Long, lonely years have passed for the crumbling Château Clement, nestled well beyond the rolling lavender fields and popular tourist attractions of Provence. Once a bustling and dignified ancestral estate, now all that remains is the château's gruff, elderly owner and the softly whispered secrets of generations buried and forgotten.
But time has a way of exposing history's dark stains, and when American photographer Cady Drake finds herself drawn to the château and its antique carousel, she longs to explore the relic's shadowy origins beyond the small scope of her freelance assignment. As Cady digs deeper into the past, unearthing century-old photographs of the Clement carousel and its creators, she might be the one person who can bring the past to light and reunite a family torn apart.
|Penguin Publishing Group
|5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.95(d)
About the Author
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***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Château Clement, Provence, France
No one has seen.
The château’s usual ranks of gardeners and servants, grape pickers and kitchen staff, have been joined by Monsieur Bayol’s crew of men hammering, sawing, sanding, and painting the newly arrived carousel. The cats, dogs, pigs, and rabbits were carved, painted, and gilded in Bayol’s factory in Angers, but it has taken nine men to transport the pieces by rail, then by steam traction engine from the station to the château, and then to assemble the machine on-site. It will take another two weeks, perhaps a month, to complete the elaborately decorated salon that will house the carousel.
Josephine wishes it would take longer. She would be happy if they stayed forever. Especially the carver’s apprentice.
She and the apprentice have placed confidence in each other; they will keep each other’s confidences.
Josephine knows her neighbors think of her as secretive and scheming because she was not born here. She comes from faraway Bretagne, and yet she stole the heart of their local favorite, the eligible Yves Paul Clement, heir to Château Clement. Bretagne and Provence were meant to be part of France now, but deep-seated regional stereotypes and allegiances do not respect random borders.
She understands. After all, before Yves brought her to Château Clement as a young bride, Josephine had always believed the Provençal people to be lazy, unfriendly, and afflicted with a harsh accent.
She has found the accent and unfriendliness to be apt, but though her husband is accustomed to taking a sieste every afternoon, he is anything but lazy. Yves rises early to capture the light of dawn on his camera; he works late into the night in his darkroom. He is an educated gentleman: He reads in his library, he composes poetry, he draws. Unlike most in the region, he does not hunt. Instead, he observes and makes note of the birds that perch on the limbs of the plane trees and olive orchards: the short-toed lark and tawny pipit in spring, the red-crested pochard and moustached warbler in fall.
Yves’s keen eyes observe the forest creatures, the turning of the leaves, the changing quality of the light throughout the day, throughout the seasons. By virtue of the incessant clicking of his cameras, he records the world around him.
And yet, he does not see.
Cady Anne Drake
Cady had never realized how many empty platitudes people voiced when confronted with grief, how they felt compelled to say something, to say anything, in response to a situation that had no answer, no response. No solution.
In point of brutal fact, there was nothing to say. Maxine had died.
One moment she was there, Cady’s ever-present rock in the shifting sands of life. And the next she had fallen to the floor behind the register, struck down by a sudden heart attack. Maxine had disappeared into the ether, just like that, along with her snarky comments and wise eyes and calm, slightly haughty demeanor that never failed to assuage Cady’s inner demons. She was gone. No one else in this life would be lucky enough to know Maxine Caroline Clark.
All that remained of the old woman was her shop, called Maxine’s Treasures, its junky (or artsy, depending on your perspective) inventory, and the back room, where Cady had set up her photography studio and darkroom. Even though Cady had no intention of taking over and managing Maxine’s antiques store, she wasn’t ready to give up her studio. Not to mention that she’d been living in the back room of the shop—which was not strictly legal—since she’d lost her relatively affordable apartment to a condo development several months ago.
What now? Where would she go? What would she do?
Maxine was family. She was all Cady had.
A desperate, breathless weariness reached out its icy fingers to grip Cady’s bones. And it wasn’t the strain of carrying her wooden carousel figure, Gus. She saw reproach in the rabbit’s glass eyes as she maneuvered him into the shop; could this last shred of hope gone be her comeuppance for having tried to sell him?
Maxine had given Gus to her ten years ago, on Cady’s wedding day. The marriage hadn’t lasted long, and the only thing Cady took from it—besides bitter experience—was Gus-the-rabbit.
It was embarrassing to admit, but Gus had always made her feel . . . loved.
