“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” So says Hamlet to his friend. And it’s true. It’s also true, as Hamlet should have known, that things can change in a heartbeat, reality can throw curve balls, and the way to decision can be murky even when we think we know all the answers.
Everyone has heard or read “Expect the unexpected!” at least once, whether it advertises a new movie, a grand opening of anything from an amusement park to a new shopping ‘experience’ or a three ring circus. We may be tempted to laugh at the silliness of a new surprise or astonishment being attempted in this day and age. So much has become commonplace; technology is still a mystery to some but used every day by most. We’re not surprised by anything, right? Perhaps we should be. When all is said and done, Life is the unexpected.
Sounds rather heavy, doesn’t it? The responsibility we have to navigate the churning waters of good and bad times, happiness and sorrow, sometimes flowing with the current, often paddling like hell against the wind. It can be daunting. Not worthy of the effort. Easy to hand the blame for our failures off on others. Especially when we do it all ourselves. I posted an earlier blog about friends so I’ll try not to repeat myself here, but the truth is this: friends and family make the journey through the unexpected easier to deal with most of the time.
But Hamlet, whether he meant to or not….and being in a perpetual state of melancholy not is probably more likely…also makes it clear that Heaven and Earth hold opportunity as well as obligation. While he entreats his friends to swear they will not disclose what they have seen, Horatio is struck by the strange wonder of it all. That possibilities exist outside his life experience so far amazes him. No matter what comes after…and of course we know it isn’t going to be good…Horatio at least knows there’s more to be had.
Even today we can and should share in Horatio’s sense of wonder. His friendship to Hamlet is a good one, his heart true. He is a prime example of good; even when surrounded by doubts he stands by his friends. He is also willing to take a chance now and then rather than sit back in the wings and watch the play go on without him. If he meets obstacles, he tries harder. When he fails, he mourns the failure and then goes on. When he succeeds, he celebrates and shares his good fortune with his friends. At least I’d like to think so, for while Hamlet has a point so does Horatio. Trust, believe in yourself and your possibilities, be a good friend, and look for the wonder of the unexpected. The caveat? Be prepared for the tragedy as well.
Of course this all can be said of Mae. Never one to sit back and let things happen, she takes the reins and acts to make things better, protect her brother, and help her friends. If it lands her in hot water, well…
Never push a Scotsman. Or Scots-anyone for that matter. I may be little but I’m fast, and I wasna’ about to be manhandled by someone whose manners needed changing. So I kicked him. Hard. Would’ve been harder if I’d been wearing me boots, but it did the trick. His low pitched voice rose three octaves and would have shamed the most respected coloratura soprano in England. It also brought Madame Marie-Therese striding through the doorway from the dining room to the foyer.
“Mon dieu, Benard! Such noise is not allowed in this residence. What in the world possessed you to…”
“He attacked me” from me and a “She kicked me” from Benard assaulted her ears at the same moment.
“I was just doing my job, Madame,” I said in me best manner, giving her just enough worship to keep her on me side as I flew down the stairs. “He snuck up on me and grabbed my shoulder. Gave me a bruise I expect. And then tried to murder me.”
“Murder you?” Well, maybe I’d taken it a bit far considering the tone in Marie’s voice.
“Oh Madame what would you think if someone you’d not laid eyes on before started grabbing at you and pushing you toward this long steep staircase? I feared for me life, I did. But I managed to get away long enough to kick him. In his…”
“Never mind, Miss Mae,” she cautioned me, “I will deal with Benard. Have you finished the family quarters?” I nodded. “Then you have my permission to take some time to collect yourself. Cook has prepared some tea and sandwiches for us in the garden. I’ll join you shortly and you may tell me exactly what transpired here.” She turned to my assailant, still slightly bent over and holding on to the railing as he took the stairs one at a time. “Benard, I will see you in my office.”
I had introduced myself to the cook, a lovely woman from Lafourche Parish…she volunteered that once she asked where I was from. I could call her Lila if I wished. It was only in front of the Madame (she meant Marie-Therese and not the mistress of the mansion) that we must be more formal. I had heard most of her and her family’s history, although she’d heard none of mine, by the time Madame Marie came through the kitchen door and joined us at the wrought iron table.
“That will be all, Cook,” she intoned as she sat down. “There is dinner to consider. Both the Mister and Mistress will be in tonight, so the usual number will dine in the smaller dining room. I expect Miss Mae here will be able to assist you in setting up the room. That of course meant I would. I didn’t mind. Lila had been here long enough to know if there was anything strange going on and chatty enough to tell me if I asked. As long as Madame was occupied elsewhere.
