About a half hour remained before the earliest guests would begin to arrive. Oh, this was cutting it close.
Cogsworth closed his eyes and let out the tiniest moan. No one was around in the hallway, but the Master was just on the other side of the door. Cogsworth clipped his pocket watch shut and let it fall into its usual spot hanging just outside his pocket.
“You called for me, sir?” he asked as he came through the doorway with a cautious bow.
A pair of dark blue eyes met him with brows arched over his otherwise quite princely face in such a way that he appeared something of a cross between a sulky six-year-old and an animal ready to bite. Not of course that any of the Master’s household would suggest such a thing even among each other, but the Master did not hide his feelings, especially those of the negative variety. The only thing one could wonder freely and with much remorse was: Whatever is the matter now?
They loved the Master just as they had the Master before him, his father; though his father would not have been happy to see what had become of the son.
“Yes,” said the Master. Somehow he retained what he could muster as composure; though flames looked ready to burst behind those eyes. “Cogsworth. Explain to me. Why are Comte Simon and Comtesse Adele among the guests?” He spoke quickly and with much annoyance.
Cogsworth was taken aback and fumbled a little with uneasy fingers. “Well, I … Monsieur Count St. Gervais … they were on the usual list. Isn’t that …” he paused. “Isn’t that what you wanted, Master? The usual list?”
“I despise her.”
This meant Count and Countess’s daughter Monique. She had a good-natured and sensitive soul; anyone with perceptiveness could see that. The Master however only perceived her natural instinct toward being straight forward. And unfortunately the Master needed quite a lot of this, and as much as he needed such honesty he despised it. It did not matter her candidness, nor that she spoke without the least bit of malicious intent, nor that she spoke in private, nor even what the correction happened to be. In between a dance in which young Monique had the honor to have the handsome Adam as her partner, one word of constructive criticism gave her the bitterest enemy. Well, it could be said also in her behalf that the Master, had been the one to ask what Monique thought, and she honestly gave her opinion. That was the end of his good graces towards the delicate creature or her parents.
Perhaps she did deserve better, some might have suggested, as much as it pained his loyal servants to think so, yet perhaps such a person as Monique was just what the Master needed. One could never know.
As for inviting the family, well, the Master always held enmity against someone or other, and it was hoped that he would have forgiven her by this time.
C’est dommage! He had not.
Cogsworth cleared his throat.
“Yes, well, it might be advisable to let them still come as they already are well on their way from Paris, after all. They’re probably on their way from the village right now, in fact! And it wouldn’t look too … um … well, good as far as good manners are concerned, your Excellency.” He tried to smile to show that he meant not to be patronizing in any sort of way, but it turned out to be a rather sickly expression, and his slight nervous chuckle did not help his case.
The Master glared in return.
“Yes,” said Cogsworth, grim face returning after a false cough. “Well, I suppose I could have them ... turned away.”
“I don’t want that girl anywhere on my grounds.”
Cogsworth sighed. “It will turn into another ‘Monsieur DuPont incident’, and the count is held in much higher esteem as an upright character. Not to mention of a nobler family line to go with it. He’s practically a cousin! It will not be looked favourably upon. At least the writer Monsieur DuPont—”
“Did I ask for your opinion?”
“No! I—I am sorry, your grace,” the servant said, clasping his hands together. “I shall have them removed immediately as they set foot on the premise, but I beg you to reconsider.” Here his clasped hands became prayerful in nature.
“Just go!” said the Master. “And don’t let her come.”
Cogsworth bowed and withdrew with great reluctance, closing the door behind him. Once out in the corridor he pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed his forehead a bit, but his habit of pulling out his watch proved far more prominent even though it had hardly been five minutes since last he looked upon it. It had felt longer. Any conversation with the Master in one of his moods felt hours in length.
Tucking the watch away, Cogsworth resumed his composure and set out rather bleakly to inform the house that at the sight of the Comte de St. Gervais or his family, they were to be asked politely to leave.
Had the Master no sense of shame?
The king already wanted little to do with his nephew of his youngest brother. He had made that quite clear, and the Master did not seem to find it anyone’s fault but his uncle’s, which was a frightening thought indeed if that ever came out.
Cogsworth cringed at the thought of what the other nobility would say about this situation with the count as it was. The author DuPont was considered by many to be much too blunt and a tad uncouth at times. Some did not like him at all. It had just been fashionable at that time to invite him, so to turn him out of the house on what the Master considered uncalled for comments was not looked too horribly upon, but this?! Cogsworth would have preferred lightning to strike the ballroom than this. Then at least the party could be put off, and the St. Gervais family forgotten in the rewriting of the next guest list.
Oh, the good name of the Master’s family! It was a lamentable thing.
His father Robert had been the very picture of good graces. His manners. His cordiality. His suave way of speaking, of ending arguments, of making the best of small talk, and of making guests of all sorts feel welcome. His parties were the talk of Europe. Even the common people had like him, and he treated his tenants with all charity, which although was not necessary to be approved by the elite was an added bonus to his character. Of course the reason for his approval by the lower classes was the fact that he married a common woman.
