Revenant Eve by Sherwood Smith

  Then, with many desperate glances around, she wrestled out of her clothes and into James’s. The pants were nankeen breeches, rather than buckskin, and though on James they buttoned just below his knees, on her, they hung to just below her calves. His long stockings went under, thoroughly hiding her slender, feminine ankles and the double-looped necklace with its glittering stones.

  The trinkets went into the purse with the coins. She tucked the purse into a waistcoat pocket, and into the other pocket, where guys usually tucked their timepiece, went the little mirror. The pistol got stuffed inside her waistcoat. She wrapped the neck cloth around her throat, pulling it well up under her chin, tied it in a plain knot, and tucked the ends into the waistcoat, fussing over it to hide her slight figure, which was already well hidden by the voluminous shirt and the thick waistcoat.

  Diana had even included James’s black hair tie. Aurélie pulled out her hairpins and cast them into the muck, then clawed her hair back and clubbed it with the tie. What emerged was a handsome boy’s face. She didn’t look all that much older than she had at twelve.

  She rolled up her clothes and shoes, and set them on the cart. “I hope they will be found by someone in need,” she said softly into the mirror. “I am ready, am I not?”

  “Not yet,” I said. “Try the hat on.”

  It was too large—it slid to her nose.

  “The clothes will pass, I believe,” I said. “In France, mobs still hang persons who look too aristocratic. James’s clothes are so large that they look shabby, but that hat, even though it also is too large, is too clean, too obviously the hat of an English gentleman. I think you should knock it against the cart. Dent it. Get it well smeared with dust.”

  She whacked the beaver against the grubby rail of the cart, rubbed it around, then clapped it on her head. “Is that sufficient?” she asked the mirror.

  “That’s better,” I said, and she tucked the mirror back into her waistcoat.

  Then she climbed carefully to the ground, for the pumps threatened to fall off her feet. She cast a last, longing look at her own shoes. But she couldn’t wear the pointy-toed female walking slippers. So she reopened her bundle, pulled out her stockings, wadded each up, and thrust them into the toes of James’s shoes. The way she walked reminded me of a kid with her first pair of swim flippers as she proceeded carefully into the square.

  The shine on the shoes was soon obscured by muck.

  She headed toward noise and lights of the town center, and its rows of taverns with people coming and going. All around were mostly French voices, with a smattering of English and Dutch. Everyone used the informal tu with one another, instead of the polite, formal vous for ‘you.’ This, Miss Oliver had told them in hushed, disapproving tones, was a result of the Revolution. It was strange to actually hear it in practice, so strong was my habit and training. Aurélie proceeded slowly, watching everything. Rain spattered now and then, ruining the clean look of her clothes.

  Furtive figures slunk here and there, and from the open doors of taverns erupted loud noise: laughter, shouts, bellows and, in a couple of places, music. Tipsy customers roared songs and stamped and clapped.

  Most people who wanted to be safe were probably home, locked in tight, and here she was, a kid alone. My strategies for the future had shrunk to one anxious worry: Keeping her alive through a single night, though I had no physical form or powers.

  “First, I must eat,” she whispered with her hand closed over the mirror, as if I couldn’t hear her any other way. “Then I must find a safe bed. Then tomorrow, back to the quay. I shall find a ship to take me back to Jamaica.”


  SHE MIGHT HAVE BEEN BETTER OFF at a nicer inn—except a nice inn probably would have turned her away. She picked a total dump that advertised a bed and supper for two for a decime.

  Her first mistake was taking out the coin purse to pay. By the light of the single guttering lamp in the common room, I saw the quick grin on the innkeeper’s grizzled, greasy face. I knew there was going to be trouble. I poked her, but she was too wary to pull out the mirror and be seen talking to me.

  The innkeeper acted pleasant enough as he set a bowl of fish soup before her and a hunk of bread. She sat down to the meal, and her second mistake was her manners. She delicately picked off the bits of mold, and broke off pieces of the hard bread, which she determinedly chewed. She was too hungry to notice the innkeeper whispering to a hard-faced woman with a filthy apron and a hulking guy of about twenty who looked like their son.

