“Father is dead,” announced Andre.
Marcella looked up from her book; her face white with horror. What did he say??
She felt her heart begin to pound and everything around her went hazy. All she could see was her brother in the doorway and all she could feel was the dread in her body. Marcella got up from her seat and walked toward her brother who was trying to compose himself as best as he could.
“How did it happen?” she asked. This can’t be real! Please God, don’t take my father away as well!
“He…fell on the side of the road. Something about his heart giving out…I really didn’t hear all the details, Marcy.”
She could hear the pathetic cries of her stepmother down the hallway. Wailing on at how they were ruined. “What does she have to cry for?? She has money! I just lost both parents!
“If we’re ruined then it’s her fault,” Marcella said bitterly, “All of those unnecessary items she always insisted on having.”
“Marcy, now is not the time,” said Andre as he wiped her arm across his eyes, “Pull yourself together and get downstairs. The girls are going to need someone to keep them occupied.”
Marcella was even more confused at Andre's intense reserve. He was treating her as if she should have no emotion or grief at all.
Why is he treating me like this? What happened to you, Andre? What happened to my family?
~ ~ ~
If Father truly believed that he could blend these two very different families, then he was by all accounts a fool. Andre and Marcella met their soon to be new stepmother and stepsisters several weeks after Father had broke the news to them.
Lady Ysobella was elegant in an extremely haughty and vain nature. She was clearly a woman who had been through extreme hardship and blamed everyone else around her for whatever she had endured. Her oldest daughter, Constance who was eleven (a year older than Marcella) wasn’t too different from her mother. Actually, give her a couple years and she would probably be worse.
Even at her young age, Constance was breathtakingly beautiful. She had smooth ivory skin and a river of dark red hair that glistened in the sun. After Constance curtsied to Marcella she looked her stepsister over as if she was debating whether or not to buy her.
“Why is your skin so dark?” she asked in a way that made her sound more innocent than rude.
“Oh...” Marcella started, completely thrown off by what she had been asked, “I spend a good amount of time in the sun…it’s very beautiful here. You could hardly want to be trapped indoors all the time.”
Constance raised her eyebrows and with one last lookover sauntered off to greet Andre. Marcella was in such disbelief of her first greeting to the girl she was supposed to accept as her sister. She watched as Constance went from a vain peacock of a little girl to showing the heirs and graces of a young lady as she chatted graciously to her new stepbrother. Andre didn’t seem to mind this at all nor did he seem to notice Constance’s rude comment toward Marcella.
“And this one is Marguerite, but we call her Meg,” Lady Ysobella said as she gently pulled the hand of a small seven year old girl.
“Mademoiselle,” said Marcella as she gave the girl a proper curtsy.
Meg executed a rather weak curtsy that almost had her stumbling over and then looked Marcella in her eyes. Although the newcomer didn’t speak, Marcella could tell that Meg was nothing like her sister. There was fire inside of this girl, a spirit that was going to be difficult to rein in, a troublemaker that could be an ally or enemy.
“She’s something of a handful,” remarked Constance to Andre in a sickly sweet nature that made Marcella almost nauseous.
“Well, I understand,” Andre said, “Marcy has always been a handful.”
“Oh, such a sweet name,” Constance said looking over at Marcella, “It’s much more fitting for a child. Marcella…just seems a little too grown up.”
“Too grown up?” Marcella said, trying to keep her anger at bay, “You’re only one year older than me. I seriously doubt your experience of the world is any more advanced than mine.”
“Age has absolutely nothing to do with “world experience” as you put it,” Constance said walking over to Marcella, “Let’s see, have you ever been outside of Vezelay?”
“Well, no I haven’t,” Marcella admitted.
“Can you dance, play any instruments, been introduced to nobility?”
“No. I have not done any of those,” Marcella said, almost at a breaking point.
“So, one might say that I do have more world experience,” finished Constance with a sly grin.
Marcella was shaking inwardly with anger and humiliation and having Andre just stand and do nothing while Constance degraded her did not help at all. Now more than ever, she wished that Mother was here. Although, if Mother was actually here than they wouldn’t even be in this situation.
