We never did play tea parties like other girls. We played detective. Because that’s what Mercedes read, detective stories. And she was our Sherlock Holmes.
As children, our ventures were harmless enough. Until the day Simone fell in the river and disappeared.
The Tilting Leaves of Autumn
I still don’t know why they included me. The three of them were larger than life. Simone with her madcap antics, always scaring us, always making us think she had finally got hurt. Pearl was the princess. She was the debutante when we came of age, as Simone would have been… Pearl dressed the part of a young lady, while Simone had merely tolerated her trappings.
And Mercedes, well she and I were servants. But Mercedes had a confidence even Simone and Pearl didn’t possess. Mercedes was our leader. And not because she was older than us. She… never wavered. She guided us, reined us in, even Simone. Most times.
But me. I never did understand why they accepted me as their friend. Bastille House was on the complete other side of town. And I was not allowed time away. Even as a child, I was expected to account for my whereabouts every moment of the day. I suspect my mamá took many beatings as a result of the afternoons she sent me off to play with my friends.
It still haunts me. The guilt of it torments me still.
Mercedes and I were close, closer than the others. Simone and Pearl had been born into gentry, and lived in luxury their whole lives. Mercedes had only just discovered her heritage, and yet I felt I must keep childhood from her. From the others. They’d not understand; I didn’t understand it all myself.
My mother was a beautiful woman, kind and genteel, loved by everyone… almost everyone.
I was little when she died, just five years old, and I didn’t know what happened until much later, only that she went away. That’s what they told me.
My sister was sent away and I was placed in the care of Tierney, our cook. Mon père told me to call her Mamá but I could not. My dear mamá had gone but she’d come back for me, I knew she would.
I didn’t understand why I wasn’t given to the care of Alice, the nursery maid. Other than servants, Avalina and I were the only children at Bastille House and after she was gone I was alone.
Tierney was not cruel to me, but neither was she kind. She sent me off to play when I was yet a small girl, I think to keep me out from underfoot; she did her best to ensure Monsieur didn’t know, but I always suspected he knew everything that went on at Bastille House. I suspected she was punished for it, especially when I was older and she showed me a kindness of an afternoon.
Tierney tutored me and Daphne’s son, Yates. Yates was the same age as my sister and when he was older, he was sent to work in the stables. Daphne and her husband were both servants and Monsieur felt, not entitled to education. Still, Tierney made sure I did my lessons, reading and arithmetic and history. Her English was not so good and I wondered that she was so adamant that I learn my lessons in English. I wondered if that was why she was so… detached. Did she have family, perhaps? Family she had been torn away from? I never knew.
Now, Monsieur was in a… state. Not in his right mind. And I had been party to the cause of it.
Did I feel guilty for it? Non, I did not. Perhaps I should. It was a cruel prank we had pulled. It was less than a week and by all reports, he still whimpered like a puppy in his wife’s apartments.
To her credit, Madame Gertrude rose to the occasion. She could easily have denied him, and I wondered at her softness of heart.
I didn’t go back to Bastille, not in the days since Mercedes had brought me to Alés House. It was far too risky for me to venture anywhere near Bastille, lest Monsieur Fontaine come to himself and bring me back to his clutches.
He was so different than he had been. Monsieur had not always been the monster everyone else knew. I wondered, did no one else in Saisons know of his kind heart, the generous man before… before Mamá was taken from us. Did no one remember?
I was happy in my new position with Mercedes. Acting as her Lady’s Maid was hardly a demanding position. Not at all like a scullery maid which I had been at Bastille. Grueling work that, and arduous, smelly and in a small, dark room with no windows.
At Alés House, I lived practically as a lady, free to come and go, and to spend time with my children.
Instinctively my hand went to my belly. No one knew yet but my husband Donal, and Tierney and Mercedes. Of course Mercedes knew, she always figured things out. She herself had only just given birth so she was most attuned to it.
I was most thankful the sickness had not been so severe, and what little I had experienced had passed. Now, though, I seemed sleepy all day long. While Mercedes had been most magnanimous in her gesture, she didn’t realize what she had done. And I wasn’t sure how to undo it.
Still, life as scullery maid had taken a toll on me in my previous pregnancies. My first baby, named after my husband, and his brother, Max, had both been so tiny. Jabati, my midwife, said it was from working too much, from the strain of my position. I prayed this child would be not only healthy, but perhaps not so small as his or her brothers.
I had first seen Simone some weeks ago, not long after she returned to Saisons. Even though it had been so many years, I knew it was her. Her eyes, the color of palm fronds, had stared off into nothing. I wondered was she injured.
My circumstance had created in me a cautious nature. I wanted to rush to her, sweep her into a great embrace, to know was she well. I wanted to know why she had been away and not written; why she had come to Mercedes and not myself. But Simone and Mercedes had always been so close, more like sisters than the division of their stations in life.
I suppose it would have been easy for me to be jealous of Mercedes. The Dubois family treated their servants better than some nobility I knew, as they had their slaves before the war.
But Mercedes was far too kind for me to think ill of her. To wit, her recent kindness to me and my family. And for all her good will and the generosity of her gesture, I had to find a way to undo it.
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