The Snakestone Jewel, Part Two

Mar 04, 2010 10:31

Title: On the Experiences of an Exceptional Gentlewoman
The Snakestone Jewel, Part Two

Author: Alsike

Pairing: None, as of yet... well, unless you want to assume certain things about certain people.

Fandom: Take a wild guess.

Rating: PG (May increase to PG-13 in later chapters)

Apologies: I am still writing this! So, um, keep reading it! It's probably too plot centric, which can be painful, but I hope it won't be boring. And it's set about 1765.


Chapter 2

More inns and bumpy roads lay on the other side of the channel, this time in French, and Emily flushed, humiliated, every time she forgot her French and slipped into Dhundhari. The hôtelier would stare at her in blank bemused incomprehension, which was worse than the sneering derision he wore when she was speaking correctly. But eventually she could order the coaches without incident, and had even managed dinner once, as well as breakfast and tea.

And then finally the road beneath the coach changed from dirt to cobbles, and Lady Adler smiled.

“Ah, we have arrived.”

Emily hung out the window, just looking. It had been too long since she had been anywhere but Bristol and it had been a misery. The drove past the cathedral of Notre Dame, over the Seine, and then pulled up in front of a house across from the gates of a vast garden surrounding a palace that housed a museum.

The servants had arrived already and arranged things. When Lady Adler swept into the entryway the butler offered her a tray of letters and cards.

“Collect them, Emily,” she said. “And call for tea. We shall take it in the parlor.”

Lady Adler took the small pile of cards, running her thumb over the embossed letters. The ones that were not embossed Emily read aloud, and Lady Adler laughed after nearly each one. But Emily was shocked. Many of them were quite important people. Many of the embossed ones were too, but she only got a quick glance as she passed them over.

As for the letters, Emily was also instructed to read those aloud. Many were invitations to various events, card parties, balls, and others were completely incomprehensible. Lady Adler took those from her and tied them up together.

Emily picked up the last one and read the direction. “The Honorable Em. Frost, of Glemsford, Suffolk, currently residing on the Rue de St. Dominique in Paris.”

“Mmm,” commented Lady Adler, impenetrably. “Not one of my usual correspondents.”

Emily blinked in surprise at the name Frost. Was this one of the innumerable sisters of the young officer she had met. “Do you know who she is?”

“Well she has given us her address. What else do you need to know?” Emily felt rather helpless at this. Lady Adler laughed. “She is Honorable, so she is the daughter of a lord. And she is of Glemsford, near the river Glem, so the nearest lord might be… the Baron of Cavendish, Lord Frost. But go on. What does she have to say?”

Emily began.

“Dear Lady Adler,

I am writing in order to present myself as an applicant for the position of your companion. I have heard very much about the opportunities available in such a position, and also the strength of your protection. I believe that I have the requirements and potential to be a satisfactory companion.

After the failure of the colonial experiment, any assistance in alleviating the pressure of my familial situation by allowing me to extricate myself from dependence upon them would be immeasurably appreciated. My fortune is my own, though not extensive, and for the moment inaccessible by those who seek my father’s gifts. I have become dissatisfied with the trials of exile, and hearing that you intended to come to Paris made me hope that you would allow me means of departure.

I know my family being Catholic may be a strike against me, but my only wish is that you allow me an opportunity to prove that I could be worthy of your assistance and protection.


Emma Grace Frost”

Emily couldn’t help the flood of surprise at the contents of the letter. She had no idea that the position she maintained was so coveted. And she couldn’t help considering the rest of the letters she had read. Who was this woman she was accompanying? Why did so many wish her attention and company? And why were others so shocked by the association that they distrusted her immediately? Her face felt hot and fingers tightened, crinkling the edges of the paper. What would happen to her if Lady Adler decided to accept a replacement?

“How interesting,” said Lady Adler. “The trials of exile, how keenly put.” Emily blinked, not understanding at all. “But I cannot trust her. I do not know her true sympathies.”

