THE SECOND NIGHT WITHOUT SLEEP WEIGHED HEAVILY. DESPITE THE time of rest at the inn, Roxanne hadn’t quite been able to close her eyes. She felt she was dragging her feet behind her sister and Alan rather than walking.
“Why did you make me think you didn’t know where we were going? That we’d found the inn by chance?” Celeste suddenly turned to ask.
Roxanne couldn’t be sure to what point Adelle’s behavior, and her own, in front of the girl, had suggested otherwise. But, to be honest, she didn’t really care. Everything would be progressively unveiled to her as the need arose. And it wasn’t one of her main concerns at the moment.
And, right now, she was too tired to even talk.
“I played it by ear – when we arrived at the village and I realized that we could walk no more.”
“But you knew the place and you knew Adelle.”
“Mama had mentioned her and she had explained to me where the inn was.”
Roxanne couldn’t tell whether Celeste was angry. In any case, the latter asked no further questions and they continued their journey in silence.
Eventually, the three of them became very sleepy. They were almost in complete darkness under the thick grove, which induced them all the more to close their eyes.
When Alan stopped on the banks of a river, Roxanne fervently hoped that it was in order to rest until dawn.
The two girls sat on the moist ground on seeing that he did, and the small group remained quiet and still for a long while.
They were very near the water. Roxanne kneeled and cupped her hands to drink. Then, she turned around and was able to make out her sister’s figure, lying down. She’d fallen asleep. Alan, some distance away, was hardly a vague shape.
“Maybe, we too should get some sleep,” she suggested.
“That won’t be necessary. Our ride will be here soon.”
The car arrived at that very moment. Noiseless. Dazzling them all with its yellow headlamps.
Roxanne’s heart began to beat wildly. At first, she had been taken aback by the powerful light, but, then, Mr. Harris’s vehicle – which she’d only seen by day – manifested before her eyes.
“No. No. No. No.”
Her voice, barely audible, was heard by Alan, who had stood up at the first glimpse of the car and was now not far from her. The driver stopped just at their feet and stepped out.
“Hey, Alan! How’re you doing, pal?”
“Wait,” Alan told him, holding Roxanne by the waist, certain she was about to faint. “It’s OK. He’s a friend. He’s gonna help us.”
She turned her eyes to him – her face was clearly pale, even in the gloom – and then to Celeste, who had jumped to her feet.
“It’s OK,” he repeated, still holding her.
The driver reached out to hug Alan, who, trusting now that she would keep her balance, greeted his friend warmly.
“So these are the two stowaways.”
“They’re really tired. C’mon. Let’s get out of here.”
Roxanne could tell by Celeste’s face that she too had thought it was Mr. Harris, their father’s assistant, coming to fetch them. It was only natural for them to believe that since, until now, his was the only car they’d ever seen and, besides, it looked a lot like this one. In fact, they were identical. At least, on the outside. They’d never had the chance to step inside.
When she settled herself comfortably on the back seat, knowing they were not going back to the castle, Roxanne felt her muscles relax and she abandoned herself to sleep. But just before closing her eyes, she contemplated for brief seconds the river, glittering in the night. The first river she’d ever seen, which was much more beautiful than book descriptions had allowed her to imagine.