chapter VIII




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Sitting with the other company directors along the long board table, I watched silently as Auguste moved on to the next agenda of the meeting.


“Oh, er…the person that I shall be introducing next is not a stranger to us,” he said in his soft, hesitant voice. “He has been with us a few months ago, and it is my pleasure to announce that Lars Fersen is joining our financial advisory group in Paris on a more permanent basis now.”


Clapping ensued as Fersen stood up to be recognized. Across several heads, he caught my eye and gave me a brief smile. I nodded back, inwardly pleased to see that he was looking well. His hair was shorter, his broad frame more slender. If anything, he looked even more handsome now than I could remember.


Not everyone was delighted to see Fersen get the job though. The reaction concerning his appointment that filtered back from the company grapevine had been vehement, to say the very least. Several local candidates felt they had been “bypassed”. That such an important position had been given to a foreigner— a foreigner who barely saw two years in an auxiliary branch of the company— was an audacious move that was certainly guaranteed to raise eyebrows. What fool could have allowed this kind of anomaly to occur?


The “fool” was, at the moment, sitting uncomfortably at the head of this long table, sifting through his untidy mass of papers as he attempted to wrap up what he was saying in order to let Fersen speak on his intended projects as head of the financial advisory group.


Poor Auguste. It was very clear that he was uneasy sitting at the head of the board table. The meetings with the council of elders must be even worse. It was good to have Fersen working in the Paris office, if only to ensure that Auguste would have someone reliable to lean on.


“At long last, we meet again, my friend,” Fersen greeted me as I drifted over to him at the end of the meeting. “It’s good to see you.”


“Likewise,” I said, shaking his hand. “Very good presentation, by the way. I see you’re settling down just fine.”


“As fine as one can hope to be,” he said, breaking into an easy smile. I had missed his smile. “So how is work?”


I shrugged. “Busy, as always,” I said.


“Too busy even to spare this friend of yours a chance to take you out to dinner?” He asked, brows raised. “It’s been—what? Three weeks since I got here? Four?”


I broke into a laugh. “All right, how about this weekend? It will have to be on me then, as I seem to have been neglecting my social obligations of late,” I said.


“All right, if the lady thinks she has to compensate, although she really isn’t obligated. She knows this guy’s been dying to take her out for quite some time now,” Fersen returned, and I felt the hairs on my nape stand on end. This was what I was afraid of; light flirtation on Fersen’s part was too dangerous because I just might take his words seriously.


“Well, she’s really glad to see this particular guy,” I said. It was true, anyway. I made to look at my watch. “Ah, just look at the time. I have to get going.”


“So soon?” Fersen asked, “I am joining Auguste and Antoinette for lunch. I was hoping you might come, and—“


“I’ve got appointments back in de la Saigne,” I said, cutting him short. “You ought to get some rest while you still can. Let’s meet over the weekend, then.”


Before he could say anything more, I willed myself to turn around and head out the boardroom. Before I lost what meager control that I had of myself.


Outside, I allowed myself a tremulous smile. Ah, Fersen…Fersen…it’s really good to see you again…




“How is your assignment coming along?” I asked André later in the afternoon as he came in to report on the outcome of some of his errands. By his assignment I meant his investigation into Nicholas de la Motte.


“It’s coming along. Dagout is having difficulty with the accounting figures, but I suppose that is to be expected. Once he knocks his report into shape we shall be able to present you with a clear picture of de la Motte,” said André. “By the way, have you seen the papers this morning?” 


“Just a glance at the headlines,” I said as I continued to edit the letter that I was going to have Rosalie type. “Anything that I should know about?”


“I think you might be interested in this,” he said, handing me the society pages.


“Good Lord,” I said in exasperation as I took one look at the large picture of Antoinette and Yolande Martin playing the tables at a casino in Monte Carlo and flung the newspaper aside without reading the gossip columns. “So that was where she went this weekend.”


André picked up the newspaper and folded it away. “I thought she told you she was going to Cannes?”


