The coach rolled into town and came to a stop. The women waited as the coachman descended and exchanged a few words with man that emerged from the inn. He motioned to the horses and the man shook his head. They seemed to barter and quarrel some before they finally came to an agreement. The coachman came to the window.
“It will take some time to change the horses. It seems they have to call around to other stables as their horses were all recently changed out by a group of gentlemen. What remains is as tired as ours. The host invites you to wait inside and have a refreshment,” he said. The Dowager’s lips pursed even more.
“Very well,” she finally agreed. There was little that could be done about it. He helped her out of the carriage, then Madame and last Aimée. He escorted them towards the inn. A beggar pleaded for alms near the door. The coachman kicked at the beggar and threatened him until the poor man moved away. The coachman stood between the women and the beggar as if to shield them from his existence.
When the women entered the inn, the host placed them in a private room and served a light lunch. Aimée stared out the window to watch the coach be unhitched. As the horses were led away, her eyes landed on the leering face of the beggar. His one scabbed milky eye sent a shiver through her. She looked away. Goosebumps rose on her arms.
“What is it?” Madame asked. Her brow was knit with confusion.
“Nothing,” Aimée lied. Both of the women were now staring at her. “Only my ankle.” The women nodded.
“Perhaps it will teach you to refrain from jumping out windows in the future,” the Dowager said. Aimée forced herself to eat a bite of cheese, but her throat was dry and she struggled to swallow. The women’s attention returned to their critique of the inn. Aimée stole another glance out the window. The beggar was still staring at her. He held a finger up to his lips. Aimée gasped and quickly changed it into a cough as Madame glared at her.
“You need to eat more slowly,” the Dowager said. “No one wants a woman who shovels food into her mouth so fast that she forgets to breathe.”
“My apologies, I was only famished from traveling,” Aimée explained. She focused on the meal until the women relaxed again. She stole another glance out the window and recognized Gilles. He was seated next to the wall wearing rags and a hood, scruffy and covered with dirt.