The first time Monsieur came to call, I was nervous, but vowed to Angelique that I would not show it. Mon pere invited Monsieur de Lafontaine to our last barbeque of the season, which was usually a small affair with twenty to thirty invited guests. I alone, was to entertain Louis de Lafontaine in the sitting room that morning for an hour prior to other guests arriving. That would give him ample time to talk one on one with me and then he would know whether he wanted to pursue a relationship or not.
I actually had no say in the affair – that would be between him and my father; in the meantime, I intended to charm and seduce monsieur straight into a marriage proposal. When the morning before the barbeque arrived, I was extremely disappointed. First, I awakened to find that Mother Nature had paid her monthly visit. The usual darkness that accompanied those visits encircled my eyes. I had several small pimples that apparently sprouted overnight, and a fever blister was beginning to form on my bottom lip.
When I looked into the mirror, I let out a loud squeal and then cursed both Mon pere and Mother Nature for their poor timing, her for her monthly visits and him for choosing that time of month for the barbeque. When Angelique came hurrying in to see why I squealed, she said “La, il y maman cherie permettra de resoudre ce. ” “How can you fix this, Maman? ” I asked, almost screaming at her – all I could see were our meticulously laid plans fizzling into an ash pot. “I did not make it this far in my affairs without a few carefully guarded beauty secrets,” Angelique said slyly.
Now, lie down and relax cheri; getting upset will only worsen the outbreak. I will send for Zelda, she has a miracle concoction that will clear this in no time at all. Relax Mon Cher, everything will be fine, just wait and see. ” When Zelda arrived, she brought with her two small tins and a small pail; the pail contained the foulest smelling substance I had ever smelt in my life. It looked to be blood, guts, and feces all combined, and she wanted me to let her cover my face with the stuff. I thought I was going to die! However, Angelique insisted that in order to get rid of the pimples and dark circles, I had to let Zelda work her magic.
Zelda said that I would have to wear it overnight and that when I washed it off the next morning – my skin would be as new as the day I was born. That was when I knew what the pail contained. It was leftovers, the afterbirth, placenta, and whatever else came out of an animal or woman during childbirth! First, Zelda applied a thick pasty substance to the fever blister and each pimple. She applied a different substance around my eyes. Then, she covered my eyes with small pads of cloth before heaping the foul smelling mixture onto my face.
She also applied it to my bosom, arms, legs, and buttocks as a safe measure, she said. She said that once it was dry I could remove the pads from my eyes. Angelique said that she would have my meals brought up- I told her not to bother- I would not be able to eat a bite as long as that stuff was on my face. In a matter of minutes, I could feel a stinging on the site of the pimples and fever blister, and then drawing and tightening of my skin. After a miserable day and night spent lying in bed trying not to move, the servants filled the bath with hot water.
Zelda arrived and instructed me to step into the tub and then ease my body down into the steaming water. I thought she intended to cook me it was so hot. She assured me that after the bath, the redness would disappear and then the miracle would happen. I had my doubts but I had endured all else to this point, there was nothing I could do but go forward with it. She wet a towel, which she place on my face to soak the dried concoction off, and after a few minutes, I could feel it loosening. Zelda washed my body to free it of the mixture and then had me step out.
The servants returned to empty the tub and refill it with fresh cool water. I returned to the tub and washed with herbal soap. Once rinsed, she oiled, creamed, and perfumed my body from head to toe. When I stepped in front of the mirror, I was amazed at how beautiful my skin was. There was not a blemish anywhere; my skin was flawless! Angelique returned and rubbed her usual mixture through my thick mane and then toweled it nearly dry before brushing the tangles out. She told me to apply just a hint of rouge to my lips, ‘none on the cheeks for daytime’ she always made a point to tell me.
After I carefully dressed in a light white cotton gown with tiny emerald green appliques, she helped me brush my nearly dry hair that she pinned into a loose roll with loosened tendrils that hung onto my neck; Angelique stepped back. ‘Let me look at you,’ she said happily. ‘Tu es belle ma fille’ she smiled. It was the first time she had actually ever called me, ‘daughter’… I was not sure if Angelique meant it or if she said it because she thought that now that my skin was clear of blemishes, I could snag the catch of a lifetime. ‘You need one more thing’ she said, producing a thin, white silk ribbon trimmed in emerald green.
She tied it around my neck and said I was now complete and ready to meet Monsieur. Monsieur de Lafontaine was supposed to arrive within the hour. I hurried downstairs to the sitting room to await him. Angelique said that I should be playing the piano when he arrived so that he could see that I was an accomplished pianist, however, I was too nervous to sit still. I was standing at the window looking out onto the veranda watching the servants at work and watching for monsieur when I saw her. Anasazi was tending the flower gardens that flanked both sides of the walkway.
