ameline took the sheet of paper from the typewriter. it was very late.
she was alone in her room, but with a guard right outside her door.
soon it would time for breakfast. although ameline spoke little at the meals, she never missed them.
she got up and looked out the window. it was very dark. and quiet.
ameline, too, dreamed of escape.
she realized it would be difficult to even think of escape without some sort of help from the guards.
unlike most of the other contestants, she had not formed any friendships or attachments with her guards, although she was always polite and made no demands on them.
she had never formed friendships easily, not even with members of her own class.
the night was cold and windy, and when ameline entered the foyer of a————— hall - the most prestigious but also the oldest and draftiest at the university - she was in such a hurry that she almost did not look in her mailbox.
a——— hall, among its other luddite practices, had several rows of old-fashioned mailboxes inside its door, where paper notes and letters could be left.
and on this evening there was a small envelope in ameline’s box.
surely it was the note she was waiting for.
placing her armload of books carefully on the floor in order to free her hands, she extracted the note and slipped it in her pocket. she wanted to be alone when she read it.
hopefully the two young women she shared a room in the hall with would be absent - they usually were.
gathering the books back up, ameline quickly went up the three flights of winding stairs to her room, not wanting to wait for the ancient creaking elevator, or risk getting stuck in it.
neither of the roommates was in. ameline turned the light on, dumped the books on the sofa beside the door and took the note out of her pocket.
she opened it, almost ripping it in her haste.
she scanned the first lines. her heart leaped up.
she had been accepted into the bluestocking club!
how ridiculous, ameline thought - that my “heart leaped up”. but it had!
taking a deep breath, she read the note through - it was handwritten, in old-fashioned script -
by bettina crawford herself - the chairwoman of the bluestockings!
the brilliant bettina crawford, whom ameline had worshipped and wished to emulate since hearing her hold forth in professor m————————’s class on the history of women (a large class,which ameline was auditing, held in an auditorium big enough to play football in).
ameline almost swooned. she did sit down on the sofa.
the note told her that the next meeting of the bluestockings was on the following friday - but ameline already knew that.
but what was this? bettina invited her, ameline, to a private meeting in bettina’s rooms on tuesday - the next night - to “ask a few questions” and to “ perhaps get to know you.”
could anything be more felicitous?
and yet - along with her excitement, ameline felt a slight trace of fear.
tuesday evening arrived.
ameline did not dare to be late, and she had no desire to seem blasé about her meeting with bettina, so she arrived fifteen minutes early .
bettina lived in the town, in an apartment building on a street of its own, surrounded by large trees.
swarms of bats flew among the tallest branches of the trees.
ameline decided to take a walk down and around the street, rather than present herself to bettina so early.
but once out of sight of the apartment building, on the street with no lights, she found herself enveloped in the dark shadows of the trees, which were beginning to sway in a cold wind.
she found herself at the end of the street, facing a dark wooded area - was it a park? there was no sign of benches, or fountains, or statues.
ameline decided it must just be a woods, untended. it was very quiet.
she retraced her steps. when she got back to the apartment building , she decided it was not too early to enter it.
she could not find a bell, but there was an old fashioned brass knocker on the door. it seemed to be in the form of a head, with curly hair, but the face had been worn away.
she raised the knocker and rapped as hard as she could with it. it did not seem to make much of a sound, and she was about to attempt to knock again, when the door opened.
a gray haired woman, obviously a concierge, looked out at ameline.
the woman nodded when ameline explained the nature of her visit. “yes, yes, you are expected. the third floor - ms crawford has the whole third floor.”
“thank you.” ameline could see the stairs behind the concierge - winding stairs very much like those in a————— hall, and she did not ask if there was an elevator.
“but,” the concierge continued, “ms crawford was called away a little while ago.”
“oh?” ameline did not know what to think.
“her friend, mlle de hautcourt, is up there expecting you.”
mlle de hautcourt! bethany de hautcourt… bettina’s toady and factotum. whose existence ameline had completely put out of her mind, in looking forward to her meeting with bettina.
not that ameline begrudged bettina a toady. any person as glamorous and courted as bettina needed a buffer between themselves and the importunate world.
and yet the thought of meeting bethany - alone - did not fill ameline with anticipation…
bethany must have heard ameline coming up the stairs, or perhaps the concierge had called her, because she was waiting at the door of bettina’s apartment when ameline reached the third floor landing.
ameline had made a conscious effort while climbing the stairs not to be annoyed or to think ill of bethany, but she felt a bit disconcerted at the sight of bethany’s silly face, framed by her ridiculous peasant girl - or were they hippie?- braids.
ameline and bethany exchanged their ritual courtesies, and bethany stood aside for ameline to enter.
the room which ameline entered was lit by a single large standing lamp. the light did not extend to the corners of the room. dark, very heavy looking curtains covered the one large window.
bethanty took ameline’s coat and hat and deposited them somewhere in the shadows of the big room.
a tea service with scones and little neatly cut sandwiches lay on a small table placed between two sofas. bethany gestured to one of the sofas and ameline seated herself .
“bettina should be back shortly,” bethany announced, as she sat down opposite ameline. “but you never know. she specifically said not to wait for us. would you like some tea now?”
“thank you, that would be very nice,” ameline replied politely. at least, she thought, bethany’s voice was not aggravating, but as melodious and civilized as the most refined listener might desire.
no sooner had ameline had this generous thought, than she noticed bethany’s ridiculous cloak and even more absurd beret thrown carelessly on a chair beyond the sofas.
and as bethany was pouring the tea ameline noticed something else - a large, thick notebook or loose leaf binder on the sofa bethany was sitting on.
ameline was finding the darkened room actually rather cozy, especially after the cold street outside.
“let’s give bettina fifteen minutes, shall we?” bethany said. “if she is not back by then i think we should get started.” she glanced over at the big notebook.
get started on what? ameline wondered. she did not know what to say. “yes,” she finally said, “i will leave that up to you.”
“it is best to be moving forward, don’t you think,“ bethany went on. “especially in times like these.”
in times like these? whatever was the silly creature talking about?
ameline nodded toward the notebook on the sofa beside bethany. “is that - is that the rules and regulations of the club?”
“the club? oh, you mean the bluestocking club. oh, no, no.” bethany laughed, and took a sip of her tea. “something much more important.”
ameline almost blurted out “more important than the bluestocking club!” but realized it might sound a bit pompous.
“not that the bluestocking club is not all very well in its way,” bethany continued. “if you like poetry and all that sort of thing. but you see - “ she looked ameline right in the eyes. “ the club is really just sort of - of a front, you might say, for other things. other things more attuned to - to - how shall i put it ? - “
“to times like these,” ameline volunteered.
“exactly. we will get started. but if i can’t explain things, bettina will explain everything. when she arrives.”