Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony, © 2012

The Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony historical fiction ~ 1636
During the reign of Louis XIII, called The Just
978-1-4022-6303-8
978-1-4022-6303-8
978-1-4022-6303-8

I will never quite look at Queen Anne's Lace the same after reading The Ruins of Lace.
Queen Anne's Lace
"Mechlin lace... is one of the best known Flemish laces. It is fine, transparent, and looks best when worn over another color... It was used for coiffures de nuit, garnitures de corset, ruffles and cravats."    # A study in nostalgia.
Flemish Bobbin Lace

Katharina, lace maker. Working in a dark, unheated workshop day after day, is losing her sight and her back is curved from bending over her pillow for hours at a time making lace, with the rhythm of her bobbins. In silence, without spoken words.
                         ~*~
Needle pin, needle pin
Stitch upon stitch,
Work the old lady out of the ditch
If she is not out as soon as I
A rap on the knuckles will come by and by
A horse to carry my lady about
Must not look off till twenty are out.
                         ~*~ 
Louis XIII in 1636 forbid the wearing of lace, preferring to keep the monies from going across the border to enrich his domain. This, of course, brought a desire for it no matter the means ~ or the cost.

Lisette found the lace to be costly ~ to her family. In retribution, will they ever be finished repaying what she has damaged?

Each character tells their own part of the story in the narrative of events. There is vernacular vulgarity of speech in their struggles. With cruelty to man and to animals in lace smuggling, there is no lasting satisfaction in the pursuit of a luxury not filling the deep longing of the heart. Despair and uncertainty detain each one as they hope for freedom, to be loved, not recognizing there is a Deliverer.
Never forget you are of immeasurable worth!
   --author Iris Anthony
The Lacemaker by Bernhard Keil (1624-1687) The Metropolitan Museum

The Lacemaker by Bernhard Keil (1624-1687) The Metropolitan Museum

Here is an excerpt of The Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony ~ Chapters One-Three.

CHAPTER 1

Katharina Martens
LENDELMOLEN, FLANDERS

IT HAD BEEN TWO MONTHS NOW. TWO MONTHS since my eyes had betrayed me. The darkness had come upon me so gradually that there had been no fear, no panic. Even now I could still discern shapes and colors. Though the details and textures of my lace were lost to me, my fingers told me what my eyes refused to convey.
   I had spun an endless pattern of roses and leaves intertwined, bordered by a path of scrollwork. Every day I had lingered between those blossoms and lost myself in the maze of those scrolls. Every day for over three years. It took time to fashion a lace as long and as fine as this one.
   I wriggled my toes within my clogs. At least I thought I did. I could no longer feel them. They had gone numb from autumn’s chill. I shifted on the bench, hoping it would bring some life back into them. If not, they would waken with a tingling in the time it took to walk from the workshop to the chapel. By the time I finished with prayers, they would be well again. In winter it was worse. They woke from their sleep with a hot, dull ache.
   Autumn.
   Winter.
   Spring.
   Summer.

   I had cycled through the years in much the same way I cycled through my bobbins and my pattern. One season, one set of bobbins, one rose after the other, and in the end, I found myself back at the beginning. As a child, cast upon the good graces of the abbey, I had been a fumbling novice at my craft. But now I was a skilled lace maker.

   Lace is created from thread. Threads. Many of them. Twisted and crossed, looped and whorled, knotted and woven. But lace is formed from the absence of substance; it is imagined in the spaces between the threads. Lace is a thing like hope. It lived, it survived, and it was desired for what it was not. If faith, as the nuns said, was the substance of things hoped for, then lace was the outline—the suggestion—of things not seen.

