Veiled eyes, p.20
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       Veiled Eyes, p.20

           C.L. Bevill
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  Inside the foyer Anna hesitated. She looked around and saw a polished wooden floor covered with a Persian rug. The cream-colored walls were decorated with small painted portraits of people dressed in garb Anna guessed was a century and more old. Spindly-legged tables perched against the walls, buffed, glossy wooden creations that would only hold the weight of a single book.

  For a moment Anna was cowed. Her mother had come from people who were rich. All around her was the evidence that glittered, glistened, and glowed with its wealth.

  Anna, came Gabriel’s reassuring thought. Being rich doesn’t mean goodness of heart.

  I can handle this, she gritted inside her mind. Gabriel’s thoughts vanished.

  When Anna finally turned back to Geneva, she found the older woman studying her in turn. “They have a phrase for you people,” Geneva said and her chin went up imperceptibly.

  Anna looked at the elegant blue dress that Geneva wore and would have glanced down at her T-shirt and jeans if Geneva hadn’t continued. “Lake People. They call ya’ll Lake People. It’s a quaint phrase. I know a sociologist over to the university who says he’s tried to study the society of the lake for years, but ya’ll have shut him out. That isn’t very southern-like, dear.”

  “Your sister was Arette Tuelle,” said Anna at last.

  Geneva folded her hands over her midriff, and her lips pursed with distaste. “It’s a pleasure to know you have the ability to speak.” Then her face creased in curiosity. “But you don’t sound like the rest of your brethren. Damned if you don’t sound like a Yankee.”

  “I was raised in West Texas,” said Anna. “Far West Texas. Not much of an accent there, unless you happen to be first-generation Hispanic.”

  “Let’s go into the parlor, dear.” Geneva’s face became seamless again. She motioned gently with her hand, allowing Anna to precede her.

  The parlor was like the foyer except more so. More antiques. More polish and gloss. Gold edging decorated everything. Anna thought it was very pretty but momentarily found it difficult to believe its practicality. How does one use anything without worrying if they will break it?

  “Sit down, please,” said Geneva neutrally. Anna picked a gilt-framed couch with velvet cushions the color of blood. She carefully perched on the edge while Geneva selected a similar styled chair across from her. The older woman smoothed her dress and sat, delicately crossing her ankles as if she were sitting down for afternoon tea. “I’d offer you something to drink, dear, but I don’t think you’ll be staying long.” She hesitated and added, “I thought you people always stayed near the bayous or near the lake itself. Such a dark, mysterious place that lake. I saw it once with my sister, back in the day. Right before she met one of your kin, I suspect. I’ve forgotten his name.”

  “Gautier Debou,” Anna said flatly. Any hopes of useful information from this cold-hearted woman were quickly fading away. She was a wall of ice that was seemingly impenetrable.

  “Oh yes. A close relation?”

  “I don’t think so,” Anna said. “My name is Anna St. Thais. My mother was your sister.”

  Geneva’s eyes went wide for a single moment. Then she composed herself, becoming the society matron once again. “Well, Anna, is it? Anna, you’re not going to get any of Papa Tuelle’s money. He disinherited your mama the day after he found out she married that coonass.” She smiled grimly. “You’ll forgive the defamation. But one recognizes trash when one sees it.”

  Anna ignored the dig. “I make my own money. And I’m certainly not interested in being associated with a tight-ass aristocracy that wouldn’t know how to change a light bulb if one were to break.”

  Geneva stared at Anna. Then she laughed. “I believe you might be ‘Rette’s child after all. She never backed down from a fight.”

  “Did you know she had a child?”

  “I knew her husband scared her. Something else about the Lake People scared her too. She fled clear across the state of Louisiana to get away. I ‘spect you were born in Baton Rouge when she spent all that time down there. I found out where she’d been when the woman’s shelter contacted me about her belongings. They sent a box to me, oh goodness, more than twenty years ago. Some clothing. Some other meager things. I don’t recollect exactly what.” Geneva’s eyes went a little bluer as she remembered. Suddenly Anna knew that the older woman had some fondness for her sister. She could see it in her mind. The snobbish act was just that. “But the dumb little chit went back to him for some reason.”