“That was what she told me,” I said as I met André’s gaze.


“Oh,” said André.


I leaned back in my chair, tapping my pen meaningfully on the paper before me as I contemplated on Antoinette’s startling change of plans. Come to think of it, she had changed much during the following weeks. Ever since she became inseparable with that new friend of hers, she had changed…


“I’m sure the people at de Brun will do something about it,” André said hastily as he noted my dark expression.


“I don’t like Yolande Martin,” I found myself saying out loud.




I must confess that I was not really looking forward to the dinner with Fersen that weekend. Dinners with him were always a mixture of pain and pleasure that left me totally drained afterward. They were a great pleasure because one got to be in his company. They were also a great source of pain because no matter how discreet he was in matters dealing with his private life, one knew over the course of dinner just how unattainable he really was.


This time though, pain could quickly turn into agony, as once again I had to broach the topic of Antoinette with him.


“How was your lunch with the de Bruns the other day?” I asked as we settled down to look over the menus.


“Fine,” he said, looking up from his menu. “Antoinette was saying she has missed you in several of her small weekend receptions.”


“I know it’s not an excuse to put work in as a reason for everything, but there you have it,” I said. “Besides, I had the impression she didn’t want to tell me what she’s been doing these days.”


“What made you say that?” asked Fersen, startled.


And so I told him about the newspaper incident.


Fersen was clearly at a loss for words after hearing what I had to say. “Well, perhaps there was a last-minute change of plans on her part,” he said after a moment. “I’m sure that’s just it. Surely there’s no problem being seen in Monte Carlo over the weekend. As for the gossip columns, they’ve got no right to present her like that.”


“No, it’s not just the newspapers,” I said, feeling I had lost control of what I wanted to convey to him. “It’s the way she’s been acting these last few weeks. I can’t pin it down exactly. It’s like she’s—“


“Unhappy?” ventured Fersen softly.


That took me entirely by surprise. I was going to say “flighty”.


“Unhappy?” I repeated. “Did she tell you that?”


Fersen sighed. “That’s just my opinion,” he said in a troubled voice. “I doubt if she’ll own up to it even if somebody asks her directly. Certainly, she’s given no indication to give anyone that impression, but…I just know.”


Here we go, I thought in dismay as I felt my heart die just a little inside me. As much as it pained me, I trudged on.


“I do understand that she’s in a difficult transition period right now,” I said, “but I’m also concerned with the kind of friends she’s making.”

”You mean Yolande Martin?” Fersen asked.


“Do you know anything about her?” I wanted to know. Somehow, it seemed unwise to tell Fersen that I liked the woman less and less the more I came to know her. Perhaps it would be better if Fersen were to discover Yolande Martin’s unpleasantness on his own.


“I met her once or twice. ‘An old acquaintance’ was how Antoinette had introduced me to her,” he answered. “She’s been sweet to Antoinette, or at least that’s what Antoinette has told me.”


Aware that I was stepping on very delicate ground as Fersen had so far refused to acknowledge any of the points that I was presenting to him, I said, “It would be very good if she has got some old acquaintances by her, apart from new ones. Do you not agree?”


“I agree perfectly,” he said, and the matter was dropped as we made our orders.




Duly chastised by Fersen, I decided to set aside some time for Antoinette’s next weekend soiree. Antoinette was her usual bubbly self, exclaiming the moment she saw me, “Françoise! It’s so good of you to come! I was wondering when I could get you to put off work just for me.”


“I’m afraid I have been neglecting my social life these past few months,” I said regretfully. “How are you? You look well.”


“I am indeed well,” she answered, then, “the most amazing thing happened last weekend. Do you remember I was telling you I’d be at Cannes? Guess where I ended up instead!”


“Monte Carlo?” I said politely.


“Oh, so you know,” she said, laughing. “Yolande suddenly brought it up at the last minute and I thought it seemed exciting. Before I knew it we were there and back!”