   Lace was my life. My solace. It was lace that gave my life meaning. And in the working out of my intricate patterns, I had also worked out my salvation. Twenty-five years I had been making lace. Twenty-five blessed years.
~*~
   As I sat there with my pillow in my lap, the threads performed their intricate dance, leaping and jumping in a counterpoint about their pins. Each group of bobbins clattered to their own rhythm before I dropped them to the pillow to pick up the next. With a twist or a cross, more than two hundred threads danced around the circle before I dropped the last group and started once more with the first.
   It amazed me, as it always had, that I should sit with my bobbins, day after day. And that they should perform their dance with so little help from me. Like the fairies my sister used to speak of, they completed their magic seemingly undirected and undeterred by human hands. Except, I did direct them. I did move them. In fact, they moved only at my command. But once I set them into motion, they seemed to dance alone. I used to watch, breathless, every day, waiting to see what they would create.
   I knew, of course.
   They would create the kind of lace they created every day, the lace that was named for the abbey: Lendelmolen. That was the only kind of lace we had been taught to make. We’d seen the other kinds. Sister had showed them to us so we could understand how superior our patterns were. But this lace, this length, was different. It was to be fabulously long. Six yards. The exquisite scrolls and roses and leaves had been inscribed by a pattern maker upon a parchment. Pins now marked that design, securing the pattern to my pillow.
   But there was a difference between knowing what the bobbins would create and watching them go about their work. It was in the watching that the magic happened.
   Of course, I never spoke of the magic. Not to the nuns.
   Not to anyone.
   Nowhere, at any time within the walls of the abbey, could I speak. Unless it was to God. And even then, we were to speak in whispers. God was a jealous god. He needed our hands. He needed our thoughts…and our voices. They were reserved, all of them, every part of us, for him.
   And why should it have been any other way?
   Except…I had never heard the voice of Mathild. And I had sat beside her as we worked, for twenty-five years.
   Those first years, the years of learning, had been the most difficult. Learning what was expected of us and learning what was not. Learning how to please the Sister in charge of the workshop. Learning how to avoid a beating or a whipping.
   And those first whippings…they came so unexpectedly, so brutally, for a sin no greater than a dropped pillow or a missed stitch. So viciously and so cruelly, a girl would be stripped to her waist and punished right in front of us. In front of all of us.
   It served its purpose, I suppose.
   It goaded us into concentration. But unavoidably, I too dropped my pillow. I too missed a stitch. And strayed from the pattern. I did not think often of those times. So much sadness, so much misery. I had sought the skirts of the Holy Mother herself on one occasion, hiding behind her statue in the chapel. Once I had been coaxed away from her, I was lucky to have survived the beating I was given. But it was then, in the midst of those dim-lit days and lonely nights, that I was taught how to make myself useful. It was then I learned the secrets of lace. And how could I truly despair when I knew, every day upon waking, that in the workshop my lace awaited?
   I could survive a scolding, could suffer through a beating, always knowing I had my lace. I couldn’t mind stinging buttocks or a bloodied back when my fingers were left untouched for work and my eyes could still see. It was the times when they rapped our knuckles that were the worst. For then we were left bleeding and bruised, forbidden to leave the workshop, but forbidden also to work. If punishment was doled out for failure—failure to concentrate, to keep the lace clean, to master the skills—the lace itself offered its own sort of reward.
   To see it created.
   To watch it unfurl.
   To glimpse a pattern perfectly followed, perfectly accomplished.
   I would rather have been whipped to the grave than been kept from my work.
   But that had been back when I could see. Now that solitary pleasure had been denied me.
   Perhaps in those early days, now that I think on it, I had heard Mathild speak once or twice. But I did not remember her words. To speak brought certain punishment. And so, we had avoided each other’s gaze to avoid the temptation to talk. And soon we began, all of us, to sleep with an arm across the face…to ensure that, even in sleep, we would remain guiltless.