  Aurélie finished the bread. She picked through the soup, which swam with grease, until she found a few scraps of cabbage. She left the rest, then stood up.

  “My soup not good enough for ye?” the woman asked in an angry voice, as the other few customers looked up. They were no more than vague, shadowy shapes in that dim light.

  “It is fine,” Aurélie lied. “I am very tired, is all.”

  “Then come this way, your majesty,” the innkeeper said.

  The others burst into a loud guffaw at this witticism, and I thought, This is so not going to end well. I railed against my own helplessness and tried futilely to reach for any idea.

  The innkeeper picked up a candle, lit it at the lamp, and led the way upstairs to one of the two rooms. It had two items of furniture: A bed on the floor and a slop bucket in the corner. The bed already had two men asleep in it.

  The innkeeper walked over and kicked the nearest of the men, who was snoring in a drunken stupor. “Make space, citizen, make space,” he ordered. “You didn’t pay for two places.”

  In the light of the wavering candle, the customer rolled blearily, and as he shifted, several insectoid shapes crawled out of his dirty cravat into the hair behind his ear.

  Aurélie leaped back. “He is crawling with lice!”

  The innkeeper gave a crack of laughter. “So will you, citizen. So will you.”

  “I’ll not sleep there,” she said. And then came her third mistake, “I’ll pay for my food, but I want my decime back. I cannot sleep here.”

  “He wants his decime back, he does, because my bed isn’t good enough for his aristocratic hide,” the innkeeper roared.

  Angry voices down below responded in language that Aurélie hadn’t heard since her days in Saint-Domingue’s harbor.

  “Keep it, then. I will go elsewhere,” she said, backing down the stairs.

  Mrs. Innkeeper stood there, a cleaver gripped in her fist, and her hulking son with a cudgel.

  “I’m thinking you will go to the prefecture,” the innkeeper said menacingly, following her down. “You and your clean hands and your risto tastes. You’re either one of them, escaped justice, or you’re a thief. Either way, it seems to me my duty as a patriot and a citizen is to report your thieving, aristocrat carcass.”

  Aurélie’s lips tightened, and she reached for the pistol—which she’d tucked securely into her waistcoat.

  “He’s going for a knife,” the missus shrilled, and the innkeeper kicked Aurélie down the last two stairs, causing her to fall with a splat.

  The missus thrust an efficient hand into the waistcoat pocket and pulled out the coin purse. She let out a laugh when she encountered the trinkets. Aurélie rolled blurrily to her feet, having managed to fish out the pistol, which she leveled desperately.

  The three fell back.

  “You got one shot,” the innkeeper snarled. “And then whoever you don’t shoot will be on you.”

  Aurélie didn’t answer, but backed to the door. They followed, but at a respectful distance. She got to the door, stepped through…and ran.

  The rain was coming down too hard for them to chase her, or maybe they figured she wasn’t worth pursuing as they’d gotten her money. At any rate, she lumbered in those awful shoes down the narrow street and dodged desperately between houses until she stumbled on a hen house, into which she crept.

  She cried herself to sleep.

  When I say that was the highlight of the next few days, you can ima
gine how rotten things got.

  She still had the mirror, so we arranged a system that next morning: If I poked her once, it was a reminder that I was with her. She seemed to need that. But if I poked her twice, it meant I thought she was in danger, and she was to run and hide as soon as she could find a place to hide in.

  She made her way to the harbor, her plan to stow away on board a ship to Jamaica. I told her I didn’t think it was a good idea, but she put the mirror back, and I knew she wasn’t going to listen. I couldn’t blame her for the longing to go home.

  After two anxious days of lurking about, she discovered that first, ships did not go to Jamaica from Dieppe, and second, it was impossible to sneak onto them. And even if she could have managed it, the roughness of the sailors hanging around the wharfs frightened her. Though she was still pretty clueless about the facts of life, it didn’t take much imagination to guess that nothing good would come of those sailors discovering she was a girl.