  Anna didn’t say anything. There was more than just a fondness for Geneva’s sister. There was a twinkle of the gift. Anna’s eyes got wide. It seemed that Geneva Tuelle had a little of the gift, not so much that she was actively aware of it, but it was there all the same. Had Anna’s mother also had a little smattering of veiled eyes?

  “The sheriff told us that she had been lost in the bayou, in quicksand or something of the like. They searched for her but never found her body.” Geneva’s eyes glittered. “I never believed that, of course. After all, look where she spent the last months of her life and the fact that her husband up and vanished right after she disappeared. But one doesn’t talk of these situations. My family certainly never did. Not after that. Hardly before that either.”

  “Not very forgiving are you?”

  “The Tuelles have never been merciful,” said Geneva arrogantly.

  “Did you talk to her while she was with her husband?” Anna ignored the statement, wishing she hadn’t spoken her thoughts aloud. The ice that had begun to melt was quickly beginning to re-freeze again.

  Geneva stared at Anna again. She grimly contemplated the younger woman, trying to decide what her motives could possibly be and how they related to her in the present. “ ‘Rette called me several times in those two years. I was the only one who would speak to her. I was much younger then and much more naïve.”

  “I need to know who else she was friends with.”

  “She didn’t have any other friends, my dear.” Geneva looked around her and saw a little silver clock on the table. “And it’s far past your welcome.”

  Anna’s hands shot up, palms outward pleadingly. “Wait. This is important. My father wasn’t Gautier Debou. And that spot was left blank on the birth certificate.”

  Geneva took this in, with her lips narrowing into a severe line. “So little Arette found another playmate. How interesting.”

  “Why don’t you cut the hardhearted act?” Anna snarled suddenly. She could see the turmoil inside Geneva’s mind. The older woman was feeling regret and guilt. She hadn’t wanted to be cast out of her family for supporting her younger sister, but she hadn’t wanted to cut her only sister off without so much as another word. Arette’s death had been of a part of Geneva as well. She had severely missed Arette, and she had mourned her passing. “You cared for her. She talked to you, and I’m not asking for national secrets. None of this goes beyond me. I won’t bother your family. I won’t broadcast it to a newspaper. Bastards are born and die a thousand times a day now, and frankly, no one gives a good goddamn anymore.”

  “Well,” said Geneva haughtily. “I think you bear a little resemblance to your mother. I see it in the curve of your face, in the bow of your eyebrows. But it’s most definitely your mannerisms that show you to be her child. And dear, the cursing, well, it’s just not de rigueur.”

  Anna stared back, waiting while Geneva made up her mind.

  “I have the box the shelter sent me,” said Geneva at last. She shrugged. “It doesn’t have much in it, and it probably won’t answer your questions. But you can take it with you.”

  “Thank you,” said Anna. “I won’t bother you again.”

  An eyebrow rose. “I should hope not.”

  After Anna was holding the tattered cardboard box in her hands, Geneva held the door open for her. Anna said thank you again and started down the walk, wishing there was something else she could say to this wintry woman. Geneva said from the doorway, “Something happened to ‘Rette.”
  Anna paused and turned back. The older woman’s voice had become a little forgiving; a quaver had become perceptible. Geneva took a step out and said, “A few months before she went to the shelter in Baton Rouge. She was upset. ‘Rette said she prayed to God every day for guidance.”

  Anna scrutinized her aunt. “Did you suspect something in particular?”

  Geneva chewed on her lip, her troubled visage apparent. “If you didn’t know who your father was, then who raised you?”

  “Someone dumped me on the steps of an orphanage in El Paso,” Anna said frankly. “I was raised by nuns.”

  Geneva gasped. “The saints preserve us.”

  “Did you know what she was praying for guidance about?” Anna was insistent.

  “There are topics best not discussed in polite society,” said Geneva, regaining composure with a disdainful expression on her face. “It’s shameful. Something not spoken about in the open.”

  Anna took a step back toward the other woman. Geneva held up a warning hand. “You said you wouldn’t bother me anymore.”