Well, one could not be everything, Cogsworth supposed.
The head of the household at this time, you see, had a strong belief about people remaining in their stations of life and not interfering with that balance.
Regardless of that, any minor faux pas was better than how the late Master Robert’s son decided to run things around here. The common people disliked him, his tenants feared his wrath and of being turned out for minor infractions, and his peers had mixed feelings: some were disgusted, some tolerated him but probably only for his looks and good stature not to mention wealth which he loved to show off, some were just as rude and thus did not mind him at all, and a good many of his peers simply thought young Adam laughable, which was the worst of all, or so Cogsworth had thought before this calamity with Monique.
“Ah, it’s just a classic case of misunderstanding,” said Lumiere when he heard the news. “Time could mend it and such personalities often form the strongest bonds. They could see someday.”
Cogsworth snorted. “They could. If Mademoiselle Monique’s father ever wants her to have anything to do with the Master after this disaster!”
“Oh, he could forgive him,” said the other. “I think the count’s daughter and the Master are a better match than even the princess of Prussia who came here last year.”
“Stop being optimistic about this,” ordered Cogsworth. “Though, I must admit that it is at least better her having come from Paris and not all the way from Prussia, but then again if she was from Prussia then at least she would be far away from France when this was all over!”
“Her being from Paris makes all the world of difference,” said Lumiere with a sweep of his arm and a wry smile.
“Don’t. You. Dare. Start with Paris,” said Cogsworth with a firm shake of his finger, and he took out his watch. “The first guests will be here any moment now, and as you are in charge of greeting the guests it’s your duty to ask Comte de St. Gervais and his family as politely as possible to leave the premises if it is in your ability to obey such a command. I will be the one held responsible later if you don’t, and I won’t be blamed for such things again. If this does turn into the Monsieur DuPont fiasco, I won’t like it. You allowed him entrance after a specific order to not let him in. I don’t care what he wrote in his silly books. Romantic nonsense or whatever. He was ordered not to reenter. You are listening , aren’t you, Lumiere?”
Cogsworth was quite aware that he was not as he had already begun to hum Sous le Ciel de Paris whether out of time or not. By the middle of Cogsworth’s ramblings, and especially at the mention of Monsieur DuPont’s “silly books” he actually began to sing his favorite verse in his best imitation of the compelling voice of Yves Montand.
« … Mais le ciel de Paris
A son secret pour lui
Il est épris
De notre île Saint Lou-i-i-i-is—!
Quand elle lui sourit
Il met son habit bleu … »
“Fine then,” said Cogsworth, “but if I hear you’ve let them in—”
“Oh, stop worrying about your own head,” laughed Lumiere pushing Cogsworth on his way. “I know what’s to be done.”And here he did become a tad grim. “It won’t bode well later for the Master.”
“Exactly! Keep that up,” Cogsworth muttered pulling back. “There’s nothing optimistic about this situation. And no more singing out of century. It bothers me. Paris in love with the island of Saint Louis. Skies in love. Dressing in blue. Jealous of lovers. What nonsense. And nonsense we don’t have time for.”
In a broad motion he turned to leave on his own now with a punctual air about him.
“Ah, your ancient and cold family blood of Angleterre runs far too deep, my friend,” Lumiere called after.
Cogsworth shook his head but continued to leave. “Four generations, Lumiere. Four generations.”
“And they haven’t warmed your blood yet,” teased Lumiere.
“There is such a thing as being too hot, you know.”
Satisfied with having the last word, Cogsworth clasped his hands around his back and held a posture perfect in every way, except maybe too much pomp. He left around a corner too far away to be bothered anymore.
But it would not have mattered, Lumiere with a knowing shake of his head stepped outside then, for they had been standing close to the main entrance doorway. He lit a candle in a bright and cheery lantern just on the other side of the door, and it burned with a soft glow through the gentle falling snow to guide the guests toward the party.
And as for Cogsworth, he forgot about his character clash with Lumiere and set out at once to see if everything had been finished for the guests, even if it was cutting it a tad short and he was not in the best of temper with the thought of the count and countess in the back of his mind.
“Look at the time now,” he said pointing to his watch with irritation. “The table is in need of fixing.” And “Perrine, why hasn’t that unsightly thing been removed?” “Bernard, lift that over there.” And “The supper! Chef Honoré, It isn’t as close to done as it should be.” He pointed to his watch.
“Dinner won’t be out until eight, don’t put your business into the cooking.” He was one of those who did not like to put up with Cogsworth’s manner of getting things done, and as a cook, thought him more in the way than anything on occasions like these. “If I finish it too early it will either get cold or overcooked. Then we’ll see how you’ll explain that to the Master.”
It was a beautiful evening. The stars twinkled like silver lamps in the sky. The moon shone bright, and a soft cloud allowed for a gentle sprinkling of tiny flakes from time to time. A night could not be more perfect in every way. The guests came in arrayed like Christmas ornaments in stunning colors of every hue imaginable, and these colors painted the waxed ballroom floor with reflections like a dream in watercolor beneath. And the music flowed through the room by the finest musicians in all of France. The food tasted more delightful than anything in all of Europe by the finest of chefs.