“Do you get… many applications for the position?”

“Only from particularly enterprising girls. Others present themselves in different ways.”

“So it is quite reputable?”

Lady Adler laughed. “Are you worried about your honor? Most apply because my girls have a history of becoming well situated quite quickly. Others, like this child, wish to run away.”

Emily wished to run away, but she had not been enterprising about it. “But she is unsatisfactory? Because she is Catholic?”

Lady Adler seemed to consider this. “Do you understand why that would be a problem?”

Emily had learnt this one after enough dinners with her father. “Because a Catholic can never be truly loyal to the king, since his loyalty to the pope is always primary.”

Lady Adler laughed again, clearly amused by her determined response. “That is… part of it. More precisely, the situation is that we are in France, the strongest bastion of absolute monarchy. The kingship itself is god-given. In England, however, it is the consent of the people who provide the right of the king to rule. And a Catholic who lives in France…”

Emily frowned. Reading the newspaper every morning aloud had given her some familiarity with such ideas. “Are you a Whig?”

Lady Adler smiled. “I’m a woman,” she said. “I’m not required to take sides.”

The way she said it suggested that that freedom was a sign of power rather than of the lack of it.

“Doesn’t her desire to leave her family suggest that she disagrees with their beliefs?”

Lady Adler arched her eyebrow. “Perhaps. But there is a message coded into the application, which describes exactly what she claims that her family is involved in. Someone willing to betray her family like that… either she already has very strong opinions of her own, or she is being manipulated into planting a lure.”

A coded message? Emily stared at the letter, trying to work out what it could be. But the idea of a lure was just as puzzling. There was so much here that she didn’t understand. It was quite frustrating.

* * *

It often took Emily a long time to decide what she felt about things, but she wasn’t an idiot. She didn’t miss things. Just sometimes she allowed herself to be uncertain about what they meant. One thing Emily hadn’t quite worked out how she felt about, was Lady Adler. In some ways it was undeniably a relief to have left her aunt’s house behind. She no longer felt unwanted and invisible. There were no constant insults to her parents, guarded though they may be, that left her furious and frustrated. But in other ways, being Lady Adler’s companion was a bewildering situation.

No matter how congenial she was, Lady Adler was both a stranger and an employer. Her aunt seemed confident of her respectability, but Emily was not entirely certain of how much her aunt had her best interests at heart. And respectable, as Emily’s father had told her once, after she had questioned him about the drunk fellows who stumbled out of the dining room late at night, was almost the same as disreputable, except they didn’t get caught.

As an employee, rationally or not, Emily always felt that she was being evaluated. After the letter of application she began to wonder if she were also being evaluated for loyalty and trustworthiness. She just didn’t know who the loyalty was supposed to be for.

* * *

Lady Adler required Emily to accompany her on a walk every day, rather than a drive as Emily had expected, and she also would not allow Emily to lead her. She set off at a brisk pace through the park, fearless of carriages or dogs.

“All I require of you,” she informed Emily, “Is to keep up, and to indicate ‘curb’ with a firm intonation, when one approaches.”

She often met people she knew in the Luxembourg gardens, and Emily carefully stood at least six feet away as instructed and waited as they spoke.

On one morning they had begun the day with the paper as usual. Emily had gained the ability to pronounce French with a decent fluency. She no longer had to spell out certain words and wait for Lady Adler to say them properly for her. But her comprehension was still superficial. Nevertheless this morning there had been an article about the state of the French navy after the devastating years of war. Capitulating to the English after years of starvation had been a belated action with nearly no concrete result due to the fact that the government was being run by secretive agents who were truly only thieves, taking food from the mouths of the poor, and unfairly taxing enterprise. And even worse the vile luxury of the nobility and the clergy was directly causing the deaths of children in all the districts of Paris.

Lady Adler seemed to find this entertaining. Emily found it rather horrific.

