Revenant Eve by Sherwood Smith


  Silhouetted against that golden sun was a tall, straight figure. Seen in silhouette, Mord was the very picture of romance, even to the drips from his wet hair that caught the light before they fell in diamond sparkles all around him. Birds dipped and dove, swirled and circled around him, blackbirds and starlings, skylarks and jackdaws.

  That was nothing to the sound.

  How to describe that music? The fiddler had vanished, replaced by a violin master. The closest music to the passion, the joy and grief expressed in those complicated, soaring flights is Ernest Bloch’s Nigun in the Baal Shem Suite. Though it wouldn’t be written for a couple of centuries, the comparison is eerily appropriate.

  Since pretty much the entire audience stood at the windows, Jaska and Aurélie remained with them. For a time they stood in silence.

  “Why does he do that?” Aurélie finally asked. “If the rain comes back, it will ruin his violin.”

  “Then he will clean and revarnish it. Tonight is the fifteenth of Nissan, which the Jews call Pesach,” Jaska murmured.

  Aurélie said, “He is Jewish? I thought they had beards.”

  “He shaved his off.”

  “And they don’t eat the same meats.”

  “He makes a point of partaking in treif every day he can get it.”

  “I don’t understand.”

  “He’s an apostate. Though some Fridays at sunset, if he’s been drinking enough, I find him outside with his Siddur in hand—even though he cannot see it to read—disputing the wisdom of the Baal Shem Tov with his father’s ghost.”

  “His father’s ghost?”

  “He says he sees them all around. He says there’s one following you.” Aurélie flushed but didn’t answer as Jaska went on, “I’ve never seen any ghosts, so it all may merely be the effect of drink.” Jaska shook his head. “He’s angry, that’s all.”

  “All?” Aurélie’s crooked smile was tentative. “My Nanny Hiasinte once said that anger eats the soul. Why is he angry?”

  “You know what happened at Praga? To Berek Joselewicz?” Jaska’s voice dropped a note, roughening. “To the Great Kosciusko?”

  Okay, Praga was vaguely familiar, and Kosciusko I recognized at once. But that still didn’t explain the connection, like if Mord had been fighting with or against the famous general.

  On each name Aurélie gave a tiny shake of her head, her eyes wide.

  Jaska’s mouth was bitter as he looked down, sighed, and picked up his hautbois. He began playing very softly, one of the madrigals from Lagrime di San Pietro.

  There was no more conversation. Aurélie seemed lost in reverie as I thought, So Mord does see me. That made three people, including Nanny Hiasinte. Four, if you counted that fae, but I wasn’t sure they could be termed people. The weird thing was that Mord was the second to see me without the aid of the mirror, Nanny Hiasinte being the first.

  Mord returned when the light was gone, and again he seemed to look right at me. As he set bow to chin, his movement was tracked by Aurélie’s thoughtful gaze. He ignored exclamations and questions. Jaska pumped the regal, and Mord played the first few measures of the lively dance Les Deux Coqs. The other two joined in, and the moment passed.

  But it wasn’t forgotten. Why is it that a guy has only to reveal depths of emotional pain to rivet the interest of every romantic girl around?

  Because Aurélie was romantic, of course. And because he was striking in appearance, and so kind, and musical, and mercurial…Aurélie had got over James, but she was in the process of shifting all that tender interest onto Mord the mystery man, who couldn’t possibly be Dobrenican royalty.

  TWENTY-ONE

  MORD BEHAVED AS IF that sunset on the bluff had never happened, and somehow this total shutout only increased Aurélie’s interest. She didn’t pester him with questions, but her manner toward him became tentative, almost tender.

  This raised another hideous question: What if they’d be happy together? Had I any right to interfere? But the horribleness of balancing my life and future against the possible happiness of a couple right now was mitigated by the fact that Mord clearly thought she was a boy and showed no interest in her except as a fellow musician.

  This made it easier to try to interfere without seeming to interfere. I poked her one evening when she was alone, coming back from a visit to the outhouse.

  She took out the mirror at once. “Duppy Kim?”