I knew it…


“Well, how about if you join me in Arras next time around?” I asked. “I’ve got some leave time coming up.”


“All right, just say when,” she said, smiling.


“I will,” I said.


I watched her as she turned away to greet her other guests, suppressing an urge to shake my head. This was the flightiness in Antoinette that I had wanted to describe to Fersen a few nights ago. And my sense of conviction was deepening where Yolande Martin was concerned.


I met the woman some moments later, and as always felt that I had very little to say to her. Although common courtesy dictated that I showed no sign of my impression of her, it was clear after a few encounters that the way we regarded each other was mutual: there was to be only the barest of civilities between us.


Glad to have my back on her after only murmuring a few polite and necessary words, I came across Fersen.


“I just met Madame du Deffand. Interesting woman.  She’s inviting everyone to a masquerade ball on the last Sunday of next month,” he said.


“She throws a cocktail party at least every month,” I said, “this ball was intended in April, but because of Louis’ sudden passing it has been postponed.”


“Well, are you going?”


“Oh, good Lord, no!” I said, laughing.


“Why not?” he asked in a disappointed voice. “You can’t possibly have something lined up already for that day?”


I shook my head again. “But you should go,” I said. “It will be quite an affair to remember, I’m sure.”




Apparently, Madame du Deffand’s masquerade ball was not the only thing being talked about following that weekend soiree. In a few weeks’ time, a new piece of gossip was slowly making its way through the offices.


André was the first to give me a hint that something was wrong. He was going about all sullen and totally unlike his usual self that I finally had to ask what was troubling him. Then, he blurted it out: “Is it true Fersen’s been seeing you?”


 “What?” I exclaimed.


“Everyone’s talking about it,” André said, seemingly unable to control himself as he unburdened his load. “They say Fersen’s having an affair with you!”


“You don’t have to get all affected by what people have to say,” I told him.


“What’s that supposed to mean?” he demanded (yes—demanded!), and I frowned a little in puzzlement at the note of agitation in his voice. Clearly, André was over-reacting over nothing.


“It means I don’t think it warrants any more attention than it deserves because it’s pure rubbish,” I said.


There was a short silence.


“So it’s really not true?” asked André quietly.


“Of course it’s not!” I said, getting irritated. “You don’t see Fersen hanging around at the end of the day waiting for me, do you? You don’t hear him calling me all the time, do you?”


I stopped myself as I suddenly registered the bitter tone in which I said those words. Turning away from a stunned André before I could do more damage to myself, I continued, “Where did these rumors come from?”


“The other secretaries say it started in the salons,” he replied.


I whipped around sharply at that. “Even the secretaries know?!”


“They’re the ones who know everything first,” said André with a shrug. “From their bosses, of course.”


If this piece of gossip started in the salons of the rich and idle then I knew just who to go to for more information. It was clear that a talk with the sisters was in order.




“Of course we have heard of it,” replied Anne Marie to my inquiry over the phone. “Who hasn’t? It’s obvious though that it’s not true, so we never bothered telling you.


“Imagine Fersen having an affair with you,” she continued, then hastily corrected herself--“Not that it’s unimaginable, of course, but really! Just because you’re seen lunching with him once or twice! It’s really quite absurd.”


“Whom did you hear this from?”


“Well, Madame Tison said she got this from Madame Calonne, who in turn said she heard it from that woman, Yolande Martin. You know, that woman Antoinette likes to go shopping with. Really! That woman ought to be ashamed of herself. To spread these kinds of rumors around and to get caught spreading them… ”


I did not hear the rest of my sister’s words.


The last piece of the puzzle had fallen into place. I knew that name was bound to come up sooner or later.


She was very clever, wasn’t she? Now that she had firmly latched onto Antoinette, she was cementing her hold by ensuring that no other person would be able to get close to her prey. And what could be better than to hit two of birds with one stone?


