So this was the youth whose voice Rosalyn had heard earlier. He was tall, handsome, about seventeen years old, though it was hard to tell, since he was at least eight feet tall. A shock of dark brown hair fell across his forehead and his eager face glowed toward Cookie, pleased even at her reproach, but when he noticed Rosalyn standing beside Nora, he paled and took a step back.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” chided Cookie. “Fixed. Never seen one?”
“No, ma’am,” he said, staring at Rosalyn, who wanted to die of embarassment under the gaze of such a good-looking boy. Why did she have to be wearing these hideous oversized baby clothes?
From underneath the leeks, Rosalyn could tell they had come indoors. Soon she heard a new voice exclaim, “Marcella!”
“Welcome, my ladies.”
“How’d you do?” said Nora and Gaétane.
“Very busy today. Can’t talk just now. Come to my rooms and wash up for dinner. Need ice for anything?” Without waiting for an answer, the unseen speaker led them quickly down a long, echoey passage. Rosalyn hoped that this was truly the last, the very last lug in the basket. Would she ever stop smelling of onions?
“He’s your cousin?” Rosalyn said with enthusiasm. “That’s great! So we can go over there and…” her voice trailed off. Four pairs of wide eyes were staring at her. “Oh, that cousin.”
The room suddenly felt ten degrees cooler and darker as if a shadow had passed over the window. Rosalyn felt their fear of him, but couldn’t understand it. His driver seemed like a jerk, but surely cousin to cousin they could work something out. Were they afraid for themselves or for Jason? Was he going to torture her brother to find out where she was and then put them both to work in his mines? Something didn’t add up. “At least we know where he is, right?”
They had nearly come to the bottom of the hill and were now on a flatter path that bordered the river. Though it shouldn’t have surprised her, Rosalyn was again struck that there was no water, simply open sky, on which barges were moving, some towed by mules.
“Lid down, now,” murmured Gaétane. “Can you reach it?” Rosalyn flipped the lid closed and hunkered down inside, shifting her knees to the side. “You’ll have to stay out of sight until we’re among those we can trust. Not too much longer.” Now she had to rely on her ears and nose for a sense of where they were. She could see bits of the barge path through gaps in the wicker, but mostly she could tell they were nearing the town because the crunching sound of gravel had given way to the smoother slap of hard-soled walking boots on cobble stones. She heard shouts of laughter from path to barge, felt their party squeeze to one side to allow a cart to rumble by, smelled the warm barn odour of the donkeys they passed. She felt a flutter of excitement in her stomach, or was it nerves? Being forced to stay hidden made her feel uneasy, as if danger was imminent. Was she feeling excited that they would finally find Jason, or anxious that they wouldn’t?
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.