Be brave and good to people
Brave, yes. Good was going to have to wait.
“You’re right,” said Marcella after a few seconds, “I’ve never been outside the city and I know nothing about nobility. So yes, you may say that you have more experience than I.
Constance smirked. Her blue eyes were cold and hateful.
“However,” Marcella continued, “I can ride horses, swim, plant herbs and roots and know how to make healing balms and remedies from them. I know how to read maps from all around the world; I can name every constellation in the sky, I know how to speak Italian and Persian, I know how to navigate my way through the forest, I can make my own dresses. My father is teaching me swordplay and I’m the only girl in the village that can read and write.
The smirk on Constance’s face was wiped away and her complexion went from its flawless ivory to a red the color of her hair.
“So, I would say, that you and I are about even when it comes to ‘experience,’ in any form of living,” said Marcella, “If I ever got lost in court, I’m sure you would be the first to tell me how it’s all done. And if you ever got lost in the world, don’t hesitate to ask for my help.”
Constance glared at like she was a snake, but Marcella refused to be bullied in her own home.
“Children,” came Father’s voice, “Let’s come inside and eat.”
Constance grabbed her sister’s hand and dragged her inside, but not before Meg turned to face Marcella and gave her mischievous grin of approval.
~ ~ ~
After the marriage and Ysobella and her girls moved in, Father tried to set up some familial structure. However, Constance almost seemed threatened by Marcella no matter what she did and Ysobella always found some fault with her. Whether it was the way her dress hung, how her hair was styled, how she sat at the table, the way she spoke to people.
“I don’t know what it is they want from me,” Marcella said to Father one day, “I am trying, so very, very hard.”
“According to your stepmother, you were very rude to Constance within minutes of meeting her.”
“I was rude to her??” cried Marcella, “That was over six months ago and she was the one that was rude to me! Father she’s manipulating you!”
“No, she’s not,” Father said, “I have been somewhat lax with your upbringing and maybe Ysobella…your stepmother really does want you to become the lady that her daughters will become. Don’t you wish to marry a good man and have a family?”
“Yes, of course I do, but Father…” Marcella was almost in tears, she was tired of arguing and feeling so alone.
“Nevermind,” said Marcella, “I’m sorry I bothered you.”
“Marcy,” Father began, but she interrupted him.
“I will try even harder to be the lady that my stepmother wants me to be.”
She excused herself and walked out of her father’s office. In the last six months, Marcella had not received one kind word from her stepmother or from Constance. Andre kept to himself and father seemed to be working longer and was away much more than usual. Her perceptions about Meg had proven to be true. She was a troublemaker, but with hardly any deceit. It was more or less for attention from her mother who seemed more focused on Constance and creating the perfect lady in her daughter.
While Ysobella hardly made it a secret how this quaint country life would be the death of her, Constance complained endlessly of the boredom and dirtiness of ‘these peasants.’ However, Meg thrived off of the country life. She actually spent a good deal of time with Andre and thankfully that kept her out of the house, but did nothing for Marcella who was confined there all day long. Marcy’s only retreat was in the attic looking through her mother’s trunk and dreaming of the dresses that would be made from the beautiful silk that Father bought her.
When she wasn’t in the attic, Marcella found respite in helping the servants with work that went beyond her ordinary chores. She helped in the kitchen, washing dishes and preparing meals, helped with the laundry and mending, worked inside the stables caring for the horses, anything to get her away from her stepmother and stepsister. She did try and spend some time she could spare with Meg, who had a wicked sense of humor and no shortage of good pranks she enjoyed playing on people.
Constance started taking advantage of the fact that Marcella did a great deal of housework and overtime started giving out small chores for her stepsister to do. From washing her dresses separate from the other laundry, cleaning her room and fetching small items for her. Ysobella saw no problem in this and believed that Marcella was a better servant than a lady.
And so it went on like this for almost two years; Ysobella and Constance against Marcella, Father always working, Andre retreating deeper and deeper and little Meg only wanting someone to see and hear her.
One day Father announced that he was going on another trip and asked what he could bring back for them. Ysobella and Constance both rattled off lists of items that included expensive cloth, silver, and whatever else they really couldn’t afford. Andre said to bring back books for him and Meg wanted a pet snake.
