Cadence started every day by waking up with the first twinklings of dawn. She made her bed, washed her face, and patted cold cream generously over her face and neck. After, she would put on a simple day dress, usually the color beige or robin’s egg blue, and neatly plait her hair so that it would be out of her face.
Once she arrived in the kitchen, she would bake two loaves, one sweet bread to sell in her family’s bakery and one whole grain bread for breakfast. With the loaves rising and the eggs sizzling, Cadence would hum a little tune that blended harmoniously with the birds’ twittering outside. Once breakfast was enjoyed by herself and her parents, she would join them next door inside the bakery to prepare fresh goods for the townsfolk. But before that, she always made certain to put the remaining slices in the bread box for her sister, Odette.
Odette started every day hours after the sunrise by throwing her pillow at a bird singing just outside her window, scaring it into the sky. This forced Odette out of bed as she no longer had anything to rest her head upon. She trudged out of bed, all of her blankets draped around her shoulders, and warmed herself by the fire that Cadence had made for them. After, she plopped down at her vanity. Odette played around with various subtle cosmetics until she grew sick of looking at her own face. She then tied a scarf around her long, golden curls and called it good enough. Then, with her first (and possibly only) speedy movement of the day, she would throw her clothing on. Her dresses were of rich, jewel tones that she had acquired at the lower prices that the new department stores offered. At the kitchen table, she would lose herself in a novel while eating the slices of bread that Cadence had left for her.
Tying an apron around her waist, Odette finished her last bites of breakfast. She stumbled out of the front door, still with her nose stuck in her book and joined her family next door. The aroma of cinnamon, honey, and fresh wheat welcomed Odette before her family did. Her father smiled at her as he carried a delivery box outside. Her mother greeted her mid-curse as she flew across the room to stop whatever was in the oven from burning. And Cadence smirked at Odette, still reading, as she took out the ingredients from the icebox necessary to begin making savory pastries.
“Anything good there?” Cadence asked.
“No, it’s deplorable,” Odette said, finally slamming it down upon the bakery’s back counter. “I can’t wrap my head around the main character’s decision making process, if she even has one, and her sweetheart is rather obnoxious. Still, it is helping me to refine my English.”
“Your English is perfect as is,” Cadence said, taking a hot tray of rolls from their mother as she trotted back to the cash counter to assist a customer.
“Perhaps my spoken English is, but my reading and writing skills need work.” Odette cracked fresh brown eggs into a stone bowl. “I think that my deficiency in that skill is what is preventing me from being hired as a governess.”
Cadence huffed as she removed the muffins from the pan. “We all know what’s holding you back from being hired and it isn’t your English.”
Odette mindlessly ground a little too much pepper into the egg mixture. “You may be right, it might be because of Hamelin.”
“You pronounced his name wrong again,” Cadence said, shaking her spoon at Odette.
Odette rolled her eyes and chuckled. “I’m sorry, it might be because of the Ignominious Prig. But honestly, Caddie, it’s been two years, it doesn’t upset me anymore.”
“Upset you? Who said anything about upsetting you? He upsets me!” Cadence waved the spoon in the air, flinging crumbs onto Odette’s dress. “You know what I’ve told you, if he ever shows his face in Geneva again-”
“I know, Caddie,” Odette said, brushing off the crumbs with another eye roll.
“I’m going to make a mince meat pie… From his meat!” Cadence stabbed her spoon back into the jar.
“That’s disgusting.” Odette carried on preparing her quiche, only half listening to her sister’s rant. She always had a special fondness for preparing the savory breads and pastries and instead channeled her frustration with her situation into her work. She cracked the eggs as though they were her former husband’s head and she ground the pepper as though it were the spine of the woman he had run away with. Her fists pounded the dough of the crust and she rolled it out until the pain in her wrists burned like the heat of all the ovens in the bakery. Odette had gotten over the grief of rejection as she had told her sister, but the lingering rumors of such an uncommon divorce stung her like scorpions. The whispers in town seemed to choke her out at times. Unfaithful, adulterous, mad, ill, barren were all words that she had heard describe her at some point, only one of which being true. And now that most people seemed to side with Hamelin just because only the man can initiate the divorce, no one trusted her to educate their children, her greatest desire. To share the joys of knowledge, art, virtue, and freedom got her out of her rickety bed every morning and kept her from letting bitterness completely steal the bright smile from her face.
As the morning bled into the late afternoon, Mrs. Dufour packed up a cart filled with all of the unsold bread from the day prior and the morning. “Odette, can you please take the cart to the valley homes?” she called.