According to Maxine, Gus was a genuine piece of carousel history, hand-carved by the famous French sculptor Gustave Bayol. Which would have meant he was worth thousands—maybe tens of thousands. But this morning Cady’s last-ditch financial dreams had been dashed by an earnest young man named Scott Ripley. Peering through a huge magnifying glass, the Antique Forum’s acknowledged expert in nineteenth- and twentieth-century European carvings had examined the rabbit’s loosening joints, noting how the bands of basswood had pulled away from one another at the tops of the legs, and the gap where the neck section met the body. Carousel figures are hollow, built like boxes with slats of wood joined, laminated, then carved, and primed to conceal the joints. Not only were the sections falling apart—Gus’s ears were now barely connected to his slightly tilted head—but the bright paint and gold gilding were flaking off, with gesso primer showing through in patches.
At long last Ripley had straightened, shrugged, and pronounced: “It’s not a Bayol.”
“You’re wrong,” Cady said. “Look again.”
“Your rabbit is most probably European, and from Bayol’s era, at the turn of the twentieth century. In some ways, it is very much in his style; Bayol carved farmyard animals with sweet expressions like this one, so that fits. But a hallmark of Bayol’s carvings was their simplicity. His work almost never included flourishes like the lily of the valley here,” he said, pointing to the offending flower. “And this rose carved in high relief, with the detailed thorns? I don’t even know what to say about that.”
“But Bayol did custom work, right?” Cady replied. “Couldn’t a client have asked for the flowers?”
He shook his head. “I know Bayol’s work well; I’m also very familiar with the American carvers Dentzel, Looff, and Carmel. Like all artists, carousel carvers leave their imprints on their work, like signatures. Also, Bayol nearly always attached a small plaque to the saddles of his carved animals, and yours doesn’t have one. Your rabbit might have been carved by one of Bayol’s apprentices, or a competitor—if you could establish its provenance, it would be worth more.”
Cady’s impulse was to argue with Ripley, to rail at him and cast aspersions on his professional qualifications, not to mention his parentage.
But it wasn’t his fault. Maxine had been wrong. It wasn’t surprising: Maxine always had insisted upon seeing possibilities in the junk other people threw away.
So Cady had concentrated on reining in her emotions, fighting an almost overwhelming, and wholly uncharacteristic, urge to burst into tears.
Get it together, Drake, she had scolded herself. We’ve been in worse situations than this one. Much, much worse. We’ll just have to come up with another plan.
As a child Cady had developed the quirk of using the royal “we” when talking to herself; otherwise the only “we” in her world was wishful thinking. Later, the “we” came to mean Cady and Maxine, and finally, now, Cady and Gus-the-rabbit. It was a silly, childish habit, but Cady had more important things to worry about these days, such as where she was going to get the money to escape the wildly expensive San Francisco Bay Area, to move to a town where normal people could work a regular job and afford a decent place to live, and where she could become a foster mom, or maybe even adopt a child. The thought of change terrified her, but she was desperate to create the sort of family that she’d always wanted for herself. True, being a photographer wasn’t the best career option in a small town, but she didn’t care what she did for a living. She wasn’t proud.
The important thing was to start over. To reinvent herself. Cady yearned for the anonymity of a second chance, a clean slate, a tabula rasa. To make a home someplace where no one knew where she came from, where no one knew she had nothing and no one.
No family connections, no Maxine, no . . . baby.
Without volition her hand went to her stomach. The only bump there now was from stress-eating her way through countless bags of potato chips and boxes of Petit Écolier cookies—scraping off the chocolate in an embarrassingly juvenile ritual—as she sat on the couch for weeks, watching endless reruns of Hoarders.
The nurse in the emergency room had smelled of antiseptic and was very nice in the impersonal way of a kindhearted person saddled with far too much to do. She had instructed Cady to finish the round of prophylactic antibiotics, to abstain from sex for six weeks (no problem there—Cady couldn’t imagine being intimate, ever again, with anyone), to get plenty of rest, and to be prepared for sudden hormonal shifts as her body adjusted to what her medical chart referred to as an “SAB”: spontaneous abortion.
The baby Cady had accidentally conceived in an exceedingly rare one-night stand, then after weeks of fear and trembling had decided to keep and come to love, had been lost in a gruesome rush of pain and cramps and blood, a gutting experience referred to simply as an SAB.
Cady’s appalling, alien urge to cry must be due to shifting hormones. Nothing more. Surely.
First Maxine had died. Then Cady’s own body had betrayed her. And now, even her precious carousel rabbit had turned out not to be who she’d always thought he was.
Cady was on a merry-go-round, and no matter how fast she galloped, she kept winding up at the same place.
