“It’s so beautiful,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything so moving.”
After it had finished, Elise was still in high spirits. She sang the songs from the opera, and her pronunciation was a bit off but her tone was perfect. Her voice was like an angel. I took her hand, pulling her to me, and we danced along the streets of Paris. A large, slow waltz as she sang.
We met a couple, slightly drunk on wine and even more drunk on love, and they invited us up to their flat. Elise and I were having too much fun to decline, and we followed them up to a small artist’s loft. Paint and wine stained what little furniture they had, and the floor was littered with canvases.
The man, Luc, asked to paint Elise, and when I translated for her, she gladly accepted. She sprawled on a purple blanket, her ringlets coming loose from her hair. I understood why Luc had to paint. If ever there had been a muse, Elise must surely be one.
While Luc carefully tried to make his brush strokes match the perfection of my wife, I talked to Marie. She spoke some English, and she used as much as she could to keep Elise in the conversation.
Marie and Luc had just come back from a holiday in Prague. It wasn’t meant to be a holiday – Luc was supposed to be working. Marie explained that last month they’d barely eaten, and Luc had hardly painted from lack of inspiration.
So they’d travelled to Prague, where Luc had been hired to paint portraits for a wealthy family that lived there. Only as soon as they’d gotten there, Luc had enraged the mistress of the house, and they’d been sent packing without any pay.
That hadn’t stopped them from having a marvelous time, though. Marie told us of the architecture, the streets, the river, the people. She said we must go to Prague if we had the chance, and I realized that we certainly did.
We left before Luc could finish the painting, but I paid him for the half-finished canvas anyway. It only seemed fitting, since Elise and I had drank of them before we left. They tasted of purity and grapes, and Elise seemed a bit tipsy when she was done.
The next day, Elise and I packed our things and hopped on the train out of Paris. I know that’s not at all what I told you when I left. I said two weeks in Paris, then we’d come home.
But this is the only time Elise and I will be newlyweds. I implore you to forgive me, dear brother. I want so much to enjoy this time with my wife. I have this strange sense of urgency when I’m with her. Our time together feels so very precious, as if there is only a finite amount left.
I know that’s not true. That we have all eternity to see the world together. But right now, I feel this is something that I must do. I must give Elise the world while I have the chance.
As I write this, we are still on the train, on our way to Prague. The sun has only just begun to rise, the pink light spilling through the windows. Soon, I’ll have to pull down the shades, shrouding us in darkness, but for now, the light seems perfect.
Elise has her head on my shoulder, and she’s been sleeping for a while. She stirred a bit ago, watching me as I wrote this letter to you.
“Is that to Ezra?” Elise asked, stifling a yawn.
“Yes, it is,” I told her.
“Please tell him not to hate me,” she said.
“Why would he hate you?” I asked.
“For stealing you away from him. I would hate somebody that took you away from me.”
“Nothing can take me away from you, my love. You know that.” I brushed back a hair from her forehead and kissed her gently. “I am yours forever.”
“I know.” She smiled, lopsided because she was sleepy. “But I still stole you from him.”
“I went willingly,” I assured her. “And Ezra isn’t the type to hold grudges.”
“Perhaps.” She snuggled closer to me, resting her head in the nook between my shoulder and neck.
“Does Catherine hate me for taking you away from her?” I asked.
“A little,” Elise admitted, and then giggled. Somehow, the sound was even more charming when she was sleepy. It had an innocent quality to it that made my heart swell.
With that, she drifted off to sleep. So I beg of you, Ezra, if you cannot forgive me for leaving you now, please at least do not hold it against my young bride. She cares for you, not as much as I do, but as much as she can.
We only wish to make each other happy, but we don’t want to do it at your expense. Let us have a few more weeks to be free and unfettered, and in love and foolish the way only the young can be.
Then I’ll return home. I will work with you to open the business. Elise will work in the gardens and fields of her farm. We’ll build a house together, but the life we build will include you. You are as much a part of my life as my beloved Elise.
I want you to know that. Just because I am married now it doesn’t change a thing between us. I still love you as much as I ever have, brother. And when I return, I will set about proving it to you. I don’t want there to ever be a doubt about my loyalty to you.
I hope things are well with you, and you are checking in on Catherine to make sure she’s alright. Elise has been afraid that the farm will fall apart in her absence, but I assured her that you will keep Catherine in line.
Take care, dear brother, and I will see you soon.
December 24, 1860
To Elise, with all my love –
On this Christmas, I wanted to give you something to show you how much you mean to me, how grateful I am that you’ve let me spend these past eight years with you.
I would buy you a new house, if you’d let me, but I know how much you love this old farm. I’d take you on another trip, if I hadn’t already taken you everywhere you asked to go.
I’ve given you everything I have to give, and so much more. I’d give you the moon and the stars, if you asked for it, but I know that’s not what you need.
Love, my love, is the thing you crave the most. I’ve heard you talk of your family, the stories growing with increasing frequency. Our small home has become too large for you. I hear your footsteps echoing as you walk about during the day, and I reach over to your spot in bed, finding the sheets cold.
When did you stop sleeping? When did this ache begin to fill you?
I offer myself to you, completely, eternally, humbly yours, but I feel it in your touch. In your smile that never seems quite true. A sadness. You miss something. Is it something you lost? Or is it something you never had?
My love, my true, my only. What is that you lack that I cannot give?
I think I know the truth, but I’ve been afraid to speak it. I fear if I form the words, it will become a real. A solid entity that will take over our lives. That will ruin everything I have worked for to create with you.