Odette poked her head out of the kitchen door. “Me? In honest?” she asked.
“Yes, you, you silly.” Mrs. Dufour piled the extra stale pieces at the bottom of the cart.
“But no one ever buys from me.”
“Oh, no one cares about frivolous gossip in the valley. All they care is that they’re too hungry to bake their own bread when they can buy three loaves for a penny. Now hurry up! Get your coat, they’ll be coming home from the mines and the shops soon.”
The door swung closed as Odette searched around for where she had hung up her coat. “All they do is gossip in the valley,” she grumbled to Cadence. “They can’t afford any real means of entertainment and most of them can’t even read.”
“I would think you of all people would have some compassion on those less fortunate,” Cadence said, not missing a beat while stirring up some batter.
“I do,” Odette huffed, “but when I applied to teach at the night school for the mining company, they rejected me in favor of Greta Ginnesburg! Greta! She is barely even conversational in French, so she can’t even communicate with half of her students.”
“Yes, yes, I know all about Greta Ginnesburg. Listen, I can take the cart out if you want, but then you’ll have to bake the apple streusel for Mrs. Reader’s party.” Cadence picked up an apple and peeled it like a machine.
“No, my sweets are deplorable and Mrs. Reader is far too particular. I’ll go.” Odette let out a heavy sigh as she pulled on her woolen coat.
At the very least, Odette got away from the loathsome labor of baking and took a pleasant walk into town. The wind blew at the hood of her coat on to her head, but Odette was simply pleased that she could see the blue sky peeking out through the clouds that day. The stone and dirt roads, besodden with wet leaves, caused her to stop and pick leaves out of the cart wheels every now and then. By the time she had reached the valley, she had become so entranced by the circling crows overhead that when the first customer approached her, she jumped from fright.
To her surprise, people did want to buy bread from her. Perhaps she had been too harsh on her reputation earlier, maybe people were beginning to forget. That was, until, she saw a scowling mother ushering her son away from the cart. She walked the cart further down the row of dilapidated houses, watching as the crows circled above the old mansion up on the hill.
Some people called it “the castle” because its stone towers reminded many of something built for ancient royalty. Some people called it an enormous blight on the quaint little town below because of the overgrown vines and bushes. But most people called it haunted because no one knew who had built the long uninhabited structure. Odette couldn’t give into such superstitious nonsense, but it did peak her endless curiosity. Stories abounded from the townsfolk. One woodsman said that he had gone to clear some trees up on the mountain and that he had heard screams echoing from the mansion. He burst in with his saw, only to stumble upon a trap door and was somehow transported to the other side of the hill. An elderly lady used to play about the overgrown gardens as a child and said that she had seen a trail of blood leading to the cellar door. When she had roused her father and other men in town to come investigate, they had entered the cellar to find nothing, absolutely nothing but pitch blackness and the faint smell of lye. Odette didn’t think any of that was true, but it nonetheless made her blood turn to a river of ice. Every building in Geneva had a story, every building but the gray stone mansion on the hill. And she couldn’t figure out why not.
Deep in thought, Odette nearly plowed a man down with her cart. She finally noticed him as he dashed out of the way. She yanked the cart right back to her stomach, winding herself from the blow. “Pardon me,” she tried to say, but what really came out was, “Poof!”
“Are you quite well, miss?” The man spoke in French, but his accent betrayed a German heritage. He held an arm out for Odette and another gasp squeaked out of her mouth, but for a different reason this time.
Before her was one of the five most attractive men she had ever seen. There was Hamelin, of course; then there was a random Englishman that asked her for directions to the alps once; Hamelin’s father; then the doctor that set her broken leg as a thirteen-year-old; and then there was this German stranger before her.
“Yes, I’m so sorry,” she said, trying not to stare at him. “I’m sorry, I never saw you there, I was-”
“It’s quite all right, miss. Earnestly, you seem more shaken than I,” he said. “Are you trying to get back home? The sun is starting to set. I could escort you.”
“No, I’m not heading home just yet. My mother said I must sell at least half of the bread on the cart before I can head home, then I’m to give the remainder to the orphanage.” Odette risked a glance upward, but he was just too much for her. He had beautiful shining blue eyes and coal black hair. He was quite tall, too, and wonderfully dressed in the finest Parisian fashions.
The man looked over the cart and then at Odette. She swallowed and tried to appear normal. “And why is a beautiful woman such as yourself out peddling bread? I would think you would be married to some dandy and raising half a dozen children.”
The pain welled up again in her breast. “No, sir, I’m afraid that isn’t the life for me.” She truly couldn’t look him in the eye then.
