Where woods and wall began, she got off the bicycle and wheeled it the rest of the way up the hill, glancing uneasily at the wall. Higher than a man, it was topped by jagged triangles of glass—a clear statement that the De Rogiets had no use for intruders. The gate at the De Rogiets had no use for intruders. The gate at the hill’s crest was made of barred iron and a printed plaque just above the handle proclaimed: “Le Gord. Chien Méchant.”
Madelaine hesitated, looking wistfully back at the Cathedral which sat like a tiny spired crown in the distance. It was much farther out than she’d imagined, and now the sign warned of this fierce dog. She wondered why Mrs. Talbott hadn’t mentioned the dog, although she knew she was being childish to worry about it. She pulled the little gold bellchain on the gate.
Entering, she stood still and blinked at the sudden change of light. The ringing of the bell had carried far, for at the end of the densely wooded path she heard the ominous baying of three or four dogs, not of just one as the sign had indicated. She feared dogs, even the pawky little poodles her mother affected, so she waited and stared anxiously at the foliage about her. When she decided they were penned in or tied up, she proceeded along the cinder path until she emerged into brilliant sunlight.
It was a steeply-built house, trimmed with intricate cuttings and shutters of wood, more a Hansel-and-Gretel cottage or a postcard Swiss chalet than the “little chateau” Mrs. Talbott had described. The lawn was dry, rankly weeded, running into the wooded park inside the gate.
Outside the dogs began to trumpet joyously. The two little boys pressed into a corner, startled into silence.
“That will be Madame De Rogiet,” said Marie-Paul, quickly taking Madelaine’s arm and leading her out of the kitchen through a dark hallway to the front door. “Madame would be angry to think I had invited a guest to the kitchen.”
Madame De Rogiet was kneeling on the top step of the porch, making crooning, loving noises to the chained dog. As soon as Madelaine appeared, the dog stood up under her caresses and began to growl. Giving the dog a mock admonishing tap, the woman smiled, and with an arching forward of the neck, a dip of the head, she moved down the porch holding forth a long thin hand. Her face was narrow, hollowed under cheekbones and eyes, the nose reaching out from between deepest brown eyes. Her only beauty was a perfect transparent wax-colored skin and winding dark oval eyebrows. She gripped Madelaine’s hand with slender tensile fingers: “I hope you have not been waiting long… Mademoiselle… Mademoiselle Bar-kair.”
Madelaine assured her she had not.
“I am sorry that I did not give you a ride out, but there were visitors at my belle-mère’s house. It is so seldom that one sees old friends these days, I did not want to set a limit on the time.” She shrugged and smiled without any trace of warmth, tweaking pale wisps of brown hair into a paisley scarf knotted about her head, looking carefully at Madelaine. “I can see that you are tired from your long ride. We will go inside where it is cooler and we can talk.”