Grasseville was a beautiful chateau north of Paris, dominating a quiet market town. It was true that a peaceful atmosphere did emanate from the place and one was immediately aware of it. It was as though the envy, malice and hatred which prevailed elsewhere, had passed over it.
Here the men touched their caps and the women curtsied as we rode by.
I noticed that Henri and Robert de Grasseville called greetings to many of them and asked after members of their families. I could understand why the impending storm seemed far away.
It was true that Henri de Grasseville had agreed that the marriage should take place although convention demanded a longer period of mourning for the bride, but I supposed it had been the Comte who had insisted and Henri was the kind of man who would be ready to give way to the wi of others.
Margot was delighted with her marriage. She told me she was deeply in love with Robert and as they see me though they hated to be parted, it was clear that they v lovers. She did, however, find time to come to my’re sometimes. Our talks had become so much a part of our that I really believed she would have missed them if they ever ceased. She came in one day and stretched herself in the armchair near the mirror where she could keep glancing at herself will satisfaction. She certainly looked very pretty.
“It’s perfect,” she announced.
“Robert never dreamed there was anyone like me. I think I was meant for mar ri Minelle.”
“I am sure you were.”
“While you were meant to teach. That’s your metier in life.”
“Oh thank you. How very exciting for me!”
“Robert is amazed by me. He expected me to shrink and protest and be overcome by modesty.”
“Which of course you were not.”
“I certainly was not.”
“Margot, he didn’t guess …”
She shook her head.
“He is the sweetest innocent ever born. It wouldn’t occur to him, would it? No one would believe we had that fantastic adventure.” Her face crumpled suddenly: “Of course, I still think of Chariot.”
The best thing is for you to console yourself that he is in Yvette’s hands and he could not be in better. “
“I know. But he is mine.”
She sighed and her exultation was a little dimmed. But she was so delighted with her marriage that I was sure her longing for Chariot had abated a little.
There were no restrictions on riding alone here. No one ever thought of danger. Margot and I went into the little market town to make purchases and we were greeted with the utmost respect in every shop.
They all knew, of course, that we came from the chateau and that Margot was the future Comtesse.
It was like an oasis in the midst of the desert. When we were tired we would sit down outside a patisserie under gaily-coloured umbrellas and drink coffee with little creamy gateaux, the most delicious I had ever tasted. Le the had not yet come to Grasseville and there was no English spoken which I supposed was another sign of a lack of change.
The myth of my being the cousin was upheld and I was soon known in the town as Mademoiselle La Cousine Anglaise. My command of the language was marvelled at and I would sit and chat even more readily than Margot did, for she was too immersed in her own affairs to feel much interest for those of others.
How I loved the smell of baking bread and hot coffee which filled the streets in early morning! I liked to watch the baker draw the loaves out of the oven with his long long-like instrument. I loved the market days when the produce was brought in on hand carts or those drawn by aged donkeys l fruit, vegetables, eggs and squawking chickens. I loved to buy from the stalls-a piece of ribbon, some sweetmeat conection tastefully wrapped and tied with ribbon. I could never gbsist buying and how they loved to sell. I was sure that fargot and I and the servants we had brought with us were Sod business and welcomed for that.
The shops were different from those in the big towns. Purchasing was a lengthy matter and one was expected to consider a good deal before buying even the smallest purchase. A hasty transaction would be frowned on and a lot of pleasure denied both vendor and purchaser by such a process.
One of my favourite shops was that of the grocer-druggist who sold so many aromatic goods. There was cinnamon, oil, paint, brandy, herbs of all kinds (hung drying from the beams of the ceiling), preserves, ground pepper and poisons such as arsenic and aqua fortis; and there was of course the omnipresent garlic. There were tall stools in his shop where one could sit and talk. to the owner who often acted as a doctor and told people what to take for this and that ailment.
What a delightful adventure it seemed during those warm sunny days to go into the town and exchange pleasantries with the people one met-not a cloud in that blue sky, no trace of what was below the horizon.
Alas, the horizon was not very far away and inevitably creeping nearer.
Only rarely did a carriage come rattling through the town. They were days to remember. I was sitting in the square one day when one came through. The visitors left their carriage and came into the inn for refreshment. I watched them-nobility by their dress and manners, a little watchful, unsure of their reception. They went into the inn-two men and a woman and two grooms followed them keeping close in case there was trouble. The inn sign creaked Le Roi Soleil. And, there was Louis in all his splendour looking haughtily down on the street. I sat waiting until they emerged refreshed with wine and. j those creamy confections of which I was becoming fond. I They were talking together. Scraps of their conversation! came to me.
“What a lovely spot! Like old times …” Their carriage drove away. The dust settled after them. Yes, they had discovered our oasis, i I went thoughtfully back to the chateau and I had not been in very long when Margot came to me. Some plan was afoot I knew by the way in which she scintillated with excitement.
“Something wonderful is going to happen,” she announced.
For a moment I thought she was going to tell me she was to have a child. Then I realized it was too early yet. Her next words astonished and alarmed me.