On that morning’s walk Lady Adler encountered a man whom Emily recognized from a rather cruel description in the paper: Clément de Laverdy, the Controller-General of Finances himself. He and Lady Adler were talking and laughing, and Emily stepped slightly closer to try to hear what they were saying. They were clearly discussing what had been written that morning, but as if it were a joke. De Laverdy had apparently banned all discussion of the financial situation and was intending on sending soldiers after the anonymous author of the article. And they were talking as if this were amusing!

Emily hadn’t even noticed that she was leaning slightly to attempt to catch more of the French. Talk had turned to a card party later in the week, and she caught a few names of certain people who would be there, and then suddenly a firm hand was clasping her arm. The fingers were digging in roughly. Emily turned with a slight yelp to face a stern young man in uniform.

“Eavesdropping, are we?”

Emily gasped and tried to jerk away from him, but his grip just tightened. She did not like his face. It looked wrong, somehow, foreign and pointed, the skin too smooth, and his expression was threatening.

Lady Adler turned towards them. “Ravenal?”

The man didn’t look away from Emily. De Laverdy made his apologies and quickly departed the slight scene that was beginning to attract notice.

“Ravenal, do unhand my employee.” She tapped him on the shoulder, and the man finally let go. He turned to her, scowling petulantly.

“Her ears were stretching.”

“I’m sure she was just practicing her French.”

“I’m sure.” The man called Ravenal leaned in, giving Emily a decidedly unfriendly look. Lady Adler found his arm and pulled him away. They spoke softly, but Emily could still hear their words.

“Really Ravenal, you don’t even bother to say hello before accosting my companion.”

“It seemed pressing, but, if you insist. Hello, Irene.”

Lady Adler laughed, her fingers running down the cloth of his coat. “And what uniform are you wearing now?”

“Austrian Corporal, light infantry.”

“Very interesting buttons, Corporal Darkholme.”

He laughed in return, and Emily found this whole situation highly offensive. The Corporal offered his arm to Lady Adler, and Emily trailed them most uselessly, back to the house.

* * *

“Do you really trust her?”

Emily stiffened outside the door where they were taking tea, leaving her to her own devices, and had never been quite so tempted to begin eavesdropping in her life. Corporal Ravenal Darkholme had not even attempted to endear himself to her in any way. He had continually questioned her trustworthiness, and although Lady Adler had laughed away most of his inquiries, she hadn’t acknowledged that she actually did trust Emily, which was shaming.

Emily, for her part, found that the more often her loyalty was questioned, the less confident she was of it herself. How could she be trustworthy when she had not even been allowed an unimportant secret to protect?

Of course if she were supposed to prove herself by keeping Lady Adler’s connection with such a disreputable man a secret, she was not entirely certain she was willing to do so, with or without the risk she herself encountered in the procedure.

Corporal Darkholme, if that was indeed his name, had only succeeded in making himself more and more suspicious. Was he a mercenary to change uniforms so easily? And Austrians were as bad as the French. He was a ginger as well, with his hair tied into a queue like a sailor, and her father had always been careful to inform her that gingers were not to be trusted, and sailors less so. Emily did not like to dislike someone merely because they appeared foreign, but she couldn’t help being troubled by the narrow pointed face that held not one element of masculine attractiveness. Even when he laughed he was not genial. He was too thin, sickly, it seemed, not robust like an army officer ought to be. And he seemed far too young to be addressing her employer by her Christian name.

“Do relax. She is just a child, and I find her curiosity an attribute rather than a failing. It would be foolish to bully her into taking a side before she even realizes that there is a game being played.”

Emily’s grip tightened on her book, she wanted to burst in, to ask. But she didn’t. She couldn’t really, not without revealing herself to be exactly what that man suspected. But she was lost now, with no idea of what could possibly be an appropriate course of action.

“Now tell me, dear. How was Austria?”

* * *

criminal minds, extraordinary gentlewoman, x-men, au, emma/emily

Previous post Next post