Fleur de Sang

"Good morning, Madam. How may I be of service?"

I knew as soon as the words were out of my mouth that it was the wrong thing to say. The girl on my doorstep raised one straight black eyebrow, a dry smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.

"Bonjour, monsieur," she said, resting a slender white hand on the door post, a small gesture that seemed to pull the entire house in under her sway. Her round face and large, dark eyes marked her as M├ętis, leaning towards her foremothers' Ojibway in looks if not language. Though Mackinac had fallen through many hands since French and native blood first mixed, her people still clung to the island and everything on it like a lilac tree putting forth its roots. "Mon oncle a besoin de votre aide."

"I'm afraid my French isn't very good, Mademoiselle," I said, biting back my annoyance. The girl must have come on the three-mile road from town: surely she knew my preference was to be left alone? "Please, come in, and tell me how I can help you."

She took the hint. With one last impertinent toss of her head, she slipped past me into the sitting room and took her place at my writing desk. "My uncle needs your assistance," she said, her voice accented but clear. "He understands you have some interest in botany."

"I do," I said. "May I ask your uncle's name?"

"Mathew Hale," she announced, obviously used to the name having an effect on people. It meant nothing to me. I shook my head to show that it was unfamiliar and gestured for her to go on.

She paused for a moment, lining up my pens on the top of the writing desk. "My uncle and I live in a house near the edge of town, on the road that leads to Ste. Anne's. In March--you know how early the snows melted this year?--well, in March, the flowers in our garden started blooming. They have never opened so early. But these weren't flowers like the ones we had last year, the violets and lilacs and trillium. These are small and white, with four petals, and bright red stripes down the centers. They have taken over the garden, monsieur, and the yard as well! We are frightened: my uncle thinks they will start covering the house if we don't do something soon. Can you help us?"

It was my turn to raise an eyebrow. "Invasive flower species are hardly something to be frightened of," I said with a suppressed smile.

"These are," she said stiffly. "We've tried everything--poison, chemicals--but nothing works. Last week I paid a boy to dig them up and burn them in the fireplace, and they grew back the next day."

"He must have left some root in the soil. It's been known to happen. And not every plant responds to poison." I glanced around the dusty, furniture-cramped room in search of my aging copy of Pristina Medicamenta, thinking to look up the name of the insidious, unknown weed in the famed botanist's encyclopedia, but it was nowhere to be found. "I suggest you wait until autumn to do anything drastic. If this year stays as dry as it's begun, you won't have to worry about any plants, foreign or otherwise."

She pursed her lips, tightening her grip on the arms of her chair. "I'm not going back without help," she said, her brown eyes flashing stubbornly. "I haven't had a decent night's sleep since March. Laugh if you wish, monsieur, but those things make me inquiete, uneasy. There's a smell about them that reminds me of a slaughterhouse."

The sudden fear in her face as she looked down at the floor unnerved me. Abruptly aware that I could study her expression without being observed, I realized with a start how attractive she was, with her strong face and rich black braids. I turned to the bookshelf beside me and timidly brushed a few lose strands of hair away from my face.

"Very well," I said. "I'll see what I can do."

She looked up, and the smile on her face would have been worth a trip all the way to England and back. "Merci beaucoup, monsieur!" she whispered. "That's all I ask."