Authors: Jeannette de Beauvoir
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For Assaf, who inspires me (more than he knows), encourages me, and keeps me on track. And for Jacob and Anastasia, who continue to teach me a lot about love.
He really had to do something about the noise the girls were making. His wife was supposed to be resting.
“Right,” he said, going down on his knees on the rug next to his giggling daughters. “Enough of that. A little c-c-c-care, if you don't m-m-mind.”
The stutter coming back because he was so tired.
“Father!” Margaret, the younger one, holding a bloodred ruby to the center of her forehead. “Aren't I beautiful?”
“You are the most b-b-b-beautiful of all p-p-princesses,” he said gravely. “But even princesses have to work, s-s-sometimes.”
“They call jewels
in French,” she said, showing off.
“Indeed they do.”
Lilibet was trying on a tiara for size. “I've never seen this one before,” she said. “Why do you keep them locked away, Papa? What's the point of having crown jewels if nobody's ever meant to see them?”
He took the tiara from her and reached for one of the hatboxes. “The p-p-p-point is that they're th-th-there,” he said. “And we're meant to be taking these apart, not trying them on.” Worry was making him abrupt.
“What does that mean, that they're there? It sounds like a riddle!”
The king allowed himself a smile. “The crown jewels are only ever used at c-c-c-coronations. You'll wear them when you are c-c-c-crowned queen, someday, Lilibet.” God willing, he thought.
If the whole island isn't speaking German by then.
“When will I be queen, Father?”
A conversational turn he hadn't expected. “When I d-d-d-die, my dear. That's when you'll be queen. It's a long way off.”
“I don't want to be queen if it means that you'll die!” It was a squeal.
“Everyone dies,” said Margaret unexpectedly.
“But not our sp-sp-sp-spirit,” he said. “And that's precisely why we need to attend to the task at hand. Every st-st-stone taken out of every setting.” Remembering what his wife had told him about children needing encouragement, he added, “and you're almost there, cl-cl-clever girls that you are.”
?” Earlier in the day, his wife had been shocked at the idea. “You cannot be serious, surely!”
“We can hardly send them off with, âCaution, royal jewels' on the shipping labels, my dear,” he'd said mildly.
“But hatboxes!” She shook her head. “Needs must, I expect. They're an important symbol. Best to get on with it. Have the girls help you, it will just look like playtime together.”
“Perhaps we're the ones p-p-playing,” he said. “Worrying about jewels when Winston is sending s-s-s-securities and gold.”
“Mr. Churchill doesn't understand the value of tradition.”
“What Mr. Churchill understands, my d-d-d-dear,” he said, “is the value of fighting on, no matter what.”
A moment of silence. “It's going that badly, then.” It wasn't a question.
She was too perceptive, he thought. “Yes.” There was no reason to deny it. “If the securities and gold are safe in Canada, we'll be able to pay to stay alive. Supplies. Perhaps s-s-s-ships. It's what Winston s-s-s-says.”
“Bertie!” she said, and then stopped, gathering herself together. “Bertie,” she said again, more calmly this time. “They won't invade England, will they?”
“My dear,” he said. “I'm very much afraid that's the plan.”
Now he sat on the floor with his two daughters, prizing jewels from their settings and wrapping them and putting them in hatboxes. A king and two princesses in the lamplight, the jewels flashing with colored refracted light and, all the while, the dread gathering in his heart.
“I see we have a lot of Americans on this tour,” said the man with the headset standing at the front of the bus. “Okay, let me ask you this: who here speaks French? Raise your hands? Only a few people? Do you all understand English? Everybody? Yes? Good, we can do the tour in one language, eh?”
I watched as he started distributing maps of the city to the other Gray Line passengers. While all of Canada is supposedly bilingual, QuÃ©bec's first language is officially French, and here in MontrÃ©al there's always the question. Go into a shop, and they'll say, “Hello-bonjour,” all in one breath, and wait to see how you respond. In which language flavor, so to speak.
But while tourists come in all shapes, sizes, and native tongues, most of the people sitting on the bus with me were part of a group that had just gotten off the cruise ship docked out on the waterfront, tremendous and a little overpowering on the St. Lawrence Seaway skyline. Americans, all of them.
