“You’re really doing this? You’re actually moving out to work for a man you just met and a child that he’s paid you not to talk to about?” Cadence said, her voice teetering on the edge of shouting. She pulled a pair of her stockings that Odette had mistakenly packed as her own.
The moving trunks littered Odette’s already chaotic half of the room. Cadence pushed them out of her half, keeping her domain free from the contamination of Odette’s artistic mania. With a heavy sigh, Odette hauled the trunks closer to her bed, disguised as a laundry pile by the clothing heaped upon it. “I never said he paid me not to speak of it,” she said.
“You said that you signed a privacy contract. Obviously, he’s paid you not to speak of her. How else could he possibly get you to sign it?”
“Perhaps I just have empathy for the plight of the girl.” Odette bunched up a teal day dress, taunting Cadence with her disregard of folding.
Cadence folded up her arms and watched her sister from her bed. “And what exactly is the plight of the girl, hm? What’s this Kohler fellow done to her?”
With a mortified gasp, Odette said, “Nothing! She isn’t even his child. He’s been a big help with her- no, never you mind, I can’t say. But I assure you, whatever ails the girl is not his fault.”
“And what does ail her? Are you going to catch it?”
“No, I cannot catch it. I will be just fine and that’s all I’m saying on the matter.”
“But can’t you see that something about all this doesn’t seem right? No one keeps anything that is all well and good a secret. If someone is hiding something, it must be for some nefarious purpose.”
“Oh, is that so? Everything that someone wants to hide is nefarious? Everything?” Odette slammed another dress into her trunk. “Is it nefarious that I don’t go spouting the details of my divorce around the town, even though it may exonerate me in some people’s eyes? Is it wicked that I hide the fact that Hamelin left me for some sixteen-year-old milkmaid? Am I evil because I fell into such a crippling melancholy after I learned of my barrenness that I couldn’t give him what he wanted? Am I such a monster? Am I?”
She stood trembling, her eyes welled up with tears. Footsteps creaked down the hallway. Her parents scattered when they heard their daughter’s shouts, trying to pretend that they were never eavesdropping.
Cadence bowed her head, her sister’s gaze too blazing hot to look at. “No,” Cadence said in a murmuring voice. “But not everyone is good, Odette. I tend to believe that most people have selfish motives. And I’d hate to see anyone else take advantage of you.” She took one of her sister’s finer dresses and folded it with proper care. “I have to go make preparations for cake at a wedding feast. I’ll see you at supper.”
Odette looked her sister in the eye with all the calm she could muster. She wanted to say so much more in her defense, she longed for a hug, but instead she said nothing, and just watched Cadence’s skirts sway as she left.
It was the closest that Odette had ever been to the mansion on the hill. Edmund had sent his personal coach to fetch her and she hadn’t felt so regal since she was carried away by a luxurious steam train to boarding school. She gaped at the fine stone architecture, wondering how many hours it had taken to lay the stones hundreds of years ago. Could it possibly have been done by hand? Or were there ancient machines that she had heard rumors of to lay the mansion’s foundation? However it was built, it inspired awe and something a little more disquieting within her heart.
The servants unloaded Odette’s trunks, grumbling under their breath about how she had brought much more than they had thought a governess would. Gardeners bustled about trimming the vines off of the windows as though they were clipping the bangs out of a woman’s eyes. Odette thought that she would rather miss the touch of green if it were to be all cut and withered away. As a gruff-looking gardener yanked off some stubborn vines, he unveiled a carved stone. Odette was too far to fully study it, but it appeared to be the outline of a man with an “X” where his heart should be. Deciding it must have been the trademark of the builder, she took a deep inhale and entered the grand foyer.
For a building weathered by hundreds of years, the foyer and the great hall were impeccably manicured. Odette had not seen such elegance since her honeymoon in Paris. The warm glow of the electric chandeliers, the crunch of the velvety carpets, and the scent of fresh flowers and cinnamon incense hypnotized her senses. Nerves that had been thrumming since her fight with her sister finally eased away into the decadence. With the excitement of a little child in a sweets shop, she bounced about the halls in search of her room. At last, the housekeeper had found her and directed her up the stairs to her private chamber.
“The master of the house is still in the process of fixing this place up,” she said, her accent as German as Edmund’s. “But he’s taken special care in furnishing your room. You’d think he was taking a wife the way he was fussing about everything.” She let out a dry chuckle, but Odette could only try not to turn as red as the tapestries on the wall. “Well, here you are, Miss Dufour,” she said.
