hunched over their papers and began to write again.