  Anna made a noise of disgust. “I just want information. Why would she dump me in an orphanage hundreds of miles away? What could possibly motivate her to do that?”

  “I don’t believe ‘Rette would ever abandon her child,” Geneva said, her tone soaked with sincerity. “And since you were raised by nuns, you know what it’s like to be a Catholic. The Church doesn’t allow for abortions, even when your husband is not the father of your child.”

  Anna scrutinized Geneva, wishing the other woman’s mind was more obvious. “There were implications about my mother. Not having known her, I don’t know what to believe.”

  Geneva looked at the ground. “Her husband couldn’t conceive. She said he was sterile from having the mumps as a child. So when she became pregnant he naturally thought she had taken a lover.” Her face twisted. “ ‘Rette was all the things I always wished to be. Brave. Forthright. Ready to stand-alone when she had to and terribly impulsive, romantic. Her husband didn’t trust her. He lost his temper with her. Called her a whore and worse. He was a big man then. Since her death I read that he was caught doing questionable things. Drugs. Assaults. In fact, he recently was murdered— ”

  Her eyes rose up and caught Anna’s again. “When did you return here?”

  “I didn’t kill him, if that’s what you’re implying,” said Anna. “The sheriff of St. Germaine Parish seems to think it’s related to a drug-deal gone bad. If you doubt that, I suggest you call him. His number’s in the book.”

  Geneva stood stock-still. “I suppose it could be so. Goodbye, Anna.”

  “Goodbye, Aunt Geneva. If you should change your mind about getting to know me, you can call the general store in Unknown. You know the lake.”

  “It’s a small place, dear.” Geneva folded her hands over her midriff again, struggling to maintain her façade. “And I think it might be more dangerous than you think.”

  * * *

  Anna found a small parking lot in downtown Natchitoches overlooking part of the scenic Cane River Lake. She dug through the box and found some clothing. It was dated clothing with a little mold on some of it. There wasn’t anything in the pockets, and Anna found the disappointment overwhelming. At the bottom of the box were two books. One was a well-used paperback on pregnancies. The other one was the same book that Anna had borrowed from Camille, a history of the lake.

  Holding the book up, Anna stared at it curiously. Then some photographs fell out. She picked them up by their corners as if they would bite her. One was a photograph of two people at their wedding. The man was large, black haired and gold eyed, dressed in an ill-fitting suit. It was a younger version of Gautier. The woman was petite with the same chestnut-colored hair Anna had seen only minutes before. Her eyes were blue, and she laughed into the camera. Dressed in a simple white dress with a lace veil over her hair, she was a pretty bride. Her mother. Arette.

  Anna flipped the photo over. Nothing was written there. She frowned.

  The next photo showed a group of people on the lake in a boat. Gautier was there again. So was Arette. There was a woman that Anna didn’t recognize, although she was clearly a member of the family. There were two men who looked dour and unforgiving. Anna checked the back of that one and found nothing.

  The final photo was a single man. Anna’s eyebrows came together in confusion. Why would my mother have a photo of Gaspard Benoit?

  * * *

  That night as they sat on Anna’s little balcony watching the lake, Gabriel said to her, “It didn’t help, did it?”

  “Yes and no,” Anna answered slowly. “She’s so snobbish, my aunt. She thought I was after the family money.”

  She thought you wanted the silver.

  You got that?

  “Oui, at first. She changed her mind. It was like being inside the mind of a maddened poodle. The dog doesn’t know whether to nip you or lick you.” Gabriel grimaced at the image that presented.

  “She told me something.”

  Gabriel tugged on Anna’s arm forcibly. Her head came around to look at him solidly. “Tell me.”

  Anna swallowed convulsively. The illegitimate child of an adulterous relationship, the child of an outsider. What if you don’t want me anymore when you find out?

  “I swear,” he said slowly. “I will always want you.” A little pained smile crossed his lips. “It cannot be any other way. But rest assured, I’m not unhappy with the situation, chère.”

  “You said Gautier disappeared after my mother went into the bayou,” she said. “What if it was him that put me on the steps of the orphanage?”