Her eyes stung, tears threatening. So . . . okay. Maybe she would allow herself a few quick minutes of weeping in the back of the shop, while cursing Mr. Scott Ripley of the Antiques Forum and his so-called expertise.
Then she would come up with a new plan.
The banging on the door wouldn’t stop. Cady had hung the Closed sign on the window of the shop door, alongside a note about Maxine’s death. But some of Maxine’s regular customers could be as persistent and annoying as a broken tooth.
“Go away!” she yelled from the back room.
The banging continued. She turned the television volume up.
“Cady?” A woman’s voice. Olivia.
Cady often thought of Maxine as the only person in the world who loved her, but there was also Olivia Gray.
They had met years ago, right after Cady got divorced, in an adult education course on photography—genuine, old-fashioned photography and film development, taught by a cranky old man who didn’t take to what he called “that modern digital crap.”
Olivia was everything Cady wasn’t but had always wanted to be: pretty, petite, quick to smile at others and to laugh at herself. It was the first time Cady had understood the concept of a girl crush; she was enamored, sneaking glances under her bangs during class, following Olivia out to the vending machines during break.
One night the machine ate Olivia’s rumpled dollar. She banged on it ineffectually and yelled, “Gol-darn it!”
Cady had never heard anyone say something like that except on television.
“Early training,” Olivia explained to Cady, with an embarrassed smile and a chagrined little shrug. “My mom’s a stickler for polite language. If she gets really, really mad she might say, ‘Dammit!’ But then she always follows it up with: ‘Pardon my French!’”
Cady smiled, hitting the machine just so while reaching in the back, the way she had learned to do as a bad kid with no spending money. The mechanism started to hum and a PayDay bar banged down into the metal trough.
“There you go.”
“Thanks! That’s a neat trick. So, what’s your name?”
Olivia didn’t even know her name? It figured. Stuck-up jerk.
But nipping at the heels of anger was shame: Try as she might, Cady just didn’t pick up on social cues like other people did. She wondered whether it was something integral to her—some mysterious bit of genetic code she had inherited from her unknown parents—or if it derived from her detached, frenetic childhood. Ultimately it didn’t matter. She had always known she wasn’t . . . likable.
She turned on her heel and stalked back to the classroom.
After class, as Cady was gathering her things, Olivia made a beeline across the room. “So, I’m an idiot in general. And I can never remember names.”
Cady shrugged and zipped up the battered leather backpack she had scored at the flea market for five dollars.
“I’m a bit of a sleuth, though. Not to mention stubborn,” Olivia said, holding out her hand. “It’s nice to officially meet you, Cady Drake. I’m Olivia Gray. How do you do?”
Cady stared at her hand for a beat.
“Like I said, I know I’m clueless,” Olivia continued. “But since we’re the only two people in this class under the age of forty, I was wondering, do you want to go grab a drink?”
Maxine’s voice whispered in her mind: “Get over yourself, girl. Don’t assume everyone’s out to get you.”
So Cady nodded, and they stopped by George O’s. It was a seedy dive bar, typical for this part of Oakland, but when they walked in, Olivia’s eyes lit up like a child’s on Christmas morning.
“This is great,” she announced, taking in the dartboard, out-of-date Halloween decorations, and half a dozen men slouched over the bar. She ordered bourbon on the rocks, and Cady did the same.
“So,” Olivia said as they took their drinks to a table. “‘Cady’ is a pretty name. I saw on the roster that you don’t spell it the traditional way, K-A-T-Y.”
“Yeah,” said Cady. “I mean, I came with it.”
Olivia smiled. “I always hated my name.”
“The kids used to taunt me at school, calling me Olive Oyl,” she said in a low voice, as though confiding a shameful secret.
“Gee,” said Cady after a beat, “that must have been very traumatic for you.”
Olivia looked surprised, then started laughing. “You just made a joke! And here I thought you were serious all the time.” She held up her glass. “Let’s have a toast. To quote Humphrey Bogart in that movie: ‘I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.’”
And oddly enough, it was. After the photography class ended, they enrolled in French language courses, then Thai cooking, then botany. Olivia and her boyfriend, Sebastian, had Cady and Maxine over for dinner, and when they married, Cady stood up with them at City Hall. Olivia loved to tag along at antiques flea markets, asking questions, and furnishing her falling-down West Oakland Victorian one piece at a time. Eventually she landed a job at Sunset magazine, and steered the occasional freelance photography job Cady’s way.
Through the years they joked about who had the upper hand in the “Trauma Olympics,” and whenever she invoked her childhood, Cady was the hands-down winner. But Olivia had struggles of her own.
