The words of the Mother Superior were quite final. Isabelle was lost to him, that last glimpse of her kneeling at the altar of the convent chapel in her new habit all he could take away with him. She had thought him dead, and had taken her vows with excessive speed, as far as he could see, and now she was locked away from him in the convent of St Lucie's and he was out in the world, alone.
So he did go away, as far as he could, despite Guillot's generally good natured grumbling. Guillot joined him in Marsailles where they took ship to join the Grand Turk. Francois fought his way to the Holy Land and beyond, hoping that action would make him forget his grief.
It did not occur to Francois, so overwhelming had been the sight of Isabelle dressed as a nun, that she was also the sole heir of the Comte de Sospel. She could not remove herself from the succession so easily.
After a while, he began to have dreams – but not of Isabelle.
He dreamed of Mireille - clever, courageous, quick witted Mireille. Mireille who had saved his life. Mireille who had nursed Guillot back to health after he was shot. Mireille who was a loyal friend and, maybe, could be more than that.
He had left her behind without a second glance – what a fool he was!
"Guillot, we're going back."
"Back?" Guillot sighed dramatically. "First we have to go away, now we have to go back.... At least there's not much to pack."
Francois had been remiss in his letter writing while he had been away from home, but he did manage to write to his aunt the Duchess now, to inform her of his return and to ask, casually, if she had heard what had become of Mireille, who had been his good friend in the Casal affair.
Lisette met them first, running out from the doors of the chateau to greet Guillot with a kiss.
And then Francois went up to greet his aunt, and wondered if he should have written to her after all. Maybe it would have been better to return with no fanfare, and no fuss.
"I have prepared a grand celebration of your return!" she declared. "All your friends from the time that you raised the siege of Casal!"
There was nothing he could do to get out of it – they were already there, guests at the chateau. He saw little Abbot Bodinelli bustling around looking for sugar to go with his petit dejeuner – so that meant Mazarin was around somewhere too. "Ah, that clever little man," his aunt said. It seemed she had been whispering into the ear of her friend the Cardinal, and Mazarin was about to get his heart's desire. He would be going on from the chateau to visit Paris at last.
Francois was almost afraid to ask if one guest had been invited.
"Oh, the Comte de Sospel and his daughter sent their apologies," his aunt said.
"His daughter? But I thought...."
"Oh, the life of a religious didn't suit her after all," the Duchess said. "She only took her first vows, so she was free to go home. Mireille told me all about it, you know – I think she was ashamed to face you after what she did."
Francois looked uncharacteristically grim. "I would have forgiven her. I would have forgiven her anything, once."
"Well, that's one problem you don't have to face," his aunt said. "I want this home coming to be a joyous occasion."
The troupe of actors had set up in the hall, and were about to give a play in his honour.
Henri was there, too, with his pretty young wife, the only officer from Casal who had been invited.
And then Guillot announced: "The Countess of Villeman." Mireille swept into the room, and Francois had eyes for no-one else.
After the play, they slipped out into the garden together. "You know, it was only when I was far away that I realised how much I missed you," Francois said.
"Me?" Mireille sounded surprised. "But I thought you went away because Isabelle had broken your heart."
"I thought so, at the time," he admitted, "but I was a fool. You know how she betrayed me and nearly got me killed." He shrugged. "That doesn't matter now – it's all in the past. No, Mireille, it was you I dreamed of when I was far from home."
"I'm flattered, of course...." And then she looked deep into his eyes, and saw that he was in earnest, and deeply in love – with her.
"Say you love me in return. I've been in agony imagining this moment."
He looked so serious, those big brown eyes so yearning.
"Oh, Francois, the moment is here now, and I am here...." and she kissed him.