A high-pitched whistling sound woke her when the room was still dark. It took her a moment to realize it was the wind, coming through the window she had left open a crack. She eased out from under the warm and heavy blankets and tiptoed across the cold floor to close it. The silence that descended when the sash hit the sill was a relief. However, the wind had done its work, and even in the half light she could see the sky was cloudless.
A door clicked shut somewhere down the passage. Someone else was up. Two seconds later there was a knock at her door. Before she could answer, it opened and there, silhouetted against the light of the hall, was a giant.
“Aaah,” screamed Rosalyn, pressing herself backward against the wall. Who was coming to get her? What was coming to get her?
Upstairs in the dining room, lunch was a simple meal of salad, followed by more braised fish and grated carrots. The aroma of a warm loaf of bread escaped the white linen napkin enfolding it. Rosalyn still found it odd that Marcella didn’t eat with them. Did she eat every meal alone in that echoey servants’ hall? Did washing the lettuce give her the right to keep Marcella company? Not that she minded being put to work. It was something to pass the time on this dreary, interminable day.
The women were discussing their plans for the next day. “Madame Fuseau’s first, of course,” said Nora, “and we can drop off our overnight things upstairs.”
“She doesn’t mind? What about the butter? The last thing I want is for her to say that I’ve nicked it out of her ice-box.”
“It happened like this,” Nora said. “A huge party was thrown for his third birthday. So all the nobility from the four corners of the country were invited, and everyone was hoping for fine weather.”
“Well, sure, who wants to have a party in the rain?”
“It was more than that, I’m afraid.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “ The prince was fixed.”
“Oh.” She imagined a large royal toddler having a royal temper tantrum while his minuscule mother and nannies looked on helpless from under a cluster of umbrellas.
“Such a pity. No offense.”
Was she offended? No, but they way they said "fixed" made it sound like a curse.
Rosalyn’s cheeks burned with shame. She was at the mercy of these three women for without their help she had no idea where to start looking or whose assistance to enlist. She didn’t want to do anything or be anything that would put her out of favour with them. At the same time, she felt peeved at being made to feel like she was the odd one and that she might be shocking or offensive. She, Rosalyn, who was always praised for her schoolwork and her goodness, never broke rules or was impolite! It was ridiculous, and nerve-wracking.
The ticking clock woke Rosalyn several times that night. Each time she straightened her undershirt which had twisted itself tight around her, punched the hard feather pillow into a less uncomfortable shape and tried not to think about the questions that kept crowding in. Why was it her problem Jason had recklessly disappeared into a puddle ? Why her? She wasn’t even truly his sister, was she? Lately, she had not been able to stop wondering who her real parents were. She knew that her mother may have been a teenager, too poor to raise a child on her own in a society where single parenting was frowned on. Her father’s name or whereabouts were anyone’s guess. Rosalyn was lucky, she had been told, to be growing up in the West, speaking English without the slightest trace of an accent. Her adoptive parents had wanted her. Phil and Jane, as she allowed herself to call them when she was alone, had spent a lot of money and had traveled around the world to bring her back. No one could ever call her an accident the way Jason had been. “A wonderful accident,” her mother Jane had laughed over the phone one day to a friend. “But they say it happens more often than you’d think.”
After dinner, Gaétane picked up one of the heavy candelabras and led Rosalyn through a door on one side of the dining room that led to a large sitting room. Nora followed with a tea tray which she placed on a side table. Four armchairs were arranged around a fireplace, one on each side and two facing. Gaétance placed the candelabra on the wide mantelpiece, added a log to the fire and sat down with a deep sigh in a chair beside the hearth. She kicked off her low-heeled embroidered shoes and extended her toes to the flames beginning to lick up from the embers.
“You know,” she mused, “the only reason we still dress for dinner is because Marcella would have a fit if we didn’t keep it up.”
“I’m not so sure,” said Nora, reaching a teacup and saucer to Gaétane who extended her arm lazily for it.
Rosalyn was relieved to see this person was of normal dimensions. Her wavy blond hair was cut just above her shoulders and she was wearing a pale blue dress with short sleeves.
“Yes, I meant to tell you, Nora,” came the slightly husky voice of Gaétane from behind her. They both came into the room and Gaétane shut the door. “I picked her up when I was out this afternoon. She was stranded on a cloud.”
Nora’s eyebrows flew up in surprise.
Gaétane pulled out the chair at the head of the table and sat down. “So we’ll have to set another place,” she announced.
“Oh yes, of course.” Nora seemed to snap out of a daze and moved to a sideboard from which she took a handful of cutlery and a napkin. She laid two forks on the left, and a knife, and a large spoon on the right and folded the napkin to a sort of pyramid. Gaétane staring at a point on the far wall, pursing and and unpursing her lips as if about to say something but then thinking the better of it.