   But I had seen Mathild smile.
   And once, I had even seen her wink.
   But speak? I could hardly remember those few words.
   When would I have heard them? At prayers, we whispered our petitions to the Most Holy God. At meals, we ate. During washing, we washed. And when making lace? Making lace required everything we had. And by the time we collapsed onto our beds, there was nothing left within us. We were quickly consumed by sleep.
   Of course, I had heard others talk.
   The nuns spoke all the time.
   I knew the voice of my teacher: Sister Maria-Clementia. She spoke very little, but when she bent over my pillow to inspect my lace, her “Well done” was like a song of a thousand words. And her “Rework this” could echo through my mind for days. There was no great need for words here. Not when so very few would do. And even when I talked to God, there was little to say. I said, “Thank you,” for it was he who had placed me here. I said, “Help me, please,” for who did not need help with such difficult work? But mostly, I said…nothing. For what could a poor girl say to such a great and holy God that did not begin and end with gratitude?
   But…I had a secret.
   I stored up words. I hoarded them, treasured them.
   Words were my vice, my greatest weakness. Since I had discovered their great rarity, I remembered every one I heard.
   They formed a pattern in my head, and in the spaces between them, I imagined the lives of their speakers. My one regret is how few of my mother’s I remembered. But I could not have known, not while she was living, how precious few she would be able to give me.
   She had talked often…so many lovely words. They came back to me sometimes in my sleep, like a length of punto in aria lace. Vast spaces of nothing, and then, suddenly, the outline of an intricate pattern. It was all the more beautiful for its spare design. Her words had the lightness of a butterfly. They were always dancing. Always followed by laughter. At least…that is how it seems to me now.
   But perhaps I have distorted the pattern in transferring it to my memories. For what followed after her death was so… bleak. When she had been alive, there were words, nothing but words, in our house, and then after…silence reigned over all.
   I remember only two words from my father. Perhaps he gave me more than those two…certainly he probably did while my mother was living…. but the only two I remember are the last ones he spoke to me.
   Fare well.
   Only those two words remain, and they are underscored by sorrow. They hang heavily in my heart. He died five years after I was committed to the abbey. Those two words are all I have left of him, but two words are not enough to make a pattern.
   Fare well.
   Was it a blessing? A wish? A hope?
   Perhaps it was a sort of benediction. I do not know.
   My sister, Heilwich…well, she has words enough for the both of us. And the words she gives me are more than enough to last the week between her visits. She speaks of her life, of the priest whose home she keeps, of her good works. Her pattern is torchon. Regular, repeating. Competent. Respectable. Dependable.
   And I imagine her life to be just that way.
   But I have more than just family from whom to collect words.
   I have the people walking by the workshop, past the abbey wall, on the street outside.
   There is one man who walks the streets, shouting every day. He sells fish. And he does it especially loudly on Fridays. He shouts everything about them. How large they are, how fresh they are. He sells sole and plaice. Eels and herrings. Sometimes they cost more, and sometimes they cost less. And sometimes he sells something called a mussel. But only in the winter. I’ve always wondered what it looked like, a mussel.
   But then, I had always wondered what he looked like as well.
   His words were not fancy; they created an ordinary malines design. His pattern was the same, day after day, fish after fish. There were few holes, few gaps, from which to pattern a life apart from the street beyond the wall. I imagined he woke with fish and he worked with fish, and when he slept, he dreamt of fish.
   It was what I did too…only with lace, of course. I understood a life like his. Except…How did he come by them? That great variety of fish? And how did he carry them? For certain by cart, for I could hear the wheels tumble across the cobbles. But…how? Tossed together in a great pile? Separated into baskets?