“Cady!” Olivia called again through the door of Maxine’s Treasures. “Open up. I brought coffee, made with my very own hands.”
With reluctance, Cady emerged from the back room and crossed the crowded shop floor.
“I don’t want any,” Cady said through the glass pane of the front door.
“Too bad. Open up.”
Cady undid the dead bolt and crouched down to remove the rubber stopper she always shoved under the door. It made her feel secure.
“Here,” Olivia said as soon as the door was open, holding out a commuter mug and pushing past Cady into the store. “It’s French roast, your favorite. You’re welcome.”
“I was sleeping.”
“No you weren’t,” Olivia said, raising one eyebrow as she looked over the jumble of inventory. “And you obviously haven’t been spending a lot of time cleaning.”
“Not my strong suit.”
“So, have you been working?”
Olivia led the way into the back room, where they sat down at the little table by the kitchenette. Belatedly, Cady realized there was plentiful evidence of her recent dissolute lifestyle: crumpled Cheetos bags and cookie packages; old Chinese food takeout boxes, an empty vodka bottle.
“Liar,” said Olivia, taking in the scene. “What have you really been doing?”
“Crying.” Cady collapsed onto the sofa.
“But that’s good, right?” Olivia said, sympathy shining in her big chocolate-colored eyes. “You never used to cry. I count that as personal growth.”
Cady let out a humorless bark. “Only you could see crying as a positive.”
“So, I was thinking,” Olivia said, fiddling with her coffee mug, which boasted the garish orange-and-black logo of the San Francisco baseball team. “There are a lot of merry-go-rounds in Paris. Loads of them. I remember from when Sebastian and I went there on our honeymoon. A carousel in every public square, it seemed like.”
“You love photographing carousels. Have you ever thought of doing a book of photographs?”
“Of Parisian carousels?”
“Yes! Why have we been studying French all these years if you’re not going to put the language to good use? And you never know what you might find. The food, the wine, the cobblestone streets . . .” She let out a sigh. “C’est magique!”
Cady managed a small smile. “You think everything is magical.”
“And you think nothing is. But you’re wrong.” Olivia took another sip and let out a long, contented sigh. She had a way of savoring her coffee as though it were the elixir of life, the cure for maladies, the font of all contentment. And perhaps it was: Olivia was the sunniest person Cady had ever known. Before she met Olivia, Cady had believed sustained happiness was the stuff of fiction, found only in fairy tales.
“When did you become a San Francisco Giants fan?” Cady asked in a blatant bid to change the subject.
Olivia laughed, holding her mug out and inspecting the logo as though she’d never seen it before. “I have no idea where this came from. It just appeared, as things are wont to do around my house. But I like the way it feels in my hands.”
Random items “appeared” at Olivia’s place because people were forever passing through for dinners and parties, spending the night or staying for weeks at a time on the couch, leaving behind towels, a hairbrush, a coffee mug. But Olivia took the ever-shifting landscape of her home in stride, as though things appeared and disappeared by some enchanting sort of magic.
That would drive me crazy, Cady thought. She liked things organized, predictable. Even in the apparent muddle of Maxine’s shop, Cady knew where each and every item was.
“Anyway, stop trying to change the subject because I’m not falling for it,” Olivia said as she set the mug down. “Maybe a change of scenery is exactly what you need. And you’ve photographed our local carousels enough.”
“You’re forgetting our road trip to see the world’s largest carousel at House on the Rock.”
“Not that I have anything against Wisconsin, but I was thinking Paris might be a slightly more dramatic change of scene.”
Cady shrugged. “I’ll think about it.”
“Here’s the thing, Cady: My mother always told me not to offer unsolicited advice. But I’m going to anyway, because I love my mama, but I love you, too, and you haven’t had anyone besides Maxine to give you the advice you need.”
“You do realize,” Cady said, “that you are not required to fix my life. I’m—”
“Excuse me,” interrupted Olivia. “When I was in the hospital, who brought me Thai noodles and Cherry Garcia Ice Cream?”
“You could have gotten as much from a delivery person.”
“Is that right? And would this alleged delivery person have given me her absolute devotion and forced me to survive chemotherapy, not to mention surgery? Would said delivery person have read the entirety of 84, Charing Cross Road to me when I was in the hospital, then popped the cork on a bottle of champagne when I finished my chemo? Would she also have watched endless rounds of basketball with Sebastian to keep him from going crazy from worry?”
“That was selfish on my part,” said Cady. “You’re my only friend.”
With gut-wrenching clarity, Cady remembered the moment, three years ago, when Olivia divulged she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. In that instant Cady came to understand the true danger of loving someone: the absolute panic at the thought of her leaving this earth.
