, Historical fiction
, Reading Group Guide
, Historical - General
, Fiction - Historical
, Love Stories
, World War
, War & Military
, War stories
, World War I
of crockery as Marguerite carried out a tray full of breakfast cups and plates from the dining room to the kitchen and the soft bump of her hip against the door as she pushed it open. In the moment_
_before it swung shut came the louder, more purposeful clanking of pans being scoured or set on the stove filled with stock that would simmer_ _through the morning.
Madame Azaire's voice was audible from her place in the dining room, where she remained until eleven o'clock, either talking to Lisette or giving instructions to the various people who called on her. Among these was Madame Bonnet, wife of the elderly man in the factory, who came each day to do the cleaning Marguerite considered too menial or too strenuous. Madame Azaire would tell her which rooms were to be done and if there were special preparations to be made for guests. The old woman's heavy, rolling step could be heard as she trundled to her prescribed task. Lisette sat in the sunlight that splashed into the room beneath the spokes of clematis at the window, watching the shadows on the polished table, listening to the way her stepmother ran the household. She enjoyed this shared morning routine; it made her feel trusted and important, and it had the further advantage of excluding Grégoire, with his uncouth behaviour and his childish remarks that, even at their most despicable and banal, sometimes threatened her precarious adult poise. There were further, smaller parts to be played in the gently rolling drama of the morning. There was a second maid, though, unlike Marguerite, she did not live in the house; there was a cook, who had a room somewhere on the first floor; and there was a boy from the butcher's, who came to take an order and one from the grocer's, who delivered two heavy boxes to the back door.
Shortly after midday Madame Azaire asked Stephen if he would be taking lunch with her and Lisette. Grégoire would still be at school, she said. Stephen accepted and spent the next hour working through the papers that had been sent from Azaire's office.
Madame Azaire returned a little after one o'clock to tell him lunch was ready. Three places had been set at the end of the table, by the window. The room looked quite different from the place of formal shadows with stiff-collared guests in the lowered evening lights that Stephen had seen at dinner. Lisette wore the little white dress her stepmother had forbidden on their visit to the water gardens. Her dark brown hair was tied back with a blue ribbon and her legs were bare. She was a good-looking girl, Stephen thought, as she looked up at him from under thick lashes; but he registered her looks quite dispassionately because his thoughts were elsewhere.
Madame Azaire wore a cream skirt with a dark red patterned waistcoat over a white blouse with an open neck.
"You can take off your jacket if you like, Monsieur," she said. "Lisette and I don't consider lunch to be a formal occasion, do we?"
Lisette laughed. Stephen said "Thank you." He could see that Madame Azaire felt protected and emboldened by Lisette's presence.
Marguerite brought in a dish of artichokes. "Perhaps we'll have some wine," said Madame Azaire. "We don't normally drink wine, do we Lisette? But perhaps today. Marguerite, bring a bottle of white wine, will you? Not one my husband is saving."
After the artichokes there was a small dish of mushrooms and then some sole. Stephen poured the wine for Madame Azaire and, at her insistence, for Lisette. For want of something to say, Stephen asked how they came to know Monsieur and Madame Bérard.
Lisette began to giggle at the name and Madame Azaire told her to be quiet, though she herself was smiling. "I'm afraid Lisette is very impolite about Monsieur Bérard," she said.
"It's so unfair," said Lisette. "Did your parents always make you be polite about all their silly friends?"
"I didn't have parents," said Stephen. "At least not ones that I knew. I was brought up by my grandparents, then in an