   And where did he live?
   What did he wear?
   The holes in his pattern were tiny, but they were there, nonetheless. His was a life set upon a platform of a fine network of threads.
   There was also a woman who shouted in the streets beyond the wall. But she didn’t shout about something. She shouted at something. Was it a child? She shouted at someone called Pieter, who always seemed to be making a mess of things.
   But what kind of mess was it?
   Was he a child who rubbed his hands in the ashes of a fire…and then spread the soot about the house? That would make a mess. The worst kind of mess I could imagine.
   She also shouted at someone else called Mies. And Mies always made her late.
   But late to what? Where was she going, this woman who seemed to have nothing to do but walk the length of the streets, shouting all day? What was Mies doing to make her late, and how could Mies do whatever it was all day long, every day? And if it was always the same thing Mies did, then why did the woman not stop it from being done?    
   There was a pattern to this woman that made no sense, huge holes in the design of her life. Hers was a lace made of cutwork. Not dainty, not fragile. Without subtlety, it was bold in the extreme. A pattern without any elegance at all, and one which kept repeating. That lace was one of my least favorite kinds.
   There were others out there on the street besides. I could hear them walking and running. And hear the sounds of their voices talking. But those people did not shout, and so I knew nothing of the actual words they said.
   There were babies who cried.
   And once, there had been a shriek. A howl.
   The wordless sound of grief: black lace. The worst kind to make. The kind I made as a child, new to the abbey. After being dyed its dark color, it would not show soiling. We could make it imperfectly, for the color hid our sins. We made it fast, though never for commission. It was for immediate consumption. For who could know when a soul might die?
   No one thought of black lace—no one wanted to think of it—but somehow, we never seemed to be able to make enough of it. But to make a lace no one ever wanted? Those days, those laces…they were sad. And so was that howl.
   So at times, I suppose, one word…one wordless sound… could create a pattern. It could tell a story…but some laces are not worth imagining.
   Far better, far better, to keep my thoughts to what I knew. And what I knew best, the only thing I knew at all, was lace. The abbey had been kind enough to take me as a child from my motherless family, even though I knew how to do nothing at all. They had fed me; they had taught me. They had allowed me a chance to redeem myself. To prove myself worthy of the life I had been given. And so I worked, I labored, as one who would not be ashamed. Nee: one who could not be ashamed. When God looked down on what it was I had done, I knew the only thing he could say was this: well done.
   My eyes strained through the darkness, trying—and failing—to discern one thread from another. In a short time we would be allowed a candle, but for now, my fairy dance continued, unaided, unfettered, by my lack of sight. As we worked, we waited. Waited in anticipation, just as we waited in the chapel to receive the Host.
   Soon, Sister placed a single candle on a table before us. And then she began positioning the condensers. Clear glass balls filled with water, they focused the candle’s light and then sent it forth. Around the table she went, adjusting each one so it cast a narrow beam of light upon each pillow.
   With much gratitude, we repositioned our work into that light.
   When I could still see well, it had been more difficult to pattern. But still, I had to concentrate. and its grace. word: Done. My supper, tasteless. My sleep, dreamless. work after the shadows of night fell. The pillow had to be constantly adjusted to follow the flickering of the candle’s light. Now, it didn’t matter. I could work in darkness as if it were the brightest of noondays. I had memorized my pattern. But still, I had to concentrate.
   Think too much, and I would muddle up the bobbins. Think too little, and I would lose my place in the pattern. In my head, I sung a little tune the sisters had chanted when I was a child. And quick as that, the dance regained its rhythm and its grace.
   I sung it to myself over and over, again and again. Who knows how many times I sung it, until at last, Sister said the word: Done.
   My prayers that night were wordless.
   My supper, tasteless.
   My sleep, dreamless.
   
