The Heat of His Eyes

It was Lady Archer who noticed the attendant first and stopped the conversation. “Yes?” she asked in that particular annoyed tone Azelma had always associated with nobility.

“A message for Madame Caffrey. We have put the parcels in your room, madame.” He bowed politely.

“Merci.” How funny to watch him lick my boots, Azelma thought.

“What was that about?” Lady Archer asked in English. Her grasp of French was not good, Azelma had learned early on.

“A few articles of clothing,” she replied in the same language. “America is so far behind the times that when women come to Paris, they put their shopping into storage for a year before wearing it at home. Perfectly ridiculous. But when most of your seamstresses are niggers, I suppose it is understandable. Still, I could not possibly appear at the opera ball dressed in American garments. I am nobody’s poor cousin. It is a kind invitation, princess, and I shall give you no cause to regret my presence.”

“How could you?” Princess Radzjewska smiled. “Ah, you look like a child on Christmas morning. Go to your parcels, my dear. We shall see you tomorrow night for the ball.”

“Not tonight?”

“A card party,” Lady Archer declared.

“Ah.” Another? Azelma thought. That woman would stake her title if she thought she could win a second. Azelma refused to gamble with any of her hard-earned property.

But her joy at the prospect of the parcels noticeably dimmed when she saw brown paper on the floor of the sitting room. “Della! Where are the children?” she shouted. The sight of two little girls tearing the wrappings from the carefully constructed packages from the dressmaker sent her into a rage. “Get out! I said you are not to come into my room! Where is Della? Don’t touch that!“ She slapped away the hand of the youngest, who had still dared to try to touch the startling blue silk under the remnants of the paper wrapping. An elderly black woman stumbled in. “They was just playing, missus. They ain’t done no harm.“

“Your job is to keep them out of my way, you stupid nigger. I have no qualms about leaving you in the street, is that clear? They all warned me that niggers never work in a free country. But you are not like other niggers, are you, Della? You are loyal. You will be loyal to me,” she warned.

“Yes, missus. Come along, now, children.”

“We want to play dress ups!” the eldest shouted.

“Get out of here! Both of you! Or I will thrash you. Then how will you like playing dress ups?” she asked with a venomous sweetness learned from her mother.

“Come along.” Della put a hand on each girl’s shoulder and tried to push them along.

“Get your hands off me, you stupid nigger!” the eldest ordered. Della obeyed without a word, but at least they were finally willing to leave the room.

Azelma locked the door. Dear lord, why did the damned brats have to be so demanding? She had given them their nigger, what more did they want? But the blue of the opened dress caught her eye, and she carefully lifted it from the wrappings. The silk was as beautiful as it had seemed in the shop. Such a bright blue - she was never allowed to wear anything so daring in Savannah. And pink, and green, and calico. Colours she had not worn in what felt an eternity. She immediately pulled off her grey dress and kicked it into a corner of the room. Take that, Leonard, she thought. You’ve had two years and three days of mourning, now I am finally bloo