Odette watched as the servants from before exited her room. “Thank you, Madam,” she said. “And your name was?”
“Mrs. Weber. Is there anything can I fetch you or would you prefer to make yourself at home first?”
Odette took one glance at the glorious suite before her and said, “Not at the moment, thank you. I’d prefer to settle in.” Shutting the door softly, she held herself back from dashing in and flopping upon the enormous bed until she could no longer hear the servants outside. The satin bed sheets flew into the air as Odette burrowed underneath them. She rolled about with the exuberance of a child, tangling her limbs in the sheets. Her head poked out from under the blankets’ edge so that she could study the wide window overlooking the country side, the immaculate Persian rug that covered the cold stone floor, the cherry brown wood of the armoir, and the Chinese vase bursting with roses. A knock sounded upon the door. Her girlish excitement morphed into panic as she tried to free herself from her satin restraints.
With one glance in the mirror to smooth down her hair and dress, she opened the door to find Edmund. “Oh! Mr. Kohler, I wasn’t expecting to see you so soon, sir,” Odette said, still breathless from her struggle with the sheets.
His eyes darted straight to the mussed up bed. “I suppose I should have given you a bit more time to settle in, but it seems as though you already have,” he said with a light chuckle.
“Oh, I apologize for the mess.” She side-stepped the door and closed it. “It’s only, I’ve never had a room all to myself until today.”
“Is that so? How does it feel?”
Odette stared off at nothing and everything at once. “It’s liberating. I can be my own strange self with no one around to notice or complain about my singing.”
Edmund offered a smile as warm as fresh bread. “I don’t know who would complain about your singing, your voice sounds perfectly lovely to me.”
Odette chewed on her lip as she searched for what to say. “I don’t know if it’s my voice that bothers people, but rather what I sing. I like to sing about what I’m doing.” She winced, why were those the words that came out?
He laughed so disarmingly. “You don’t say? In college, I sang out various things I didn’t want to forget: bones, muscle groups, the elements. It drove my dorm mate up a wall. I wonder which one of us will drive the servants to madness first with our singing.”
“Oh, it’s a big place, hopefully, they can just get far enough away from us,” Odette said, now able to release her nerves in a laugh. “So, did you want to see me for something, sir?”
Edmund shook his head. “You can depart with this ‘sir’ nonsense. You’re not one of the servants. But, yes, I wanted to see if you were ready to meet Ingrid. I would escort you there.”
Odette nodded and followed Edmund down the hall and up the stair case to the very top floor. Before unlocking the door, he turned to Odette, scarcely an arm’s length away and whispered, “Now, I imagine you are already prepared for what you are about to see, but I want to make certain that you are ready. Ingrid, I fear, is quite difficult to look at. She’s a sweet girl, harmless, but it tends to make most people uneasy.”
“Yes, you’ve made me well aware of her condition. I shall not stare at any of her deformities, nor shall I mention them in conversation.” Though her voice was brave, questions clouded Odette’s mind.
Edmund nodded and took Odette’s hand in his for a moment, giving it a tight squeeze for courage. Her stomach knotted itself up even further, giddiness intermingling with her anxiety. After a gentle knock, he pushed open the door and led her into a perfectly pretty girl’s bedroom. As Odette studied the room, she observed that it was much more than a room for a bed, it was full apartment, equipped with everything save for a kitchen. A warm air flowed from the room out into the frigid stone hall, but there was no fire burning. In fact, the hearth that had once served to heat the room had been barred off with iron. Save for that odd detail, the room contained everything a small girl could want, beautiful dollhouses, shelves of books, a canopy bed, tables laid out with sweets and fresh fruits. And off near the wall sat a little girl with her back turned to them, pouring over a picture book.
“Ingrid, sorry to disturb you, but I brought someone to meet you,” Edmund said. “It’s your new governess, Ms. Odette Dufour.” He presented Odette with a sweeping gesture, much grander than necessary.
Ingrid stood from her spot and turned to face the pair. She dropped a curtsy and in a soft, raspy voice said, “Pleased to meet you ma’am.”
Odette returned the gesture and said, “The pleasure is all mine.”
But meeting Ingrid was anything but a pleasure. Odette swallowed her horror, but inside, she felt as though she would vomit.