Adele, the daughter of a wealthy American becomes destitute when her father dies.
All this happened some time ago, but it seems almost like yesterday. Before, my life had always been tedious, the same old routine day after day, the same small quarrels among the girls, mostly due to pettiness and jealousies, until that day when I received the news that turned my life upside down and made me feel like someone stranded on a deserted island with no hope of being rescued.
(By the way, my name is Adele,) and I will start by relating the terrible news I received that day. I remember it was a fine sunny day although it was still the month of February, and I was in good spirits, happy and cheerful, looking forward to my future, as all girls of my age do. But, ironically, the bright and sunny future I looked forward to turned stormy with many squalls.
It all started when I was told that my father had died. I must say I was not particularly sad or sorrowful because, in truth, I had never met him. I only knew that he was a wealthy American who paid for my boarding school fees at "The School for Young Ladies", an exclusive school located on the fashionable Rue De Passy in Paris. Yes, thanks to him, I had been living a sheltered life and had taken for granted my privileges, thinking that they would last forever.
It was Mme Neuville, our headmistress, who told me the news. She was a kind-hearted lady who has always had a special place for me in her heart. Maybe that was because when I came to school after my mother died, I was only seven years old. During the ten years I spent in school I saw many pupils arriving and leaving, and they never stayed more than two years. They came to school to finish their education. In upper-class circles, Mme Neuville's institution is called a finishing school.
Most of the girls were conceited, haughty and spoiled, daughters of wealthy Americans, or belonging to the European aristocracy. I was an exception then, and I used to joke about that, saying that it was taking more than ten years for my "finishing." Needless to say that a commoner like me had no way to form any close friendships with those girls, and as Madame often told me: "Chacun a sa place." (Each to his/her own place). Thus, before long I learnt my place within the confines of the social ladder, and as soon as money had flooded in, I had no reasons to complain. Therefore, it both surprised and amazed me that Jenny, an American heiress who came to school after her father died in some mysterious circumstances, attached herself to me like a pin to a cloth, although I have often suspected that she merely used me as a mirror to her vanity. But, I will come to that later.
That day we were having a very tedious Latin lesson, of all subjects, with Father Leopold who was a friend of Mme Neuville, or maybe even something more than a friend. So, we were trying to make most of our tedium by having some fun, slipping each other small notes on thin strips of paper about the latest gossip in the school - a very childish sort of behaviour, considering we were 17 or 18-year-old girls ready for the marriage market. We were so entertained that I did not notice the door opening, and when I looked to the blackboard, I spotted Mme Neuville's skinny figure standing on the dais. She grinned at Father Leopold before addressing me:
"Mademoiselle Dubois, would you follow me, please?" At once, I smelled trouble, and I followed her to the office, reluctantly. After locking the door, she sat behind her desk, while I sat in the armchair next to her, and with a real poker face she broke the news:
"Well Adele, my dear, I have some sad news," she said, "your father has just passed away. He was on an expedition in Egypt, well, something to do with the tomb of a pharaoh."
I had a vague idea that my father was an eminent archaeologist who spent his leisure time travelling to exotic countries to look for bones and relics of people that had died a long time ago. But more I couldn't say.
"It was an accident," Mme Neville went on, "he fell while on a dig."
I collapsed into the armchair and shivered out of panic, yet I tried to control myself. It could not be the end of the world, could it? For the first time, I saw that Mme Neuville, wearing her usual black garments, looked fragile and powerless, and I wondered what I would do now without him, so I got straight to the point:
"Am I to be destitute?"
"Yes, my pauvre fille, now that your father is dead, you have no one to pay for your expenses."
"But, why? You always told me he was very rich."
"Oh yes, he was very wealthy." And she fell silent.
"So, what happened?" I asked, breaking the silence.
"You were his illegitimate daughter and he didn't mention you in his will." (This was not news for me. For some years now I had suspected that I was an illegitimate daughter which explained why I had never met him). I saw two tears rolling down her cheek. I had never seen her sad before, so I was embarrassed. Did she love me so much that my being on the borderline affected her?
Surely, she felt sorry for me, as for the second time in my life I was left an orphan.
"Why didn't he make a will on my behalf?" I ventured to ask.
"Someone might have prevented him from doing so," she whispered, "because, knowing him well, it was indeed a very peculiar thing for him to do."
"Did you know him well?" I asked, puzzled.
But, changing the subject at once and taking my palms on her hands, she whispered some gibberish: "Poor child, your life is reaching a turning point, but I can only see dusk on the skyline and around this, black ravens are fighting for life."
As usual under stress, Mme Neville turned to the obscure and the supernatural, which was of little comfort to me. Thus, I felt I needed a confidante, but could I ever trust Jenny? It is true that she was spoiled and self-centred, but she might understand my misfortunes. After all, she had also lost her father, but unlike me she had been left an heiress.