CHAPTER 2

Heilwich Martens
KORTRIJK, FLANDERS

I HAD BEEN SO CLOSE LAST MONTH! I'D HAD EVERY Spanish real the Reverend Mother had demanded. She had glanced up from her table as I entered the room, her coronet making her head look as if it were about to take flight.
   I touched a knee to the floor. “Reverend Mother.”
   “And you are…?”
   “I am Heilwich Martens. Of Kortrijk.”
   “Heilwich Martens…”
   “I work for Father Jacqmotte. At Sint-Maartenskerk.”
   “Ah. A priest’s woman.” The Reverend Mother nodded, sending a shiver through her veil.
   “I came to speak to you about my sister. I wish to take her home with me.”
   “Sister—? Which one?”
   “My sister. My own sister. Katharina. She makes lace.” I with drew the pouch from my sleeve and set it on the table before her. The coins inside it betrayed their presence with a clink.
   The Reverend Mother’s hand snaked out and clasped the pouch, loosened the thong that bound it, and poured the contents out upon the table. “Katharina, you say? I am told she is our best lace maker.”
   I was surprised the Reverend Mother knew her, but isn’t that what Katharina had told me herself? That she was the abbey’s best lace maker? An undue sense of pride kindled within my veins. I felt my chin lift.
   “We have come to rely upon her skills.”
   Katharina had told me that as well.
   “The skills we have spent many months, many years, in fact, perfecting.”
   Ja. I knew quite well how many years there had been between Katharina’s leaving our father’s house and my own visit to the abbey this day. Twenty-five of them.
   “This is not enough to compensate us for our expense in training her.” She gathered the coins and dropped them back into the pouch.
   Clink.
   Clink.
   Clink.
   Clink.
   Clink.
   She secured the thong and pushed it back across the table toward me.
   “But…but…last time we spoke, this is the price you named!” And I had worked and saved for five years to gather all of it.
   “That was several years ago, was it not?”
   “Ja, but— ”
   “Did you think we would stop teaching her in the intervening time? Stop feeding her? Clothing her? Providing a place for her to sleep? A chapel in which to worship?”
   “Nee, but— ”
   “Surely you can understand we must be compensated for all we have invested in her.”
   “But she is not a…a…piece of property or a…a…cow! She’s a girl! And she’s nearly gone blind from all of the lace you’ve made her make!”
   “Blind? Truly? I shall have to investigate.”
   I shut my mouth up tight as a cooper’s barrel. I had said too much. Or perhaps…perhaps I had not said enough. “Ja! She’s hunched as an old woman. And very soon you’ll throw her out of your abbey, just as you always do to those too blind to be of use.” If the abbey could not see her worth, the men who lurked at the abbey’s gates would. A girl did not have to see to be persuaded to open her legs to paying customers.
   “And what would you have us do? Keep girls who can provide no assistance in exchange for our very great generosity? We would soon have to shut our doors.”
   “If you won’t take my money, could you send for me before you turn her out?”
   “For what purpose?”
    “So I can take her home.”
    “You mean keep her here until you are able to come fetch her?”
    “Ja.”
   “As if we were some kind of lodging house?” The crook of her brow above her eyes told me her answer before she even spoke it. “Kortrijk is quite a walk, even if the father would let you come. I cannot do this. If I did it for you, then every family would expect the same.”
   “How much more do you need?”
   She named her price.
   It was much more than I could ever hope to earn, even if I had five more years in which to do it. Katharina was as lost to me as our father and mother. I had told her I would rescue her, but I couldn’t do it.

~*~
I did what I could. I shamed the men who lingered by the gate into leaving, though I had no hope my words would drive them far. I shuddered to think of Katharina having to throw herself upon their mercy. I gave a silver coin to an urchin, as well. “If you see a girl come from the abbey, one of the lace makers, come tell me in Kortrijk. I work for Father Jacqmotte at Sint-Maartenskerk. The church with the great tower. Her name would be Katharina.”
    “Katharina.”
    “Ja.”
    “And if I do? If I come tell you…?”
   “Then I will give you another one of these.” I took a second silver coin from my purse and held it out so he could see it.
   His good eye gleamed as he reached for it.
   I enclosed it within my fist. “And what is your name? Remember, I work for a priest. I’ll tell him if you lie to me or if you cheat me.”
   The hand withdrew as he eyed me for a moment. Then his frown relaxed and, finally, he spoke. “Pieter. My name is Pieter.”
~*~
I had done what I could, but it had not made my heart feel better. It still didn’t, even three days later. Katharina should have been me. I should have been the one the abbey had taken. I was the older sister, after all. Katharina could easily have been placed out for work somewhere. She was a child of the sun, all golden hair and gleaming smiles. But I was not the one the abbey chose. They had taken one look at my short, stubby fingers and had not even let me enter their gates. It wasn’t what we had planned. Not at all. It was me who was oldest. Me who ate the most. But in the end, it was Katharina they had taken and me they had left behind.
   Several years after Katharina had gone, Father died, and the parish priest had taken me in. The elderly housekeeper showed me how to sweep a wood floor and how to manage work—I did everything—but it still did nothing to beat back the knowledge that it was all my fault.
   It was my fault Father had died: he had placed into my bowl the food intended for his own mouth. And it was my fault Katharina had become what she was: a girl who had found her age too early. Back bent, fingers gnarled from her work.
   But in the priest’s house, I had served the penance for my sins. I had worked my short, stubby fingers to the bone these twenty- five years to regain that which had been lost…only to discover my work had been in vain. It had not been enough.
   I had not saved enough.
   I might have paused by the River Leie, sat down upon the bank, and wept into my apron for sorrow at what life might have been, but there was too much to be done in the life that was. There were wicks to be trimmed and accounts to be looked over, supper to be prepared and vestments to be mended. There was old Herry Stuer to be visited. His pallet to be changed and water dripped into his mouth.
   And for certain, the girl who looked after him would stick me with his care for the rest of the forenoon.
   But I was the priest’s woman. Such things, such generosity of time and of spirit, were expected of me. A gentle hand, a cool head, a ready smile…when all I wanted to do most times was shriek at them all and dash them over the head with my broom.
   I turned from the river, jabbed at my tears with the edge of my apron, and sniffed the rest of them back down. It was too late for sorrow, and tears helped nothing.