  That wasn’t the only threat. While she lurked around barnacled pilings and noisome, fly-swarmed corners, she was eyed in no friendly way by some of the ragged, miserable homeless kids whose parents had either died in the revolution or else left them for whatever reason. They made it real clear that interlopers could expect no mercy if they tried begging in their territory.

  The only thing I could think to suggest was, “Watch how they get food when they aren’t begging.”

  She did, after a morning’s begging in a place where the orphans didn’t hang out. Her attempts earned her cuffs, kicks, curses, and threats from the shopkeepers. So she followed some of the smaller orphans and discovered a few of them lurking behind the dockside taverns and inns. When the scrapings of meals were tossed to the pigs, the kids would scramble into the sties, picking out whatever didn’t get immediately immersed into the disgusting black mud.

  After a day or so of watching, she got in first and managed to snag some old potatoes and a stale bit of bread.

  How to get her out of there before she either got murdered or died of some disease? The horrid problem of the poor confronted her—too many desperate people competing for scant pickings. But if she tried the nicer part of town, she’d be chased away, or worse, dragged to the prefecture. Where she would no doubt be searched, the necklace and her gender discovered, and thence to a short, sharp end.

  Barns turned out to be guarded by dogs, but hen houses, too small for adults, worked as shelters, and she could usually find a raw egg to suck. She cried herself to sleep every night, waking each day to the quest to survive.

  “You’ve got to find a way to earn money,” I said to her one night, when she took out the mirror for the comfort of my useless company. The mirror and the necklace were the only things she’d managed to save. I’d tried to talk her into selling the mirror, but so far, she wouldn’t. She knew it wouldn’t bring much anyway.

  “How can I earn money?” she asked. “The only thing I know well is how to play the fortepiano. Would anyone hire me as a governess? Where do I go to get hired?”

  “I don’t know much more than you do about that. But here’s another idea. Remember that first night, before you went to that horrible inn? You passed by some places where I heard music. Try going back there. See who is playing, and if they are friendly, ask how they got the work.”

  “Oh, what a very good idea,” she said. “But first I must eat. My head swims every time I stand up.”

  A sudden noise silenced her. People crashed through the yard—thieves or drunks or who knows what. The bangs and crashes and screams of someone getting strangled set the chickens clucking, and somewhere a dog let out a hoarse howl, then yapped. More dogs barked, pigs grunted, and the scream cut off short.

  Gradually silence fell, and all living things settled back into torpor.

  As soon as the sun was up, Aurélie felt around for eggs and found one. She cracked it open and slurped it out of her filthy hands. The rest of the day was entirely taken up in hiding, cruising pig yards, and scavenging for anything she could eat.

  When the sun sank, and the taverns opened to nighttime entertainment, she made her way back to the center of Dieppe and the row of shops, taverns, and pubs.

  Rain fell, hard. “At least I will get clean,” she said, teeth chattering.

  The taverns all seemed to be full, the voices mostly male, loud and rough. From one came ragged singing and from another the tail end of a French folk tune played on a violin, nearly smothered by a roar of laughter.

  Aurélie paused, uncertain. The fiddle player started up again—and this time, I recognized the melody, an Eastern European Jewish folksong.

  I wasn’t aware that I’d poked her until Aurélie jolted. She backed up onto a porch, lurked behind a stack of old baskets, and pulled out the mirror. “Duppy Kim? What is it?”

  “I’m curious about that melody from the other side of Europe being played in the north of France,” I said. “Why don’t you go into that tavern? The fiddler is good, and at least you will be out of the rain.”

  “Very well,” she said, and tucked the mirror back into her waistcoat pocket. “I shall go in here.”


  SHE DUCKED UNDER ELBOWS and dodged the rowdies busy whooping it up. Even in the lamplight she was as grungy as any of them. At least no one was going to accuse her of being an aristocrat anymore.

