Sitting in a carriage with five other young women proved to be anything but joyful, I learned when we were only minutes removed from the Opera House. The space was crammed, the chatter meaningless and I soon found out the 'short ride' Anne had been talking about would in reality be a five hour ride through the countryside's winding and bumpy roads, without any stops before we'd actually be at the Rousseau estate.
I had been lucky enough to seat myself at the window and therefore had settled with gazing at the trees and bushes that passed by, trying to shut out all the mindless chattering around me. This proved to be a real challenge, as all girls seemed to be determined to involve me in the conversation, whatever it was about.
In my mind, I was already dreading the moment we'd arrive and at that moment I'd rather, in all honesty, sit for an entire week in the carriage with mademoiselle Dampierre than to have to be at the house of Adrienne's brother. I couldn't quite put my finger on why exactly it unnerved me to be under one roof with him so much, but it was rather frightful that I was so reluctant to go to something that should turn out to be a joyful event.
'What say you to that, Angèlique?'
I looked up from my thoughts and frowned, not at all knowing what the subject was I was requested to comment about. 'I.. I don't know, I'm sorry. I must admit my thoughts were occupied elsewhere.'
'Yes, well you've been acting so strange the entire week. My brother won't bite, you know,' Adrienne said, jestingly, but I immediately turned red of course.
'I know.. I guess I just don't feel comfortable having to stay at the house of someone I barely know.'
'But you do know him!'
'Just.. could you leave me be for the moment, I guess I just need a minute to gather my thoughts.' I said, then excused myself before gazing out of the window once more. Truthfully, I knew I was going to need more than just a minute to regain even half of my usual spirits. There was simply too much in my mind to think clearly. First of all there was the departure of Marie-Claire, which I knew I should be happy about, but mostly just felt sad about. Then there was the upcoming show – the first one in which I would dance one of the leads ever since I nearly died – and the stress that brought along with it. Us going to monsieur Rousseau's house brought along even more stress and then, to top it off, there was always the Opera Ghost to worry about. When coming to the Opera, I surely hadn't thought it would be all this stressful. In fact, I had somehow thought of it more as a fairytale than the actual real – and harsh – world. I never thought it would include so much drama, heart-ache, effort and even a Phantom of the Opera! It was truly unbelievable to think of the strange turns my life had taken ever since I came to Paris.
It was when I'd just decided it would do no harm if I'd just rest my head against the window for a while and close my eyes, that a voice from outside the carriage – undoubtedly belonging to the driver – made it known to us that we would arrive at our destination shortly.
As if on cue, all young women in the carriage seemed to frantically start arranging their dresses and smoothing their hair. It was a sight to be seen, indeed, for I had never seen Anne or Meg behave this way. Usually two of the more rational ladies in the Opera, it seemed really uncharacteristically for them to behave in such a matter. However, it must be said of course that given the circumstances, it wasn't that strange at all. After all we were to visit a noble man and, even though most of the girls were accustomed to being around nobility – after all, they were part of it theirselves –, that didn't ease their fretting the slightest bit.
I myself, of course, shared in this behavior. If not more, I was at least equally nervous and anxious to arrive as the other girls. Not being used to being around nobility, I didn't know what to expect when we'd arrive. Would we have servants? Would we all have separate rooms? I really did not know what to expect, nor did I know how to behave. It'd be best to just follow the other girls' lead and just let things happen, because worrying about it would not make it better. Of course, this was easier said than done and I was still just as high-strung.
I sighed and rested my hands in my lap, while gazing out of the window in the hope of seeing anything at all that might point out our precise location. I did not learn much from it, for the trees lining the country road looked similar to the ones I'd seen hours ago and for all I knew we could've been riding in circles as soon as we'd left Paris. However, at that moment I saw grey peeking through the trees in the distance and Adrienne let out a cry of excitement.
'There it is!'
Again, all the girls moved at the same second, this time all towards the window I'd been gazing through for the entire length of the journey. With our faces almost pressed against the window, we admired the beautiful mansion that came in perfect view as the carriage rounded one last corner.
After the coach man had pulled the carriage to a halt, the carriage door was opened by a young man in humble clothes who helped each of us out of the carriage.
When I was finally able to stretch my legs once more – what a joy that was! – and felt the bright rays of sunlight from the winter sun warm my face I took a good look at the building. It was a large, rectangular building, constructed of grey bricks and large windows. Although grotesque, it was also elegant and cozy looking. The flowerbeds in front of the windows were empty, as were the other flowerbeds in the garden, but I presumed they would be crammed with the most amazing sorts of flowers in the summer.
Overwhelmed by all the grandeur, I completely overlooked the owner of all this beauty, who was, in fact, standing right in front of me as I got notice of him. I scratched my ear uncomfortably, suddenly all of the anxiety and nervousness catching up with me once more.
'I'm so glad to see you again. And in good health, I trust?' Monsieur Rousseau smiled warmly and kissed my hand politely.
I tried to return the welcoming smile with one of my own, but only managed to get as much as one corner of my mouth to curl upwards. 'It is so nice to see you too, monsieur. And indeed I am in very good health once more, as you can see.'
He opened his mouth again, but at that moment he seemed to remember the remainder of his guests, all shivering in the cold winter air. 'Oh right, I'm sorry my dear friends, I shall lead you inside to give you a quick tour around the house, then I'll leave you to ready yourselves for dinner, which will be served at half past six. Alright, follow me!' With that, he turned on his heel and made his way back inside.
For a moment I stood wondering, what I was supposed to do with my luggage, but as I noticed the others left theirs I decided to just follow their lead.
Soon, when we'd entered the main entrance, I discovered the inside of the house was even more impressive than the outside. The floor was made of a beautiful, crème colored marble that seemed to be polished into perfection. The walls, which were about ten feet tall, were painted in a same crème color and were decorated with several paintings, a large mirror and a a couple of small, golden chandeliers. Lining them, there were also a few vases with flower bouquets in them – all roses I noticed, how predictable – and two marble sculptures of ancient Greek Gods. This sure promised to be a grand tour!
pagebreak ~An hour and over two dozen of rooms later, we finally reached the rooms in which we would be sleeping. He pointed us all to our rooms – we all seemed to have our own! – and told us once more that dinner would be in an hour. I was about to turn to the room I was given, when I felt a hand on my arm. Turning back, I found it belonged to the master of the house himself.
'So what do you think, mademoiselle? Is it sufficient?'
'Why, yes, monsieur, of course! It is very beautiful indeed, both house and surroundings.' I nodded and smiled.
'Yes, yes, I deem myself fortunate for getting to live in such a magnificent environment as this. I truly wish that we'll find time to visit the village nearby. The people are extremely friendly and there is lots to see.'
'Very fortunate indeed, monsieur, as is the woman who will one day be able to call herself mistress of the house.'
He was silent for a moment, seeming lost in thought, but then snapped back to reality and blinked his eyes for a second. With a lopsided smile he said 'Well, fortunate for having such a house perhaps. But for having such a man is yet to be seen.' He winked. 'Well, I must be going. I am sorry for taking up so much of your precious time, I shall keep you no longer from your doings, mademoiselle.'
'No apology needed, monsieur, it was a pleasure talking to you.'
'No, Angèlique, the pleasure was all mine.' And with that he turned and strode away, leaving me standing in the hallway, feeling slightly surprised.