Of course, this meant that I must be even more careful now with my relations with Fersen than before. Not that I cared very much what other people had to say about the two of us, but Yolande Martin (who must surely know by now how attached Antoinette was to Fersen) had ensured that Antoinette will be the one to get hurt if these rumors were to reach her, and it would be much worse if rumor were substantiated by fact, no matter how little.


I had never known anyone to be so vile!


The talk about Fersen’s romantic regard for me brought me no pleasure at all. Things might have been different if he had shown just the slightest interest in my direction. If I knew I had the slightest chance, then maybe everything would have been different…


I would not allow him or myself to be subjected to this kind of rumor. As much as I would give anything to be with him, too much was at stake. I would not have Antoinette hurting just because of me.


“But I love this man!” Something wailed inside me, and I felt the most intense pain course through me then as I sat all alone in my office. “It’s not just you, Antoinette! I love him too!”


I must be mad to fall in love with him and not allow myself to show it.


Fersen, Fersen… isn't there even a little space for me in your heart? And as for you, how far are you going to go for Antoinette, knowing that your love will also be unrequited? Tell me… why do people have to suffer like this?


After a while, I dried my eyes and stared again at the invitation by Madame du Deffand as it lay open on top of my desk. I had been doing so with increasing regularity since Fersen had mentioned the ball at Antoinette’s soiree.


While I knew that there was nothing to be done about the foolish desires of one’s heart, I realized there was a way for me to give myself over to him without giving fuel to the rumor. Just once. And this way, I should succeed in performing an exorcism. This way, I should be able to give him up once and for all…give up this love that was never meant to be between us…




“I can’t believe we’re actually going to push through with this!” cried my sister Hortense excitedly as they crowded around me.


It was the last Sunday of August and I had called them up at the last minute to say that I was attending the masquerade ball of du Deffand’s after all that evening and could they please help me with my gown? They had responded with alacrity-- had in fact brought Nanny with them to help out-- and were at my doorstep faster than I could change my mind about the whole thing.


André, who had been unusually silent since my abrupt announcement that afternoon that I was attending the ball after all, had stationed himself outside in the living room, firmly refusing to offer any kind of assistance.


Really, I could not understand André sometimes. From the look on his face upon hearing my decision, it was clear that he had been shocked into silence. We had work to do that morning, and he refused to have the afternoon off as I had suggested, but had wordlessly followed me back to my apartment, where he had planted himself down on the living room sofa and refused to budge. If I had not known any better, I would have thought that he was almost…sulking. A strange thought.


But now was not the time to wonder about André’s strange behavior.


Now that I had finished with my bath, my sisters made me sit still on the bed as Nanny dropped the acres of gown—Anne Marie’s gift to me all those months ago-- over my head. After that, I had to stand as they made further adjustments to the dress.


“Ow!” I cried, feeling the sash cut into my waist as Catherine tied it as tightly as she could around me.


“Hold your breath just a minute, dear,” she said as she tried to tighten it some more. “It’s supposed to accentuate your small waistline.”


“Enough, please!” I huffed. “Any more and I won’t be able to breathe!”


“There!” exclaimed Catherine. “Now, how shall I tie the knot? Any ideas, ladies?”


A babble of suggestions came from the other sisters as they paused to debate the problem.

After a moment, I said impatiently, “I really don’t care how that knot is tied! Just get on with it!”


After that came a lot of fuss with the hair, the make-up, until I thought we were never going to reach the ball at all at this pace.


Finally, they all stepped back and cooed their approval. Nanny ran out, calling to André. From somewhere behind me, I heard a camera snap.


“No picture taking!” I cried as I whirled around.


“Relax! The pictures are going straight to the family albums!” said Hortense as she calmly took another picture of me facing her. “Goodness knows when you’re putting on a gown again. Smile, dear. Don’t scowl.”


“Turn around and let’s see you from the other side,” said Josephine as she ran over my form with a critical eye.


I turned obediently and found André by the doorway, his jaw dropping open as he took in the sight before him. If his astounded look were anything to go by, then I must seem horribly silly indeed.