  “You’re forgetting to be René,” I warned her. “Do you want them to guess that you aren’t a boy?”

  A deep blush gave her away. “Mord doesn’t see me. He’s short-sighted like Diana, though not in the same way, for he can see at a distance, but she cannot. And Jaska never looks my way, did you notice? He looks at the road for danger, or at the sky for storms, or at his books or musical instruments. But he never looks at me, even when we talk.”

  “Do you want to tell them that you are a girl?”

  “Should I?”

  There were so many things I could say, but I had to think ahead to the questions that would follow. “They’ve been good companions, but I believe they are both army deserters. Maybe not from the same army. And deserters don’t have the best reputation for behavior with women. It might be safest not to tell them. Especially since you plan to part when you reach Paris.”

  She sighed, her expression wistful. But she didn’t disagree.

  A few more days on the road brought them near Paris.

  Aurélie withdrew, her troubled emotional state bothering me enough to attribute to it a growing sense of unease. I certainly felt it.

  The last day, when they reached the outskirts of Paris, this before-the-thunderstorm feeling coalesced into the deep bone chill you find in caves underground.

  Maybe it was the ghosts. Except for those floating above the sunken portion of Port Royal in Jamaica, I hadn’t seen any until now. The closer we got to Paris, the more of them I saw, some bright and glittery, reflecting a quality of light different from the hazy spring sunlight. Others were vaporous as wisps of smoke.

  The traffic increased steadily, as did the number of buildings, many undergoing repair, renovation, or rip-down-begin-again construction.

  During the last couple of days the trio continued to play for their supper, but the guys’ conduct had altered. Instead of one of them vanishing to hilltops to watch for signals, they engaged customers in talk about Paris news.

  And there was plenty of it, most concerning the Concordat of Easter, and its Te Deum in the Notre Dame cathedral, which had not heard the Mass echo in its vaults for several years. Napoleon had shown up in all his glory—liveried servants, trumpets—and the churches were to officially reopen. “Everything like the old days of the kings, except no king,” said a man with joiner’s tools at his belt.

  “Pardieu!” An older man spat upon the floor. “He will be king yet. 18th Brumaire, it was the Directors and the Council of Five Hundred thrown off their curule chairs, red robes and all. Next it’ll be Your Majesty, you watch.”

  “Not even the Luxembourg Palace was good enough,” the innkeeper’s wife observed sarcastically, strong arms akimbo, and I wondered if she had numbered among the roaming female gangs during the Terror who had lynched people who didn’t look properly sans-culottes. “He’s moved into the Tuileries!”

  “Peace, daughter. If he so desires to be king, let him. At least we can walk the streets again and not fear being dragged off by the mob if we forget and say pardieu,” an oldster said with a meaningful look at Citizeness Innkeeper. The other elderly people in the common room laughed, then the old man went on with the expansive tone of the person who knows the audience is on his side, “If he wishes, the Corsican can call himself High Mandarin, or Grand Turk, if we may be done with Madame la Guillotine, and Frenchman fighting Frenchman.”

  “Yes! A drink to that!”

  Mord struck up La Marseilles, which ended the discussion.

  The next day we reached the inner city. When the road veered off the bend in the Seine an
d headed south toward the heart of Paris, it broadened into a boulevard ever more crowded with both the living and the dead.

  I had never before encountered so many ghosts for so sustained a time. The chill came from a specific direction, but as usual I could not look around, being bound to Aurélie, who seemed unaware of any change in atmosphere.

  The three walked in silence for a long time, until Mord abruptly said, “I shall see if the lens maker is still there.” He touched his eyes, then turned an absent smile Aurélie’s way. “To be denied reading one more hour than necessary is to be denied life. Fare you well, Citizen René.” He walked off without a backward glance.

  That left the other two alone, Aurélie gazing wistfully after Mord. Jaska fidgeted with his walking stick, looked all around, and then at last faced Aurélie. “Do you know what you want to do, now that we’re here? I’ve been in Paris before. I can point you in the right direction.”

  Her chin came up. “I’m going to seek news of my homeland from a connection who assuredly might know.”

  Jaska said, “Where lives this person?”