Olivia’s only response was a gentle smile.
“And where would I even get the money to go?” Cady wondered aloud. She glared at her disappointing rabbit, propped in the corner.
Olivia perked up, sensing a potential victory. “Your landlord has been offering you cash to buy out the shop lease, right? And you can liquidate the inventory, which will add up to something. And I’ll lend you enough for the plane ticket.”
Cady snorted. “Like you and Sebastian have so much to spare?”
“We have some savings set aside for a rainy day; and in case you hadn’t noticed, my friend, it’s raining cats and dogs. Metaphorically speaking.”
“It’s my rainy day, not yours.”
“Details.” She waved off Cady’s concern. “What good is money if I can’t help a friend? And I believe in your art. What’s that old saying? ‘Anonymous was a woman’?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Because you’re bound to remain anonymous if you don’t get your art out there for people to see. Taking student portraits might pay the bills, but you’re an artist. And I can be your patron! Sort of. At least I can manage a plane ticket.”
As photographers went, Cady did pretty well. She hauled her heavy camera bag all over the Bay Area, from Marin to Morgan Hill, from the beaches of the Pacific Ocean to the Tahoe ski slopes, and never turned down a job. She photographed weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, first communions, anniversaries, birthdays, and family reunions. She had regular gigs taking yearbook portraits at local schools, including the Berkeley French American International School. And she did occasional shoots for Sunset magazine, and a few home design catalogs.
Still, paying her bills every month was one thing, but putting aside a nest egg was something else altogether.
“Thanks, Olivia, but running away to Paris for a couple of weeks isn’t going to solve anything.”
“Think of it as running to something. Anyway, I have to get back to the office. But just promise me this,” Olivia said, as she gathered her things to leave. “You won’t close yourself off to possibility. If something exciting falls in your lap, you’ll take it.”
“Exciting? Like what?” Cady demanded, irked. She loved Olivia, but when was the last time something great had “fallen into her lap”? That was the kind of thing that happened to charmed, suburban-grown people like Olivia, not unwanted orphans like Cady. Cady had had to work and scheme—and occasionally steal—to get anything she had.
But Olivia lifted her eyebrows and flashed a cat-that-ate-the-canary smile. “One never knows what the future might bring.”
Cady laughed in spite of herself, gave her friend a hug, and watched as Olivia ambled back to her car, turning her face up to the morning sun, taking time to wave at a passing bicyclist. Olivia saw the beauty in everything: the sunrise, the city lights twinkling off the bay, a stranger on a bike.
Whereas Cady, when faced with the same scene, saw the smog, the congestion of the freeway, a traffic hazard.
Cady leaned her head against the doorjamb for a moment, ignoring the dust collecting on the shop’s inventory, trying not to look at the spot behind the register where Maxine had fallen. She wasn’t doing right by Maxine—or even by her landlord, for that matter. She wasn’t doing right by herself, or Olivia, or anyone.
She didn’t think of herself as a true artist, as Olivia had suggested. But . . . surely Cady Anne Drake had something to offer this world?
If only she knew what it was.
Château Clement, Provence
She’s out there again, riding that cursed carousel machine.
It is a ghostly sight: a grown woman riding a children’s toy, bathed in silver moonlight, her white dress floating out behind her, like a creature out of time. What does she think? What does she want? Josephine is a puzzle Yves has never solved, would never be able to solve. Perhaps she was too young when they married, or he was too old. Their age difference didn’t seem to bother her, but it gave him pause. Increasingly so with the passage of time.
Yves thinks back to his father’s pear orchard. Workers would fit bottles over budding branches in early spring, so that the fruit would grow to full size while captured inside the glass, as poires prisonnières, imprisoned pears. Once the pear matured, the bottle would be filled with brandy, called eau de vie, water of life. And at long last it would be set on a high shelf and brought out on special occasions, leaving everyone to wonder how the miracle had occurred, how the pear came to be within the bottle.
For the rest of his life, the sound of wind chimes would remind Yves of the glinting glass bottles hanging from those tree branches, clinking together in the famous winds that swept over the fields and orchards of Provence.
His Josephine is like a bud in a bottle, a prisoner of the glass, awaiting her eau de vie.
“What is she looking for?”
His thoughts, voiced by another. Marc-Antoine, their beloved son, joins Yves at the library window and gazes through the leaded glass at Josephine, as perplexed as his father.