“I know! I must look so weird!” I told him, throwing an arm out despondently. It was becoming clear to what depths I could descend just to have Fersen see me as somebody other than my usual self. Was it really worth all this trouble?


André shook his head upon hearing my words. “No! No…it’s just…you’re absolutely beautiful,” He managed to say, a small smile starting at the corners of his mouth.


Suddenly embarrassed, I looked down at the folds and folds of skirts below me and tried to take a few, awkward steps. “You…you think so?” I asked doubtfully. “This thing’s so tight around the trunk I could barely breathe, let alone walk.”


I turned to my sisters. “Remember, no leaking out of my identity! This outing is strictly for company purposes. Madame du Deffand is expecting a great number of people, some of them foreign guests. Let them all think I’m one of those.”


“Right. Having you in a gown is already quite enough for us. We will keep our end of the bargain, and say we do not have the slightest idea who you are. That way we will also be able to gauge everybody’s honest reaction,” said Anne Marie excitedly. They had come already dressed in their respective costumes and were ready for the ball. “We’ll go ahead. Don’t forget your mask.”


“I won’t,” I said, and moved to get the heavily studded mask from Clotilde when the most dreadful thing happened.


A general shriek arose from my sisters and Nanny as I tripped on my skirts and landed painfully on the hard marble floor on my chest.


“Mademoiselle Françoise!” cried Nanny as several pairs of hands tried to bring me to my feet at once.


“Your hair!” a sister cried, reaching to adjust the comb set firmly high above my head, while another sister exclaimed, “mind the dress now!”


“I’m alright!” I gasped as I evaded the many hands that tried to dust, straighten and adjust the folds of my dress all at once.


Above my sisters’ heads, I thought I saw André lower his head to hide a smile. So he thinks this is funny, eh?


My indignant reaction instantly registered itself with my hands creeping up to land squarely on my hips.


“Now, now, Mademoiselle Françoise,” admonished Nanny when she saw my bad habit showing. “Remember your manners. No hands on your hips, no long strides. Be careful how you speak, and please do pick your skirts up just a tiny bit when you move.”


“Dammit, but wearing a dress just for once is simply too much!” I found myself complaining.


André stepped aside as I passed him by the doorway and went into the hall. I heard Nanny telling him, “You can’t go with her tonight, André. You’ll give her identity away as soon as you step into the ball with her.”


“I know,” I heard André say simply.


“We’ll go ahead first,” Hortense said as they moved to depart. “We’ll see you there, Françoise.”


As I sat down to wait for the car, André moved to sit beside me on the sofa.


“You’re as nervous as a debutante,” he observed in an amused tone.


I let out a small laugh. “Do you remember how I had refused my parents’ offer of a coming out ball back when I was a teenager?” I said. “Still, I suppose it won’t do any harm to dress up every now and then.”


“You’re not bringing this?” He asked, taking out the cell phone that I had entrusted into his care.


I shook my head. “I don’t have anywhere to store it. I might just end up losing it,” I answered. “Besides, I won’t be staying long at the ball. Afterwards, Anne Marie’s driver will send me back here.”


“The Boss without her cell phone for an entire night,” announced André with a straight face. “Quite unimaginable, but she does deserve a break from work every now and then. Very well. I shall handle your calls as best as I can.”


I smiled at his remark, wondering how he could be so kind. Before I could say anything more though, I got a call from the apartment Concierge. A car was already waiting for me downstairs.




Was this how it felt like? To feel nervous and excited at the same time, heady with anticipation, to see the lights of night-time Paris with a new, clearer eye as the car cruised along the familiar streets, bringing me closer to the ball, to Fersen.




What would he think? What would he say? Would he recognize me? Would we even see each other in such a large gathering as this?


Just this once, then I shall try to forget all about you, my darling…



And then the car was going into Madame du Deffand’s estates. Soon it would reach the grand entrance of the house, already ablaze with light and sound. It was time for me to don my mask and be somebody else.