  “From the news we overheard, she is now at the Tuileries,” Aurélie said.

  Jaska’s brows twitched upward. “Of course! You mean the wife of the First Consul, who I understand came from one of the islands.” He pointed. “That street, last I heard, was called the Rue du Mont Blanc. I don’t know for certain if you’ll suffer a fate most sanguinary if you use the wrong name anymore, but to be safest, just keep due south. That should lead you straight to the Tuileries.”

  “I thank you.” Aurélie straightened her shoulders. “Should I relinquish to you your sword? The regal is yours as well.”

  “Keep the sword,” Jaska said. “You might need…” He frowned at the ground, and for the first time, snatched off the shapeless cap that he had been wearing night and day. Under it his hair was flat and grimy, but even so the color was noticeably paler than the rest of his unkempt locks. He ran his hands through his hair in a gesture of tension, then looked at Aurélie, his smile rueful, almost sweet. “You are as game a youngster as ever lived, but…sacré nom! If you run into trouble, go to the Swedish embassy. I don’t know if Madame de Staël is still in Paris, but if she is, she will surely help you, especially if you give her my name.”

  He crammed the cap back on and marched off, leaving me wondering if I should try to get Aurélie to seek Madame de Staël. From what I knew of her history, she was outspoken and unafraid of consequences, but she’d also been capricious and got herself into hot water, especially with Napoleon. And even if Madame could arrange to send Aurélie to Dobrenica, what then? Send her to the palace so the crown prince could take one look and fall in love? It sounded ridiculous even to me, and I knew what the future was supposed to bring! Sort of.

  Argh!

  “Duppy Kim?”

  Aurélie looked around, fumbled for her mirror, then shook her head. “It’s not good to talk to you here. I don’t feel safe. But I know what I’m going to do.”

  She began to run. All of Paris seemed to be undergoing repairs and renovation. The ghosts thickened exponentially, and I knew we had to be near the Place de la Concorde, where the guillotine still stood. The chill that wreathed the area like invisible fog reminded me of the bone chill I felt in the proximity of vampires. Only this was vast, deep, and somehow aware.

  My mind swarmed with questions, but foremost was the wish that Aurélie avoid walking anywhere near the guillotine. I didn’t want that memory imprinted on my retinas.

  Aurélie reached the broad Place du Carrousel, the square before the Tuileries palace, which was a long building with a central dome like a mansard roof pulled inward and rounded. The square was crowded mainly with men in flashy military uniforms: Gold braid, dolmans, clanking swords, glossy high boots with tassels swinging. They were too busy with one another to pay the least heed to a grubby urchin darting among them.

  No one stopped Aurélie until she reached the entrance. There, a couple of guards stood duty dressed in brand new green and gold livery. One was about her age, the other stooped, his face lined with cynicism.

  “No entry for the likes of you,” the older one said.

  “I am here to visit a relation of mine,” Aurélie declared. “Marie-Rose Josèphe Tascher de la Pagerie, who is now Citizen Bonaparte.”

  The older one gave a crack of laughter. “Citizen! That’s Madame to you, brat. Get along—unless you’ve a letter of introduction under those rags?” He burst into loud laughter.

  The younger one said more kindly, “I suggest you visit one of the public baths. There are three, the Vigier, the Tivoli, or the Albert. If you return properly dressed—”

  “I can do that,” Aurélie said.

  “—with your papers—”

  “Papers?” Aurélie repeated in dismay.

  The first one laughed again, nearly muffling the sound of a female voice floating from somewhere above. But not quite.

  Both footmen looked up. So did Aurélie. A window was open on the second story, a girl leaning out. “I said, who’s there? Alphonse? Who is that boy? I know that accent.”

  The younger one called up, “Madame, it is an urchin who claims relation to Madame Bonaparte.”

  “Send him inside. I will be there directly,” the female said, and vanished.

  The young one began to open the door, but the old one pointed at Aurélie. “Hold hard, Monsieur Firebrand. You’ll not be going in there with any pistol.”