Yves places his hand on his son’s newly muscular shoulder, missing the sharp feeling of delicate little-boy wing bones under his palm. Marc-Antoine’s dark hair and eyes favor his mother’s secretive features, and unlike Yves, Marc-Antoine has always been large for his age, overtaking Yves in height two years ago, when he was but twelve years old. Our boy is becoming a young man, Yves thinks as fear pierces his heart. All too soon, Marc-Antoine will leave him alone here in this once-grand château, with only Josephine—a pale imitation of the woman he had married—as company.
“What is it she is looking for, riding that ridiculous merry-go-round at night?” Marc-Antoine asks the question for the hundredth time.
Yves does not answer.
There is no answer, just the darkness of the night and the eerie song of the carousel.
Cady was two drinks in when she bashed her toe, hard, on a leg of the couch. Whirling around in a fit of anger and frustration, she kicked Gus.
Harder than she’d intended.
The carved rabbit fell over onto its side, slamming against the granite edge of an end table. Several already loosened joints gave up, and chunks of carved wood scattered on the floor like so many Tinker Toys: the ears, two slats from one side, the front legs.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. . . .”
Shame engulfed her. This was the sort of thing she would have done as a child. Cady had pursued counseling, attended mindfulness classes, and read dozens of self-help books to learn to stifle her violent impulses. She took a moment to close her eyes, take a breath for the count of four, hold it for seven, and release it for eight, as Maxine had taught her to do.
And then she grabbed her camera. She perceived more clearly when she peered through the lens. It allowed her to concentrate, to sink into herself and tune out the external world.
Like peering through a pair of corrective glasses, looking through the camera lens allowed her to see in a way she couldn’t with the bare eye.
Now, Cady realized: there was something hidden in the cavity of the rabbit’s belly.
A bundle wrapped in pink fabric.
Crouching down, she tried to pull it out, but it was stuck tight. She would have to dislodge another of the laminated wood slats to get it out. After a moment’s hesitation, Cady decided that poor, broken Gus was in for some heavy repair work in any case, so she carefully pried the torso apart.
The rosy silk material was incredibly soft to the touch and reflected the overhead lights with a slight sheen. Her heart hammering in anticipation, Cady pushed aside the fabric.
Inside was a carved wooden box.
A breathtaking box. A work of art. Made of pale ash wood, it had been carved with acanthus leaves, flowers, and swirls; it was lacquered, polished, and sealed with a brass lock.
Who would hide a box within a carousel rabbit? And why? If she broke the lock, would she be destroying a piece of history? Or . . . could there be something inside that was worth real money? Something that might finance a trip to Paris, or even allow her to move and reestablish herself, as she’d hoped selling Gus would do?
Could this be the little piece of magic Olivia insisted Cady would find someday?
No, she reminded herself. Things like that don’t happen to me.
To hell with history. Cady grabbed a spackling knife, shoved it into the seam of the lock, and tapped the end of it with a hammer. She had to pry the box in several locations before the lock finally snapped.
She opened the lid.
A childish part of her hoped for a cache of jewels or gold, as though a pirate might have concealed his booty within this children’s amusement. Instead, she found an ancient, sepia-toned photograph of a woman; a tightly braided plait of dark brown hair; an intricately carved wooden rose; and a note written in slanted letters. The ink had faded to a light brown and the script was hard to read, but she made out:
Je t’aime toujours, et encore. Souviens-toi de moi.
“I love you forever, and still,” Cady translated aloud. “Remember me.”
She checked the box for a false bottom, just in case, but there was nothing else. Certainly no treasure. Disappointment washed over her.
“That was it? That’s your big secret?” Cady glared at the rabbit. “I gotta tell you, Gus, after all these years you’re really letting me down.”
Still, she snapped several more photos of the hidden cache.
Unless . . . the man at the antiques fair had told her establishing a provenance might increase Gus’s value. Were there clues that could reveal where the rabbit figure had come from?
Stroking the silky plait of hair, Cady inspected the intricately carved wooden rose, complete with tiny thorns. It reminded her of the flower on Gus’s side that had so offended Scott Ripley. There was no signature or marking of any kind, certainly no brass plaque indicating provenance.
She picked up the photograph. The woman stood stiffly in front of a carousel, unsmiling, looking directly into the camera. She appeared to be young, probably in her early twenties. Her hair was piled on her head, with several strands escaping to frame a heart-shaped face. She wore a dark, high-necked dress that fell to her ankles, topped by a work apron. No visible lace or other embellishment. Cady was hardly a fashion expert, but she guessed it was from around the turn of the twentieth century, certainly before World War I.