            Entering the ball was like entering into a dream. The dancing had started by then and, amidst the great multitude of people cloaked in lavish costumes, there was no choice but to keep on walking straight ahead.


          The trick, Anne Marie had said, was not to focus on anyone in the crowd, and so I deliberately kept my gaze straight before me, unmindful of the people by my side. Gradually, it dawned on me that a path was being cleared for me as I walked. There were those who stared, those who talked.


Careful now…I told myself as I put one foot in front of the next, heeding the skirts as they swirled about my legs.


And then he was there. There at the end of a line of people who had stepped aside to let me pass. He came forward as I neared, looking splendid in an eighteenth century coat, an elaborately tied neck cloth and cravat, silk ruffle shirt, vest and breeches that served to accentuate his tall, slender form.


“Madame,” Fersen said, bowing, “may I have this next dance?”


This is it, then…


So far, my ruse seemed to be working. I nodded mutely and allowed him to take my hand.


They were playing a slow waltz as we headed out to the dance floor. Slowly, he turned to face me, putting a hand lightly on my waist as he kept his hold on my other hand, and we glided off.


Even though he was masked, I could see his searching blue eyes as he peered down at me. If only we could stay this way forever…with his arms around me and holding me close, holding me as though I were as fragile as glass.


After a while, he said, “If I may be so bold, Madame, may I inquire as to which country you are from?”


I lowered my eyes from his gaze then, suddenly fearful lest he found out who I really was. Silence was my ally and so I said nothing.


“Ah, but I have offended you,” he said after a while, his tone light and conversational. “You must forgive me. It’s just that you remind me of a very good friend of mine. Alas, she isn’t here right now. She’s a brilliant company executive, and work has been keeping her from these functions. Only…you are just as beautiful as she is, with the same, shining blond hair and sparkling blue eyes. She’s kind-hearted and refined, graceful. Like you. But I suspect that she is wary of being called these things, so she keeps her womanly traits under wraps. She allows people to think that she’s made of ice, when I know that it must be lonely for her at times to be so untouchable…”


I felt tears start as I heard these tender words. Ah, Fersen, Fersen…if you only know how painfully true your words are. If you can only see how lonely it really has been for me…I never even knew how much until you came along…


The waltz was winding to a close. How quick it had been. I felt Fersen lower my hand but he did not let go. Instead, as if sensing I was to take leave shortly, he tightened his grip on me.


“Please,” he said, a trace of urgency in his voice, “may I have your name at least?”

At that request, I quickly removed my hand from his grasp, flinging his hand away in alarm as I did so. I had stayed too long; he was sure to discover my identity if I stayed a second longer. Turning from him, I started to run toward the glass doors that led to the gardens.


“Madame!” I heard him call after me, but I ran on.


Down the marble steps I flew, past the manicured lawns, away from the house with its music and dancing…away from Fersen.


He said I was brilliant and beautiful…gentle, refined, graceful…I heard everything from his own lips. So he did take notice, and that was enough—no, more than enough—for me. I can let him go.


I finally slowed down and paused by a large marble vase and its stand to collect my breath, my thoughts. I peeled the mask off my face. The tears were running unchecked, dropping on my arms as I placed my aching head on them for a moment and sobbed.


I can let him go now…


After what seems like an eternity, I moved away from the marble vase. I felt that the tears had drained the anguish and pain away, leaving only an immense weariness and a need to go home and get to bed.


From what seemed like a great distance away, I thought I heard a cell phone ring. I scanned the chilly, darkened gardens, and after a moment’s inspection, I was grateful that Fersen had not come in pursuit and that the gardens seemed empty of people. Briefly, I wondered how I was to navigate my way over to where the cars were parked without having to go back into the house.


As I stood there for a moment more, debating on how to exit the gardens, I felt a hand land lightly on my shoulder.