  In answer Aurélie snatched her pistol from her grubby belt and shook it. “I have no powder or shot,” she said with dignity, causing a guffaw from a number of uniformed idlers who’d gathered to see what the fuss was.

  The first one scowled and let her pass. “Go in. You heard Madame Hortense. But don’t touch anything! The days of looting are gone, so you remember that, or the mouchards will be on you faster even than me.” He spat on the ground.

  Aurélie slipped inside a large vaulted entry hall and looked around with her mouth open.

  This was her introduction to Josephine’s taste. She gazed in astonishment (and I’ll get to what she saw in a moment) and I was trying to see as much as I could within my usual limitations. Though I’d visited Paris before I met Alec, all that was left of the Tuileries in my time was the garden.

  Aurélie recollected herself when she heard the swift hiss-hiss of slippers. A slim figure descended the last of a grand stairway. She seemed to be floating, an effect caused partly by her draperies but also by the rolling, toes-out little steps she took. We were seeing the results of Josephine’s courtly training, gained when her first husband sent her to a convent on Martinique.

  As her daughter Hortense approached Aurélie, I thought about the irony of Josephine’s being trained so far away to mimic la vraie Parisienne, the true Parisian woman, when she was now the leader of fashion here—in Paris, in France, and soon enough in the Western world.

  Hortense stopped, and for a moment the girls regarded one another. They were the same age almost exactly, Hortense a little taller, her honey-colored hair and blue eyes much the same shade as Cassandra’s. But there the resemblance ended.

  “You are from Martinique?” Hortense said.

  “Saint-Domingue,” Aurélie said. “And Jamaica.”

  “Jamaica is English.” Hortense looked askance.

  “My mother’s family is English. But my mother’s mother is connected to the Taschers of La Pagerie. I had hoped to find out news of the islands. I want to go home, if I can.”

  “I can only tell you that there is much trouble there. In all the islands, English, French, Spanish.” Hortense shrugged a little. “The slaves have revolted.”

  “Good,” Aurélie said fiercely.

  Hortense betrayed surprise, then stepped closer. “You look like an urchin. And, forgive me, you smell like one. But you don’t speak like one.”

  Aurélie said, “I am Aurélie de Mascar—well. I’m a girl, and I hate living this lie. If you’ve no news, then
I must go.” Her voice, husky and low at the best of times, went breathy.

  Hortense gave a trill of laughter and clasped her hands together. “I dressed as a boy once. When I was small. It was when we left Martinique. There was fire, and Maman ran with me onto a ship, and we had no clothes. She had to make a gown out of sailcloth, and they dressed me as a cabin boy.”

  Aurélie said with heartfelt sympathy, “It must have been terrible.”

  Hortense flushed. “It was fun for me, though perhaps not so much for Maman. But that’s of no importance. If you cannot take ship, what will you do?”

  Go to the Swedish embassy, I shouted mentally, poking at her. I was thinking they might be able to send her east.

  Aurélie recoiled, and shook her head. “Not now, Duppy Kim,” she whispered in English. “I must think.”

  Hortense’s eyes were huge. “Did you say ‘duppy’?”

  Aurélie flushed. “And if I did?”

  Hortense took a deep breath. “My mother will want to meet you. I know it. Will you stay a bit?”

  Aurélie looked down at herself. “But I’m not at all comme il faut.”

  “That’s easily repaired,” Hortense said. “Come into my mother’s suite. They’re at Malmaison just now. Things could not be more perfect. And here I began the day so sad…”

  She led Aurélie into the adjoining salon. Aurélie’s steps faltered as she gazed around at the furnishings freshly covered with blue-violet taffeta and embroidered with golden honeysuckle. Dominating the room was a gold-framed portrait of St. Cecelia. “It’s so beautiful,” Aurélie exclaimed.

  “Oh, you ought to see Malmaison. Here, Bonaparte would not permit her new furnishings. She could only refurbish the old. Maman hates this place,” Hortense said as she led Aurélie into the next salon, even larger than the first, done in yellow and brown satin with red highlights. The mirrors on the walls were draped, the porphyry side tables supported Sèvres vases and rose granite decorations embellished with bronze.

 
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