The photograph was slightly fuzzy and crooked, as though taken by an amateur. But a professional-looking photographic stamp on the right lower corner read: Château Clement.
Cady opened her computer and searched, but she found no results for that name. She read that only a few dozen historic châteaux still existed in good repair; most had been too expensive to renovate after being abandoned during the French Revolution and then further damaged over the course of the two World Wars. The great majority had fallen into ruin.
The woman didn’t appear to be the lady of the manor—surely she would have donned her finest gown for a photo session? In fact, with the apron and the messy hair, she looked like a servant. Which led to the next obvious question: Who would have taken a servant’s photograph and then tucked it away in a box along with a love note? And why?
Cady brought out her photographer’s loupe to study the fuzzy details of the carousel in the background. She made out two carved horses, a carriage, and a rabbit that looked a little like Gus.
Gus. She gazed at her poor gutted rabbit.
“I’m sorry, little guy. Let’s see what we can do about fixing you up.”
She lifted him onto the big project table and turned on some Edith Piaf to get in the mood.
When Cady first started working for Maxine to repay her for items she had pilfered from the shop, she had simply cleaned and straightened and organized. But over time Maxine taught Cady how to do some basic repairs on antiques and how to make new things look old with crackle paint and sandpaper, using the contents of the vacuum bag to rub into crevices and voids. She learned how to apply gold and silver gilt, how to execute a proper French polish, and how to use glazes to suggest antiquity and increase value. At the flea market on weekends, Maxine pointed out what was valuable, what was a cheap imitation, and how to tell the difference.
Still, Cady wasn’t a trained conservator, so she had always hesitated to work on the rabbit, afraid her efforts at repairing him would decrease, rather than add to, his value. But now, since Gus wasn’t who she’d thought he was anyway, she figured she could at least piece him back together. Cady enjoyed using her hands and getting back to basics: sanding and scraping and laminating. The process was calming, healing.
As Piaf crooned her love for Paris, Cady’s mind cast about, pondering the woman in the photograph. Was the note written for her, or by her? And how could Cady track down Château Clement? Might it be the name of an old photography studio, rather than a true “château” per se?
The phone rang. Lately Cady had been ignoring phone calls, but this was from Olivia. If she ignored her calls, Olivia would show up in person.
“Hey,” Cady answered. “What’s up?”
“Remember a couple of days ago, how I was saying you should hold out for a little magic in your life?”
“Yeah . . . why?” Had Olivia somehow intuited what Cady had found in Gus’s belly?
“Addison Avenue Books wants to offer you a contract for a photo book of Parisian carousels.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Which part didn’t you understand?”
“They’re offering me a book contract? Who are these people?”
“They’re a small press based in San Francisco, but they’ve been around for a long time. They publish big, glossy coffee-table books. It’s a niche market, but a profitable one. One of the senior editors plays golf with Sebastian, and he pitched her the idea. I sent her a link to your website, and she checked out your online portfolio. I told her the magazine loves working with you, you’re so professional and exclusive and very much in demand, blah blah blah.”
“Basically, you lied.”
“I did not lie. I enhanced. Anyway, since you don’t have an agent, I told her to send me the contract so I could look it over for you. Legalese and all that.”
“I don’t . . . I mean . . . I really don’t know . . .”
“Cady, the universe is handing you a huge gift. Accept your landlord’s offer to take over the lease, sell off Maxine’s inventory, store your stuff in my garage, and go to Paris.”
“Speaking of gifts from the universe, listen to this: Gus fell over—to be honest, I kicked him—and broke open, and—”
“You kicked him? Poor Gus.”
“Yes, but listen: There was a box hidden inside.”
“What was in it? Gold coins? Diamonds? Scads of old-fashioned currency?”
“No, unfortunately. Just a photograph and a lock of hair. And a love note, and a wooden rose.”
“How cool! Are there any clues about where Gus came from?”
“Not right off the bat, but I did find the name of a château. I have no idea where it is, though. It doesn’t come up on the Internet.”
“Well, the book offer specifies photos of Parisian carousels, but there’s no reason you can’t wander a little farther afield once you’re in the country,” said Olivia. “You could track down that château. You and I both know you’re going to become obsessed with your mystery box, anyway. It’s what you do.”
It was true: Cady was already reading and rereading the note, gazing at the photo, stroking the plait of hair, wondering about the significance of the rose. Maxine used to say that once something had caught Cady’s interest, she was like a dog with a bone. On the one hand, her single-mindedness had helped her in her photography; on the other, her obsessions sometimes drove a further wedge between her and others.