  In the corner near the fireplace, surrounded by a thickening crowd, three musicians played. Aurélie worked her way into the press, her attention on the tall black-haired guy with the fiddle. His eyes were closed, his face pale and mournful as a romantic poet. He seemed to be in his mid-twenties, his coat patched and threadbare.

  Seated on a three-legged stool next to him, another equally skinny guy in shabby laborer’s clothing played an hautbois, a kind of oboe, as one foot jerked up and down. His face was lowered, greasy hair the color of cookie dough escaping under a shapeless worker’s cap. His much-patched boot had a tambourine tied to it by twine, and when it hit the floor, it clashed with a percussive beat. The guy had the toe of his boot thrust through a bit of frayed rope that was attached to the bellows. As he thumped his foot up and down, he not only played the tambourine, he pumped the bellows for the regal.

  Hopping on her toes, Aurélie spotted the regal, played by a third guy. He was ruddy-faced from the heat and probably from the tall mug sitting on the floor, next to the barrel on which he’d propped the regal. His playing didn’t always keep the beat set by the tambourine or the fiddle, creating a ragged effect that caused the audience to rock with laughter.

  The fiddler lowered his bow and began to sing, joined by the regal player. They both had very fine voices, the fiddler tenor to baritone in range, the regal player baritone to bass. The audience’s mood shifted as the duo belted out words about equality, brotherhood, and the blood of martyrs, but just as the audience got into the song, the regal player faltered, scowled, and let out a stream of curses.

  The mood was lost. The audience broke into laughter and cat calls. A few rinds of cheese and bits of food were tossed at the players. Things were about to turn nasty, but then the hautbois player set down his instrument and took up an odd-looking pipe-like instrument that came to two parallel points—a sheng! How had one of those managed to get all the way from China to Western Europe? Theft, loot, trade, who knew?

  The fiddler joined his voice to the reedy melody. The two were far better as a duo. The audience began once again to be pulled in by the song, as the regal player signaled for more of whatever was in his cup. The other two gave him the hairy eyeball, and I wondered if Regal Guy was drinking up their profits.

  Aurélie was staring at that regal.

  The song finished, and Hautbois Guy started up another song on his sheng. The regal player put down his mug, said something in a rude undertone, and Hautbois Guy stopped, set aside the sheng, and took up his first instrument. Fiddle Guy lifted his bow.

  Regal Guy crashed his fingers on the keys, Hautbois Guy started pumping, but not quick enou
gh for the regal player, who stopped and cursed his fellow musicians. They started again, and this time the trio got through the simple melody of the “Hymn of 9 Thermidor,” a Revolutionary song commemorating the downfall of Robespierre. Most of the audience joined in, roaring out the chorus, Il ne fut brisé que par toi / Il ne fut brisé que par toi!

  The audience showed their approval by tossing a few low-denomination assignats and centimes into the upside down cap in front of Fiddle Guy’s left foot. The musicians then swung into the bouncy tune called “Ça ira” which eventually came over to the Yankee side of the Atlantic as “It’s Okay.”

  This time the entire inn joined the song. They sang so loud that their noise drowned out the missed notes and jagged timing of the regal player, who swayed on his stool. None of the audience seemed to notice his bad playing—except Aurélie, who watched intently from between an enormous man wearing a grocer’s apron and a Revolutionary veteran in a threadbare uniform, who leaned on a stick. When the song ended, Regal Guy swallowed down the last of his wine, then got up abruptly, fumbling at the buttons of his breeches as he shoved his way drunkenly through the crowd.

  The other two struck up a rollicking melody on fiddle and hautbois, “La Carmagnole,” which Aurélie had played back in Jamaica. It was a popular dance melody, adapted like many popular songs into a typically bloodthirsty Revolutionary tune.

  Aurélie looked from the regal to the hat with its coins to the players, then she eased around the veteran and approached the regal.

  The two musicians glanced her way, exhibiting only a mild, distracted surprise. The dark-haired one with the striking face seemed to be staring right at me, but I knew it had to be a trick of his gaze, for nobody else had seen me. Sure enough, he returned his attention to his fiddle.

Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]