She was bent over pulling grass, when she must have felt my eyes boring into her back. She stood and straightened her back by placing a hand on her hip. She looked up and our eyes met. I could see the surprise on her face and the instant recognition when she realized it was I standing there. She smiled. Instinctively, I almost smiled back, but caught myself before I did and turned from the window. I wondered whom she thought she was that she could act as if everything was fine, that she had never abandoned me, gave me to another to raise as their own.
The resentment and anger I carried was buried deep within. I knew that I should be thankful for what she done, else that would be me out there grassing the flower garden with the slaves, but after what she had said about me smothering Angelique’s child so that I could take its place, I could not forgive her. All of that was she and Angelique’s doing, not mine. When I heard the soft tap on the window, I jumped at the unexpected intrusion into my thoughts. I turned toward the window and saw Anasazi there, a pleading look in her eyes. I started to turn away but I could not.
I went to the window and opened it. “What do you want? ” I asked harshly. “I am expecting company and you’re here disturbing me! ” “Please, my daughter-” “Hush! Don’t you ever call me that! You don’t have any right to call me that! ” “Please, you mustn’t marry this man! I have given it lots of thought…” she paused. The space around me was pregnant with unspoken words. “Why should I not marry him? This is what you wanted, was it not – for me to live as white. That was why you gave me away! ” I said through gritted teeth. “If you marry him, you cannot have a child with him. “Men want children – they want sons to carry on their nam-” she cut my statement short, saying, “What if the child comes out a Negro child! ” she interjected before I could finish. “It will ruin you, your father, Angelique, and this man you intend to marry-” “Don’t speak of such things,” I said, glancing around to make sure no one was near enough to hear her words.
“If you must, there are ways to prevent it. Mistress Angelique knows; please promise me you will discuss this with her. ” When I finally looked at her, her eyes were full of tears. This only angered me. Go away! ” I said harshly, “I can take care of myself! ” I shut the window and turned away from her. I began to pace the room, trying to calm my anger at Anasazi. Why did she have to ruin everything? Why could she not just leave me alone? » Several minutes had passed when I heard a soft knock on the door. “Come in,” I snapped impatiently; not thinking enough time had passed for Monsieur to arrive, however, when Jenny said, ‘Miz Desiree, youse has a visitor,’ I thought I would swoon and I was not one to swoon, at least not unless it was on purpose.
However, Anasazi’s visit had me wrought up and my nerves were fairly on edge. “Am I late? ” Louis de Lafontaine asked with a grin. “I actually thought I arrived early,” he said softly. I knew I was flushed because of my anger, but I also blushed. I could feel the warmth cover my cheeks. Strangely, his presence seemed to calm me. “Oh, no sir,” I finally managed to say. “And I do apologize for my rudeness; I was just annoyed at one of the servants. Would you like something to drink, Monsieur Lafontaine? I asked, fluttering my lashes at him and then looking down demurely, as Angelique had taught me to do. “Please, call me Louis” he said smoothly, “Something cool to drink would be nice. It was a long dry ride up here. ” “You did not bring a carriage,” I asked expertly. “No, I prefer to ride, however it was quite the jaunt from there to here. I am just a little saddle weary.
I will bring a carriage the next time I come or I may just have to buy another schooner to keep at the plantation to run back and forth in. ” he removed his frock coat and handed it to Jenny to hang so that it would not wrinkle. Please, do sit down,” I said, however, he remained standing. “Would you like me to play a sonnet on the piano while we wait,” I asked, wanting to make sure he knew that I could play as Angelique instructed. “That would be nice, but I think I would rather talk. I would rather look at your face in preference to your back; which is what would happen if I allow you to play the piano. ” I wondered at his use of the word ‘allow’ about my playing the piano. He had another thing coming if he thought that he was going to rule over me.
He must have noticed my stiffening at his words because he smiled decorously and cleared his throat. “Not that I would presume to tell you what can or cannot do. I want to get to know you and the best way to do that is to talk with you,” he clarified. “After all, given your beauty, I would imagine that I am in competition with a great many suitors. ” His mentioning my ‘beauty’ flattered me. I sat down and motioned for him to sit in the chair facing me as I had seen Angelique do when she entertained men in our suite in town.
Instead, he came and sat down beside me on the settee; his scent surrounded me. The nearness of him caused butterflies in my stomach. He did not wear perfume as some men did- his scent was somewhat earthy. It was musky, manly… clean, but… a fragrance that was hard to describe, maybe clove or sandalwood… “Monsieur,” I began to speak, but stopped as his leg closed the gap between us. “Yes? ” he replied. I turned away from him for a moment and after I did not speak, he asked, “Do I make you nervous, sweet Desiree? ”