“Seriously, Cady,” Olivia continued. “Take the leap. You know what they say: The world’s your oyster.”
“I don’t like oysters.”
“Have you ever tried oysters?”
“No.” Cady liked things to be predictable. Running off to Paris for a photography assignment felt . . . reckless. Just the prospect gave her a dizzying sensation, like the first time she had seen the ocean, standing on the edge of a very steep cliff.
“The pay’s not great, but you’re not a big spender, so it’ll be enough. Honestly, Cady, what do you have to lose?”
Cady gripped the telephone so tightly that her knuckles hurt. Even she had to admit: It felt like the universe was giving her a big old shove in the direction of La Belle France.
“You don’t have any room in your garage,” Cady said. “Everyone else’s stuff is jammed in there already.”
“I’ll make room,” Olivia answered, a triumphant tone to her voice. “So, is that a yes?”
“Mais oui,” Cady said, surprising them both.
Excerpted from "The Lost Carousel of Provence"
Copyright © 2018 Juliet Blackwell.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
The Lost Carousel of Provence
Questions for Discussion
1. Imagine you have just arrived in a foreign city (Paris, Rome, Moscow, Beijing—you name it!) where you do not speak the language, or have memorized only a few words or phrases. How would you cope? Do you think being a cultural and linguistic “outsider” would give you unique insights?
2. How do you interpret the novel’s epigraph by Pablo Neruda, which reads: “My soul is an empty carousel at sunset”?
3. Do you have any childhood memories of riding on carousels? What is the first thing you remember about it?
4. Why do you think so many people feel a sense of profound nostalgia when thinking about carousels?
5. Originally built to train warriors to fight, carousels later became a festive recreation for adults, and we now associate them with the innocence of children. What do you think these changing functions reveal about how society has changed over time?
6. Cady’s personality was profoundly affected by her lack of important human connections as a child. Do you think her uniqueness works as a strength or a weakness for her?
7. Would you characterize Maxine as a mother figure for Cady? Or as a loving friend? Do you feel there’s a difference between maternal love and the love of a friend?
8. What role does Olivia play in Cady’s life? Was Olivia right to try to talk Cady into doing something because Olivia thought it was in Cady’s best interests? Is it ever acceptable to push someone we care about to do something they are hesitant to do?
9. Cady mentions that photographing carousels brings her a kind of “painful joy.” What do you think she meant by that? Is it a feeling that you’ve experienced in your own life?
10. In what ways is Saint-Véran like any American small town? In what ways is it different and uniquely French?
11. Have you ever toured a scary—or just run-down—old mansion? What was it that made the greatest impression on you? If you could live in a large old house like Fabrice’s, would you? Why or why not?
12. Cady feels as though she “fits” better in France than in the United States. Have you ever wound up someplace new or foreign where you felt more at ease, more “yourself”?
13. How does Cady’s lack of family history tie into her search for Gus-the-rabbit’s provenance?
14. William Tammeus wrote: “You don’t really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around and why his parents will always wave back.” What do you think this suggests about the meaning of being a child? Or of being a parent?
15. Fabrice feels a lifelong sense of guilt for something he did as a brave but unthinking teenager. His circumstances were extreme, but have you ever done something similar? (Or maybe you still do!) Is rushing into something, feeling as if one is in a play and not understanding the possible repercussions, something to be restricted to childhood, or does it have a place in the adult world as well?
16. Jean-Paul is at a turning point in his own life. Do you think he is more open to helping Cady because of that? Are there times in your life when you’ve been more or less open to allowing someone new—and rather unorthodox—into your life? Is that a positive, or a negative, mind-set?
17. Is Jean-Paul wise to consider selling Château Clement to a hotel chain, or should he indulge in the dream of trying to update the mansion and run a small hotel himself? What do you think he will choose to do with his inheritance? What would you like him to do?
18. Maëlle makes a series of life choices—as you read, did you characterize her choices as brave or as foolish? As selfless or as selfish? Given her circumstances and the time in which she was living, were other options available to her? What do you think gave her the courage to do what she did?
19. Maëlle feels as though she is happiest—and most truly herself—when she is able to coax a form out of a chunk of wood. Have you ever felt that way about a work or craft, or anything that you create? Is it important for everyone to have this kind of passion in life?
20. There are many historical precedents to this story, but do you feel it is far-fetched to think two women, Josephine and Maëlle, would hatch the plan they did and carry it out? Under what circumstances is it acceptable to engage in an act of deception of this magnitude? Did the good they accomplish justify the deceit?
21. What is the significance of Cady’s riding the carousel at the end of the book?