CHAPTER 3

Denis Boulanger
THE BORDERS OF FRANCE AND FLANDERS

I DON'T KNOW WHY I BOTHER.”
    Was the lieutenant asking me a question? Did he expect an answer? With him, sometimes it was hard to know. And the sun had barely just peered into the sole window of the shack. It was a tough job pleasing the lieutenant before he’d eaten the day’s first meal.
    “You understand what your job is.”
    Another statement that seemed as if it might be a question. “Oui, Lieutenant.” It was to assist the douaniers with their work. To help them by guarding the border with the Spanish Netherlands and to assist in the collection of import taxes.
   He looked down his long, crooked nose at me. “Then why aren’t you doing it?”
   Ah. Now there was a question. A true question. But it was a question I did not understand. “I am…I mean, I thought—?”
   “Do you know what passes across the border? Every single day?”
   “Oui, chef.” I did. People. Sometimes animals. And carts.
   “Hundreds of people cross the border every single day.” He’d raised his hands, slicing at the air in front of me, setting in motion the lace that hung like cobwebs from his wrists. “And do you know what they carry with them?”
   That was a question that really didn’t sound like one. It didn’t seem as if he truly wanted an answer. So I kept my mouth shut. That was easiest. How I wished he would stop talking, so I could stop standing at attention.
   “The people who cross the border here are liars, cheats, and thieves. Every single one of them.”
   Every single one? I found that difficult to believe. The old granny I had given my arm to just the other day? Surely she wasn’t a liar or a cheat or a thief. And that young mother with the three children, one of them just a babe in her arms? She had looked as if she might dissolve into tears at any moment. That’s why I had helped to hurry her through the line. For that was my job, after all: to aid the douaniers.
   “Do you know whom they’re trying to cheat?”
   Well. That was an easy question to answer. My mother had always said cheaters cheated only themselves. Although… hadn’t they first to cheat someone else? Before they cheated themselves? Isn’t that what cheating was?
   “Denis!”
   “Oui, chef!” I pulled my chin in even closer to my chest, making it touch the top button on my coat.
   “Every blessed day, thousands of livres of merchandise cross this border. And do you know what’s wrong with most of it?”
   I guessed—I supposed—an answer was expected. “That it comes from the Spanish Netherlands? From those Flemish?”
   “Those dirty, rotten, stinking Flemish. Oui. And those dirty, rotten, stinking Spaniards.”
   “The dirty, rotten, stinking, filthy Spaniards.”
   “You’ve a way with words, Denis Boulanger.”
   “Merci, mon chef.”
   I’d always liked words. They were so particular as to their meaning. No one word could ever quite substitute for another. It wasn’t like the army, where it didn’t really matter what you looked like or where you were from. Where the next man could do the job just as well as you.
   “But the fact that all of those goods come from Flanders and those d√©bectable Spaniards doesn’t really concern me at all. Do you know what concerns me?”
   I could guess, but I wasn't sure I would be right. It was safest not to answer.
  “What concerns me is those dirty, rotten, stinking Flemish are smuggling contraband across our border every single day.”
   I’d heard that. The lieutenant had said that. He’d said it nearly every day for these six months I’d been posted here.
   “And do you know who helps them?”
   Well—non. Non, I didn’t.
   “We do. We French do. We French conspire with those dirty, rotten, stinking Flemish to cheat our own King out of the tariffs he deserves.”