“Chariot is coming here.”
“Don’t look so amazed. Isn’t it the most natural thing? Shouldn’t my baby be with me?”
“You have told Robert and he has agreed …”
“Told Robert! Do you think I’m crazy! Of course I haven’t told Robert.
I’ve been reading the Bible and then the idea came to me. It was divine assistance. God has shown me the way. “
“May I share in this divine secret?”
“You remember Moses in the bulrushes. The dear little baby. His mother put him in a cradle and hid him there … just as my little Chariot shall be hidden.”
“It is nothing like Moses in the bulrushes.”
“It gave me the idea anyway. I know that Yvette will help. You have to help me too. You are to find him.”
“I don’t understand what you are talking about, Margot.”
“Of course you don’t because you keep on interrupting. The plan is … and it’s such a good one … it can’t fail … the plan is that Yvette places the baby … not in the bulrushes because we haven’t any … but outside the chateau. He’ll be in a basket looking adorable. Someone will find him and I have decided it shall be you.
You’ll bring him into the castle and say: “I have found a baby. What are we going to do with him?” I shall seize on him and love him from the moment I set eyes on him. I shall plead with Robert to let me keep him . and in his present state he can deny me nothing. So I shall have Chariot. “
“You can’t do this, Margot.”
“Why not? Tell me why not.”
“It’s bad enough as it is but this is a double deceit.”
“I don’t care if it’s a hundredth deceit if it brings me Chariot.”
I was thoughtful. I could see it happening. It could work. It was simple though ingenious. But Margot had forgotten that it was already known to Bessell and Mimi that she had had a child.
I said: “You will be running greater risks.” } “Minelle,” she said dramatically, “I am a mother.”
I closed my eyes and visualized it. I was to be the one to find the child. Someone in the plan must do that. It was too hazardous to be left until the child was found naturally.
“Yvette …” I began.
“I have arranged it with Yvette, telling her what I want.”
“And she is agreeable?”
“You forget Chariot is my baby.”
“Yes, but she agreed to keep it away from you. That was what your father ordered.”
“For once I don’t care what my father ordered. Chariot is my baby and I can’t live without him. Besides, the plan doesn’t end there.
Remember the mother of the baby in the bulrushes. “
“Yes,” I answered.
“She came to the princess and was the baby’s nurse. Well, that is what Yvette shall be. I shall have to engage a nurse for the baby and I will think of my own nurse Yvette who strangely enough is on a visit nearby. She was coming to see me. It is like an act of God.”
“A little too much coincidence to ring true.”
“Life is full of coincidences and this is only a little one. Yvette comes. She loves the baby on sight and when I say:
“Yvette, you must come and be nurse to this dear little foundling boy whom I have adopted as my son and call Chariot after my father…”
“Perhaps your husband might think he should be called after him,” “I shall refuse.
“No, dear Robert,” I shall say.
“Your name is for our first-born son.” “Margot, you practise deceit with an amazing skill.”
“It is a useful gift and carries one through life with a certain ease.”
“Honesty would be more commendable.”
Are you suggesting that I should go to Robert and say:
“I took a lover before I knew you. I thought I should marry him and Chariot is the result.” You would not have me so unkind to Robert.”
“Margot, you are incorrigible. I can only hope this plan will succeed.”
“Of course it will. We will make sure it does. Your part is easy. You just find him.”
“Tomorrow morning. “
There is no point in delay. Go down tomorrow morning early. Yvette will not leave him until she sees you. She will be hiding in the shrubbery. You were restless and could not sleep, so you decided to take a breath of fresh air. Then as you walked in the gardens, you heard a baby cry. You found the basket. The adorable Chariot looked up at you and smiled. You lost your hean to him at once and persuaded me to keep him. “
“Are you going to need a great deal of persuasion?”
“I shall have to consult with my husband. I might weep a little, but I think he is going to be ready to grant my wishes and that he will agree right away. He’ll love Chariot. He longs for us to have a baby.”
“Other people’s are not always so desirable to a man as his own. And I presume he is not to know it is yours.”
“Good heavens, no. And please don’t refer to Chariot as ” it”.”
“I am surprised that Yvette has agreed to this after being employed by your father.”
“Yvette knows that I’ll never be happy without him and if she is here as his nurse … you see what I mean.”
“I see absolutely.”
Then let us get on with the plan. Yvette will wait until she sees you close by. You will see her place the basket in the shrubbery. She will disappear and then you merely go and find darling Chariot. “
I thought of the plan from all angles and I had to admit that it could work providing everything went according to our schedule.
I began to grow excited about it although I had considerable misgivings. But then ever since I had known of Chariot’s existence before his birth. I had realized that considerable difficulties would be involved.
Thus, on a bright morning, I rose from my bed a little before six, put on shoes and a wrap and went to the shrubbery. Yvette was there. She was carrying the basket which at my approach, with infinite care, she placed in the bushes. As soon as she had put it down I went swiftly to it. It was almost as Margot had described it, for Chariot himself opened his eyes and gave me such a knowing look and a crowing laugh that it was as though he were fully aware of the conspiracy.