I turned a little and caught a glimpse of the man behind me that gave me the fright of my life.


He wasn’t Fersen. He was this masked, dark-haired stranger dressed in a black outfit such as highwaymen of long ago were inclined to be drawn in picture books, complete with a flowing black cape behind him.


For a moment, there came upon me this sense of recognition so strong that three words surfaced immediately to my mind: The Black Knight…!


Without even pausing to think that security was surely at a maximum in a ball as important as this, I grasped the man’s hand in an ungentle grip and turned it forcefully around.


“Whoa, whoa!” cried a very familiar voice. “Françoise! It’s me!”


I dropped the hand immediately. “André?!” I hissed as I turned to him sharply. “What are you doing here?!”


“Oooow!!!” He winced, flapping his hand as though it were on fire. “That hurt!”


“You’re lucky you called out when you did,” I said. “I was about to throw you over!”


“So much for me coming to your rescue,” he said rather ruefully. “I couldn’t help but worry, so I tagged along to check if you’re okay.”


“How—? What--?” There were so many questions all at once. Finally, I settled for the first: “Where did you get that costume?”


“Borrowed it at a costume shop on the way here. Picked the first one that I came across,” he answered. “Granny said I couldn’t come. Of course, she meant that I cannot come as André, but she didn’t say that I cannot come as Monsieur Voleuse. Don’t worry. Not even your sisters recognized me in there.”


I leaned onto the vase, panting from the tight binding of the dress and something else. Really, this night was just a shock coming one on top of the other.


“Are you alright?” André asked, concerned. “I saw you run out like that from the ballroom. Took me a while to find you here.”


I nodded. “Apart from having difficulty breathing because of this dress, I’m fine,” I answered, “but we’ve better get going before somebody comes. Have you got a car?”


“Yes. This way,” he said, and paused as he saw me shiver slightly from the cold. Without another word, he removed his black cape and settled it around my shoulders.


“Time to get Cinderella to her bed before the stroke of twelve,” he joked as he led the way to the car.




“Dear, whatever could have possessed you to run off like that last night?” Anne Marie cried over the phone the very next day as I started with my morning coffee. “And you were such a success too! Nobody knew who you were. They all assumed you were part of the Italian group of guests.”


She had called quite early to regale me with the details that the sisters had collected from the ball. “Everybody was talking about you-- your hair, the dress, your figure. Especially your figure. They were all so envious! Even Antoinette de Brun was asking who you were. Françoise, please do promise you will be attending more of these dress parties in future,” my sister begged.


I merely laughed upon hearing her request. It would be a long time before I would agree to appear in one again, I thought to myself.


“We hope you got what you were looking for, by the way,” Anne Marie continued. “You were in that ball for just one short waltz with Monsieur Fersen. We were imagining a line of men waiting to dance with you after that. Victor de Girodelle just couldn’t seem to be able to tear his eyes away from you.”


“Yes, I got what I needed,” I answered as briefly as I could.


I got more than what I needed, in fact. Fersen had caught on fast. Back in the safety of my apartment last night, my phone had rung as André and I had finished struggling to free my hair from its comb and pins. According to André, he had called even earlier, when we were still in the ball. I was lucky André had been good enough to concoct a suitable excuse to make him think we had stayed at my apartment the whole evening.


From the other end of the line, I heard my sister pause. “And one last thing, dear,” she said. “I hope you will not find me meddlesome, but…you’re really not having an affair with Fersen, are you?”


“My dear Anne Marie!” I said severely into the phone. “If I were having an affair with Fersen I would have reserved our meetings in bed and not on the dance floor with prying eyes all around!”


I heard my sister laugh. “All right, I believe you. Last night was such a waste, though,” she said. “After all that preparation, you could have stayed on for just an hour more and enjoyed yourself.”


After she rang off, I picked up the papers and found that I was actually looking forward to a quiet, peaceful Sunday by myself.


To Be Continued…


pubblicazione sul sito Little Corner del dicembre 2006

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