“Well, Miss Mae.” Madame poured herself a cup of tea and regarded me with no little concern. “It seems you and Benard have gotten off on the wrong foot.” The left one, I thought but kept me humor to meself. “Benard is one of the Mister’s business associates. He did not know we had hired a replacement for the last housekeeper and so was quite taken aback to see someone upstairs attempting to enter a private room.”
I was only doing me job,” I said meekly. And I’m sure he was doing his, although that was another musing I kept to myself. “And he did attack me, Madame.”
“Yes. Well I may assure you that I have spoken to him quite strongly about his actions and he is now aware of your position in the household. He sends his regrets in causing you any fright or discomfort and hopes you will forgive his rash actions.”
“Of course, Madame. I regret my own response was so extreme.” Like hell I did. I knew what he was up to.
“I do however have to repeat his caution to you. That room is locked and will remain so. There is no one in residence there at the moment. It is quite small so we—the family—use it mostly for storage. There is no need to trouble yourself with cleaning the items in there. They’re nicely covered or crated. Now. Have we an understanding?” I kept my eyes downcast as I nodded. No way could she see that her caution had made that little room the one place I needed to see.
Lila and I worked well together in preparing the dinner. She showed me what preparations need to be done, so after I had set linen and flatware for six people I returned to the spacious kitchen and began to chop the vegetables for the evening meal. There was more food prepared by the two of us then I’d seen in a week, and that included the unexpected bounty at the shelter.
“Prime rib is the family favorite,” Lila informed me as she lightly basted the main course in a mixture of herbs and spice. “They insist on no seasonings, but I cannot serve any meat without some enhancement so I make this gentle marinade and …” she smiled, “you will see how little there is left on the platter.”
The activity in the mansion increased as the dinner hour neared. Of course, I had discovered that dinner was often served later in the evening that I had been accustomed to in other places. There was an extended pre-dinner cocktail hour, complete with small but savory crackers, cheeses, and something called cruditays. These looked like vegetable sticks to me, but evidently they were meant to be dipped in a sauce and then eaten. I tried to be as invisible as possible as I moved around picking up empty glasses and plates and making sure the table which displayed the snacks never went naked. Lila was still involved with the main course and the garlic mashed potatoes which had to be “as smooth as a babe’s bottom or Mister will send them back”. Madame Marie was nowhere in sight despite her elevated position on the staff, so I was free to observe my employers. I had never met either of them; the Mister a tall dark and athletic looking man whose eyes looked out at the world through tinted glasses contrasted sharply to his Missus, petite, auburn haired (although it was too perfect to be natural), and stylish in flared pants and a floral blouse and sash. Not Celine. Each acknowledged me with a nod but afterwards looked through me rather than at me. Suited my purpose just fine since I wanted them to know I worked there but not who I really was.
My duties after dinner were simple and quickly accomplished. Each night I was to turn down the beds in the occupied rooms, make sure there was fresh water in the cut glass pitchers on the nightstands, and leave a small light burning. I helped Lila with the post-dinner clean-up and then filled a large carafe from the filtered water machine next to the mammoth refrigerator. Making sure I had a soft cloth in my pocket to erase any fingerprints which might mar the polished wood, I headed up the stairs, wondering whether I could risk another try at the locked room.
“Good evening, Miss Mae.” Benard’s voice greeted me as I reached the top of the stairs. Damn.
“Sir, are you planning to attack me again?” I managed to look wary and frightened. In reality I was annoyed. “Or are you on your way to bed? If you are, I will turn your bed down first. May I ask which room it is?” He indicated the room directly behind him and even opened the door for me. I tried to pretend he was not there as I accomplished the various items that needed attention and only gave him a brief nod as I hurried into the hallway.
“Miss Mae,” Again? I turned and raised one eyebrow at him.
“I have been instructed to assure you that I meant you no real harm this afternoon.” He leaned against the door jam to his room. “I hope you know that.”
“I do,” I said. No real harm? I could feel the bruise on my shoulder. It would be purple and green by the time I got home. “And I apologize for…defending myself so harshly.”
“Just remember to avoid the room by the stairs. I would hate to have to remind you.” Without waiting for an answer, Benard turned and went into his room. As he shut the door firmly behind him, I took a deep breath. Family business associate my eye. Family thug more likely. Maybe Sylvain could enlighten me.
It was 10PM before I walked out to St. Charles and managed to catch the next streetcar heading toward the Quarter. Everything hurt, especially my shoulder and a few other muscles I hadn’t used for a while. I had questions for Sylvain, not just about Benard but about the family into whose lives I’d been dropped. Neither one of us was going to get much rest until I got some answers to help me in my search. And permission to search for more than just a missing sister.