Even the host of the evening seemed taken by this lovely scene. Though, the very sight of the count and his family would have started him up again as the household knew too well.
Cogsworth tried very hard not to get too carried away by the pleasure of the evening himself, but he could not help but pause to watch the glistening jewel of a scene where the party took place. The Christmas parties had always been a favorite for everyone in the castle including himself. It really was too bad that it had to end so badly with the name of the family being at stake. This day of all days for a name to be ruined; the day was meant to bring hope not devastation.
Then he saw them.
The Comte and the Comtesse St. Gervais!
In the castle?
In the ballroom?
She was dancing!
Oh, if only the ball was a masquerade! Oh, if only the ball was a costume party!
He was busy with other entertainment at the moment.
Cogsworth at least sighed in relief for that, but how had they …
Trapped now deciding whether he should speak to the count and countess himself, or go to Lumiere right away, Cogsworth felt beside himself with distress and anger and frustration he did not need. The thought of turning the count and countess out was near unbearable, but the thought of the Master discovering them first was far worse, and the thought that Lumiere had yet again failed to do his job properly caused him to want to just explode.
Well, there was no use going to Lumiere and making a scene now, he decided.
He had to go to the Count and Countess.
“Oh …” he moaned.
Twiddling his fingers a little, he then took a deep breath, adjusted his wig and his jacket and made all determined effort to do what had to be done, in the best interest of everyone involved.
He cleared his throat, looking as humble as he possibly could without appearing to cower.
“Ah, Monsieur Comte,” said Cogsworth, with an eye out for the Master as he bowed.
The count stopped and looked with a nod of attention.
“I hate to disturb you, sir,” Cogsworth proceeded slowly and with utmost care as if in hope that some miracle would prevent his having to go through this horrible task. “But there is something that I need to say.”
“Yes?” asked the count, his wife beside him raising her brow curiously at the servant’s odd behavior.
“Is something wrong?” asked the Countess Adele.
Taking a deep breath as he glanced quickly to where the Master had been standing, he opened his mouth to speak again but stopped quite abruptly when he saw that the Master had vanished. On impulse he turned around.
Adam had vanished!
No, no, he could not have vanished of course. He had simply moved, but where? Had he seen the count and countess? Or worse had he seen Monique?
“There seems …” said Cogsworth returning to the count and countess with wringing hands.
“What is it?” demanded the count. “What’s wrong?”
“Is it serious?” asked the countess.
Both looked at him with earnest impatience.
“Serious?” asked Cogsworth with a jittery smile. “Why in the world should it be something …” he cleared his throat, composure returning. “Pardon me. There seems to have been a mistake, countess and — and count. Of course. I regret to say that there has been some mistake with the, um, guest list, and that your invitations were not meant to be sent, I regret to inform you, and out of formality I must ask you with the humblest apologies from the Master that you leave the castle.”
The count and countess looked at each other as if unsure that they heard correctly and that both mentally asked the other if the other had heard differently.
“In fact,” said Cogsworth. “He would not want you to suffer from the embarrassment of your being here a moment longer. There simply isn’t enough dishes to spare and places to sit for you because of this mistake for which my Master begs with all meekness to be forgiven.”
“Does he?” said the count.
One did not often hear “meekness” in the same phrase in which the Master was mentioned.
“We mean you the best of Christmas, all the twelve days and the Epiphany, and that a new year brings you the best of health and of happiness to you and your family and especially your dear charming daughter Mademoiselle Monique who is held in the highest regard in this house and that we hope that a better arrangement can be made in the future, and that this causes no too large of an inconvenience to either—”
Luckily the instruments were loud enough to drown this cry from disturbing the entire ballroom. Some people nearby did hear it looking up toward the sound, but Cogsworth did not need to turn to know that cry anywhere, nor what it was all about.
Rolling his eyes into their sockets like a pair of snails recoiling into their shells, Cogsworth let out a mournful moan, throwing his hand against his forehead.
The count and countess’ attention had left the butler, and immediately drew into the situation between their daughter and the Master.
And what happened afterward when Cogsworth dared to open his eyes, he could not believe. He knew the Master. He had known him all his life since the moment he was born. He should not have been as surprised as he was about what happened next, but so far in all his life since his coming out party every fiasco could be covered up. That was only four years ago, nearly five now with his birth month of January coming fast, but here it all ended. Five years of life now ended for the Master. It could take years to mend what he did now before all the elite of France!
All Cogsworth could do was close his eyes again and try not to weep and try not to think of the good name of Adam’s father.
It just was not fair!
He could sense the eyes of the other servants sharing his dismay from out of the way and behind the guests.
There flew the Master’s temper. Yelling in public at the sweetest girl Cogsworth had seen in a long time, and everyone else agreed. Her mother and father were frozen in shock at the display of how the Master told how the girl should not be here, how the girl was a wretched creature and a number of other things. It did not last long before the count snatched his daughter out of the way and called the Master’s behavior outright beastly, and that unfortunately was the word. He had looked about to bite off Monique’s head like a wolf about to bite the head of a kitten.
And as for the other guests…