Mary stuart "nine coaches waiting"

Mary Stewart

Nine Coaches Waiting
© 1958
FIRST AND SECOND COACHES
Chapter 1
0, think upon the pleasures of the palace!
Secured ease and state! The stirring meats
Ready to move out of the dishes, that e'en now
Quicken when they are eaten…
Banquets abroad by torchlight! music! sports!
Nine coaches waiting-hurry-hurry-hurry-
Ay, to the devil…
TOURNEUR:The Revenger's Tragedy.

I was thankful that nobody was there to meet me at the airport.
We reached Paris just as the light was fading. It had been a soft, grey March day, with the smell of spring in the air. The wet tarmac glistened underfoot; over the airfield the sky looked very high, rinsed by the afternoon's rain to a pale clear blue. Little trails of soft cloud drifted in the wet wind, and a late sunbeam touched them with a fleeting underglow. Away beyond the airport buildings the telegraph-wires swooped gleaming above the road where passing vehicles showed lights already.
Some of the baggage was out on the tarmac. I could see my own shabby case wedged between a brand new Revrobe and something huge and extravagant in cream-coloured hide. Mine had been a good case once, good solid leather stamped deeply with Daddy's initials now half hidden under the new label smeared by London 's rain. Miss L. Martin, Paris. Symbolic, I thought, with an amusement that twisted a bit awry somewhere inside me. Miss L. Martin, Paris, trudging along the tarmac between a stout man in impeccable city clothes and a beautiful American girl with a blond mink coat slung carelessly over a suit that announced discreetly that she had been to Paris before, and recently. I myself must have just that drab, seen-better-days shabbiness that Daddy's old case had dumped there among the sleek cabin-class luggage.
But I was here, home after nine years. Nine years. More than a third of my lifetime. So long a time that now, pausing in the crush beside the Customs barrier, I felt as strange as I suppose anybody must feel on their first visit abroad. I found I even had to make a conscious effort to adjust my ears to the flood of French chatter going on around me. I even found myself as all about me uttered little cries of recognition, excitement and pleasure, and were claimed by waiting friends and relations, scanning the crowd of alien faces for one that I knew. Which was absurd. Who would there be to meet me? Madame de Valmy herself? I smiled at the thought. It was very good of Madame de Valmy to have provided me with the money for a taxi into Paris. She was hardly likely to do much more for the hired help. And that was what I was. I had better start remembering it, as from now.
Thedouanier, chalk in hand, was pausing over my shabby case. As I stepped forward to claim it an airport official, hurrying past, bumped against me, sending my handbag flying to the floor.
“Mille pardons, mademoiselle. Excusez-moi."
"Ce n'est rien, monsieur."
"Je vous ai fait mal?"
"Pas du tout. Ce n'est rien.”
"Permettez-moi, mademoiselle. Votre sac.”
"Merci, monsieur. Non, je vous assure, il n'y a pas de mal…"And to my repeated assurances that nothing was lost and that I was not irretrievably damaged, he at length took himself off.
I stared after him for a moment, thoughtfully. The trivial little incident had shown me that, after all, that nine-years' gap had not been so very long. Ear and brain had readjusted themselves now with a click that could be felt.
And I must not let it happen. It was another thing I must remember. I was English. English.