  There was puzzlement on Gabriel’s face. “Why would he do that?”

  “If he knew whose child I was, if he thought that a child of Arette’s was in some sort of danger, then wouldn’t he do something?”

  “Like drive you all the way to El Paso and deposit you in an orphanage, with only your mother’s Bible as a companion?” Gabriel was horrified at the thought of someone deliberately isolating Anna in infancy from the family.

  “Proximity,” Anna explained. “You don’t feel babies. They haven’t developed their gifts yet. Not until they start into adolescence. They don’t speak to you until then, right?”

  “Most of the time,” Gabriel admitted. His gifts had come to him early. He had felt Anna from almost the time when she was born, but he had been too young to know what to do or say about his visions, and she had been so far away.

  “That’s why Gautier took me there. So the family wouldn’t know of my existence. Gautier assumed I would be safe there?”

  “Why would Gautier want to protect you?” Gabriel was perplexed.

  “He warned me, didn’t he?” A mental image of the photograph came to Anna, and it was broadcasted clearly to Gabriel. The wedding picture where Gautier stared down at his bride, the love in his face, the complete worship he had felt for Arette had been unambiguous. Gautier had loved his wife, even when something wretched had happened, and he had wanted to protect her child even if the baby wasn’t his.

  “Protect you?” Gabriel said. “From what? The family won’t hurt you. We don’t hurt our own.”

  “That’s what I’ve got to figure out,” Anna admitted.

  * * *

  There were no answers for Anna. She had already discovered that people in the family didn’t remember or didn’t want to remember what had happened with Gautier and his outsider wife. Anna discovered that they most definitely didn’t like to speak with her about it as well.

  There were the clues that Anna had. Arette had taken a family lover and that had resulted in Anna’s birth. Geneva had implied that Arette was upset at what her adulterous relationship had accomplished. Someone had killed Gautier with a shotgun, possibly to prevent him from saying any more to Anna. Someone had orchestrated a trick on Anna and lured her into the mine; possibly it was Meg playing games with Gabriel’s one true love. Someone else had left roses on Arette’s memorial marker,
in spite of the fact that everyone professed hatred for outsiders. Someone had told her that she would be judged, just like Gautier had been. Meg had thought something about a graveyard to her, if only Anna could tell if that had been real or imagined or some kind of deception. But someone else had thought something about the graveyard, and Anna concentrated on thinking about who it had been.

  The only graveyard Anna knew of in the area was the one behind the church and the priest wouldn’t divulge any information about Arette Tuelle. He said that his information came from an uncle, and it was all secondhand and questionable at best.

  Anna had spoken with the priest and then walked through the cemetery, finding nothing but cold stones and names of people distantly related to the people she was beginning to know. No answers presented themselves on the smooth surfaces of the markers. She did see one great memorial dedicated to Lisette Simoneaud and hesitated. Next to Lisette’s marker was Varden Comeaux’s. Anna had wondered if the story was true and here the gravestones confirmed it.

  As Anna walked out of the silent cemetery, she thought about going back to see her aunt, but she knew she had exhausted her welcome there.

  * * *

  Days faded into weeks, and before Anna knew it, it was time for Unknown’s Mardi Gras festival. The town held the event the weekend before Fat Tuesday to maximize the potential for tourism. There was a parade in the daytime that went around the town twice, all the people on the floats throwing candy and beads to tourists and children alike. Then there would be a grand party in the evening. Tents had been erected along the lakefront property with booths for games, food, and trinkets. Fireworks, a Zydeco band, and a huge crawdaddy boil would culminate the evening.

  Everyone in Unknown was recruited to assist. Anna had helped with the floats, and she had driven four truckloads of food from Shreveport using Gabriel’s vehicle. She was glad that she wasn’t going to be stuck in one of the booths for the remainder of the evening, unable to participate in the planned activities.

  Anna was helping Camille with a tub of crayfish when Gabriel appeared out of the crowd. “Anna!” he exclaimed. “Chère, you’re the only one who can get Alby’s truck running. There are about ten cases of co-cola’s in my garage we have got to have down by the general store.”

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