The guide handed me my map with nothing more than an impersonal friendly smile, and I was glad: what I didn't need was to be recognized and have anything on the tour changed or adapted because I was there. I'm the
directrice de publicitÃ©
âthe publicity directorâfor the city of MontrÃ©al, and the tourism people tend to be a little touchy about my treading on their perceived territory. Most of the time we're able to play well together, but it's a tenuous relationship with plenty of opportunities for faux pas and worse.
I try to take the Gray Line excursions at least once a year, both the half-day tour of MontrÃ©al that I was on now and the full-day expedition that goes to QuÃ©bec City. It would be easy, in my job, to just sit in my office down in the Old City and handle problems, soothe ruffled feathers, solve perceived, potential, and real crises, and leave every day with a headache the size of Manitobaâand that isn't what I signed on for. Taking the sightseeing tour reminds me of all the reasons I'm really here. The history of my city, its diversity, its cultural riches, its urban pulse, its amazing cuisines, all of that gets touched on during these trips, and every single bit of it lifts my spirits.
I was born here and have spent most of my life in MontrÃ©al, and I still fall in love with this city over and over again at least a couple of times a year.
My ability to do my job flows directly from that love. Like any entity, human or geographic, MontrÃ©al has its detractors, and I'm here to protect it, to make sure that they don't hurt the city too much. It ends up being damage control a lot of the time. And when you consider the city, provincial, and federal politics that go on hereÂ â¦ well, you understand why what I do is so vital.
And so headache-inducing.
The guide, who had identified himself in the usual MontrÃ©al manner (“My name is Frank, or FranÃ§ois in French”), was now asking us to open our maps. “Yes, this way. No, the other side. There you are. Here is what we call
: that's the downtown area, with Old MontrÃ©al and the Old Port, eh? As you can remark, it follows the great river, the Saint Lawrence. We will soon see that MontrÃ©al is still a working port as well as an historic one.”
He folded his map and everyone around me struggled to do the same. If any of these people had seen their seventieth birthday in the past few years, it would have surprised me. Good for them for being out and about. “We are starting our tour today in front of the Sun-Life Building, where during the Second World War, the British crown jewels were stored for safekeeping. And now, if everyone is ready, we'll begin, eh?” He settled himself in his seat and started the engine, causing the floor beneath our feet to vibrate. The bus pulled slowly and a little ponderously out into Dorchester Square.
“Again, I wish to welcome you to MontrÃ©al,” FranÃ§ois was saying in English. I'm one of the city's francophonesâwell, seriously, with a name like Martine LeDuc, what would you expect?âand so I automatically mentally assigned him the French version of his name rather than the English one. “I will tell you a little about it now. There are sixty-five subways in the city. These are a very useful way to get around, especially in the winter, eh?” He had the native Canadian way of lilting the end of his sentences so that they sounded like questions, as if he were inviting agreement. It's actually a pretty sophisticated psychological technique; hard to disagree when agreement is almost forced upon you.
“You may have heard of our underground city, what we call the
, or the
, the internal city, and you can go and see it for yourself at the end of this tour. I can drop you off right at one of the entrances, it is not a problem. Much of that underground city is linked by the MÃ©tro system, eh? Some people can go from their apartment buildings directly into the city, so that in January they can go and get their coffee and newspaper without putting on a winter coat!”
There was, I recalled, an almost absolutely apocryphal story of a man leaving his high-rise through an underground passage, getting his coffee and paper, hopping onto the MÃ©tro, getting off in the financial district, walking through a few corridors, and taking an elevator up to his office, where he finally realized that he was still wearing his slippers. It's one of the stories that we love to tell the tourists, and apparently the tale was still evergreen. I think I'd first heard it at least a decade ago.
There was a titter of reaction to his remark, the bus made a few turns as he navigated some crowded streets, and then he continued. “MontrÃ©al is a large city. Our downtown population is one-point-seven million people, and we welcome fifty million visitors every year.”
“Imagine that!” said the woman sitting behind me. “No wonder everyone speaks English!”