“And what about you, my darling?” asked Father
God knows, Marcella wanted him to take Ysobella and Constance to the far side of the world and leave them there; however, she made a more reasonable request.
“Bring me back the first dove feather you see on your way there,” she said.
“What?” Father said in confusion.
“Well, you will have to carry it with you all the way to your destination and you will think of me every time you look at it. And you will already have it on your way back home. And that’s all that I really want. For you to come home.”
“My dear child,” Father said as he took her in his arms.
Marcy felt her tears trailing down her face and she couldn’t stop them. She didn’t want to.
“Please don’t go,” she whispered.
“Marcy, I will be back in eight weeks,” he said as he wiped away her tears.
“That’s still too long, Father.”
“Darling, I will always come back to you. You believe that don’t you?”
Marcella nodded, but something about his leaving this time didn’t seem right. She couldn’t explain it, but a nagging feeling inside of her told her that things were only going to get worse.
The next day, Father said his goodbyes to everyone and Marcella walked with him to the carriage.
“Now, behave yourself especially with your stepmother and Constance,” he said.
“You don’t have to remind me,” said Marcella, “If I stay out of their way, they may stay out of mine.”
Father sighed. This was not how he wanted to say goodbye to his daughter. Yet, if he was really being honest with himself, he knew that Marcella had never been the problem. She was a victim of both stepmother and stepsister and he had allowed it by just assuming the Marcella would have the graces her own mother had to carry through.
“Maybe child,” he started, “I have allowed your stepmother and Constance too much sway in this household.”
Marcella looked up in surprise.
“You are still my child by blood and you have been through just as much as they have. Your mother leaving, your…your sickness…”
Marcella felt a cold chill travel up her spine, “They don’t know about that. Please tell me they know nothing about my sickness and what…I really am.”
“You’re my daughter and that’s all they need to know,” Father assured her, “And anyways, that was years ago. You are in no danger and neither are they.”
“It would be one more thing that they would use against me,” Marcella said.
“Which is why things are going to change when I return home,” said Father.
“Really??” Marcella asked in disbelief. Was Father actually taking her side for once?
“Yes,” said Father as he climbed into the wagon, “Things are going to change around here between you and stepmother and stepsister. Can you hold out for eight more weeks?”
“Yes, I can,” Marcella said. For the first time relief seemed to flow through her body.
“Good,” he said as he stroked her hair, “I always believed that you had the makings to become your own kind of lady. Your stepmother is simply going to have to accept that.”
“Thank you, Father,” Marcella said, “Please come home soon.”
“I will,” he smiled, “With your dove feather.”
As he rode off, Marcella actually did feel relief, but as he faded into the distance, the nagging feeling began to grow.
She would never see him again.
~ ~ ~
Marcella felt like she was in some sort of limbo. She couldn’t tell real from imaginary. She could hear disjointed voices, movements all around her, yet she couldn’t see faces. No point of reference to anchor herself to. She was completely alone.
As she came to Constance and Meg’s room, the door was opened and Constance was in the corner brooding about something and certainly not caring that she had just lost her stepfather. Meg on the other hand was staring outside the window and she held something in her hand. When she turned to look at Marcella, there were tears streaming down her pretty face.
“I’ve lost…another father,” she said in a choked voice.
“He wasn’t really our father,” Constance snapped from her corner, causing Meg to drop her head and cry even harder.
As much as Marcella would have loved to hit her in the face, she restrained herself and walked over to Meg. She wrapped her arms around her and held her tightly.
“It’ll be all right,” she said. It was all she could say.
“Will you promise not to leave me?” Meg whispered, “Please don’t leave me. You’re the only person here that I can depend on.”
In spite of her grief, Marcella felt her heart lighten. She was needed; needed by Meg who couldn’t turn to her distant mother or idiot sister in her time of sadness.
“I could never leave you, darling,” Marcella said, somehow reminding herself of her own mother.
“Oh,” said Meg, “They brought this back and said it was for you.”
In Meg’s hand was a perfectly white dove feather.