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The Odor of Roses

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“Madame Resmond has read me a story about England today,” Madeleine said as she sat on her favorite bench – the sunniest spot in the garden.

“Really?” Charles wrinkled his nose distastefully. He wasn’t allowed to study with the daughter of the house, but some things he knew for sure. England was often an enemy of France. “What was it?”

“A moral story,” Madeleine said importantly. “There was a great queen called Alienor, and she had that husband Henry, who wanted to marry another girl called Fair Rosamund. He hid her behind a labyrinth, but Alienor learned about it and walked through the labyrinth one day…”

“It wasn’t very good, then,” Charles remarked. “Our maze is a lot better. I still get lost in it sometimes, especially in the evenings.”

“So then Alienor killed Rosamund, and Henry was very angry and sent Alienor to prison. The moral goes,” Madeleine desperately tried to imitate the voice of her governess, “Passions don’t bring you any good, so don't let them guide you.“

The boy blinked:

“Passions? Like the Passions of Christ?”

“Of course not! There are different kinds of them. There are the Passions of Christ and then there’s something called lowly passions and it’s a sin.”

"So what are these lowly passions?"

Madeleine tried to pretend she knew. Actually, her governess had been rather vague on the subject.

"Well," she said, "I suppose it's like when Alienor killed Rosamund."

It didn't impress Charles very much. He liked many moral stories – for instance, the fables of Monsieur de La Fontaine – but this one was decidedly silly.

Meanwhile, Madeleine was thinking of something of her own.

"Charles? You know what, I want to play that I'm Fair Rosamund in her palace!"

"Why? The story's silly," he thought for a while and added, "and Madame Resmond and Madame the Countess won't like it. They'll think you're acting out the, how do you say it, lowly passions."

"But it's only a game, and we won't tell them!" she protested. "It's just... well, it's so like a fairy-tale – a beautiful palace behind a labyrinth! We'll build a palace in our maze, too."

"All right," Charles said.

"And then we'll play something you want!" she offered. "How about Romans and barbarians? I'll even play the barbarian king if you like," she knew he would: usually Charles was both the brave Roman general and the evil barbarian king, and she was the kind empress that needed rescuing. It looked rather ridiculous, though, when in the climax of the game he fought with himself.

"Are you sure? The barbarian king has to have his head chopped off."

Madeleine merely laughed and ran off, her golden curls getting disheveled in the wind. Charles followed her, soon outrunning her and shouting "Dad, we'll be in the maze!" to his father, the gardener of the estate.

"Oh, look, isn't it beautiful?" Madeleine cried happily. The palace of Fair Rosamund was made of a wild rosebush. The fact that it was now a palace was signified by Madeleine's yellow ribbons tied around the branches.

They had chosen one of the farthest corners of the garden, where Madeleine had never been, and even Charles, who knew all about the garden thanks to his father, had only visited this place a couple of times. Both were so engrossed in exploring it that they had nearly forgotten about Rosamund, until the girl saw the bush and declared it the perfect place for the palace.

Now Madeleine ran around the bush, and soon there came her delighted squeal:

"A well! Charles, look, there's an old well!"

The well was hardly noticeable in the green grass – it was all covered in moss. Madeleine was peering down.

"I wonder how old it is," she said. "Maybe the Romans dug it when they came to France!"

"Or maybe it's a wishing well!" Charles remembered a story his mother once told him. "You look down there and say a wish and it will be granted."

"Truly?" Madeleine stared at him, fascinated. "Oh, let's play that it is a wishing well!"

"What will you wish for, then?"

Madeleine wanted to say she wished for a silk gown like Mama had recently bought, but then she bethought herself. Magic wells wouldn't like such simple and easily-granted wishes, she figured. 

"I... I really don't know," she confessed, sitting on the well. "I... I would wish for us to play together tomorrow, too, and the day after."

"But we will play tomorrow, won't we?" Charles said anxiously.

"We will, but soon I'll go off to St. Mary's Convent, and you'll have to work," she sighed. "I wish it couldn't be so."

"It's the way life works, Dad and Mom always say it. We are children and then we are grown."

He was saddened, though. He also wished they didn't have to part. Of course, he had friends among other servants' children, but somehow none of them were quite the same for him as Madeleine. Still, she was from a different class, she was one of the Aristocracy (he couldn't fathom how the pompous people of Aristocracy gave birth to someone like her), and Charles always knew their games in the garden would come to an end one day, never to resume.

"I don't want to talk of it," he said finally.

"Neither do I," she admitted. "The Romans and barbarians, then?"

"The Romans and barbarians it is," Charles brightened. "I'm Julius Caesar and you're the Gothic king!" 

"Yes!" she clapped. "Let's come back to the meadow, it will be the battlefield!"

On their way through the garden, Madeleine waved to her parents' carriage – Mama and Papa were going off to a ball at their friends' estate.

"I don't think it's good that Madeleine spends so much time with the servants," said Count de Coigny.

"The servants? Oh, you mean the gardener's boy!" his wife smiled. "What's wrong with that? He knows his place and he knows that she is and always will be his superior. In the meantime, both are far too innocent for any wrong ideas to enter their heads."

"Still," he frowned. "In today's difficult times..."

"Difficult times! Jacques, my dear, don't talk nonsense! Just because the British are having trouble with their colonies over there," the Countess waved her hand towards the west, "you don't want our little girl to play her games before she goes to the convent! Where's the connection, I ask you?"

"Oh, fine," the Count shrugged. After all, bringing up Madeleine was primarily the responsibility of his wife. "She's soon off to convent anyway."