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Shortly before Christmas, an unidentified sailor jumps
overboard and swims toward the harbor of Queen of France in the
middle of the night. Unable to reach shore, he climbs aboard a small
yacht and stows away. When the yacht lands, he disembarks onto a
small island called Isle des Chevaliers, and he hides again, this
time at a house called L’Arbe de la Croix. Valerian Street and his
wife, Margaret, live in the house, along with their servants, including
Ondine and Sydney. Jadine Childs, the niece of Ondine and Sydney,
has come to visit. Before coming back to the island, she studied
at the Sorbonne, an education for which Valerian paid, and worked
as a model in Paris.
Margaret and Valerian fight a lot, mostly because Margaret
has invited a number of guests to come stay, against Valerian’s
wishes. One of these guests is the Streets’ son, Michael, but Valerian
doubts that he will really come. After a particularly fierce argument
at dinner one night, Margaret goes to her room, but she quickly
returns to the dining room screaming. Sydney runs to Margaret’s
room and returns to announce that there is a man hiding in her closet.
Everyone but Valerian is terrified. Valerian invites the man, whose
name is Son, to stay the night.
The next morning, Margaret, who is extremely upset with
Valerian, locks herself in her room. Meanwhile Jadine’s rich, white
boyfriend, Ryk, has sent her a luxurious sealskin coat. Son shows
up in her room as she tries on the coat, and they talk in a flirtatious
way that eventually starts to frighten Jadine. After Son makes some
sexually crude remarks, Jadine threatens to report him to Valerian, after
which she goes to find Valerian.
As another servant, Thérèse, does laundry, she thinks
about Son, who had been in the house for several days prior to his
discovery and whom Thérèse had been feeding. With Jadine gone to
find Valerian, Son showers in her bathroom. When he is clean, he
looks much more attractive. He finds Valerian before Jadine does,
and he impresses Valerian with his knowledge of gardening and his
sense of humor. Valerian tells Sydney to help Son get new clothes,
and Gideon, another servant, and Thérèse take him shopping in a
town near L’Arbe de la Croix. When Jadine sees the cleaned-up Son,
she decides not to tell Valerian about his behavior in her bedroom. Instead,
she invites Son on a picnic at the beach, and they talk a lot about
their backgrounds. Despite their differences, they seem to connect
on some level. On the way back from the picnic, their car runs out
of gas, and Son leaves to retrieve gas from a pump at the pier.
While Jadine waits, she decides to seek shelter from the sun and abandons
the car. On her way to some nearby trees, she gets stuck in a swamp
but manages to escape. Ondine is upset that Jadine and Son seem
to be getting closer, but she does not intervene.
When Christmas arrives, Michael fails to show up, and
the other guests get delayed because of bad weather. Margaret’s
spirits sink, and she abandons her elaborate cooking projects and
leaves Ondine to finish them. At Christmas dinner, Valerian upsets
Ondine, Sydney, and Son when he announces that he fired Gideon and
Thérèse for stealing apples. A heated argument breaks out. At the
end of it, Ondine reveals that Margaret abused Michael when he was
a boy. Valerian goes into shock, and Son and Jadine leave the table
and go to bed together.
Soon after, Jadine and Son leave the island. They go to
New York, having a great, carefree time as lovers. They live in
a borrowed apartment, and neither of them has a permanent job, but
they don’t seem to care very much about money. Meanwhile, back on
the island, things are much more subdued, and Valerian refuses to
let Margaret explain her actions to him. Ondine and Sydney worry
that they will be fired.
When spring arrives, Jadine and Son visit his hometown
of Eloe, Florida. The trip is a disaster for their relationship,
because Jadine hates Eloe, and Son loves it. The many differences
between Jadine and Son come to the surface, and their divisions
tear them apart when they end up back in New York. They fight more
and more frequently. After a particularly violent confrontation,
Jadine leaves Son and New York behind. She intends to return to
Paris, but first she stops at Isle des Chevaliers to retrieve her
sealskin coat. Ondine is upset that Jadine seems to care more about
the coat than about either Ondine or Sydney, but her anger does
not detain Jadine, and ultimately she heads to Paris, telling Ondine
and Sydney not to tell Son where she has gone. Soon after she departs,
Son arrives in Queen of France, and Thérèse agrees to take him to
Isle des Chevaliers by boat, so he can look for Jadine. But instead
of piloting him to L’Arbe de la Croix as she had promised, Thérèse
leaves Son on a foggy part of the island, and she suggests that
he still has a choice. He can either keep searching for Jadine,
or he can join the race of wild horsemen on the island, descendants
of the first slaves brought there. The island opens to accommodate
Son as he joins the horsemen.