“I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you,” he said, his tone soothing to the ear. He pointed to the book resting upon the cart. “Do you speak English?” he asked, in said language.
“I do indeed,” Odette answered back in charmingly accented, but perfectly understandable English. “As well as German and Italian,” though she slurred her dialects slightly as she listed the others.
He switched back to French, “It’s impressive to meet someone so well educated. Do you mind my asking, but where did you receive your education?”
“I started at the local schoolhouse here, but my grandmother put aside money for me to attend a boarding school in Toulouse when I was thirteen.”
“Impressive, very impressive,” his voice betrayed the contemplation in his mind. He jerked upwards, drawing Odette’s shy gaze back to him. “I must apologize. Here I am interrogating you and I haven’t even made a proper introduction. I’m Edmund Kohler, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss…”
The pause that elapsed was pregnant, in its third trimester, to be exact. Odette at last realized that he was asking for her name and nearly shouted, “Oh! I’m Odette, Odette Dufour. Pleasure to meet you.” She dropped a curtsy as he bowed. As she rose back up, she somehow managed to crack her skull against his nose. She cried out and covered her head with one hand as she reached the other out for balance. “I’m so, so sorry. I’m sorry, I’m not normally this clumsy, well, maybe I am. Yes, I most definitely am. Oh dear, it’s probably best if you just leave me before I somehow kill you.”
Edmund laughed at the notion. “I would like to think I’m sturdy enough to survive the attacks of a petite baker. I’d like you to know that I’m asking you all of these questions because I was wondering if you were qualified to be a governess. I moved here only a fortnight ago and I may have a relative that is looking for a new governess.”
Odette gasped as her heart leaped into her throat. “Yes! Yes, I’ve been looking for work,” half way through the sentence, she heard how desperate she sounded and forced her tone calmer, “but, you see, there aren’t many families looking to give their daughters extensive education here in Geneva. I know my languages. I can teach financial management for both a household and a small business, music theory and piano, moral and spiritual matters, and I’m a wonderful painter. I come well recommended from my teachers in Toulouse, if you would like a reference.”
“No, I don’t believe any references will be necessary. But if you wouldn’t mind,” he took a half step nearer to her and spoke in a low tone, “I would appreciate your discretion in this matter. You see, the family hasn’t yet decided if they want to relieve their current governess and they would hate for word to get around to her.”
“Oh, of course. I won’t say a word. So I can assume they live in the area?”
“Yes, but I’m afraid I can’t say anymore at the moment,” he glanced over his shoulder, eyes darting to the mansion on the hill. “So, Miss Dufour, do I recall you saying that you need to sell at least half of the bread before you can drop the rest off at the orphanage?”
“Yes, sir.” Odette bit her lip as she counted the loaves she would still need to sell.
Edmund withdrew an excessive sum of coins from his wallet. “Will this cover the whole cart?”
Odette floundered about for words. “That’s thrice the price of what is in the cart. These are just penny loaves. I’ll only need a third of those and you’ll have to direct me where to deliver them because you can’t possibly carry all of these home.”
“Oh, I don’t need the bread. I was hoping you would donate it to the orphanage on my behalf.” He thrust the coins closer to her with a broad white smile.
She motioned for him to withdraw the money as though it were a dirty toad. “Sir, that is very generous, but I can’t accept such a sum. Please, a third will suffice to cover the bread and I will gladly make the delivery.”
Edmund grabbed her hand in a rather caviler fashion, his leather gloves soft to the touch. He dropped the coins into her palm. “Then please give it as part of my donation to the orphanage. As I said, I’m new here and uncertain of where to give my charitable donations. I’m unmarried and childless. I must do something noble with my income.”
Odette melted chocolate upon the stove. Somehow, she needed to convince her feet to take her to the orphanage, but she felt so unbearably heavy yet feather light at the same time. “Well, I’m certain they will be very grateful, Mr. Kohler. And should you need to reach me regarding the potential position, I will likely be in the valley tomorrow afternoon or else you can find me at Dufour’s Patisserie.”
“I look forward to seeing you again,” Edmund said, his voice dark and heavy like molasses. He pressed her hand that held the coins and his smile faded into something more suggestive.
With a gulp and a shiver, Odette forced herself to trudge to the orphanage, though she didn’t know how she could think of anything besides her conversation with Edmund. Was she more excited about the prospect of a position or that she had met an excessively charming bachelor that knew nothing of her barrenness or her divorce? She laughed at herself, she knew which one she was more excited about.