I sat up in the water to peer through the woods toward the road. A six-horse stagecoach soon pulled partway into the woods and came to a stop. Perhaps the horses need a drink of water, I thought, puzzled.
But instead of someone unhitching the team so the horses could drink from the brook, someone inside started throwing things out the coach windows. Brightly colored things. Red and yellow and white and pink and . . . Why, they are roses! Hundreds of roses! I thought. Those men are throwing roses into the woods. What on earth is going on?
Even Flame looked rather curious about these proceedings.
Just then, I saw a gentleman climb down from the carriage and walk towards me.
He was a tall man, broad-shouldered, with short brown hair and large, expressive eyes. He was dressed simply in tan nankeen pants and a blue broadcloth coat with gilt buttons. As he walked towards me, he leaned upon a cane. Despite his beak of a nose, his was a most pleasing face. It was a face that was strangely familiar—and a tiny bit chubby.
“Sir?” I called, covered in confusion as much as I was in brook water. “Why are they throwing these roses away?”
He laughed. “It is a bit of a guilty secret, mademoiselle.” His words were slow and deliberate. “You see, everywhere I go, people keep giving me roses, roses, and more roses! Whatever I ride in—be it barouche, or curricle, or coach—it is filled to overflowing with them! Because of this, every once in a while I must tell the small lie—that I must make the stop that is necessary—and that I need my privacy. Then I find a secluded nook like this and we cast out all the pretty flowers. Please do not tell anyone. I beg of you.”
Keeping my eyes pinned to the gentleman’s face, I picked up my pocket and pulled out the fan. Snapping it open, I looked closely at it to compare the portrait printed there with the features I saw before me. “Why, y-y-you are . . .” I stuttered.
The gentleman glanced at the fan in my hand. “Oui, I am the one whose picture you hold in your hand. These pictures! They are everywhere I go! I see almost as many of them as I do roses. And they are always of my poor self as I look today, not the slender and graceful youth I was then.” He shrugged. “Oh, well, one must accept these things.”
It was the Nation’s Guest himself!
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