horse drawn carriage by beexxohh | Flickr
They’re meant to have left for the hunt nearly an hour hence, but the child has still not emerged from her room. Typical. She must know she’s holding up the entire household—and how important this is to her father. Marguerite steals another glance at the Monsieur. His face is stormy; his immaculate black shoes tap the floor with increasing impatience. Marguerite would go find the child herself if it wouldn’t mean crossing his line of vision . . .
After what feels like a fortnight, Mellian finally arrives. The room freezes.
She is the vainest child Marguerite has ever known, but today her hair hangs limp and stringy. Dark circles ring her eyes. And she is wearing an absurd brown dress that makes her look sallow and ill. Where did she even get such a thing? A tension headache mounts Marguerite’s shoulders. She looks at Marais, again. His jaw clenches.
Mellian walks towards the door, as though nothing is wrong.
“Change,” Marais says.
“Monsieur,” Marguerite says calmingly, “perhaps we should? Surely the child’s of little account today.”
“CHANGE!” He slams his fist against the wall. The paintings sway; one falls.
Mellian meets her governess’s eyes. The child looks desperate, desolate. Marguerite opens her mouth, but there’s nothing to say.
The child seems to wilt. “Yes, Father,” she says in a tiny voice.
She returns soon after dressed in a gorgeous red silk gown, low cut, modeled like a small version of something the Queen herself might wear to a party. Her cheeks and lips are rouged, and her hair is piled high above her head, leaving the curve of her neck bare. Her pert little nose sails high through the air, as though nothing’s wrong.
“Shall we go, Father?” she says. “We don’t want to keep the Vicomte waiting.”
They load into the carriage. Mellian sits across from them. She smoothes her skirt down like a Lady and looks out the window as the world flashes past. She says nothing further, but when they arrive at the open field where some three dozen carriages wait, damp little circles mar the silk of her gown where her palms rested. The carriage pulls into the lane behind a handful of others. They descend from the carriage. The day is oppressive. Mist hangs low, making their clothing clammy. They are late; Marais is tense. They walk across the unkempt field where people mingle and laugh in little groups. He searches the crowd for one face in particular.
“Maybe he hasn’t come, after all,” Mellian says.
Marais ignores her.
“There you are,” a deep, booming voice calls out across the gathering. A tall, rotund, older gentleman with bad teeth and sausage fingers wades through the crowd and clasps Marais’ shoulder. “I almost thought you weren’t coming!”
“Nonsense!” Marais says. “A mishap at home, but we wouldn’t miss this for the world!”
“I should say not,” the Vicomte says. “I hope our friendship means more to you than that. I answer to important people, after all.”
“Your friendship means everything to me, Monsieur,” Marais says, bowing quite low.
“Ahh, my dear.” The Vicomte takes Mellian’s hand and kisses it for too long. “Have you missed me?”
Mellian curtsies, dutifully. “Of course, Monsieur.”
“And you mean to indulge an old man today?”
Her eyes do not meet his, though he tries repeatedly to capture them.
“Yes,” she says.
“Marais, we will see you later.” He tucks Mellian’s hand inescapably into the crook of his arm. “See if you can manage to enjoy yourself today. I know I shall.” He tugs Mellian back the way they have come. A servant hands him up into the most ostentatious of the carriages gathered along the lane. Mellian looks back over her shoulder, meets Marguerite’s eyes just once more across the crowd, pleading.
Marguerite is frozen.
Then the child is pulled into the carriage and is gone.
P. L. Watts escaped from the Florida foster care system to the New Mexico high desert before settling in the Bay Area where she helps the rich get richer by day and scribbles stories by night. She was a 2015 and 2016 Lambda Literary Emerging LGBTQ Fellow and her fiction has appeared in two of their Emerge: Lambda Fellows anthologies. She tweets occasionally @pamlwatts or you can knock on her e-door @ plwatts.com.