I carried the basket into the castle. One of the footmen who was in the hall stared at me in amazement.
I said: “A child has been left in the shrubbery.”
He was speechless. He could only stare disbelievingly at Chariot. He put a hand on the shawl which was wrapped round the baby and them-at her splendid gold braid on his cuifs immediately attracted Chariot’s attention. He put out a plump hand to grasp it but the footman jumped back as though there was a snake in the basket instead of a baby.
“He won’t bite,” I said, and I realized I had named the child’s sex.
Chariot crowed as though with derision for us both.
“Mademoiselle, what will you do with it?”
I said: I think I must ask Madame. It will be for her to decide. “
At that moment Madame herself appeared on the staircase, poised, ready to play her part.
“What is it?” she demanded, a little imperiously I thought.
“Cousin, what are you doing up at this hour of the morning disturbing us all?”
As though she did not know and was not completely ready for her role in this drama which was somehow more like a comedy.
“Margot,” I said, “I have found a baby.”
“Pound a what! A baby! What nonsense I Are you playing some game?
Where could you find a . But it is! What can it mean? “
Her eyes were dancing, her cheeks flushed. She was enjoying this. It was dangerous, but that would only add to her enjoyment.
“A baby!” she cried.
“Really, Cousin, how could you find a baby! But what a little darling. Is it not adorable?”
She played her part better than I and I knew what it cost to caH Chariot “it”
Margot turned to the footman.
“Don’t you think this is a beautiful child, Jean?” The footman looked blank and she went on impatiently.
“I never saw a more beautiful child. “
She leaned over the basket. Chariot regarded her solemnly.
“He looks like a Chariot to me. Does he to you, Cousin?”
“That could well be his name,” I admitted.
“From now on he is Chariot. I must take him to my husband. How excited he will be to know that we have a baby.”
Robert had come down to see what had happened to her. He stood on the stairs and I thought how young he looked, how little aware of the real nature of the girl he had married.
Margot ran to him and slipped her arm through his. He smiled at her.
There was no doubt that he was very much in love with her.
“What has happened, my dearest?” he asked.
“Oh Robert, such a marvelous thing. Minelle has found a baby.”
The poor young man looked bewildered as well he might.
She babbled on; “Yes, he was in the bushes. He must have been left there. Minelle found him this morning. Isn’t he enchanting?”
“We must find his parents,” said Robert.
“Oh yes,” she interrupted impatiently.
“Later … perhaps. Oh look, what a little darling. See how contentedly he comes to me.”
She picked him up in her arms while Robert watched them fondly, thinking, no doubt, of the children they would have.
The news was soon spreading through the chateau. The Comte and Comtesse came to inspect the child. They were indulgent when they saw Margot’s delight in him. Their thoughts were obvious. She will make a good mother, after all, which must have been comforting for before the arrival of the baby no one would have connected Margot with doting motherhood.
It seemed that the entire chateau revolved round the baby. The Comte said that they would soon find the parents. Someone must know whose the child was. It was very strange, the Comtesse pointed out, that the baby had obviously been very well cared for. He must be almost a year old. Look at his clothes. They had not come from some poor home.
She was not as sure as the Comte that it would be possible to find his parents.
For several days enquiries were made and the whole of the town knew about the baby up at the chateau. It was the
Comte’s opinion that someone had had to leave the country suddenly times being what they were and they had left the baby near the chateau knowing that the Grassevilles would never allow it to suffer neglect. It was the first time I had heard a suggestion in Grasseville that times were changing. The Comtesse did not agree. She believed that no parents would leave a child behind. In her opinion some poor mother had stolen the clothes from her employer and left the baby at the chateau in the hope that there would be a good life for him there.
Whatever they thought. Chariot remained and Margot took charge of him to the amusement of her new family. She was so excited by the presence of the baby, so delighted to look after him, that they were all astonished and being the kind of people they were the baby began to take charge of them. It might have been that Chariot possessed some special charm but he very quickly became the darling of the household.
He had his mother’s imperious ways and his father’s adventurous nature. However, the fact remained that Margot persuaded Robert that she could never be really happy again if Chariot were taken away from her and that he must be the first of that big family they had promised themselves.
The nursery was refurbished. We went for forages into the market. In the streets we were stopped and asked how the baby was getting on.
“And the little one is settling in, eh? What a happy little boy to have come to the chateau and Madame.”
Chariot may have made an inopportune entry into the world but he was fast taking up an important place in it. Even the Comte was hoping that no one would come to claim the child.
Margot declared that she had never been so happy in her life and it really seemed so. She glowed. She laughed a great deal and only I knew that it was the laughter of triumph and that she was congratulating herself on her cleverness.
The time has come,” she told me, ‘to put into effect the second part of our plan. I have hinted to Robert that we need a nurse and who better than a trusted woman who knew me as a baby and was actually in my nursery.”
It was only a matter of time before Yvette came to Grasseville.