   Not we French. I mean, I didn’t. And the lieutenant didn’t. Some French. That was the better way to say it. Some French do.
   “But do you know what’s worse, Denis Boulanger?”
   There were many things that were worse. So many things that were worse. It was difficult to choose just one.
   “What’s worse is some people even try to smuggle in things that are forbidden. Did you know that?”
   “Oui, chef.” I knew that.
   “Every single day, people try to bring things into France that don’t belong here. Things the King, our King, doesn’t want here.”
   He had come to stand quite near me. His tips of his boots touched the tips of my own.
   “Oui, chef!
   He scowled. “Oui, chef? Oui, chef! You know this?”
   “Oui, chef.”
   “Then why don’t you do something about it!” He yelled the words so loudly they hurt my ears. So forcefully his spittle landed on my face.
   I couldn’t keep from blinking. And falling back from his assault. “I do, chef. I mean, I try.”
   “You haven't tried hard enough. Do you know how many times you've intercepted contraband these past six months?”
   I nodded. I did. I knew exactly how many times.
   “None! Thousands of livres in goods are smuggled across this border daily, and you’ve intercepted none of it!” He shook his wrist in front of my face. “Do you know how old this lace is?”
   “Non, chef.”
   “Six months old. And do you know why?”
   “Non, chef.
   “It’s because you haven’t brought me any that’s newer!”
   “I haven’t…I’ve never seen any.”
   “Never seen any. Bon.” He turned on a heel and strode to his desk.
   I wished I could do that. Turn on my heel and do it so quickly it looked like my foot was nailed to the floor. I’d tried. Many times. But I’d only ever made myself stumble.
   “Never seen any. Never going to. I’m going to send you somewhere else. Lots of places to choose from. We’re a country at war with these dirty, rotten, stinking Spaniards. So… do you think you could kill someone?”
   “Kill someone?”
   “With that musket.”
   “Why?”
   “Why what?”
   “Why would I want to kill someone?”
   He sighed. Took up a piece of paper and began writing. “I have here, in my hand, your new orders.” He signed them with a flourish as he spoke.
   “Chef ?”
   “You’re leaving. I’m done with you. You’re a disgrace to your King.”
   “But…I…I would catch them. I would arrest those smugglers if I could only tell which ones they were.”
   “The trouble with you, Denis Boulanger, is you’ve no imagination. Do you know how contraband crosses the border? How lace crosses the border? Because that’s what we’re looking for—lace. Do you know how lace crosses the border?”
   I nodded. He’d explained it many times.
   “Lace crosses the border in hollow loaves of bread. It crosses the border pinned to a woman’s underskirts or the inside of a man’s breeches. It crosses the border in boots and books. It even crosses the border in coffins.”
   Coffins? I didn’t think I believed him. I was quite sure, in fact, that I didn’t.
   “It crosses the border with men and women. With children and dogs. With the young and with the very old. It crosses the border with people.”
   Oui. I knew all of that. Every day I looked for lace. That was what I was supposed to do. But how could I know who was smuggling it? “Just—give me more time! I’ll find some lace. I promise.”
   He folded his arms in front of him, leaned on the table’s top. Frowned. “I’ve been giving you more time for six months now.”
   “Please.”
   He scowled. “Fine. One more month. It’s hard enough as it is with the war going on. Be warned, if you don’t find any”—he waved the orders above his head as he dismissed me with his other hand—“then you’re done.”
logo-2


***I received a copy of The Ruins of Lace from the author for review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

No comments:

Post a Comment